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Why Can’t We All Be Rich?

Despite unprecedented and extraordinary economic progress over the past 150 years, we have been unable to use our technological prowess to construct an equitable and happy world. While we have expanded the economic pie, we still have not figured out how to slice and taste it.

BERKELEY – On September 6, Basic Books is publishing Slouching Towards Utopia, my economic history of the “long twentieth century” from 1870 to 2010. It is past time, I argue, that we shift our understanding of where the hinge of global economic history lies.

Some might put it in 1076, when the European Investiture Controversy cemented the idea that law should constrain even the most powerful, rather than being merely a tool at their disposal. Another big year is 1450, when the arrival of the Gutenberg moveable-type printing press and the Renaissance set the stage for the Enlightenment. And then, of course, there is 1770, when the Industrial Revolution really got into swing.

There can be no disputing the importance of what these dates represent. But I chose 1870 because it matters even more. It is when the industrial research lab, the modern corporation, and full globalization fell into place. These were the institutions that would supercharge technological progress to the point of doubling the size of the global economy every generation – which is generally what it did from 1870 to 2010.

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