Date: Saturday, June 3, 2023
Time: 19:00 CEST
Location: Collegio Carlo Alberto – Common room at Festival Internazionale dell’Economia in Turin, Italy
The bestselling co-author of Why Nations Fail and the bestselling co-author of 13 Bankers deliver a bold reinterpretation of economics and history that will fundamentally change how you see the world.
June 3, 2023
Daron Acemoglu will participate virtually in the International Festival of Economics in Turin, Italy, this year. Here, he will discuss Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity in conversation with Fausto Panunzi and Simonetta Nardin.Learn more
Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
2019 Nobel laureates in economics and authors of Poor Economics and Good Economics for Hard Times
Author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Sir Angus Deaton
2015 Nobel laureate in economics and coauthor of Deaths of Despair
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and other international bestsellers
Milbank Family Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author of The Square and the Tower
John and Natty McArthur University Professor, Harvard University, and author of Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire
Silicon Valley member of Congress
Professor of economics and history, Northwestern University
Author of Weapons of Math Destruction and The Shame Machine
Michael J. Sandel
Author of The Tyranny of Merit: Can We Find the Common Good?
Distinguished University Professor, University of Maryland, and author of Human-Centered AI
E. Glen Weyl
Research lead and founder, Decentralized Social Technology Collaboratory, Microsoft Research Special Projects
Professor emeritus, Harvard Business School, and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
Author of Evil Geniuses
Date: Saturday, June 3, 2023
Time: 19:00 CEST
Location: Collegio Carlo Alberto – Common room at Festival Internazionale dell’Economia in Turin, Italy
Date: Sunday, June 4, 2023
Time: 10 am BST
Location: Baillie Gifford Stage, Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye
Date: Thursday, June 8, 2023
Time: 12:00 pm EST
Location: Virtual (via Webex)
This event is free and open to the public.
Date: Friday, June 9
Time: 12:30-1:30 pm
Location: in-person at the Hotel Washington in Washington, D.C. and online via Hopin (registration required).
Date: Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Time: 12:30 pm EST
Location: Online (via Zoom)
The event is free and open to all via Zoom.
On May 18, 2023, the Columbia Center for Political Economy hosted Simon Johnson as part of the Big Idea Book Series.
Columnist Rana Foroohar referenced Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology & Prosperity in a March 19, 2023 Financial Times article.
In a January 20, 2023 Bloomberg article, Eduardo Porter wrote about Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology & Prosperity, “contemporary evidence and the long story of humanity’s technological development confirm ‘there is nothing automatic about new technologies bringing widespread prosperity. Whether they do or not is an economic, social, and political choice.'”
Date: Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Time: 6:00 PM ET
Location: Brattle Theatre
40 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA 02138
Date: Friday, May 5, 2023
Time: 12:00 pm PDT
Location: Zoom (details provided to those who register)
Free and open to the public.
On May 17, 2023, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth hosted a panel discussion on “Harnessing tech for worker power and inclusive prosperity,” including an opening presentation by Daron Acemoglu. Panelists included Simon Johnson, Brian Chen of Data & Society, Virginia Doellgast of Cornell University, and Kathryn Zickuhr of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
Date: Tuesday, May 30, 2023
Time: 5-6 pm BST
Location: Oxford Martin School Lecture Theatre, University of Oxford, 35 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BD
This event was free and open to all.
On May 17, 2023, Simon Johnson participated in a debate with ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson about technology and prosperity. A recording of the event is available on YouTube.
Date: Monday, May 22, 2023
Time: 6:30 PM PDT
Location: The Commonwealth Club of California
110 The Embarcadero
Tonni Rembe Rock Auditorium
San Francisco, CA 94105
Date: Thursday, May 25, 2023
Time: 6:00 pm PDT
Location: Seattle Town Hall, The Wyncote NW Forum, 1119 8th Ave (Entrance off Seneca St.), Seattle, Washington 98101
On March 22, 2023, Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology & Prosperity was named to the Big Ideas Club’s list of must-read books for May 2023.
Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology & Prosperity was featured in a March 23, 2023 MIT Technology Review article by David Rotman.
Ezra Klein referenced Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology & Progress during a listener questions-focused episode of The Ezra Klein Show on April 7, 2023.
Date: Tuesday, May 23, 2023
Time: 7:00 pm
855 El Camino Real Ste 74
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Simon Johnson presented a reading from Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Progress.
Simon Johnson was featured in a Boston 25 News segment on AI’s implications for Boston-area college graduates.
On May 2, 2023, Simon Johnson participated on a panel discussion on “How Tech Meets Work,” at Data on Purpose 2023: “Making Tech Work for Workers,” hosted by Stanford Social Innovation Review and the Ford Foundation.
Date: Thursday, May 25, 2023
Time: 17:00 – 18:30 BST/12:00-1:30 pm EDT
Location: Sammy Ofer Centre, London Business School, LT18-19 or virtual via Zoom
Free and open to the public.
Daron Acemoglu delivered a lecture at the Department of Economics at Villanova University.
On January 9, 2023, the Financial Times‘ Frederick Studemann, Laura Battle and Alastair Bailey named Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity to their list of non-fiction to read in 2023.
Date: Thursday, June 1, 2023
Time: 5:30 pm BST
Location: University College London (UCL), Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), 11 Montague St London, WC1B 5BP and online
This hybrid event was free and open to the public.
Simon Johnson discusses private equity with Brendan Ballou, federal prosecutor and former Special Counsel for Private Equity in the DoJ’s Antitrust Division, and his new book Plunder: Private Equity’s Plan to Pillage America. Watch the discussion on YouTube.
On May 5, 2023, Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson published an op-ed on AI and the future of technology in the Los Angeles Times.
Daron Acemoglu was quoted about the risks AI may pose to democracy in a May 2, 2023 Axios article by Ryan Heath.
Javier Mejia interviews Simon Johnson about Power and Progress as part of the New Books Network’s series on books in Economic and Business History. Listen to the interview here.
On Sunday, May 7, 2023, The Guardian published a review of Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity by John Naughton.
Simon Johnson was interviewed by Stan Kugell on Alfa, discussing financial stability, economic growth on a finite planet, and a deep dive on China and US economic strategy, as well as Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity.
Listen on Apple Podcasts or Acast.
Kathryn Zickuhr, senior labor market policy analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, interviewed Daron Acemoglu as part of the ongoing “Equitable Growth in Conversation” series, discussing a range of topics including the impetus for researching and writing Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity and the dangers of technology hype and techno-optimism, especially around AI.
Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Time: 5:30 – 6:30 pm BST (doors open at 5 pm)
Location: 2 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AA
Daron Acemoglu and Diane Coyle (Bennett Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge) discussed how technology has shaped our economic history, and may shape our economic future, during this launch event for Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity.
Free and open to the public.
On May 9, 2023, Simon Johnson was interviewed about a range of topics, including Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity as part of Project Syndicate’s Say More series.
Simon Johnson moderated a discussion of the recent bank failures (e.g., Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank, First Republic Bank) and the overall ongoing banking crisis. This conversation is about about what caused these bank failures and what policymakers and regulators need to do next. Watch the recording on YouTube.
The Brattle Theatre launch event for Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity was featured by the Boston Globe in an overview of Boston-area author events May 14-20.
On Friday, May 19, 2023, Daron Acemoglu participated in a virtual panel discussion on AI Impacts on society with Sendhil Mullainathan (Chicago) and Sarah Kreps (Cornell) as part of a livestreamed public meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity was featured in a May 17, 2023 MIT News article by Peter Dizikes.
On May 16, 2023, MIT Sloan’s Ideas Made to Matter featured an excerpt from Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity.
Simon Johnson was interviewed on Economics & Beyond with Rob Johnson, discussing Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity, what new technologies have in store for us, and how our societies can better manage and govern new technologies. Listen or read the transcript.
Simon Johnson was interviewed by Tyler Cowen about Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Spotify. You can also watch video of the interview or read the transcript.
Daron Acemoglu spoke with Gideon Lichfield and Lauren Goode about Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity on an episode of Wired‘s Have a Nice Future podcast.
Stephen Kinsella interviewed Simon Johnson on The Currency, discussing Power and Progress: Our Thousand-year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity, the global economic outlook, and the potential of the digital economy.
Simon Johnson was quoted about the implications of AI for labor in a May 15, 2023 New Scientist article by Jeremy Hsu.
Daron Acemoglu was interviewed by Bethany McLean and Luigi Zingales of the Capitalisn’t podcast. They discussed how to influence progress such that it benefits everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.
Rana Foroohar interviewed Daron Acemoglu about Power and Progress as part of the Financial Times‘ Lunch with the FT series.
Re-published in Portuguese by Folha de S.Paolo and O Valor Econômico.
Quoted by Fortune.
Simon Johnson joined Billy Ray And Todd Garner on week three of Deadline‘s Strike Talk Podcast, to discuss how A.I. developments may change the work of writers and actors. Available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
On May 21, 2023, The Herald‘s Neil Mackay sat down with Power and Progress co-author, Daron Acemoglu, to discuss some of the key ideas behind the book — who technology works for.
Power and Progress was featured during CNBC’s Squawk Box interview with co-author and Former IMF Chief Economist Simon Johnson on some of the key differences between today’s banking crisis and that of 2008.
Daron Acemoglu was quoted in the Times‘s “Dealbook Newsletter” about the choices we must make to ensure that in our move towards AI and automation, we create good jobs for workers whose jobs may be taken over by machines.
Simon Johnson was quoted in an article about the potential for AI’s increased use in video game design. Johnson warned tech companies against developing human-like technologies.
Power and Progress is featured in this Financial Times op-ed by Sarah O’Connor about how AI will change the future of work.
Tim Hartford examines what the 19th-century English textile factory workers, known as the Luddites, got right and wrong in their outrage at the implications of emerging technologies on their jobs.Hartford highlights the perspectives put forth by Acemoglu and Johnson in Power and Progress.
Daron Acemoglu joined Justin Kempf of the Democracy Paradox podcast to discuss ideas developed in Power and Progress — how some technology is inherently undemocratic.
Tune in on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, to hear Daron Acemoglu’s interview on BBC Radio 3, where he delves into the themes of Power and Progress. He sheds light on the dual-edged nature of AI algorithms – their use in social media for profit generation and, unfortunately, hate propagation. He also envisions ways to leverage technology for societal good.
In an episode released on Thursday, June 1, 2023, Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Power and Progress, highlights the crucial role of unions and government regulation in shaping AI’s societal impact in a conversation with Stephanie Flanders of the Stephanomics podcast.
On May 27, 2023, Daron Acemoglu was interviewed by Gary Robertson of BBC’s Good Morning Scotland. They discussed the importance of regulating AI and the media’s vital role in educating the general population about new technology to ensure that people can have a say in regulating them. Acemoglu stressed the importance of choices surrounding new technology and how it can determine who wins and loses from innovation.
The interview starts at 1:47 in the recorded broadcast.
As part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Econ Focus second quarter issue, Daron Acemoglu was interviewed by David A. Price by phone in April.
On June 2, 2023, Daron Acemoglu was interviewed by Tim Phillips of Vox EU as part of their VoxTalks Economics series.
Daron Acemoglu was interviewed by Greater Boston news outlet, on June 2, 2023. In this interview he got into some of the immediate threats that AI is posing to humans.
What Is Progress?
Every day, we hear from executives, journalists, politicians, and even some of our colleagues at MIT that we are heading relentlessly toward a better world, thanks to unprecedented advances in technology. Here is your new phone. There goes the latest electric car. Welcome to the next generation of social media. And soon, perhaps, scientific advances could solve cancer, global warming, and even poverty.
Of course, problems remain, including inequality, pollution, and extremism around the globe. But these are the birth pains of a better world. In any case, we are told, the forces of technology are inexorable. We couldn’t stop them if we wanted to, and it would be highly inadvisable to try. It is better to change ourselves—for example, by investing in skills that will be valued in the future. If there are continuing problems, talented entrepreneurs and scientists will invent solutions—more-capable robots, human-level artificial intelligence, and whatever other breakthroughs are required. People understand that not everything promised by Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or even Steve Jobs will likely come to pass. But, as a world, we have become infused by their techno-optimism. Everyone everywhere should innovate as much as they can, figure out what works, and iron out the rough edges later.
WE HAVE BEEN here before, many times. One vivid example began in 1791, when Jeremy Bentham proposed the panopticon, a prison design. In a circular building and with the right lighting, Bentham argued, centrally positioned guards could create the impression of watching everyone all the time, without themselves being observed supposedly a very efficient (low-cost) way of ensuring good behavior.
The idea at first found some traction with the British government, but sufficient funding was not forthcoming, and the original version was never built. Nevertheless, the panopticon captured the modern imagination. For the French philosopher Michel Foucault, it is a symbol of oppressive surveillance at the heart of industrial societies. In George Orwell’s 1984, it operates as the omnipresent means of social control. In the Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy, it proves to be a flawed design that facilitates an ingenious prison breakout.
Before the panopticon was proposed as a prison, it was a factory. The idea originated with Samuel Bentham, Jeremy’s brother and an expert naval engineer then working for Prince Grigory Potemkin in Russia. Samuel’s idea was to enable a few supervisors to watch over as many workers as possible. Jeremy’s contribution was to extend that principle to many kinds of organizations. As he explained to a friend, “You will be surprised when you come to see the efficacy which this simple and seemingly obvious contrivance promises to be to the business of schools, manufactories, Prisons, and even Hospitals. . . .”
The panopticon’s appeal is easy to understand—if you are in charge—and was not missed by contemporaries. Better surveillance would lead to more compliant behavior, and it was easy to imagine how this could be in the broader interest of society. Jeremy Bentham was a philanthropist, animated by schemes to improve social efficiency and help everyone to greater happiness, at least as he saw it. Bentham is credited today as the founder of the philosophy of utilitarianism, which means maximizing the combined welfare of all people in society. If some people could be squeezed a little in return for a few people gaining a great deal, that was an improvement worth considering.
The panopticon was not just about efficiency or the common good, however. Surveillance in factories implied inducing workers to labor harder, and without the need to pay them higher wages to motivate greater effort.
The factory system spread rapidly in the second half of the eighteenth century across Britain. Even though they did not rush to install panopticons, many employers organized work in line with Bentham’s general approach. Textile manufacturers took over activities previously performed by skilled weavers and divided them up more finely, with key elements now done by new machines. Factory owners employed unskilled workers, including women and small children, to perform simple repetitive tasks, such as pulling a handle, for as many as fourteen hours per day.They also supervised this labor force closely, lest anyone slow down production. And they paid low wages.
Workers complained about conditions and the backbreaking effort. Most egregious to many were the rules they had to follow in factories. One weaver put it this way in 1834: “No man would like to work in a power-loom, they do not like it, there is such a clattering and noise it would almost make some men mad; and next, he would have to be subject to a discipline that a hand-loom weaver can never submit to.”
New machinery turned workers into mere cogs. As another weaver testified before a parliamentary committee in April 1835, “I am determined for my part, that if they will invent machines to supersede manual labour, they must find iron boys to mind them.”
To Jeremy Bentham, it was self-evident that technology improvements enabled better-functioning schools, factories, prisons, and hospitals, and this was beneficial for everyone. With his flowery language, formal dress, and funny hat, Bentham would cut an odd figure in modern Silicon Valley, but his thinking is remarkably fashionable. New technologies, according to this view of the world, expand human capabilities and, when applied throughout the economy, greatly increase efficiency and productivity. Then, the logic goes, society will sooner or later find a way of sharing these gains, generating benefits for pretty much everybody.
Adam Smith, the eighteenth-century founding father of modern economics, could also join the board of a venture capital fund or write for Forbes. In his view, better machines would lead to higher wages, almost automatically:
In consequence of better machinery, of greater dexterity, and of a more proper division and distribution of work, all of which are the natural effects of improvement, a much smaller quantity of labour becomes requisite for executing any particular piece of work, and though, in consequence of the flourishing circumstances of the society, the real price of labour should rise very considerably. . . .
In any case, resistance is futile. Edmund Burke, contemporary of Bentham and Smith, referred to the laws of commerce as “the laws of nature, and consequently the laws of God.”
How can you resist the laws of God? How can you resist the unstoppable march of technology? And anyway, why resist these advances?
ALL OF THIS optimism notwithstanding, the last thousand years of history are filled with instances of new inventions that brought nothing like shared prosperity:
• A whole series of technological improvements in medieval and early modern agriculture, including better plows, smarter crop rotation, more use of horses, and much improved mills, created almost no benefits for peasants, who constituted close to 90 percent of the population.
• Advances in European ship design from the late Middle Ages enabled transoceanic trade and created massive fortunes for some Europeans. But the same kinds of ships also transported millions of enslaved people from Africa to the New World and made it possible to build systems of oppression that lasted for generations and created awful legacies persisting today.
• Textile factories of the early British industrial revolution generated great wealth for a few but did not raise worker incomes for almost a hundred years. On the contrary, as the textile workers themselves keenly understood, work hours lengthened and conditions were horrible, both in the factory and in crowded cities.
• The cotton gin was a revolutionary innovation, greatly raising the productivity of cotton cultivation and turning the United States into the largest cotton exporter in the world. The same invention intensified the savagery of slavery as cotton plantations expanded across the American South.
• At the end of the nineteenth century, German chemist Fritz Haber developed artificial fertilizers that boosted agricultural yields. Subsequently, Haber and other scientists used the same ideas to design chemical weapons that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands on World War I battlefields.
• As we discuss in the second half of this book, spectacular advances in computers have enriched a small group of entrepreneurs and business tycoons over the last several decades, whereas most Americans without a college education have been left behind, and many have even seen their real incomes decline.
Some readers may object at this point: Did we not in the end hugely benefit from industrialization? Aren’t we more prosperous than earlier generations, who toiled for a pittance and often died hungry, thanks to improvements in how we produce goods and services?
Yes, we are greatly better off than our ancestors. Even the poor in Western societies enjoy much higher living standards today than three centuries ago, and we live much healthier, longer lives, with comforts that those alive a few hundred years ago could not have even imagined. And, of course, scientific and technological progress is a vital part of that story and will have to be the bedrock of any future process of shared gains. But the broad-based prosperity of the past was not the result of any automatic, guaranteed gains of technological progress. Rather, shared prosperity emerged because, and only when, the direction of technological advances and society’s approach to dividing the gains were pushed away from arrangements that primarily served a narrow elite. We are beneficiaries of progress, mainly because our predecessors made that progress work for more people. As the eighteenth-century writer and radical John Thelwall recognized, when workers congregated in factories and cities, it became easier for them to rally around common interests and make demands for more equitable participation in the gains from economic growth:
The fact is, that monopoly, and the hideous accumulation of capital in a few hands, like all diseases not absolutely mortal, carry, in their own enormity, the seeds of cure. Man is, by his very nature, social and communicative—proud to display the little knowledge he possesses, and eager, as opportunity presents, to encrease his store. Whatever presses men together, therefore, though it may generate some vices, is favourable to the diffusion of knowledge, and ultimately promotive of human liberty. Hence every large workshop and manufactory is a sort of political society, which no act of parliament can silence, and no magistrate disperse.
Electoral competition, the rise of trade unions, and legislation to protect workers’ rights changed how production was organized and wages were set in nineteenth-century Britain. Combined with the arrival of a new wave of innovation from the United States, they also forged a new direction of technology—focused on increasing worker productivity rather than just substituting machinery for the tasks they used to perform or inventing new ways of monitoring them. Over the next century, this technology spread throughout Western Europe and then the world. Most people around the globe today are better off than our ancestors because citizens and workers in early industrial societies organized, challenged elite-dominated choices about technology and work conditions, and forced ways of sharing the gains from technical improvements more equitably.
Today we need to do the same again.
The good news is that incredible tools are available to us, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), mRNA vaccines, industrial robots, the internet, tremendous computational power, and massive amounts of data on things we could not measure before. We can use these innovations to solve real problems—but only if these awesome capabilities are focused on helping people. This is not the direction in which we are currently heading, however.
Despite what history teaches us, the predominant narrative today has shifted back toward something remarkably close to what was prevalent in Britain 250 years ago. We are living in an age that is even more blindly optimistic and more elitist about technology than the times of Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke. As we document in Chapter 1, people making the big decisions are once again deaf to the suffering created in the name of progress.
We wrote this book to show that progress is never automatic. Today’s “progress” is again enriching a small group of entrepreneurs and investors, whereas most people are disempowered and benefit little.
A new, more inclusive vision of technology can emerge only if the basis of social power changes. This requires, as in the nineteenth century, the rise of counterarguments and organizations that can stand up to the conventional wisdom. Confronting the prevailing vision and wresting the direction of technology away from the control of a narrow elite may even be more difficult today than it was in nineteenth-century Britain and America. But it is no less essential.
“It’s time to rechart the course of technology.Here are 4 ways to start.” Available via MIT Sloan’s Ideas Made to Matter.
Additional resources coming soon
The bestselling co-author of Why Nations Fail and the bestselling co-author of 13 Bankers deliver a bold reinterpretation of economics and history that will fundamentally change how you see the world