Slaughter & Rees Report: A Holiday Wish—Progress Rather Than Regress

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by Matthew Slaughter and Matthew Rees   Dec 19, 2016

Snow covered bridge

The end-of-year holidays are now upon us. In many parts of the world, in the days ahead children and adults alike will relish in giving and receiving gifts.

If the global economy were to receive a Christmas or Hanukkah present, what would it be? How about progress rather than regress.

Unique though it was in many ways, much of the recent U.S. presidential campaign revolved around two questions that have tended to dominate national elections throughout the world: Have living standards been rising? And are they likely to rise in the future? Today, the concept of “progress” that underlies these questions seems elementary. But for the vast majority of human history, progress was a relative term. “The average person in the world of 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 BC,” according to economist Gregory Clark at the University of California, Davis.

In much of the world, living standards have improved dramatically over the past two centuries. In the past few decades, these gains have come to billions of people in emerging markets. That inspiring story is told in a new book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. But another new book, The Innovation Illusion: How So Little Is Created by So Many Working So Hard, takes a dim view of the future, arguing that the world is in the midst of an innovation slowdown that threatens our future well-being.

Which perspective our future ends up delivering will shape so much of the years ahead. Both books are filled with thought-provoking ideas that merit attention from CEOs, middle managers, government regulators, business school students, and perhaps a certain celebrated resident of Trump Tower. One of us reviewed both books recently for The Wall Street Journal, and the review can be read here.

Finally, your correspondents wish everyone a holiday season full of rest and good cheer. In the spirit of the season, we are going on holiday and will resume publication on January 9. In the meantime, Happy New Year!