Yours truly has a crazy new article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy on why no-tech ancient civilizations still can’t catch up, based on my published research with Diego Comin and Erick Gong. But all is not doom and gloom, you just have to learn the right lessons from technology history:
As China’s history has shown, when governments stop killing innovation, good things happen. Technological change has also dramatically speeded up, and lower communication and transportation costs make it cheaper and easier to borrow advanced technologies from other countries — allowing societies to leap forward….The explosive growth in cell phones in Africa, skipping the intermediate step of land lines, is a promising sign of what Africa’s tech future could look like — if it weren’t for its plague of poor governments.
Former World Bank chief economist Stanley Fischer used to joke about a new grammatical tense he called the “World Bank imperative form”: Country reports were long lists of things that “must be done” by the authorities, ranging from grandiose infrastructure projects to implementing detailed plans to meet health, nutrition, sanitation, and education needs.
But our research shows that development is not about what you dictate, but what you discover. Little penicillin did far more to improve the world’s lot than big plans conceived around a conference table.
…If there’s anything that “must be done” to spur future development, it’s to create the conditions necessary to empower the ordinary individuals who will create new and unforeseen technologies out of old ones. There’s a Thomas Edison born every minute. We just have to help them turn the lights on.
Read the whole article here.