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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What is the future of capitalism: a democratic American-style model or something closer Chinese state capitalism? This week,
Branko Milanovic and I explore that question at length. In the process, we also talked about the political significance of inequality and the compatibility of capitalism and democracy.

Branko is a visiting professor at the City University in New York’s graduate center, and he’s a senior scholar at the Stone Center on Socio-economic Inequality. He’s also the author of several books, including Worlds Apart, Global Inequality, and, most recently, last year’s Capitalism, Alone.

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The debate in Washington about the American technology sector has shifted in recent years, going from “Big Tech is leading us to the future” to “What does tech done for us lately?” So has the technology sector failed to deliver for the past few decades? And what should policymakers and scientists be doing to maximize technological advancement? Hal Varian joins me on today’s episode of Political Economy to explain why he is much more optimistic about the few decades’ worth of innovation.

Hal is the chief economist at Google. He is also an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was the founding dean of its School of Information. He’s also the author of two economics textbooks, and the co-author of the bestselling business strategy book, Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy.

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Will artificial intelligence be as important an innovation as technologists have predicted? Will machine learning improve productivity? Will it exacerbate inequality? And how can policymakers best promote innovation in this field while preparing the labor force for its widespread adoption? On today’s Political Economy, Erik Brynjolfsson and I discuss these questions, and many more.

Erik is a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He’s also the author of several books, including Machine Platform Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future (2017) and The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (2014), both of which he co-authored with Andrew McAfee.

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Does blockchain technology have applications beyond cryptocurrency? After all, the blockchain is an immutable record of transactions and contracts, maintained by a completely decentralized network. This means that, if the promise of blockchain comes to fruition, humanity may one day have access to a permanent record for all transactions and contracts, without needing to rely on banks or Big Tech companies. So what are the possible applications and implications of blockchain technology? Paul Vigna joins me to discuss.

Paul is a markets reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covers equities and the economy. He is also a columnist and anchor for MoneyBeat, and he is the co-author — with Michael Casey — of both The Age of Cryptocurrency and, most recently, The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything.

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According to the conventional wisdom, America’s economy has not delivered for most Americans over the past few decades. Pessimistic observers on both sides of the aisle claim that — as a result of globalization, automation, immigration, or elitist policymakers — wages have stagnated, economic mobility has evaporated, and the middle class has hollowed out. And so a new wave of populism has led to politicians ranging from Marco Rubio to Elizabeth Warren to Donald Trump to claim that the American Dream is no longer available to regular Americans.

But, according to Michael Strain, this is not true. While America faces many challenges, our economy still delivers for regular workers, and populists should not try to tear down what isn’t broken. He outlines this argument in his upcoming book, The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It), which will be out at the end of the month.

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How concentrated is corporate power in America today? How big of a problem is this? According to Thomas Philippon, the answers are “more concentrated than in Europe, and more concentrated than any other time in recent American history,” and, more simply, “yes, it’s a big problem.” On today’s podcast, Thomas and I delve into this argument, outlined in his recently released book, The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets. We explore how industry concentration has affected various American markets — from air travel to health care. We also explore the difference between good and bad concentration, and discuss which label better applies to big technology companies.

Thomas is a professor of finance at New York University’s
Leonard N. Stern School of Business. He is also an associate editor of the
American Economic Journal and a research associate at the National Bureau of
Economic Research.

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America’s ten largest metro areas combine for 34 percent of total GDP, and some 80 percent of the nation’s 5,000 fastest-growing businesses are located in large urban areas. Simply put, cities are critical to driving growth and innovation. Yet cities also offer unique policy challenges. They require energetic local government, but too often such energies are channeled into restrictive regulations that raise living costs and stifle opportunity. So how can city planners effectively manage their cities? Today’s guest, Alain Bertaud, argues that a healthy respect for markets — for the tendency for human action to generate an “order without design” — is key to a well-managed city.

Alain is a senior research scholar at the Marron Institute at NYU. He is the former principal urban planner for the World Bank, and he has worked as a resident urban planner in cities throughout the world, including New York, Paris, Bangkok, and Port au Prince. Most recently, he is the author of Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.

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