Do we need a better understanding of ‘progress’?

The stagnation hypothesis is not universally accepted. Ideas can be combined and recombined, creating a combinatorial explosion of new innovations, an effect that counteracts the swallowing of fruit at hand. And some pointed out that if you measure research productivity and impact differentlythe picture is much rosier.

Nevertheless, the fear of stagnation is a central motivation for many people in the progress community. Unlike Gordon, however, they are optimistic about their ability to change it – which brings us to the story of the founding of the progress studies movement.

The origin of progress studies

Around 2016, Cowen received an out-of-the-box email from Irish billionaire Patrick Collison, who was interested in his book, The Great Stagnation. A few years earlier, Collison had co-founded online payment company Stripe and now wanted to talk about bigger issues. The couple had a few dinners together in San Francisco and hit it off.

Cowen and Collison are both infovores. Collison published his entire volume of nearly 800 bookshelf on his personal site (although he admits to having only read about half of it). by Cowen practice to ruthlessly skim through books for the informational value they contain and then abandon them – sometimes after five minutes – can send shivers down the spine of some finalists.

Cowen’s information production is almost as prolific as his consumption. The 60-year-old economist is the author of almost 20 books, 40 paperssix years of Bloomberg Columnsmore than 150 episodes of sound podcastand nearly 20 years of blog posts on his famous economics blog marginal revolution. During our conversation, Cowen’s voice was hoarse from the marathon of interviews he conducted to promote his latest book. In 2020, Cowen placed 17th on a listing of the 100 most influential economists.

Collison, nearly three decades younger and leading the fourth most valuable private startup around the world, wrote less, but still found time to post collections of links on topics like air pollution, Culture, growth, Silicon Valley Historyand of course, progress. Stripe’s nearly $100bn (£83bn/€95bn) valuation puts Collison up net value north of $11bn (£9bn/€10.5bn). The online payment company combines the lofty “change the world” rhetoric of Silicon Valley startups with the mundane, competent construction of an infrastructure company.

During the pair’s meetings, Cowen tells me, “we were both talking about the ideas, finding that we had common ideas, and somehow we came across the notion of an article. “. So, in 2019, they co-wrote a writing in The Atlantic, which argued for “a new science of progress”.

“There is no large-scale intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress or aiming at the deeper goal of accelerating it. We believe it deserves a dedicated field of study,” they said. they wrote. “We propose to inaugurate the discipline of ‘progress studies'”.

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