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Slouching Towards Utopia summary

J. Bradford DeLong

An Economic History of the Twentieth Century

4.1 (45 ratings)
32 mins

Brief summary

Slouching Towards Utopia by J. Bradford DeLong explores the history of economic thought and argues for a return to Keynesianism as the most effective model for achieving economic stability and growth.

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    Slouching Towards Utopia
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    Technological progress allowed the world to escape the Malthusian devil.

    Just before 1800, English scholar Thomas Robert Malthus wrote his famous book An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that unless curbed by religion, monarchy, and patriarchy population growth would lead humanity into a poverty hell of war, famine, and disease.

    He had reason to be pessimistic. The Industrial-Commercial revolution of the 1500s had allowed the human population to break its previous growth limit of 0.09 percent per year. But the rate of technological progress couldn’t keep up with this population growth. Even after the Industrial Revolution in 1770, population growth outran technological growth by a factor of 1.5 to 2.

    Yes, inventions such as the printing press, the windmill, and the steam engine had revolutionized industry. But the benefits accumulated at the top – the rich got richer, while the rest of the population languished.

    But in 1870, things changed forever. Humanity’s technological and organizational capacities began to grow – at a rate of 2.1 percent a year.

    What happened? It wasn’t just new inventions. Instead, the Northern economies had invented invention. Previously, innovations had been singular discoveries that provided new ways of doing old things – weaving clothes, for example.

    But in 1870, the North Atlantic economy began to develop the industrial research lab. Discoveries became systematic and were deployed methodically. On top of that, new communication technologies allowed ideas to disseminate faster. Inventors like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla had their ideas amplified million-fold by the corporations that backed them.

    After 1870, technology outran population growth. Working-class people began to benefit from the advance of industry and a new middle class developed. Working conditions still seemed grueling by modern standards. As a blue-collar worker at US Steel in 1910, there was a one in seven chance you would die on the job before your 50th birthday. But you “only” worked six days a week, and you earned a whopping $900 a year. By global standards, this was pure luxury. And wages only kept rising. Immigrants from all over the world flocked to the US for a chance to become part of the new world.

    The great economist John Maynard Keynes rightly called 1870 to 1914 an “economic Utopia.” And the US was holding the banner.

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    What is Slouching Towards Utopia about?

    Slouching Towards Utopia (2022) examines the “long century” between 1870 and 2010, during which technological progress, globalization, and the advent of social democracy opened a new horizon of human progress. Barring the horror years of World Wars I and II, humanity seemed to be on a slow, uneven crawl toward utopia. But in 2010, the tables turned. Economic progress in the Global North ground to a halt. 

    Slouching Towards Utopia Review

    Slouching Towards Utopia (2022) by J. Bradford DeLong is a thought-provoking exploration of our society's pursuit of an ideal world. Here's why reading this book is worthwhile:

    • The book offers a comprehensive analysis of the challenges and possibilities we face as we strive towards utopia.
    • With a nuanced perspective and extensive research, DeLong constructs a compelling argument, shedding light on both the promises and pitfalls of our collective endeavors.
    • By delving into historical precedents and present-day developments, the book provides a deep understanding of the complexities involved in shaping a better future.

    Who should read Slouching Towards Utopia?

    • History buffs
    • John Maynard Keynes fans
    • Anyone wondering how the world became so unequal

    About the Author

    James Bradford DeLong is a professor of economics at UC Berkeley. Under the Clinton Administration, he was deputy assistant secretary of the US Treasury, working on the federal budget as well as trade agreements such as the Uruguay Round and NAFTA. His previous books include The End of Influence and Concrete Economics.

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    Slouching Towards Utopia FAQs 

    What is the main message of Slouching Towards Utopia?

    Slouching Towards Utopia explores the pitfalls and possibilities of post-Cold War capitalism.

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    The reading time for Slouching Towards Utopia varies based on each reader's speed. However, you can read the Blinkist summary in just 15 minutes.

    Is Slouching Towards Utopia a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Slouching Towards Utopia is a thought-provoking read that offers valuable insights into the challenges of our times.

    Who is the author of Slouching Towards Utopia?

    J. Bradford DeLong is the author of Slouching Towards Utopia.

    What to read after Slouching Towards Utopia?

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