A review of 'Power and Progress' by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson

by Anodya Mishra
June 30, 2023

What it’s about:

The central theme of Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle over Power and Prosperity written by Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson is “progress is never automatic.” Acemoglu and Johnson are two of the most prominent scholars in the field of economics, and as we are at the cusp of a new technological revolution, their voice matters now more than ever as to what our current advancements in technology look like for humanity. This book traces human history over the last 1000 years; including the building of the Suez and Panama Canals, the evolution of agricultural technologies, the Industrial revolution, the economic growth following World War II, the beginning of the digital era, and finally the rise of Artificial Intelligence. Acemoglu and Johnson quash the narrative that technology leads to progress, and instead emphasize the “shared prosperity” model of progress. They write, “we are beneficiaries of progress, mainly because our predecessors made that progress work for more people.”

Key Takeaways:

The authors write, “there have been tremendous advances in human knowledge, and there is ample room to build shared prosperity based on these scientific foundations—if we start making different choices about the direction of progress.” They suggest the reformation of policies and redirection of innovations toward benefitting masses instead of profiting a few. Daron Acemoglu, in his previous book, Why Nations Fail, had explored how political and economic institutions affect power, prosperity, and poverty in nation-states. The underlying theme of both Why Nations Fail and Power and Progress take a similar direction - in order to prosper, nations must have inclusive policies. The coming of new age technologies and Artificial Intelligence is another important theme discussed in this book. Acemoglu and Johnson take a balanced approach on the benefits of Artificial Intelligence, and argue, “instead of fixating on machine intelligence, we should ask how useful machines are to people, which is how we define machine usefulness.” 

Why it interests us/Who it might interest:

This book would be of interest to young innovators passionate about social impact entrepreneurship, history and economics enthusiasts, and anybody interested in public and social equity policy. Acemoglu and Johnson’s “shared prosperity” model of progress resonates with the vision of Equitech Futures to build an equitable technological future. Our programs bring together young innovators from across the world passionate about tackling urgent global challenges.

Our mission is to make innovation more inclusive.