Why has productivity growth slowed down in the past five decades, and how big of a problem is this? How important is public support for R&D to solving this problem? And how should this R&D be dispersed by policymakers? My guest today, John Van Reenen, answers these questions and more while discussing his proposal for the US to create what he calls a “Grand Innovation Challenge Fund.”

John is the Gordon Y Billard Professor in Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Economics and a Professor of Applied Economics at MIT’s Department of Economics. He is the author of the recent Hamilton Project policy proposal: “Innovation Policies to Boost Productivity.”

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Since the invention of nuclear weapons, humanity has had the power to wipe itself out. And with the rise of biotechnology and artificial intelligence, this capability is expanding over time. Beyond these risks, long-term challenges like climate change are testing our willingness to look ahead and stave off distant disasters, and our response to the COVID pandemic is not much of a reassurance that we will handle this test well. So today I’m speaking with Toby Ord, who argues that safeguarding humanity’s future from these natural and manmade threats is the defining challenge of our time.

Toby is a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, where he studies the long-term future of humanity. He is the author of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, released earlier this year.

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How will cities be affected in the long term by the COVID-19 pandemic? Will transit systems and real estate markets revert back to normal any time soon? And how can policymakers handle the impending state and local budget shortfalls? In today’s podcast, I discuss these questions with Nicole Gelinas.

Nicole is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal, where she writes on urban economics and finance. She is also a columnist for the New York Post and the author of “After the Fall: Saving Capitalism from Wall Street — and Washington.”

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What kind of jobs will artificial intelligence create, and how will new technologies affect our lives — for better or for worse — going forward? Even many techno-optimists have difficulty answering questions like this with any specificity, because the future is hard to predict. So today I’m speaking with Mike Masnick to explore how technology will affect the future, with respect to employment and other topics such as content moderation.

Mike is the founder and CEO of Floor64 and the editor of the Techdirt blog. Recently, he co-edited a volume of short stories released by the Copia Institute — Working Futures: 14 Speculative Stories about the Future of Work. This collection of stories portrays a wide variety of possible worlds that technological progress could create, with both optimistic and pessimistic predictions.

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Despite the best of intentions, regulations often hold back our economy, allowing entrenched interests to block innovations which would benefit consumers and promote human progress. But some companies — particularly
in the tech sector — have refused to accept this and skirt local and federal
rules in order to innovate without permission. So how much does regulation hold back innovation in America? And how are entrepreneurs challenging this trend? I’ll be exploring these questions today with Adam Thierer.

Adam is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he focuses on the public policy concerns surrounding emerging technologies. He is the author of “Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom” (2014) and “Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments” (2020).

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As the lockdowns ease up, it’s time to take stock of the damage done by the pandemic and to look towards recovery. So to discuss today’s surprisingly strong jobs report — as well as the recovery work that policymakers have ahead of them — I’m speaking today with Michael Strain.

Michael is the director of economic policy studies and the Arthur F. Burns Chair in Political Economy here at AEI. Previously, he worked for the US Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is the author of the recently released The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It).

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Is American innovation plateauing? How can we encourage more
of it, both through public policy and culture? Should we be concerned that
China’s innovative capacities will overtake us? And what really motivates
innovators to innovate, anyway? Matt Ridley recently joined me for an AEI webinar
to discuss these questions, and I’m happy to present our conversation to you
all in podcast form.

Matt is the award-winning and bestselling author of numerous books, including “The Evolution of Everything” and “The Rational Optimist”. Since 2013, Matt has also been a member of the House of Lords. His new book is “How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom”.

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Since its inception in the eighteenth century, the Royal Society of Arts has tried to improve every possible aspect of British life. They’ve done so by supporting inventions and persuading the public. In a time of slowed innovation and technological pessimism, we could all stand to learn from the RSA’s example, and so today I’m discussing it with Anton Howes.

Anton is the historian in residence at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce. He is also the author of the recently released Arts and Minds: How the Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation.

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To many, it seems as though America has failed to live up to its potential over the past several decades, with far less to show for its innovative efforts than one might have expected a half century ago. But the future is brimming with possibilities, and, at the very least, the COVID-19 pandemic has signaled that “It’s time to build,” as one observer recently put it. To explore why America has failed to “build” in the past — and how it may reprioritize innovation going forward — I’m speaking today with Eli Dourado.

Eli is a senior research fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, where he focuses on the technology, innovation, and economic growth. Previously, he was a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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America became the technological leader of the world during the Second World War. While we have maintained this position to an extent, US federal research spending is currently at a 60-year low. In the midst of a pandemic, and with eyes towards future technological competition with China, we should ask: How best can policymakers support scientific research in the coming decades? I’m delighted to discuss this question today with Tony Mills.

Tony is the director of the R Street Institute’s science policy program, and he was previously the editor of RealClearPolicy. He and Mark Mills recently published an excellent article in The New Atlantis titled “The Science Before the War”.

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How will the economy change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Will we see a
crippling decline in productivity growth? Will our embrace of digital technology yield benefits? And will the post-pandemic economy be defined more by a redoubled commitment to innovation or by increased risk-aversion? On today’s episode of Political Economy, I explore these questions with Chad Syverson.

Chad is the George C. Tiao Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. Along with Filippo di Mauro, he recently wrote an article for VoxEU, titled “The COVID crisis and productivity growth”.

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Can American capitalism be improved with a more robust safety net? From a practical standpoint, could Scandinavia’s model of social democracy be implemented in America? And from a political standpoint, is such an agenda even viable in the near future? We discuss these questions, and more, with Lane Kenworthy.

Lane is a professor of sociology and the Yankelovich Chair in Social Thought at the University of California-San Diego. He is the author of several books, including Social Democratic America, How Big Should Our Government Be?, and, most recently, Social Democratic Capitalism.

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Why was Europe the source of the Great Enrichment? Why is China still a dictatorship after opening its economy to the world? And what do the recent successes of South Korea and Taiwan represent? According to today’s guest, James Robinson, these questions are best understood through the following framework: Nations only become free and prosperous when there is a state strong enough to secure liberty and provide public services and a society strong enough to prevent the state from becoming despotic. This necessary competition between state and society opens the “narrow corridor” to liberty.

James is the Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflict Studies and University Professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. He and Daron Acemoglu are the co-authors of 2012’s Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty and their 2019 follow-up, The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty.

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Will the COVID-19 pandemic leave a more risk averse, stagnant economy in its wake, or will an embrace of AI and digital technologies bring us back up to a Three Percent Economy? On this episode, I explore the impending economic impact of artificial intelligence with Roger Bootle.

Roger is the chairman of Capital Economics, and a weekly columnist for The Daily Telegraph. He is also the author of several books — most recently, The AI Economy: Work, Wealth and Welfare in the Robot Age.

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Decades of apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding the issue of climate change has failed to garner support for the austerity-based solutions on the table. Accordingly, Matt Frost and Jim Pethokoukis discuss how a climate policy agenda centered around promoting energy abundance is a better approach to mitigating climate change than doubling down on fatalistic messages and policy proposals that would make us poorer.

Matt is an environmental policy technologist, the deputy director of the Marine Biological Association, and the author of the recently published The New Atlantis article, “After Climate Despair”.

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Generally, economic growth and prosperity go hand in hand, which is why the disappointing GDP growth of the past decade and a half has been troubling to many observers. But what if this slowdown is simply the product of a maturing economy with an aging population? Dietrich Vollrath joins me today on the podcast to make that case and to discuss the implications of that argument.

Dietrich is a professor of economics, and the chair of the Department of Economics, at the University of Houston, where his research focuses on economic growth. He is the author of the recently released Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success.

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Do politicians behave worse when they’re up for re-election? How effective and accountable can non-elected policymakers be? And has the government’s response to COVID-19 bolstered or weakened the case for democracy? I explore these questions, and many more, with Garett Jones.

Garett is an associate professor of economics and the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He is the author of two books: Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own and 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less.

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How will the coronavirus downturn be different from normal recessions? And what can we do to mitigate the harm through public policy? Today I discussed these questions with economist Stan Veuger.

Stan Veuger is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in political economy and public finance. He is also the editor of AEI Economic Perspectives, as well as a fellow at the IE School of Global and Public Affairs in Madrid and at Tilburg University in the Netherlands.

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How entrenched are America’s biggest tech companies — will they remain dominant 10 or 20 years into the future? In the meantime, how should these companies handle concerns surrounding data privacy or controversies regarding content moderation? And how likely is China to surpass America on the tech frontier? In today’s episode, Ben Thompson and I explore each of these questions at length.

Ben is the author and founder of Stratechery, a subscription-based newsletter focused on business and strategy for the technology industry. He also co-hosts the Exponent podcast about tech and society, along with James Allworth.

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How would a “corona stimulus” impact the economy? What should we make of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders’ respective tax plans? And what is the future of Republican tax policy? To discuss these, and many more questions, I’m delighted to be joined by Kyle Pomerleau.

Kyle is a resident fellow on federal tax policy here at AEI. Previously, he was the chief economist and vice president of economic analysis at the Tax Foundation. His writings have been published in numerous trade and policy journals, such as Tax Notes and the National Tax Journal.

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