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Why Have We Not Reached Utopia? Brad DeLong

Festival of Ideas

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Brad DeLong, one of the world’s leading economists, asks why the last century has left much of us vastly richer yet still profoundly dissatisfied.

Before 1870, most people lived in dire poverty, the benefits of the slow crawl of invention continually offset by a growing population. Then came a great shift: invention sprinted forward, doubling our technological capabilities each generation, and creatively destroying the economy again and again. Brad DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century tells the story of the major economic and technological shifts of the 20th century.

DeLong charts the unprecedented explosion of material wealth after 1870 which transformed living standards around the world, freeing humanity from centuries of poverty, but paradoxically has left us now with unprecedented inequality, global warming and widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo. Our ancestors believed that by now utopia would have been the inevitable result of such material wellbeing – instead of arriving at utopia we are slouching towards it.

In this conversation with Bristol Ideas’ Andrew Kelly, DeLong looks at the role of public understanding of the complexity of economics; writing grand narratives and the inspiration of Eric Hobsbawm; and the importance of editors. They discuss economic growth from 1870 in the great transformation; Mill, Keynes, von Hayek and Karl Polanyi; the great period of social democracy and welfare in the ‘Trente Glorieuses’ post-Second World War; the collapse of the New Deal Order and how it might have been saved; the impact of neoliberalism; and the challenges now and what to do next.

Image credit: Cai Burton

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Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century by Brad DeLong is published by Basic Books. Buy a copy online from If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops.

J. Bradford DeLong, an economic historian, is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury during the Clinton administration. He writes a widely read economics blog, now at

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