Slouching Towards Utopia

An Economic History of the Twentieth Century

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By J. Bradford DeLong

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An instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller from one of the world’s leading economists, offering a grand narrative of the century that made us richer than ever, but left us unsatisfied

“A magisterial history.”—​Paul Krugman

Named a Best Book of 2022 by Financial Times * Economist * Fast Company

Before 1870, humanity lived in dire poverty, with a slow crawl of invention offset by a growing population. Then came a great shift: invention sprinted forward, doubling our technological capabilities each generation and utterly transforming the economy again and again. Our ancestors would have presumed we would have used such powers to build utopia. But it was not so. When 1870–2010 ended, the world instead saw global warming; economic depression, uncertainty, and inequality; and broad rejection of the status quo. 
Economist Brad DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia tells the story of how this unprecedented explosion of material wealth occurred, how it transformed the globe, and why it failed to deliver us to utopia. Of remarkable breadth and ambition, it reveals the last century to have been less a march of progress than a slouch in the right direction.



Globalizing the World

He was annoyed by the disquisitions in favor of democracy, reason, feminism, enlightenment, and revolution that crossed his desk. So, just before 1800, English scholar and cleric Thomas Robert Malthus wrote a counterblast, his Essay on the Principle of Population. His objective? To demonstrate that his explicit target, William Godwin (the father of Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)—and all of Godwin’s ilk—were, however good their intentions, shortsighted and deluded enemies of the public welfare. Rather than revolution to bring about democracy, reason, feminism, and enlightenment, what humanity needed was religious orthodoxy, political monarchy, and familial patriarchy.1

Why? Because human sexuality was a nearly irresistible force. Unless it was somehow checked—unless women were kept religious, the world stayed patriarchal, and governmental sanctions were in place to keep people from making love except under certain approved and stringent conditions—the population would always expand until it reached the limit imposed by the “positive check”: that is, population would only stop growing when women became so skinny that ovulation became hit-or-miss, and when children became so malnourished that their immune systems were compromised and ineffective. The good alternative Malthus saw was the “preventative check”: a society in which paternal authority kept women virgins until the age of twenty-eight or so, and in which, even after the age of twenty-eight, government restrictions kept women without the blessing of a current marriage from making love, and in which religion-induced fear of damnation kept women from evading those restrictions. Then, and only then, could a population settle at a stable equilibrium in which people were (relatively) well nourished and prosperous.

What Malthus wrote was, from his point of view, not false, at least for his day and for earlier days as well. The world in the year 6000 BCE was a world with perhaps 7 million people on it and a technological index of 0.051. The standard of living was about what the United Nations and academic development economists might peg at an average of $2.50 per day, or about $900 a year. Fast-forward to the year 1, and we see a world with a great deal of accumulated invention, innovation, and technological development compared to 6000 BCE. Technology had advanced far, with my index having now reached 0.25, but the approximate standard of living was still about $900 per year. Why no change? Because human sexuality was indeed a nearly irresistible force, as Malthus knew, and the world human population had grown from about 7 million in 6000 BCE to perhaps 170 million in the year 1. The economist Greg Clark has estimated English construction-worker real wages over time, and this data tells us that, on an index that sets these wages in 1800 at 100, construction-worker real wages had also been at a value of 100 in 1650, in 1340, in 1260, and in 1230. The highest they had reached was a value of 150 in 1450, after the Black Plague of 1346–1348 had carried off perhaps one-third of the population of Europe, and after subsequent waves of plague, generation by generation, plus peasant revolts, had severely limited the power of aristocrats to maintain serfdom. From 1450 to 1600, real wages fell back to what would be their 1800 level.2

Malthus’s proposed cures—orthodoxy, monarchy, and patriarchy—did not help much to raise this inevitably grim Agrarian Age typical human standard of living. By 1870 there had been some improvement, at least in England. (But remember that England in 1870 was by a substantial margin the richest industrial nation and by far the most industrial economy in the world.) In 1870 Clark’s English construction-worker real-wage series stood at 170. But there were some who were not impressed: Remember John Stuart Mill? Smart money still bet that there had not yet been any decisive watershed boundary crossing in human destiny.

John Stuart Mill and company did have a point. Had the Industrial Revolution of 1770–1870 lightened the toil of the overwhelming majority of humanity—even in Britain, the country at the leading edge? Doubtful. Had it materially raised the living standards of the overwhelming majority—even in Britain? By a little. Compared to how mankind had lived before the revolution, it was unquestionably a big deal: steam power and iron making and power looms and telegraph wires had provided comforts for many and fortunes for a few. But how humans lived had not been transformed. And there were legitimate fears. As late as 1919 British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that while Malthus’s Devil had been “chained up and out of sight,” with the catastrophe of World War I, “perhaps we have loosed him again.”3

A fixation on food makes compelling sense to the hungry. From the year 1000 BCE to 1500 CE, human populations, checked by a shortage of available calories, had grown at a snail’s pace, at a rate of 0.09 percent per year, increasing from perhaps fifty million to perhaps five hundred million. There were lots of children, but they were too malnourished for enough of them to survive long enough to boost the overall population. Over these millennia the typical standards of living of peasants and craftworkers changed little: they consistently spent half or more of their available energy and cash securing the bare minimum of essential calories and nutrients.

It could hardly have been otherwise. Malthus’s Devil made certain of that. Population growth ate the benefits of invention and innovation in technology and organization, leaving only the exploitative upper class noticeably better off. And the average pace of invention and innovation in technology and organization was anemic: perhaps 0.04 percent per year. (Recall, for context, that the average pace starting in around 1870 was 2.1 percent per year.)

That was life up to 1500, when there came a crossing of a watershed boundary: the Industrial-Commercial Revolution. The rate of growth of humanity’s technological and organizational capabilities took a fourfold upward leap: from the 0.04 percent per year rate following year 1 to 0.15 percent per year. The oceangoing caravels, new horse breeds, cattle and sheep breeds (the Merino sheep, especially), invention of printing presses, recognition of the importance of restoring nitrogen to the soil for staple crop growth, canals, carriages, cannons, and clocks that had emerged by 1650 were technological marvels and were—with the exception of cannons, and for some people caravels—great blessings for humanity. But this growth was not fast enough to break the Devil of Malthus’s spell trapping humanity in near-universal poverty. Population expansion, by and large, kept pace with greater knowledge and offset it. Globally, the rich began to live better.4 But the typical person saw little benefit—or perhaps suffered a substantial loss. Better technology and organization brought increases in production of all types—including the production of more effective and brutal forms of killing, conquest, and slavery.

In 1770, a generation before Malthus wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population, there came another watershed boundary crossing: the coming of the British Industrial Revolution. The rate of growth of humanity’s technological and organizational capabilities took another upward leap, roughly threefold, from 0.15 percent to around 0.45 percent per year, and perhaps twice that in the heartland of the original Industrial Revolution: a charmed circle with a radius of about three hundred miles around the white cliffs of Dover at the southeastern corner of the island of Britain (plus offshoots in northeastern North America). At this more rapid pace, from 1770 to 1870 more technological marvels became commonplace in the North Atlantic and visible throughout much of the rest of the world. Global population growth accelerated to about 0.5 percent per year, and for the first time global production may have exceeded the equivalent of $3 a day per head (in today’s money).

The numbers are important: indeed, they are key. As the economic historian Robert Fogel once said—echoing my great-great-uncle, the economic historian Abbott Payson Usher—the secret weapon of the economist is the ability to count.5 Remember, we humans are narrative-loving animals. Stories with an exciting plot and an appropriate end of comeuppances and rewards fascinate us. They are how we think. They are how we remember. But individual stories are only important if they concern individuals at a crossroads whose actions end up shaping humanity’s path, or if they concern individuals who are especially representative of the great swath of humanity. It is only by counting that we can tell which stories are at all representative and which decisions truly matter. The individual technologies are important. But more important is their weight: counting up the overall extent to which people were becoming more productive at making old things and more capable at making new things.

The causes of the Industrial Revolution were not foreordained. The revolution was not inevitable. But tracing its causes and the lack of necessity in history is outside the scope of my book. Theorists of the multiverse assure me that there are other worlds out there like ours, worlds that we cannot hear or see or touch in much the same way as a radio tuned to one station cannot pick up all the others. And knowing what we know about our world leaves me utterly confident that in most of those other worlds there was no British Industrial Revolution. That growth would more likely than not have leveled out at the Commercial Revolution–era level of 0.15 percent per year or the medieval level of 0.04 percent per year. These seem like far more likely scenarios: worlds of semipermanent gunpowder empires and sail-driven global commerce.6

But that is not our world. And even in our world I do not think that the Imperial-Commercial and British Industrial Revolutions were decisive.

Consider that the 0.45 percent per year global rate of growth of deployed human technological and organizational capabilities typical of the Industrial Revolution era would have been eaten up by global population growth of 0.9 percent per year, or a hair under 25 percent per generation. Instead of four average couples having eight children survive to reproduce among them, the four couples together have fewer than ten. But with even moderately well-fed people, human sexuality can and does do much more: British settler populations in North America in the yellow-fever-free zone north of the Mason-Dixon Line quadrupled by natural increase along every one hundred years, without any of the advantages of modern public health. Consider well-fed but poor people facing high infant mortality and desperate to have some descendants survive to care for them in their old age. Four such couples could easily have had not ten, but fourteen children. A growth of 0.45 percent per year in human technological capabilities was not enough to even start drawing a sorcerous pentagram to contain the Malthusian Devil. And so the world of 1870 was a desperately poor world. In 1870, more than four-fifths of humans still by the sweat of their brow tilled the earth to grow the bulk of the food their families ate. Life expectancy was little higher than it had ever been, if any. In 1870, 5 ounces of copper were mined per person worldwide; by 2016, we mined 5 pounds per person. In 1870, 1 pound of steel was produced per person worldwide; by 2016, we produced 350 pounds per person.

And would the growth of technological ideas continue at that 0.45 percent per year global pace of 1770–1870? All of humanity’s previous efflorescences had exhausted themselves and ended in renewed economic stagnation, or worse, a Dark Age of conquest. Delhi had been sacked by foreign invaders in 1803—Beijing in 1644, Constantinople in 1453, Baghdad in 1258, Rome in 410, Persepolis in 330 BCE, and Nineveh in 612 BCE.

Why should people expect the growth of 1770–1870 not to similarly exhaust itself? Why should people expect imperial London to confront a different fate?

Economist William Stanley Jevons made his reputation in 1865 when he was still a young whippersnapper of thirty-three years old with The Coal Question: arguing that Britain at least would within a generation run out of easily accessible coal, and then the factories would just… stop.7 There was nobody who was a bigger believer in the British Empire than Rudyard Kipling. The British Empire was very good to Rudyard Kipling—until September 27, 1915, when, during World War I, it devoured his son John by killing him in the bloody fields outside the French city of Lille. Yet his reaction to the sixtieth anniversary of Queen-Empress Victoria Hanover’s accession to the throne, in 1897, was a poem about London’s destiny being the same as Nineveh’s, closing: “For frantic boast and foolish word—/ Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!”8

Thus without a further acceleration—a bigger than Industrial Revolution acceleration—of the underlying drivers of economic growth, today’s world might indeed have been a permanent steampunk world. It might in 2010 have had a global population of the then current seven billion. But, even if invention had maintained its 1770–1870 average global pace, the vast majority of people would have remained at little more than the 1800–1870 typical global standard of living. With global technology and organization today at about the level of 1910, the airplane might still be an infant technological novelty, and the disposal of horse manure our principal urban transportation-management problem. We might have not 9 percent but, rather, more like 50 percent of the world living on $2 per day, and 90 percent living below $5. Average farm sizes would be one-sixth of what they had been in 1800, and only the uppermost of the upper classes would have what we today regard as a global-north middle-class standard of living.

This, of course, is not what happened. What did happen was post-1870 innovation growth acceleration: a third watershed boundary crossing.

Around 1870 the proportional rate of growth of humanity’s technological and organizational capabilities took a further fourfold upward leap to our current 2.1 percent per year or so. Thereafter, technology far outran population growth. And thereafter, population growth in the richest economies began to decline: humans became rich enough and long-lived enough that limiting fertility became a desirable option.

The period from 1870 to 1914 was, in the perspective of all previous eras, “economic El Dorado,” or “economic Utopia,” as John Maynard Keynes put it, looking back from 1919.9

The resulting world of 1914 was an odd mix of modernity and antiquity. Britain burned 194 million tons of coal in 1914. The total coal-equivalent energy consumption of Britain today is only 2.5 times that. US railroads carried passengers some 350 miles per citizen, on average, in 1914. Today US airlines carry passengers 3,000 miles per citizen. Yet in 1914, all of Europe save France still saw the powerful political and social dominance of agrarian landlords, who still mostly saw themselves as descendants of knights who had fought for their kings with their swords.

Compared to the past, it was almost utopia. Globally, the real wages of unskilled workers in 1914 were half again above their levels of 1870. Such a standard of living hadn’t been attained since before we’d moved to the farm.

Why has every year since 1870 seen as much technological and organizational progress as was realized every four years from 1770 to 1870? (Or as much progress as was realized every twelve years from 1500 to 1770? Or every sixty years before 1500?) And how did what was originally a geographically concentrated surge in and around parts of Europe become a global (albeit unevenly so) phenomenon?

To foreshadow a more thorough discussion in Chapter 2, I think the answers lie in the coming of the industrial research laboratory, the large modern corporation, and globalization, which made the world one global market economy, all of which then proceeded to solve the problems that the economy set itself. And the biggest of those problems turned out to be finding a way to ratchet up the pace of economic growth. The lab and the corporation are what allowed the likes of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla to become inventors. They did not have to fulfill the ten other roles that their predecessors had had to fill, from impresario to human resource manager. That work was left to the corporation. This made a huge difference. Invented technologies could be rationally, routinely, and professionally developed; and then they could be rationally, routinely, and professionally deployed.

Was their development around 1870 necessary and inevitable? We can see how many things in history are neither inevitable nor necessary—how we are as much the product of what didn’t happen as we are of what did. Our history is littered with such might-have-beens. Here’s just one: Lillian Cross does not hit assassin Giuseppe Zangara with her purse on February 15, 1933, and so his bullet finds the brain of president-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt rather than the lung of Chicago mayor Anton Čermák; Roosevelt dies and Čermák lives—and America’s history in the Great Depression years of the 1930s is very different. But the creation of the industrial research lab was not the action of one, or of even only a few, humans. It took many working together, often at cross-purposes, over a course of years. Inevitable? No, but many people working together over time does make a particular outcome increasingly likely.

We feel that that process could have worked out differently, but we have no good way to conceptualize how that might have happened, or what the plausible range of different outcomes is. As the historian Anton Howes has pointed out, nearly any weaver for five thousand years before 1773 could have made his or her life much easier by inventing the flying shuttle. None did until John Kay, who had no deep knowledge and used no advanced materials, just, as Howes marveled, “two wooden boxes on either side to catch the shuttle… [and] a string, with a little handle called a picker.” Thus, he added, “Kay’s innovation was extraordinary in its simplicity.” By comparison, the research lab and the corporation were complex, and could have perhaps escaped humanity’s conceptual grasp.10

The labs and corporations needed accelerants if they were to spread and transform the world. The biggest accelerant is clear: globalization.

Back before 1700, what we would call “international trade” was a trade of high-valued preciosities for precious-metal cash—spices, silks, psychoactives (opium, for example), fine manufactures (steel swords, porcelains, and so forth), important and scarce raw materials such as tin (essential for making bronze), occasional staples transported by ship between and within empires (wheat from Egypt and Tunisia to Rome, rice from the Yangtze Delta to Beijing)—and slaves: pull humans out of their social context and enforce a zero-status hierarchical role on them, and you can get a lot of work out of them for a little food. It mattered. It mattered a lot as far as the comfort and sophistication of elites were concerned. But it was not an essential force shaping economic life (except, of course, for those whom the pre–Industrial Revolution trade networks enslaved). What we would call “international trade” was at most 6 percent of global economic life: about 3 percent of what a typical region consumed was imported from elsewhere, and about 3 percent of what a typical region produced was exported elsewhere. This began to change after 1700. Between 1700 and 1800 the guns-slaves-sugar triangle trade in the North Atlantic did become an essential force, powerfully shaping Africa and the Caribbean for great evil, and playing a still-debated role in concentrating and transferring to Britain the wealth of a global seaborne empire, and in setting Britain on its path to a market economy, limited government, the Industrial Revolution, and world domination. But international trade in 1800 was still, at most, just 6 percent of global economic life.

After 1800, cotton and textiles became important additions to the list of key commodities in world trade. The cotton was imported to the manufacturing heartlands of the British Industrial Revolution—Britain itself; the regions immediately across the English Channel, inside a rough circle with a radius of three hundred miles, with its center at Dover in the southeastern corner of England; plus New England in the United States—and textiles and other manufactures were exported from those same regions to the rest of the world. But world trade in 1865 was still only 7 percent of global economic activity.11

There was the globalization of transport, too, in the form of the iron-hulled, screw-propellered oceangoing steamship, linked to the railroad network. There was the globalization of communication, in the form of the global submarine telegraph network, linked to landlines. By 1870 you could communicate at near–light-speed from London to Bombay and back, by 1876 from London to New Zealand and back.

Yet another aspect of globalization was a lack of barriers. Of the consequences arising from open borders, the most influential was migration—with the very important caveat that the poorest migrants, those from China, India, and so on, were not allowed into the temperate settlements. Those were reserved for Europeans (and sometimes Middle Easterners). Caveat aside, a vast population of people moved: between 1870 and 1914, one in fourteen humans—one hundred million people—changed their continent of residence.12

The embrace of openness by world governments also meant the absence of legal barriers to trade, investment, and communication. As people moved, finance, machines, railroads, steamships, and the telegraph nerves of production and distribution networks followed, chasing abundant natural, physical, and biological resources. The proportion of global economic activity that was traded across today’s national borders rose from perhaps 9 percent in 1870 to perhaps 15 percent in 1914, as the revolutionary decreases in the cost of transport massively outstripped what were also that era’s revolutionary decreases and differentials in costs of production. Thus transportation made a huge difference.

Consider the railroad.

The metallurgy to cheaply make rails and engines made transport over land, at least wherever the rails ran, as cheap as travel up navigable watercourses or across the oceans, and made it faster.

Some groused. The mid-nineteenth-century Massachusetts transcendentalist author and activist Henry David Thoreau’s response to the railroad was: “Get off my lawn!”

Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere in next to no time and for nothing, but though a crowd rushes to the depot and the conductor shouts “All aboard!” when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over—and it will be called, and will be, “a melancholy accident.”13

My ancestors, and most of humanity, had a very different view.

Before the railroad, as a general rule you simply could not transport agricultural goods more than one hundred miles by land. By that mile marker, the horses or oxen would have eaten as much as they could pull. Either you found a navigable watercourse—ideally much, much closer than one hundred miles away—or you were stuck in bare self-sufficiency for all your staples. This also meant that, overwhelmingly, what you wore, ate, and used to pass your hours was made within your local township, or dearly bought.

For Thoreau, the fact that it took him a day to walk or ride into Boston was a benefit—part of living deliberately. But his was the point of view of a rich guy, or at least of a guy without a family to care for, and for whom Ralph Waldo Emerson’s second wife, Lidian Jackson, was willing to bake pies.

The laboratory, the corporation, global transportation, global communications, and falling barriers—together, these factors were more than enough to trigger the decisive watershed and carry humanity out of Malthusian poverty. They also made the story of the world’s economies one story in a way that had never been true before.

Given our global propensity to live close to navigable water, perhaps the biggest revolution in transportation came not in the 1830s, with the railroad, but later, with the iron-hulled oceangoing coal-fired steamship. In 1870 the Harland and Wolff shipyard of Belfast launched the iron-hulled, steam-powered, screw-propellered passenger steamship RMS Oceanic. It promised to take nine days to go from Liverpool to New York, a journey that in 1800 would have taken more like a month.

The Oceanic’s crew of 150 supported 1,000 third-class passengers at a cost of £3 each—the rough equivalent of a month and a half’s wages for an unskilled worker—and 150 first-class passengers at £15 each.14 In today’s dollars, the same share of average income for the first-class seats comes to $17,000. But the more relevant context is to the 1870s’ recent past. A generation earlier, a third-class berth on the (slower and less safe) equivalent of the Oceanic cost twice as much, and that berth cost four times as much in 1800. After 1870, sending a family member across the ocean to work became a possibility open to all save the very poorest of European households.

And humans responded by the millions. The production and trade globalization of the late 1800s was fueled by one hundred million people leaving their continent of origin to live and work elsewhere. Never before or since have we seen such a rapid proportional redistribution of humanity around the globe.

Some fifty million people left the settled areas of Europe, mainly for the Americas and Australasia, but also for South Africa, the highlands of Kenya, the black-earth western regions of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, and elsewhere. It was an extraordinary age, 1870–1914, in which working-class people could repeatedly cross oceans in search of better lives.

If I have my family history right, all of my ancestors had made it to the United States by 1800, back in the days when cross-ocean migration was for people who had been enslaved, were indentured, or were middle class. The last that I know of was Edmund Edward Gallagher (born in Watmeath, Ireland, in 1772). He and Lydia McGinnis (born in New Hampshire in 1780) were living at the start of the 1800s in Chester, Pennsylvania, where they recorded the birth of their son John. But all of my wife’s ancestors came here during the post-1870 great wave of global migration. One was Maria Rosa Silva, born in 1873 in Portugal. She arrived in 1892. In 1893, in Lowell, Massachusetts, she married José F. Gill, born in 1872, not in Portugal but on the Portuguese-speaking island of Madeira. He had arrived in 1891—not on a ship to Boston, but to Savannah.


  • A Financial Times Best Economics Book of 2022
  • “A magisterial history…asks the right questions and teaches us a lot of crucial history along the way.” —Paul Krugman
  • “I’ve been waiting for Brad [DeLong]’s big economic history opus for a long time now.” —Ezra Klein
  • “An unmissable book…The strength of the book—as well as its immense scope and depth…is that it’s a work of political economy, braiding the different strands of ideas, Hayek, Polanyi and Keynes…Definitely one to read.”—Diane Coyle
  • “If you want to follow the conversation right now on global economic history, you should check out Brad DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia.”—Adam Tooze, on The Ezra Klein Show
  • “A masterfully sweeping account…a joy to read. Few economic historians have as fluent a grasp of political or military history or, more important, write as lucidly and with such great flair about these subjects.” —Liaquat Ahamed, Foreign Affairs
  • “A magisterial new economic history.”—Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times
  • “A masterpiece.” —Zachary D. Carter, Dissent
  • Slouching Towards Utopia is an impressive achievement, written with wit and style and a formidable command of detail.” —The Economist
  • “Comprehensive, beautifully written, and fun to read.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “DeLong explores the slice of history he has chosen – the ‘long twentieth century’ from 1870 to 2010 – in depth, and he often writes with verve combined with thought-provoking detail.” —The Daily Telegraph
  • “This is a brilliant and important book. It offers an original and penetrating analysis of what its author calls ‘the long twentieth century,’ the period of unprecedented economic advance that began roughly in 1870 and ended, he asserts, in 2010. Material abundance poured upon humanity. Previous generations would have thought such wealth to be a guarantee of utopia. Yet the age of material progress has ended not in a utopia, but in recrimination and discord. No book has explained the successes and failures of this extraordinary period with comparable insight.”—Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator, Financial Times
  • “Worries that the future will be worse than the present are an excellent reason to read economic histories such as Bradford DeLong’s new book, Slouching Towards Utopia.”—Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed
  • “DeLong written the most entertaining End Times narrative since The Late Great Planet Earth.”—Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Review
  • “Deeply engaging…a work of strikingly expansive breadth and scope.”—Benjamin M. Friedman, Harvard Magazine
  • "A fantastic read…you don’t have to be an economist or historian to enjoy this book or reach for the smelling salts to revive you from boredom.”—Patrick Luciani, The Hub
  • “[The book] does what all the best nonfiction books do: change the way you understand the world around you.” —Nathan Baschez, Every
  • “One of the most ambitious and admirable economic history books of the year...DeLong is a guide whose conclusions I cannot fault.” —Strategy + Business
  • “A compelling and engagingly written account.” —Gregory Brew, H-DIPLO
  • “This volume, partly an economic history but mostly a thorough record of the global economy’s connection with politics, is destined to become a classic in its category.”—Library Journal
  • “The author conveys a wealth of information in elegant, accessible prose, combining grand, epochal perspectives with fascinating discursions on everything from alternating-current electricity to the gender wage gap. The result is a cogent interpretation of economic modernity that illuminates both its nigh-miraculous achievements and its seething discontents.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • “[T]he author ably anatomizes his subject with admirable clarity, offering accessible and illuminating explanations of key historical shifts and the socio-economic forces driving them… A sprawling but carefully argued, edifying account of modern economic history and its impact on global well-being.” —Kirkus Reviews
  • “Brad DeLong learnedly and grippingly tells the story of how all the economic growth since 1870 has created a global economy that today satisfies no one’s ideas of fairness. The long journey toward economic justice and more equal rights and opportunities for all shall and will continue.”

    Thomas Piketty, #1 New York Times–bestselling author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century
  • “What a joy to finally have Brad DeLong’s masterful interpretation of twentieth-century economic history down on paper. Slouching Towards Utopia is engaging, important, and awe-inspiring in its breadth and creativity.”
     —Christina Romer, University of California, Berkeley
  • “History provides the only data we have for charting a course forward in these turbulent times. I have not seen a more revealing and illuminating book about economics and what it means in a very long time. Slouching Towards Utopia should be required reading for anybody who cares about the future of the global system, and that should be everyone.”
     —Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University
  • “An intellectually exciting and entertaining gallop along the arc of twentieth-century economic history. Brad DeLong puts together the puzzle of the past to tell a story of remarkable achievements as well as setbacks. A great way to understand the forces that have shaped the world today.” 
     —Minouche Shafik, director, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • “The period 1870–2010—what Brad DeLong calls the ‘long twentieth century’—saw the world break decisively free of its Malthusian chains, with levels of per capita economic growth without any parallel in human history. This wonderfully researched and written book explains the roots of this vertiginous ascent towards utopia, while also exposing the causes of the subsequent flat-lining in our economic fortunes and what action is now needed to ensure the long century is viewed by future historians as the historical rule, not the exception.”  
     —Andrew G. Haldane, former chief economist, Bank of England
  • “Brad DeLong manages brilliantly to combine detailed analysis of a huge sweep of global history with an accessible and engaging narrative. The result is a book full of well-founded and penetrating insights that will appeal to anyone interested in the causes and consequences of modern economic growth.”
     —Robert C. Allen, distinguished professor of economic history, New York University, Abu Dhabi, and senior research fellow, Nuffield College, Oxford

On Sale
Nov 7, 2023
Page Count
624 pages
Basic Books

J. Bradford DeLong

About the Author

J. Bradford DeLong, an economic historian, is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury during the Clinton administration. He writes a widely read economics blog, now at He lives in Berkeley, California. 

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