Economics professor Brown Oded Galor publishes new book on the origins of inequality


“Journey of Humanity: The Origins of Wealth and Inequality,” economics professor Oded Galor’s second book and first written for a general audience, was released March 22 in 30 languages. The book chronicles how growth and inequality emerged throughout human history and discusses the forces that set them in motion, thus explaining the unified growth theory, founded by Galor.

At a crowded book launch at Auditorium Salomon on the day of its release, students – including those taking Galor’s course “ECON 1850: Theory of Economic Growth” – professors and others gathered seated to hear Galor describe the book’s key arguments, offer strategies for targeting inequalities and grappling with questions about the theory.

Galor first pointed to relatively recent developments in growth and inequality in nations in the context of the whole of human history. Over the past two centuries, there has been a dramatic transformation in the standard of living of societies, with a 14-fold increase in global per capita income, longer life expectancy, as well as a divergence in per capita income between country, he said.

In order to find answers to the mysteries of growth and inequality, Galor turned to the past, starting with the genesis of humanity. It aimed to discover the fundamental forces that pushed societies to move from a period of stagnation to a period of growth, as well as to understand what caused the different moments of this transition in the world that turned into inequalities. current between countries.

The book finds that the major underlying force that has spurred these transitions in human history is technological progress, which has grown faster and faster over time. For most of history, technological progress had a negligible impact on living standards because it was outweighed by population growth, Galor said.

This cycle unfolded until a tipping point in technological progress was reached – around the 1750s and beyond – when human capital, or knowledge primarily in the form of education, “became essential for cope with the changing environment,” he said. Investment in human capital has led to a drop in the fertility rate and a drop in population growth which, combined with technological progress, have enabled the emergence of a new phenomenon of sustained economic growth, he explained. .

Along with this explanation of economic growth, Galor offers in “Journey of Humanity” the main factors that have influenced the rise of inequalities between nations. The book finds that geographic characteristics, such as climate and disease, as well as regional cultural traits, such as gender bias or a forward-looking mindset, are two of many key factors that can largely explain the inequality between countries in per capita income.

An audience member asked if inequality will inevitably persist as a few countries progress with huge economies due to an earlier economic growth schedule, leaving other countries behind. The answer offered by Galor, and underscored in the book’s policy conclusions, is that humanity can learn from history to alleviate inequality. “If we understand our roots, we can help shape our future,” he said.

The book proposes that so far, devastating events like world wars and the COVID-19 pandemic have not been able to derail the course of humanity, led by technological acceleration and economic growth. . It takes hope that the potentially existential problem of climate change today will be no different.

Although technological acceleration has caused climate change through industrialization, it has also spurred innovation through education and a decline in population growth that can lessen the rate of environmental damage while technological solutions emerge, a said Galor.

“Journey of Humanity” covers research “spanning my entire career,” Galor said in an interview with The Herald.

Growing up in Jerusalem, “history is part of every individual’s upbringing”, he said, which led him to “despair of understanding how history and how initial conditions affect behavior and affect contemporary inequalities between individuals… and societies”. Over approximately three decades, he worked to develop and test the building blocks of Unified Growth Theory.

“The theory was initially very difficult to penetrate (and) mathematically very sophisticated,” he said. After developing theoretical hypotheses, he spent years collecting historical data and empirically testing so that every critical element for the theory was valid.

He was first approached 15 years ago to write a popular science book, but felt his understanding of the theory at the time was not mature enough to communicate to the public. Instead, he wrote and published his first book “Unified Growth Theory” for scholars.

Galor said he gradually simplified the theory to capture the essence of the human journey as a narrative for non-specialists, a process he says was facilitated by teaching undergraduate students of the ‘University.

The book launch also featured Mark Blyth, director of the Rhodes Center for International Economics and professor of international economics, and Glenn Loury, professor of social sciences and economics, in conversation with Galor about the book.

Unlike previous books used to teach economic growth, Blyth noted the importance of Galor’s work not just as a “collection of theories”, but as their assemblage. The Unified Growth Theory is a “proper general theory”, which can explain all these special theories in the field, and can also make predictions about the future, he said.

A challenge to the book that Blyth posed to Galor was on this second aspect – his ability to stand the test of time. The book is a “very compelling account of a very long theory of human history; can we be sure that (the story) will continue? He asked. For example, will education remain the primary means of acquiring human capital, he added.

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Galor responded by predicting that the importance of education will persist but shift “even more drastically towards general education” and away from vocational education. As long as technological progress continues to accelerate over time, the economic landscape – including professions – will adapt more to this rapidly changing world. “The nature of education will be such that it will teach us primarily to think and navigate in a rapidly changing environment,” he said.

Both Blyth and Loury praised Galor for the “boldness” of the book’s scope and ambition. “We should stop for a moment and see what economics, taken seriously and applied diligently, can achieve, and I think we see it…in this text,” Loury said.

We could “give the book to anyone feeling down and skeptical right now” because of its ultimately optimistic outlook on humanity’s journey, Blyth added.

Some of the strategies used by Galor to make the book more accessible and interesting to the audience include using the metaphor of a time machine to transport the reader to different points in human history and provide solutions to the real world to reduce inequalities.

Galor’s new research grant allows him to look to the future, with plans to spend the next two years trying to better understand humanity’s future trajectory. He hopes to use the mathematical tools behind Unified Growth Theory to develop better projections of population growth, fertility rates, human capital, and whether technological progress will continue across space.


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