(Roughly) Daily

“Progress is our most important product”*…

 

Steam Power

Looking backwards, it’s striking how unevenly distributed progress has been in the past. In antiquity, the ancient Greeks were discoverers of everything from the arch bridge to the spherical earth. By 1100, the successful pursuit of new knowledge was probably most concentrated in parts of China and the Middle East. Along the cultural dimension, the artists of Renaissance Florence enriched the heritage of all humankind, and in the process created the masterworks that are still the lifeblood of the local economy. The late 18th and early 19th century saw a burst of progress in Northern England, with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In each case, the discoveries that came to elevate standards of living for everyone arose in comparatively tiny geographic pockets of innovative effort. Present-day instances include places like Silicon Valley in software and Switzerland’s Basel region in life sciences.

These kinds of examples show that there can be ecosystems that are better at generating progress than others, perhaps by orders of magnitude. But what do they have in common? Just how productive can a cultural ecosystem be? Why did Silicon Valley happen in California rather than Japan or Boston? Why was early-20th-century science in Germany and Central Europe so strong? Can we deliberately engineer the conditions most hospitable to this kind of advancement or effectively tweak the systems that surround us today?

This is exactly what Progress Studies would investigate…

Entrepreneur Patrick Collison and economist Tyler Cowen argue that humanity needs to get better at knowing how to get better: “We Need a New Science of Progress.”

* GE’s marketing slogan through most of the post-war boom

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As we emphasize improvement, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that “Mo Money Mo Problems” by Notorious B.I.G. (with Puff Daddy with Ma$e) hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

 

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