In the field of economic history, the causes and consequences of the Industrial Revolution loom large. Competing theories point to the role of institutions, scientific achievements, and bourgeois ideas. Setting aside the origins of industrialization, another open question concerns the mechanisms by which modern economic growth emerged. To delve into that question, I’ve brought on W. Walker Hanlon, whose work suggests the engineering profession played a key role.

Walker is an associate professor in the department of economics at Northwestern University. Among his thought-provoking works in economic history is a recent working paper, “The Rise of the Engineer: Inventing the Professional Inventor During the Industrial Revolution.”

America’s kids have been greatly affected by the pandemic, from canceled sports seasons to constant academic disruption. And at the same time, parents are caught up in bitter disputes over masking and critical race theory in schools. To get a better sense of the education challenges we face coming out of the pandemic, as well as the reforms that will help us meet those challenges, I’ve brought on Rick Hess.

Rick is my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow and director of Education Policy Studies. Among Rick’s recent work on K-12 and higher education issues is “Education after the Pandemic,” written for the winter 2022 issue of National Affairs.

Before Elon Musk was the world’s wealthiest man, founder of a rocket company, and owner of Twitter, he was best known as one of the founders of PayPal. Other PayPal alumni went on to found companies like YouTube, Yelp, and LinkedIn. And the “don” of the PayPal Mafia, Peter Thiel, is now known for his political activism and contributions to Republican campaigns. So what can we learn about Musk and Thiel—and about Silicon Valley—from the early history of PayPal? To find out, I’m joined by Jimmy Soni.

Jimmy is an award-winning author of three books. His first two, co-authored with Rob Goodman, are Rome’s Last Citizen, a biography of Cato the Younger, and A Mind at Play, a biography of Claude Shannon. His latest is The Founders: The Story of PayPal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley, released earlier this year.

Last year, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta, signaling its shift from traditional social media to a big bet on the so-called metaverse. This network of 3D, online spaces is accessed through virtual reality headsets like Meta’s Oculus and promises to revolutionize internet communications. But is there substance behind the hype, or is the metaverse just a fad? And if virtual reality worlds are here to stay, what do policymakers need to know about them? To answer those questions, I’ve brought Mark Jamison back on the podcast.

Mark is the director of the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business and a nonresident senior fellow here at the American Enterprise Institute. Over the past several months, Mark has been writing about the metaverse and the challenges it faces.

In the early 19th century, English textile workers calling themselves “Luddites” destroyed machinery in an effort to save their jobs from automation. And two centuries later, those who resist technological change are still called Luddites. In the 2020 book The Fabric of Civilization, Virginia Postrel tells the history of textiles, including the Luddite movement. And in her 1998 book, The Future and Its Enemies, she describes the “stasist” view behind Luddism, as well as its natural antipode, dynamism. To discuss how this framework can help us understand the current moment, I’ve brought Virginia on the podcast.

Virginia is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist and visiting fellow at the Smith Institute for Political Economy and Philosophy at Chapman University. She is the author of The Future and Its Enemies, The Substance of Style, and The Power of Glamour. Her latest is The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World.

When economists set out to measure economic growth and progress over time, one challenge is accounting for striking differences in the quality of goods. Computers, cell phones, and cars on the market today are not easily comparable to those available in 1990. But over the centuries, remarkably little has changed about the common construction nail. For that reason, today’s guest explores American economic history through the story of nails. Studying nail production and costs over the past three centuries, Dan Sichel joins this episode of “Political Economy” to explain what we can learn from the humble nail.

Dan is a professor of economics at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the author of “The Price of Nails since 1695: A Window into Economic Change.”

Since the early days of the digital revolution, the San Francisco Bay area has played a key role from the rise of the microchip to today’s software giants like Facebook and Google. But why has the tech sector remained so geographically concentrated for so long ⁠— and is that something government needs to fix? To answer that question and delve into the recent changes in the geography of the tech sector during the pandemic, I’ve brought on Mark Muro.

Mark is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, DC, and the policy director of Brookings Metro. He and Yang You recently authored “Superstars, rising stars, and the rest: Pandemic trends and shifts in the geography of tech.”

Tech optimists promise that true artificial intelligence is just around the corner . . . and have been for half a century. So should we be skeptical of all the excitement surrounding so-called “deep learning” AI — or are we on the cusp of a revolution in artificial intelligence that will penetrate every aspect of modern life? And if the AI revolution really is coming, should we fear mass unemployment or even worse dystopian scenarios from the pages of science fiction? To get a sense of the current landscape of AI research, I’m joined by Melanie Mitchell.

Melanie is the Davis Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, a non-profit research center for complex systems science. She is the author of six books, her latest being “Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans,” released in 2019. In 2021, Melanie authored “Why AI is Harder Than We Think,” which describes the fallacies that underlie overly optimistic AI predictions.

Most highly ambitious business ventures fail, but the ones that succeed can make billionaires of their early investors. Just look at the most valuable companies in the world today, many of which began as tech startups just a few decades ago. Venture capital firms, by providing early-stage financing for startups, have been conspicuous players in the rise of Silicon Valley since the beginning. But are top VC firms just lucky gamblers, or do they provide a real service to the companies they back? To find out more, I’m joined by Sebastian Mallaby.

Sebastian is the Paul A. Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future.”

The conventional narrative of American space exploration traces government efforts during the Cold War, with today’s private efforts regarded as a recent phenomena riding on the coattails of NASA’s achievements. But today’s guest argues that private funding for space exploration goes back more than a century before Apollo. To get a better context for what’s happening in space today, I’ve brought on Alex MacDonald.

Alex is the Chief Economist at NASA and author of “The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War.”

Over the past half century, globalization and automation have pushed America’s GDP higher and higher, but the gains haven’t been distributed equally. Economic disruption has left behind manufacturing communities in the rust belt, leading some politicians on the right to question open, free market economics. We should build walls — physical and metaphorical — to protect American jobs, they say. But today I’m joined by Glenn Hubbard, who prefers economic bridges to opportunity over walls.

Glenn is a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He is also Dean Emeritus of Columbia Business School and author of “The Wall and the Bridge: Fear and Opportunity in Disruption’s Wake,” released earlier this year.

When you think of startup companies advancing the state of technology, software is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But scientific breakthroughs are still coming in the world of atoms, and that’s what venture capital firm Prime Movers Lab invests in. To give us a sense of their vision for the future, the VC firm put together a “Breakthrough Science Roadmap” to describe what a life of abundance in 2050 might be like. In this episode of “Political Economy” I’m joined by Ramez Naam and Christie Iacomini from Prime Movers Lab to discuss that uplifting vision of tomorrow and how startups are working to realize it.

Ramez is a computer scientist and Chief Futurist at Prime Movers Lab, while Christie is an aerospace engineer and Vice President of Engineering.

In the 2016 election, Donald Trump campaigned on a message of nationalism and economic populism. Since then, some Republicans have warmed to industrial policy, trade restrictions, and trust-busting. The dynamic, global economy, populists claim, has enriched coastal elites while leaving “real” America behind. In this episode of “Political Economy,” I’m joined by Ryan Streeter to chat about the importance of a dynamic economy.

Ryan is a senior fellow and director of domestic policy studies here at AEI. Earlier this month, he published the essay “Dynamism as a Public Philosophy” in the winter 2022 issue of National Affairs.

Last summer, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson competed to one-up each other’s accomplishments in space flight while Elon Musk’s SpaceX continued to make history with its reusable launches. But are all these efforts nothing more than wasteful vanity projects among the uberrich? I’m joined today by Robert Zubrin to talk about why the emergence of a private space economy and the prospects of colonizing the solar system should excite us.

Robert Zubrin is President of Pioneer Astronautics and the founder and President of the Mars Society, an international organization dedicated to furthering the exploration and settlement of Mars. An aerospace engineer and energy expert, Robert is the author of several books including “The Case for Mars” and “The Case for Space.”

While the scientific community has reached a broad consensus about climate change and the warming planet, just how well does the general public understand this consensus? In this week’s episode of the podcast, Steven E. Koonin is here to discuss what we know about climate change, what we don’t, and how we should respond to the warming planet.

Steve is a professor at New York University and a nonresident senior fellow here at the American Enterprise Institute. Previously, he served as the Under Secretary for Science at the US Department of Energy under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011. This year, he published Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.

When it comes to federal investment in research and development, failures like Solyndra are held up as evidence of wasteful government spending while success stories go largely unnoticed. But what kind of returns do we see on investments in scientific research by government? And should government funding emphasize basic or more practical, applied research? To answer those questions and more, I’m joined today by Benjamin F. Jones.

Ben is a professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Northwestern University as well as the faculty director of the Kellogg Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative. This summer he authored “Science and Innovation: The Under-Fueled Engine of Prosperity.”

NASA last launched astronauts into space with its final Space Shuttle mission in the summer of 2011. But, nine years later, a rocket built by SpaceX lifted off at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and carried two astronauts to the International Space Station. How did this private company, in less than 20 years, go from a fledgling startup to one of the biggest players in space? To answer that question, I’ve brought on Eric Berger.

Eric is the senior space editor at Ars Technica and the author of Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX.

When we think of infrastructure, roads and bridges are among the first things that come to mind. But over the past decade, massive investments in warehouse-scale data centers constitute a new kind of infrastructure build up. And that cloud computing infrastructure might be the beginning of a new economic revolution. My guest today is Mark Mills, and we’ll be discussing the revolution in cloud computing and how it could lead to a New Roaring ’20s.

Mark is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. His latest book is The Cloud Revolution: How the Convergence of New Technologies Will Unleash the Next Economic Boom and A Roaring 2020s.

De-extincted woolly mammoths, genetically engineered livestock, and transgenic crops: Are biologists opening a Pandora’s box that will lead to the further destruction of the natural world? In this episode of “Political Economy,” Beth Shapiro joins the podcast to discuss that question, explain the latest discoveries in synthetic biology, and explore the possibility of bio-engineered conservation.

Beth is a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her latest book is Life as We Made It: How 50,000 Years of Human Innovation Refined—and Redefined—Nature.

On the heels of a summer of billionaire space flights and William Shatner’s recent rocket trip, some Americans are echoing old arguments about the wastefulness of space exploration. Alongside this controversy, massive declines in launch costs and a burgeoning space economy have renewed interest in manned missions to the Moon and Mars. In today’s episode of “Political Economy,” John Logsdon discusses NASA’s history since the Moon landing, billionaires in space, and the path forward for continued exploration.

John is the founder and Professor Emeritus of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is the author of several books on the space program, including, most recently, Ronald Reagan and the Space Frontier.