The Folly of Trying to Control Technology

Laurence Articles

Technological progress in the last two centuries, and especially in the recent past, has been nothing short of amazing. So why are we so unhappy? Why aren’t we all rich? Why are we so unequal in material success? Why is social unrest just as wrenching as it was in poorer times?

When Daron Acemoglu speaks, I listen.

Well on his way to a Nobel Prize, Acemoglu is one of the most productive “young” economists. (He’s 53 but has been regarded as outstanding since his 20s. ) His popular books are written with co-authors, usually James Robinson or Simon Johnson. Acemoglu’s newest book, Power and Progress: Our 1000-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity, co-authored with Johnson, is a sequel to Acemoglu’s excellent 2012 book with Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty and addresses the above questions. Given the vast scope of their undertaking, the authors mostly succeed. But while some of the remedies they propose for the problems they identify are sensible, some – in particular, reining in technological change through government action – are flat-out wrong.

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