Jason Crawford

Author

Roots of Progress

July 12, 2021

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Ep 322: Jason Crawford - Author, Roots of Progress
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today with Jason Crawford, who is the author of “Roots of Progress” and, in my opinion, the next great public intellectual. Thank you for joining us on the show.

Jason Crawford
You're far too kind. Thank you for having me here. I've enjoyed listening to some of the past episodes and it's great to be on.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, well, I've enjoyed reading your blog. And it's so funny, because I think like two people told me about you within the same week, and they're both of the Silicon Valley technology ilk, and so I'm beginning to think that your thinking, and the education that you're doing in the world is like kind of finding its way through different crowds. And so I'm excited to see where it goes next, excited to hear about it. But before we get to your current effort, can we just rewind all the way back and kind of figure out who made you and what your story is?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, sure. Well, it's no coincidence that you maybe heard about me from Silicon Valley type folks, because that was my career for almost 20 years. My background's in computers, did a CS degree, computer science, was a software engineer, engineering manager and technology startup co-founder. Did that for almost 20 years, have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for over a decade now. Started two technology companies while I was here, and then, about a year and a half, almost two years ago now, decided to take a kind of major left turn in my career and become a writer. In 2017, I started this blog. It started out as a side project, it became an obsession, and then it became my full-time job. And the theme is basically the history of technology and the philosophy of progress. So how did we get here, right? What created sort of modern industrial civilization and the standard of living that we all enjoy? And why did that take so long? Like why did people kind of suffer and die for thousands or tens of thousands of years before we finally kicked off the industrial revolution? And then how do we keep it going? Like, what's our vision for the future based on all of this? So that was kind of the initial motivation, been blogging about it for about four years, and then about, like I said, a year and a half, two years ago, I decided to go full time on it. And I'm now working on a book, that's my big project.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. The topic is amazing. I mean, it's something that I feel like, at least my group of friends growing up - not growing up, like after grad school - a bunch of engineers, we talked about this. This is the stuff we talked about over beers. And so it's interesting to see someone who's made their full-time passion out of it. Let me ask though, the articulation that you just laid out so eloquently, was that the initial conception of what you wanted to write about? Or did that evolve over the first six months, 12 months of working on it?

Jason Crawford
It evolved, but I would say it evolved pretty quickly. I mean, I've been interested in history for a long time. Really funny, because it was my least favorite subject in school. I thought it was utterly boring and I avoided it as much as I could all through high school and college. And then in my 20s, I started to realize how important it really was and tried to begin to make up in adulthood for a kind of deficient education. And that, in my 30s, turned into me realizing that I had not studied the history of my own industry, the computer industry. And so I started reading about that, and that was fascinating. And so then, around 2017, 2016, I decided I wanted to broaden that maybe to the whole Industrial Revolution. I quickly decided to actually broaden it to essentially all of human progress. It was inspired in part there by a book I read by Joel Mokyr, who's a pretty well-known economic historian and one of my favorite economic historians. He wrote a book called, that just came out around the time I started this project, called "A Culture of Growth" where he talks about the very idea of progress and how it's not a natural ideas, not an idea we had for most of human history. And in fact, it was kind of really in the say, 16th and 17th centuries that, in Europe in particular, where that idea evolved into its modern form, and how necessary that cultural foundation was to create something like the Industrial Revolution. Once I read that I was like, Wow, yeah, this is a big story. And I really want to cover the whole thing.

Bret Kugelmass
It's so funny, because I guess until you just said that right now, my assumption was always that there are some like evolutionary forces that have guided the way humans have developed up until the point that we are today, just some drive, it's like built into our genes. But what you're saying is that there's this cultural element of it, that almost created like a step function change in how we allocate resources, that led to this period of, I guess, hyper growth as compared to anything before that period.

Jason Crawford
Yeah, so there certainly is a step function. I mean, if you look back to the broad sweep of human history, going even back to prehistoric hunter gatherer days, you can go back many tens of thousands of years - it's arguable where did kind of human civilization quote unquote begin - but there has been progress of some sort for tens of thousands, arguably, hundreds of thousands or millions of years, potentially going back even before the origin of our own species. You can see gradual evolution in stone tools from the historic record. The first stone tools that were used some two and a half, three million years ago by our human like ancestors, Homo habilis, or whatever, those are sort of relatively simple and crude. And then by the time you get to, like 20,000 years ago, the stone tools have actually advanced quite a bit. They're much better, they're much more finely formed. The original stone tools are, it's just a big rock with a sharp edge chipped off of it, right. And then by the end of the Stone Age, you have these very finely formed arrowheads and a greater variety of tools. So it's like, wow, yeah, even in the Stone Age, there was progress. It was just a lot slower, right? So maybe progress is measured in millennia in that period. And then you get to, sort of like maybe the ancient and medieval world where progress is measured more in like centuries and then now, maybe progress is measured more in decades. And who knows, maybe in the future it'll be measured in years.

Bret Kugelmass
Actually, do you think there are any - now I might be getting way ahead of myself here - but do you think that there are any like cultural built-in like barriers to progress to make sure we don't go too quick, like, the kind of "get off my lawn" type stuff, making sure it's like a natural brake pedal just from kind of generational pushback. Like the older generation tends to be more conservative in the way they do things, but they also tend to control the power and the money, and so maybe, is there that resistance function?

Jason Crawford
Well, I think another thing you learn from studying the history of progress is that there has always been opposition to progress. Anytime there's been something new, it's gone through the kind of ignore, ridicule, fight, accept pattern, right, where, at first, when it's not obviously working, people will just sort of laugh at you, tell you you're crazy, think it's never going to work, or it's never going to be important. It's never going to- I mean, I was reading a story of the first reaper machine, and they're doing a demonstration of it and it doesn't work very well, the first time because, of course, it's a brand new invention and hasn't been tuned. And some guy there whose job is to reap the wheat by hand with a scythe and he's standing there watching. And, of course, when the machine breaks down, he laughs and he holds up the scythe. He's like, Well, this is the way we're always gonna do it, you know? So there's always that kind of mentality. I mean, I guess sorry, what I was saying was, I think you can look at this at two different levels. At one level, progress has always happened, it's just happened faster or slower, and it's been accelerating, but at the same time, that doesn't- so on that level, there's nothing different between now and the Stone Age. But if you just look one level up, there are these fundamental differences that do result in changes in the velocity and even in the acceleration. Sometimes you might look at the picture of world GDP over all of human history and it looks like this big hockey stick curve. You might look back at that and squint and say, Well, I don't know, is that just like an exponential curve? That's all, it's just been growing, whatever, a constant percent every year for all of human history? And it turns out, no, the rate of growth actually did increase a couple hundred years ago, and there might have been other increases as well, I would bet there was a major increase at least around the time of agriculture and settled societies and maybe around the time of writing and those sorts of, I haven't looked into that. But certainly around the time of the Industrial Revolution, there's an increase even in the rate of growth. And so there was something fundamental that changed. It wasn't that there were suddenly inventions for the first time where there had never been inventions before. There were plenty of inventions before the Industrial Revolution, right - the plow, the compass, the printing press, the spinning wheel, the loom. There were lots of things. It's just that they were spaced out so far. There were even - this is an interesting point from Joel Mokyr - there were even inventive periods where there was this efflorescence, this flourishing, brief flourishing in one time and place.

Bret Kugelmass
Like chemistry and France. It was like all of the guys, like the heroes of chemistry, all knew each other, all went to the same coffee shop in France. It's crazy.

Jason Crawford
Yes, although now you're getting into the scientific Industrial Revolution. But even before that, if you look back at like ancient Athens, there was this brief period of 20, 30 years when a whole bunch of new fields got established and these great play got written and stuff was figured out in mathematics and so forth. And then there was another one in Venice in the, I forget, 1400s, 1500s, and etc. Florence and during the Italian Renaissance, and so forth. But what was kind of different and unique about the Industrial Revolution was not that an inventive period began, it was that it never ended. It was actually sustained for hundreds of years up to the present day. That's what's unique about the Industrial Revolution was that it wasn't a flash in the pan or a brief kind of one generation long thing. Somehow, we got something fundamentally right and built it into the culture, built it into what got passed down to later generations, such that we kept this thing going over many, many generations. And it's just built on itself and it's been this reinforcing cycle of exponential growth for now, 250 or so years.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. And so this is a thesis that was laid out in this book that really had an impact on you and you're like, I want to explore this further? Is that the basic idea?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, definitely. I think that was the point where I decided I was going to broaden this from just the industrial revolution to all of human progress. And I've mostly been focusing on technological and economic progress, or the material progress. Long term, I am also interested in the growth of knowledge and science and kind of history of science, which I've barely dipped into at all, and also the history of moral and social progress. And I think at the end of the day, all three of these things - technology, science and society - are really three strands of a progress rope that are intertwined and ultimately, inseparable.

Bret Kugelmass
It sounds like you're writing an encyclopedia, not a book.

Jason Crawford
Well, the first book is going to focus on just the sort of material and technological part, so the story of industrial civilization.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, pretty amazing. Can we just kind of dial back a little bit to your emotional state? When you were like, did you have an identity crisis? Because when you switched to thinking of yourself as a writer - I mean, listen, I went through, after my first company, when I was trying to figure out what to do next, I went through a bit of an identity crisis, like, do I want to get back in the tech space or not? And then I've seen this with other friends, too. This is a common theme amongst entrepreneurs, at least in my cohort, where it's like there's some moment maybe around your 30s or mid-30s where maybe there's an identity crisis happening. What was your emotional state as- because you're giving up a lot. You're giving up everything people know about you as a technology entrepreneur, and how you've defined yourself at every cocktail party, everyone you ever know, you have to give that up in a certain sense. What was it like?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, it's funny, because it was, paradoxically, it was an identity crisis, absolutely, just like you described, and at the same time, it was just kind of very natural and obvious what the right step was. I think you're right that people go through this, especially founders, especially if they're maybe switching over from being a founder to being a VC or something. I remember when Marc Andreessen started Andreessen Horowitz, his venture capital firm, he said something, he joked about going over the dark side. Yeah, but for me, it was like even a bigger thing, right? Because I'm kind of, I'm almost leaving all the hard sciences and technology and engineering and going into this humanities area that's really about history and philosophy. And yet, I mean, I've always been interested in in philosophy, and I've been interested in history for a long time. It was also, like I said, it kind of grew up very organically as a side project. It was just a blog. It was literally at first just a reading list. It was just books I was going to read. Then I got interested enough to start writing about them. But for the first couple of years, I wasn't trying to promote the blog at all. And then in summer 2019, a few things happened in a row. One was that I had this breakout blog post that hit number one on Hacker News and went viral on Twitter. It was on Kottke, if you know that blog, which is one of the oldest blogs on the internet, and so I got a whole bunch of new subscribers from that.

Bret Kugelmass
What was that post about?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, it was titled, "Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?" And it was asking why was the bicycle not invented until the late 1800s. What were the-

Bret Kugelmass
That's a good title, too. Are you- I know journalists sometimes who, like a lot of their job is just writing catchy headlines. Has that been part of your blog endeavors, like trying to figure out what a good catchy headline?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, I mean, I do put a little bit of thought into that. But it's so difficult to predict which blog posts are gonna go viral. You're just gonna have to write a lot and focus on sort of volume and regularly turning stuff out. And then something will hit.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, man, I want to take us in so many different directions. Can you just do a quick synopsis on what that first blog post was? Cuz I know some people are probably dying to hear about that.

Jason Crawford
The one for the bicycle?

Bret Kugelmass
Yes, why wait so long for the bicycle. But just in case I forget, I also want to talk about process and what your routine is and how you write so prolifically, but okay, first the bicycle.

Jason Crawford
Okay, to really summarize this. I asked this question on Twitter, and a bunch of people replied and had hypotheses and then I looked at other sort of hypotheses around the web, and nothing was totally satisfying. So I went and researched it. People said, Oh, maybe it was roads, we need to wait to get better roads. But actually, it turns out that the roads mostly improved after bicyclists came along, and the bicyclists were some of the people agitating for better roads-

Bret Kugelmass
I believe it, I totally believe it.

Jason Crawford
-the roads movement in the early 20th century. And there are sort of various other things like proposed, oh, horses was another one. People were like, Oh, well, you had horses, so you didn't need bicycles. But that doesn't really make sense either because a bicycle is actually a lot cheaper than a horse, and you don't have to feed it and it's useful in different scenarios and so forth. Okay. So I looked into it. Well, so one of the things that turns out is just like, the right design for the bicycle was not at all obvious. In fact, for a long time, I think a lot of effort was wasted in people trying to make large four wheeled contraptions. They were essentially trying to make an automated carriage, like a carriage without a horse, but also didn't have a motor, it was human-powered. And these things are just too big and heavy to really get going. So then finally, in the early 1800s, somebody kind of, basically rather than trying to make a mechanical carriage, they tried to make a mechanical horse, just a little two-wheeled thing, okay. But the first bicycle, proto bicycle, didn't even have pedals. It was more like a scooter, like you would, or they had these for kids these days, instead of training wheels, you have it basically just low enough that your feet touch the ground, okay, and so you can balance with your feet, but you also push forward with your feet. There's no pedaling. And that's basically what the first bicycle was. And so then, it's like decades, and this became a brief fad, but then kind of died out. Then decades later, somebody puts pedals on the bike, finally. Okay, so now you can pedal it. Well, that's cool. Except the way they did it was they attached the pedals directly to the front wheel of the bicycle. And this is okay, except that you don't get a great gear, sort of like, gear advantage, right?

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, your power to speed ratio is fixed, essentially.

Jason Crawford
You're stuck in first gear, essentially. Okay. And the other thing was that, at the time, these bicycles are made of wood and cast iron, and there's no rubber on the tires, even. So their tires are maybe wood with iron rims, or maybe they're just made of metal. And so that kind of sucked, and they were really bumpy. One model around the 1860s or so is called the Bone Shaker. That was an indication of how bumpy of a ride it was, it was like no shock absorption. Anyway, to deal with both of these problems, what they started doing is making the front wheel bigger and bigger and bigger. Maybe you've seen the really ridiculous looking late 19th century bicycle. it's called the pennyfarthing, or there's one name for this design. But it's got this enormous front wheel and the rider is perched way up high, and it looks super dangerous, and it was. And it solved two problems. One was the bigger wheel gave you a better lever advantage so you weren't stuck in first gear essentially pedaling all the time. And then the other thing is that a larger wheel is better at shock absorbers. Yeah, but it was super dangerous and required almost acrobatic balance. Finally, they hit on the design where the pedals are not directly attached to the wheels. Instead, the pedals are in the middle, and they're connected to a wheel by sprocket and chain. Then, around the same, this was like 1880s - in fact, they called it the safety bicycle. That was its key feature was that it was safer than those pennyfarthings. And then the other thing that happened was they started doing rubber tires and then eventually pneumatic inflatable rubber tires. That helped with the shock absorption. So, by the late 1880s, you got the design that we would recognize as the modern bicycle. But it took most of the 19th century to do that design iteration.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow, late 1880s. The car was very soon to follow after and, to me, a car should be way more complex than a bicycle.

Jason Crawford
Well, I think part of what is like, when I went into this, I was kind of thinking, Oh, the bicycle is not that complicated, right? It's this relatively simple mechanical thing. It doesn't require any scientific breakthrough. And this is true, but I think it's easy to underestimate, actually, the manufacturing complexity. The other thing that was going on in the 19th century was the development of machine tools. It was hard to create precise parts that would fit together well. Creating those sprockets, and creating the chains and all of the parts of the bicycle and doing wire spoke wheels, and then later we were able to do a hollow tube for the bicycle, which made it lighter. And so all of these things are sort of fundamental manufacturing, like materials and manufacturing innovations that were getting developed during the 19th century that really made the bicycle practical and convenient and reliable and cheap. I think that's the other sort of part of the story of why it took so long for this to become a practical thing.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. Thanks for that. Let's talk about process. And then I also have another question teed up - man, I got a lot of questions queued up for you - but let's talk about your process first, and maybe tie it back to the history of this whole journey for you. So you get this one big post. Does that make you feel good? Is that like, Okay, I can do this, people are gonna listen to what I say. Now, I better get to work and I'm gonna do one a week, or something like that. What happened?

Jason Crawford
It was a boost, certainly. It was gratifying to get the attention. It was also gratifying to get retweeted or reposted by some economists and economic historians. Actually, in the course of researching this, I got connected with a guy named Anton House, who is now one of my favorite economic historians. So he posted it, and I thought, Okay, well, it's like a professional in the field thinks this is worth reading. That's cool, right? Tyler Cowen, who's an economist at George Mason and has been instrumental to the whole progress movement, that was the- I mentioned, by the way, there were three things that happened last summer, and we only got to the first one. Let me just briefly introduce the second thing that happened. Literally two weeks after I wrote this post, this article came out in the Atlantic under the headline, "We need a new science of progress" and it was authored by this guy, Tyler Cowen, who's an economist at George Mason. And then the other co-author was Patrick Collison, who's the CEO of technology company, Stripe, which is a payments technology company. And so the two of them co-authored this thing that came out and they called for a new discipline of progress studies. Really, this article really galvanized a community. There were a bunch of people like me who were all interested in this, very sympathetic to this progress concept, but we just didn't know about each other, because there's no name for it. Now, all of a sudden, a bunch of people were writing posts in response and talking about, Hey, let's get together, let's chat, let's have a Slack group, like a community. Really, this kind of movement in this community got going around this concept of like, Yeah, progress is important and it's kind of underrated. We should be paying more attention, we should be studying it and so forth. I would say that was the other thing. Those two things happening at the same time. And then, the third thing was just, for independent reasons, I decided to quit my job, so I was looking for something new to do. Coming back to this question you asked me of, Well, how did you make this shift? And wasn't it an identity crisis? Yeah, I kind of was and yet at the same time, this study and this research and writing was just what I was obsessed with. It was like the one thing I couldn't imagine not doing. I considered taking another job in the tech industry and I went and I interviewed and I did a job search. But I knew if I took one of those jobs, I would feel compelled to keep the blog going as a side project. Whereas, I also knew if I did the research and writing full-time, I would not feel like I had to do anything else. That could completely consume me. A good rule in life, I would say, is when you're that obsessed with something, and especially if it's been going on for, it's been building for a couple of years, go for it. Do whatever you need to just focus on it full-time and do it now. Don't wait. That's my life advice we'll tuck into this episode.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, my God. Offline, you and I have to have a couple more beers to talk. I feel like your path and my- I just feel like there are so many parallels. And maybe I'll interject with just a little anecdote myself as to - and maybe you feel this, maybe you don't, you tell me - but I think that there's something about the process of discovery that can inject a new energy into a human being that they never felt before. I have an uncle who's like this old Korean man - like literally in Korea, I've only seen him twice in my life - but I went out to visit him and he had discovered the Rosetta Stone that connects the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cultures from way back when. But the crazy thing about this guy is he's like 93, and he hops up stairs, like literally hops up stairs, kind of like Yoda. It's so crazy. And I spent a few days with him and we're just chatting about this idea of discovery. He essentially told me about this, about when you feel like you have uniquely discovered something in the world, the energy that it gives you is like nothing else. I felt that when I started on the nuclear journey, and I'm wondering, does that resonate with you as you start to discover things?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, totally. It's that and it's the combination of discovery and creation. It's both what you are learning and also kind of the vision you have for something you want to bring into the world. And that is the sense in which this is, at a very, very deep level, this is not a pivot for me at all. It's just continuing. I mean, every time I started a company, or certainly the most recent one, it was because I had a vision for a tool that needed to exist, some software, and I really desperately wanted to make that vision real and create it and bring it into the world. And now it's the same thing, only my vision is more around an intellectual program and books that I want to write and things that I want to create, courses I want to create online, and it's that sort of thing. But there's still that same kind of fundamentally creative drive that feels very similar.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. Process. Do you keep yourself to a schedule? How do you decide what to write and when to write it?

Jason Crawford
Yes, my schedule has not been regular, because I keep getting involved in projects other than just the core writing. For instance, last summer I got commissioned to create a high school summer program around the history of progress. That was done through a private high school called the Academy of Thought and Industry. I created that program last summer and ran it, I taught it for one cohort of students and then there were some other cohorts taught by other instructors. The school likes that enough that they wanted to just turn it into part of their core history curriculum. Then I've been doing that work with them as well. That's the thing that's been going on. And so these sort of projects come up. I'm trying to clear my schedule as much as possible to work on my book, but at the same time, I want to also write posts for the blog, so that I continue to connect with my audience.

Bret Kugelmass
Sell your book, I mean, you're essentially writing- I mean, I just think this blog thing is just the perfect way to write a book. You're building a loyal audience. You're doing continuous marketing. This is before you even have gone through the hard work of actually compiling everything. Oh, and you're processing your ideas along the way? And do we have to lie, you're gonna be better.

Jason Crawford
Exactly. In fact, the other thing I'm doing along those lines right now is, I'm doing a series of monthly discussion groups based around the book as I research it. This is through a platform called the Interintellect, which is kind of a platform for doing these intellectual discussion groups. I've got a series going on where- I mean, I have the outline for the book, and every month, I just, I give a little talk about the next chapter. It gives me a chance to present work in progress, but also to get feedback from an early test audience. I think that iterating with your audience before you even write the book is pretty important.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's super important. You almost kind of wonder how other authors don't do that. How do they write a whole book without iterating with our audience?

Jason Crawford
I think as of at least, like a decade ago, this was the only way to write a book.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, I want to come back to progress. And then, eventually, we'll get to nuclear at some point, but whatever. Okay, progress. Can I ask - because I've read some of your posts, but not all of them, so I don't know if you've already explicitly addressed this or not - are some types of progress inevitable based on broader societal forces? Or is progress up to like individuals and whatever unique characteristics they have at the right place in the right time?

Jason Crawford
I think there's a way in which both of those are true. First off, progress as such is not inevitable. I think we see this, again, simply from human history. For most of human history, there was very little progress going on. And there are- and in fact, there have been times when there's been regression. Look at the West after the fall of the Roman Empire, many things were lost for hundreds, for thousands of years. And similar kind of collapses or regressions have happened in other places and other times. We cannot count, there's no inevitability to history. There is no progression that just sort of unfolds independent of human choices and actions. I think, again, this is one of the lessons of Joel Mokyr's book: progress happens when we resolve to bring it about. That was the big thing that happened in the West in the 1500s and 1600s, and then going into the Industrial Revolution. Okay, but then as progress is moving forward, given that it is moving forward, I think there are at least some major discoveries and inventions that are more or less inevitable, maybe the exact form that they take is not. I think it was fairly inevitable that, as long as the Industrial Revolution kept going, we were going to discover electricity and figure out how to use it. That's just too big a deal. There were too many people working on it. Right? There's no way I think you could have avoided that, to take an example. At the same time, the exact form that these things take, I think, is somewhat contingent. Certainly, the timing of them is contingent. There was this quote from Simon Newcomb, who was a scientist around the turn of last century, he said something like, it's remarkable to think - I forget the exact wording, but it was something like essentially, if you just removed about two dozen men from the last few hundred years, you could kill all of progress. I think that's not quite true, because I think other people would have stepped up. But I think if you do remove those key people who made those key figures, you could easily set a field back by a decade or a few decades. Because sometimes it does take that long for the next discovery to come along.

Bret Kugelmass
And here's something else that I've played around with, in my mind. Let's say it's not dependent on the individual. But is it dependent on this idea that humans are a bell curve, and there's going to be the one end of people who are just- because you mentioned it before, it's like, people are like, society resists against you when you do something new. Are there people like, is there a rebellious gene in the human population that is just so necessary to advance things forward, people still willing to do stuff, even though everyone calls them an idiot, and there are just enough of those people that are always messing around with chemicals and messing around with geometries and courting themselves to make something real?

Jason Crawford
I mean, yes, I think it's not the case that if you took out one particular inventor, that the invention that he's credited with would never have been made. In fact, there are so many cases of simultaneous invention, right. I mean, even sort of Edison and the light bulb. There was another guy, Swan, in the UK, who had essentially invented the light bulb, and you know this because Edison fought every patent battle as hard as he could, and he did not defeat Swan. They had to end up doing a deal together in the UK to sort of manufacture, but they called it the Ediswan companies. I mean, Edison was the one who created the entire electrical system, and he deserves credit for that. But it's not that, if you removed Edison, electricity still would have happened. The light bulb would have happened. It would have taken longer, I don't know how much longer, but it would have happened eventually. But if you keep removing those people, like if you play some game where you then you remove the next guy who invents the light bulb, and the next guy and the next guy. What percentage of humanity would you have to remove? I suspect it's a very small percent to essentially kill progress or to lengthen it out by orders of magnitude, right? Certainly, maybe if you took the top 1% and maybe just a fraction of a percent of the most kind of intelligent, creative, rebellious, as you said, sort of nonconformist - the people with the drive and the ambition and the talent to make these breakthroughs - yeah, like a very sort of small sliver of humanity is really what kind of moves the world forward. Everybody's contributing in some way, but if you took out that very small sliver, I think progress would more or less grind to a halt. And in a sense, you can sort of think that is kind of what happens in societies where there's some sort of taboo against innovation.

Bret Kugelmass
I was just going to ask that.

Jason Crawford
if you look at times where there are - times and places where there's very strong orthodoxy, whether it comes from religion, whether it comes from, kind of like in medieval China where there was this real cultural value of stability, and then to lend to some degree to conformity, right? When you look at these things, it's essentially these social factors that are quashing that small percent, or fraction of a percent, of people in their innovations.

Bret Kugelmass
Yep. Okay, as you're continuing to write and continuing to learn, are there any topics that offered- so what do you do? I know you do a lot of book reviews. Is that one of the ways that you keep increasing your own base of knowledge? You're like, here's a book that's been recommended to me, it seems like it'll be good. I'm gonna read this with the intention of writing a really thorough book review. Is that one of your main ways of moving yourself forward?

Jason Crawford
I do write book reviews when I encounter good books or books that I think are sort of interesting to talk about. I never go into a book thinking I will definitely write a review of this. It's more of an after the fact thing if the book was interesting and coherent enough, and I didn't get bored and skim half of it. That's been a good way to do things. Sometimes I write posts that are not book reviews, but they're just my synthesis of what I've learned in an area and maybe I had to read a few different books, plus several articles, plus some other things to piece it all together, because there wasn't a great book. That was the case for the history of iron and steel, for example, which was one of the posts that I wrote. There was no one book that just told that story in the way that I thought it should be told, so I had to sort of synthesize and integrate a number of things. Reading books, though, is a great way to kind of advance the knowledge. Obviously, you have to always be doing that. In the beginning, that's all I was doing. I was just picking up fairly popularized histories, back when it started, as a hobby, essentially. Now, I'm a little more directed. I'm writing a book, I've got an outline, I have chapters I want to do. And so now I'm digging more into things. And also, as it's become more serious, as it's become a job, and not just a hobby, it kind of holds me to a higher standard. Now, I have the responsibility, and also the time, to go read primary sources, read scholarly papers, and so I'm incorporating more of those things. Sometimes when I pick up a book, especially if it's more of a scholarly book, I'm really more just dipping into a few chapters here and there that are relevant to what I want to do, rather than reading it all the way through. But I still pick up interesting books. Another one that I recommended to you, and I think it'd be great for your audience, is called "Where Is My Flying Car?" A really interesting sort of book about some very broad topics, in terms of progress and stagnation.

Bret Kugelmass
And I'll tell everyone to go read your post on that book, immediately, because I did and I loved it. Now I got to find this book on Kindle. Apparently they don't publish a hardcopy or something?

Jason Crawford
Yeah, well, it was self-published by the author. It's only on Kindle right now.

Bret Kugelmass
But it's $3.14. That makes an easy grab.

Jason Crawford
Pi dollars. I believe there is a - I think I can say this - there is a new edition coming out from a publisher. Be on the lookout for that, that'll probably be in hardback.

Bret Kugelmass
Yep. Okay, so you were - sorry, I cut you off - recommended that book to our audience, why?

Jason Crawford
I just think it's really interesting in terms of it's a very broad look at progress and stagnation. It's also a work of social analysis and commentary of how we lost the future that we were promised in the 1950s. It's also a work of futurism. It's sort of like, Where could we have been now? And where could we be in the future if progress gets to continue? And by the way, one of the major, so one of the major themes of the book is the importance of energy. In fact, the author, J. Storrs Hall, talks about how energy density, the requirement for energy density actually correlates pretty well in kind of a subjective fashion with which technologies did we think we were going to get in the 1950s that did not come true? If you look back at the last 50 years or so, the absolute fastest progress has happened in computers and information technology. It's the one area of technology that does not require high energy densities, because in computers, you actually make progress by having things take less energy. Whereas, in manufacturing or transportation, you tend make progress by using more and more energy.

Bret Kugelmass
But this is particularly ironic, and I think would resonate with this audience, because we did have a way to solve the ever-increasing requirement of energy density problem in the 50s, in the 60s, right? We invented nuclear energy and that could have enabled all of these advances in these other fields.

Jason Crawford
Absolutely. The potential for nuclear technology is one of the other major themes in the book. One of the things that the book opened my eyes to was how many different things are possible with applications of nuclear physics that have never even seriously been tried.

Bret Kugelmass
So true. I mean, I think about this an unfair amount, because I'm so immersed in the space. But it's like, when I have, once again, these late night talks with friends and talk about the world that could have existed, just knowing, having such like a deep foundational knowledge of what we can do with nuclear power, and also from being a mechanical engineer, from an understanding of the material constraints, the thermodynamic constraints of any given systems that we operate our day to day life, and how you can jump up the curve orders of magnitude by just kind of making the heart of a system an atomic heart. In some ways, it's kind of depressing, because I dream of cities in space that could have been, if we just kind of put a nuclear rocket. There's so much.

Jason Crawford
Yeah, totally. And Hall says, essentially, that the nuclear industry was strangled in its cradle. I think that's also something that would resonate with you and your audience. He also coined a term ergophobia, the fear of energy, to just sort of, well, really, just to sort of put a name to this kind of pathological fear that was part of the, especially the environmentalist movement in the 1960s, and to some degree, even today-

Bret Kugelmass
I was gonna ask, is this tied to elitism, and the elite don't want other people to have stuff, so they keep it from them?

Jason Crawford
It's even deeper than that. There were quotes in the book along the lines of, "discovering a cheap, abundant source of energy would be the worst thing that could happen." Or, giving a fusion energy or some other really amazingly powerful, cheap source of energy to humanity would be like giving a machine gun to a toddler. This was the attitude that was taken by some of the leaders of the environmentalist movement around the 60s and 70s. I think this is one of the deep things that contributed, a major contributing factor, to why the industry really stagnated.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow. And what else have you learned about nuclear?

Jason Crawford
Gosh, I've learned a lot of things. I've been researching it these last couple of months. I will probably be coming out with a report on essentially kind of what went wrong, and where are the bottlenecks today, and kind of like how could we potentially make forward progress? I've been researching, it's actually how we got in touch. I think one of the things I've learned - and I did a little Twitter thread about this, which I think actually led to this interview - which is essentially every problem that everybody complains about nuclear power already has an engineering solution. Many of those engineering solutions just haven't been put in place - engineering, or some other type of solution - and they just haven't been put in place, because the industry was essentially frozen and moves at the at a glacial pace. People complain that nuclear is expensive. Look, there are ways, we know ways to build faster and cheaper, we just don't do them. They complain about the waste, and yet there are ways to process the waste. There are also ways to not even generate the waste or to use more of the fuel. People complain about proliferation, and there are designs that are essentially non-proliferating designs. You might even argue about whether are these even real problems? Are they just sort of political or social?

Bret Kugelmass
You always jump to my next thought.

Jason Crawford
Setting that aside, it doesn't matter because solutions are on the table, right? Oh, load following. Here's another thing. You'll hear people say, Oh, well, the problem with nuclear power plants is that they can't do load following and therefore they can't solve all our power needs. And it turns out that's completely an artifact of the particular plants and the turbines that we happen to use. In fact, this has already essentially been solved in France and they are different turbines and different ways of doing this that allow you to be much better. Then, if you get into Hall's book, the flying car book, he talks about some even more futuristic advanced kind of speculative things, like chainless nuclear reactions where you're not actually using a chain reaction to generate energy, but you need an independent neutron source.

Bret Kugelmass
Sub critical accelerators, yeah.

Jason Crawford
And so you don't even have the potential for this runaway chain reaction, because there literally is no chain reaction.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's just so funny though, because hearing you talk about it - and this is a problem I have also - because what you're saying is so pro in the space, you're speaking about nuclear very favorably. And you are the thing that 99% of people need to hear to like nuclear. But just because I've been so deep in it, there are these little things that you say that I want to be like, no, no, no, no, you don't understand the fine nuances of it. The fine nuance is the chain reaction was never a problem to begin with light waters, because it's naturally self-moderating, or something like that. But it's so funny, because how can you bring everyone up to that level? I think there are levels of understanding with nuclear. The first level of understanding is having to go from, No, Chernobyl didn't kill millions of people. And then the second level is maybe the level that you're at now, which is, we have solutions for everything, and the level that and like - sorry if this is self-aggrandizing - but the level that I think I'm at is, it's not that we have solutions for everything, it's that those things aren't a problem. They're mischaracterized problems to begin with. I don't know, but then then you got to think, Okay, well, let's get practical about all this. If we wanted advance in society, you don't have to educate everyone in the world, right? You just have to attack, like where does the problem actually exist? If it's a policy problem, if it's an economic problem, if it's a cultural issue, can you just attack that issue, solve that issue, and then kind of build and grow from there. Does that kind of align with your other learnings about progress in technology?

Jason Crawford
Yes. The challenge with nuclear is that the problems have been going on for so long, a generation or two, that they've kind of now metastasized to the entire industry. It's like trying to cure a stage four cancer. Okay, after a month or two of solid research on this, here's kind of roughly where I am in terms of trying to summarize, let me summarize my current understanding of a very complex picture of what went wrong and how we got here. And then maybe you have some good riff on this. Okay. First off, nuclear technology was born in wartime and it made its introduction to the world as this horrific, dramatically destructive weapon. I think that is actually very significant to understanding what happened. Because then, well, first, it was considered all nuclear technology of any form, even nuclear power - which is, of course, not a weapon - but any nuclear anything was considered a very strategic geopolitical asset - probably very wise to consider it that way in the early years, right - but it was under the exclusive control of the US military bureaucracy for many years. And then, even when it emerged from that, it was sort of always under this kind of very tight government control. When it did emerge into civilian use cases, it ran smack into kind of the combined efforts of the anti-war movement and the environmentalist movement of the 1960s and 70s. You had the anti-war folks who were anti-nuclear weapons, and became anti-nuclear anything. And then you had the environmentalist folks who were sort of like, they had that ergophobia and were anti-energy, anti-sort of anything industrial and kind of advanced technology, which they saw as destroy- I mean, if you have any kind of initial fear or suspicion of technology, and then there's some technology that is somehow linked in any way to the most destructive weapon we have ever created, and by the way, it also has this radiation thing that's super scary and can kill you, yeah, okay, it's no surprise that they were going to be very much against nuclear power. The combination of these things - you've got this sort of tight government bureaucracy, and then you have this social movement that's very against the technology - just combined to create this really turbulent and rapidly escalating regulatory environment, especially the late 60s and into the early 70s. Then you ask, okay, what forces might counter this? Well, this is naturally the sort of thing that's going to lead a lot of cost increases as you make things more complicated and difficult. Who would possibly counter this? Well, one thing that counters cost increases is to have sort of like a free market with competition and like buyers who care about costs and stuff. And that is exactly what we did not have and essentially no one has ever had in energy, in electricity. Electricity markets in the US and around the world are typically regulated monopolies. They don't have an incentive to cut costs. In fact, the way they're done in the US, at least, there's this perverse incentive to to increase costs, which is the cost-plus model or the rate basing, where you've got essentially the cost a utility is allowed to charge, the price they're allowed to charge, is their cost plus a guaranteed rate of return. Guaranteed rate of return is a term that should strike fear into an economist's heart, because it literally says that the higher your costs are, the higher your profit will be. There was no cost fighting from that angle, and then how did the rest of the industry respond? Well, I mean, this is the thing that you have told me and that I had also gleaned from other sources, which is they essentially just pivoted into regulatory capture. Very profitable to retrofit nuclear plants.

Bret Kugelmass
Can you explain what regulatory capture is to people who maybe haven't heard?

Jason Crawford
Sure. Regulatory capture is this concept from economics where, essentially, a for-profit business can take advantage of regulation to give themselves a competitive advantage, and therefore capture profits that they wouldn't be able to achieve if that regulation weren't there. You see this pretty much any time that there is any kind of licensing or certification, all the way from a pharmaceutical company that has an advantage, because it's been through the FDA approval process, and it's difficult for incumbents to get through - or sorry, it's difficult for new entrants to get through that process - all the way down to, literally, the hairdresser who has a license from the state or the county. It's difficult for new hairdressers to come along and compete, because they have to go through a bunch of training, hours of training, and get that license. At every level, you've got this phenomenon where incumbents have a competitive advantage by they've either been through the licensing process, or another form of this is just when there's heavy, ongoing compliance costs. It favors large incumbents, because they have the legal staff and the compliance department and they have the overhead to pay all those compliance costs. Whereas a tiny startup entrant cannot compete that way. That's the basic concept of regulatory capture. So when you've made very low levels of radiation, far below background level, far below what is kind of rationally harmful to human health, and you've made those levels of radiation into a thing that you can profit from shielding people from, and protecting against release of, and cleaning up, quote, unquote, when it's out there, you've just created all these profit incentives that are only there because of the safety regulations.

Bret Kugelmass
That drive up the cost of nuclear energy, and it's coming from the nuclear industry.

Jason Crawford
Exactly, well, it's coming from, I think it's this whole thicket of, it's the combination of the regulations, the utility companies and the way the entire utility market is structured, the nuclear companies themselves, and then the social kind of substrate of this very anti-nuclear attitude in society. It's all of those things working together to create this very complex problem. And that's why I say it's like this thing. Okay, and then after generations of this go on, now what do you have? Well, now, nuclear engineering is just not the top field that you would direct a young ambitious engineer into. Not that there aren't some very talented and ambitious people in there - there are, fortunately - but it's not where the firehose of talent has been pointed. It's been pointed into things like computers and finance. That's where you can go make a bunch of money if you're smart. Nuclear is not that place. And there's this socially reinforced thing as well, where the very overreaction to radiation releases convinces people further that those releases are harmful. People will, if you ask people, Why is a nuclear accident so dangerous? They'll say, Well, don't you know Chernobyl is still shut down, and they won't let new people in there. Don't you know, they had to evacuate 100,000 people out of Fukushima, and- right, and so it's this thing where the very overreaction itself becomes the proof to society that the reaction was needed. That's why I say we're in this very difficult position of metastasis, where the problems are everywhere. The supply chain has been decimated. It's everywhere.

Bret Kugelmass
And institutions become evermore ingrained. Yeah. And, by the way, I think that you described it perfectly. I know you said I could riff off it, I don't think I need to. That was the greatest history of nuclear technology I've ever heard.

Jason Crawford
Well, thanks.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. Now, I've got to ask the question, though. You study more than nuclear. Have you seen lessons learned from other examples or other industries that can maybe be applied to course correct the stage four cancer?

Jason Crawford
Yeah. I'm asking myself, is there an example I know of anything that has come back from this kind of thing. Well, let me- I think that there are some areas of technology that stagnated and where we are beginning to see a renaissance. And there are some signs that it could happen in nuclear as well. Maybe let me approach it from that angle. Nuclear is not the only technology that we were, quote, unquote, promised around the 1950s. There are a couple others. Some of the other biggest examples are from aerospace. So 1969, we put a man on the moon and we haven't been back there since right. That's kind of- so space technology sort of hit this huge height, and then it stagnated. Then, the other thing that sort of was a promise and almost arrived and then went away was supersonic air transport. We got the Concorde in the 70s. The Concorde never became affordable, even to sort of business travelers. It was always this sort of bucket list item, I think it cost like $20,000 in today's money. It was not the sort of thing- you didn't do it for travel, you did it almost for fun, or for luxury, or if you were already super rich. And you just wanted to show off maybe that you were super rich, or you kind of thought the plane looked cool, or something, but it was like- So, in both of those areas, kind of what killed it was, ironically, a lot of government attention and funding that pushed the technologies forward. In both cases, both space and supersonic, were kind of done as national prestige projects, the sort of national grandstanding, almost a part of the Cold War. I mean, the space absolutely was part of the Cold War and I think supersonic to some extent, as well. It was kind of like, Look, let's show off that our political system and our nation is the one that can make this technological breakthrough. That is not a basis for sustainable technology and industry. That is exactly how you set up a flash in the pan in historical terms, where you achieve this great height, and then you lose all the energy, right? I mean, once we've been to the moon, it was clear that we were far ahead of the Soviets. Why are we spending taxpayers' money on this anymore? Again, remind me? We hit Kennedy's goal. It's time to, we have other priorities now. Especially when, I mean, Apollo came right before the oil shocks and everything. The lesson from aerospace, I think- if you look at what's happening now, well, aerospace is starting to see a renaissance. We have - and what is it, well, it's a private renaissance. I mean, private renaissance with, in some cases, certainly some cooperation and collaboration of government, but it's companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boom Supersonic, these are the ones, the companies, that are trying to bring these technologies back, and they're trying to do it back, they're trying to bring it back on an economic basis by driving the costs down to the point where you can actually get customers to pay for this. SpaceX is driving costs down with their reusable rockets. Blue Origin is doing similar things. Boom Supersonic has a plan to make supersonic flights available for more like $5,000, not $20,000. Now, that's still expensive, but that is within the reach of business class, long distance travel. They are planning to actually sell tickets to people who want to fly, not just people who want some crazy, fun experience. And Boom, by the way, wants to, I mean their very long term plan is to drive the cost down even more, and not to keep it at $5,000 forever, but eventually to make it available to everybody, even economy seats on these plans. Just like Tesla started with the high-end Roadster and then systematically drove the cost down and down, that's also Boom's plan. I think the fundamental lesson out of all of this is, if you want to bring nuclear back, the way to do it is to make it economical, actually make it cheap the way it deserves to be. I think some people want to bring nuclear back based on sort of climate concerns, and because of that, they're taking an approach where it's like, well, let's just get governments to commit to it, and pour lots of money into it and mandate it and so on and so forth. If you really want to, I would say, bring nuclear back in a solid, long-lasting way, an unkillable way, make it profitable.

Bret Kugelmass
I couldn't agree more.

Jason Crawford
Make it cheap. Have it deliver energy to the world. I mean, it's really the cost increases that killed it. Actually, I say that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world that nuclear is inherently expensive. I think that has actually killed the industry much worse than an outright ban sort of ever could have. If nuclear just been banned outright, you have all the forces of capitalism working to bring it back. But by convincing the world that nuclear is sort of inherently expensive, today even the capitalists don't want to touch it. But what we are seeing, and sort of the hope for a nuclear renaissance, is we are seeing the sort of new generation. Okay, so what is it going to take to fix this metastasis? I think it's kind of, it's sort of fundamentally two things. One, I think we need nuclear startups who are going to come along and essentially infuse fresh energy, motivation, and strategic thinking into this industry. We are seeing, now, a kind of generation of mission-driven founders who are looking at this morass, and saying, I'm gonna find some way to make this work anyway, because it's just so important for the future. I think that's a great and really hopeful thing. And so what we need then, in combination with the nuclear startup, with all those mission-driven founders is, we also just need to somehow fix or find ways to work around the regulatory thicket that we're in right now. There are some companies that are just plowing through that regulatory thicket with lots and lots of money. There are other companies that are trying to find more creative ways, maybe, to work with the NRC in the most minimal sort of fashion and get through cheaper than has been done in the past. And then there are other folks that are just saying, actually, this is not going to start in the US. This is going to start elsewhere and let's find a friendlier international venue. I think, maybe, hopefully, if the new generation of nuclear technology could be proven outside the US, that combined with sort of shifting political winds in the US, is the sort of thing that would give us a hope for reform in the US and, more broadly, in the West over the coming decades.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow, you have given us a lot to think about there. Okay. To continue this, we only have so much time, can you maybe tie this into a broader theme? If you were to kind of, I don't know, do you want to give away the secrets of your book or not give it away? Or whatever you want to do. Tie it to something that the audience can latch on to, now that you've kind of shown extreme competency in nuclear, to then follow you for your other ideas, too, which are also awesome.

Jason Crawford
Thanks. Well, sure. I think the broader theme to tie into here is the technological stagnation, which is a theme that a number of people have been talking about now for about a decade. Peter Thiel is one of the first to started talking about it about a decade ago, Tyler Cowen, who we've already mentioned, wrote a book called "The Great Stagnation" in 2011. Robert Gordon wrote a book called "The Rise and Fall of American Growth" a few years after that, which is interesting, although I disagree with his projections for the future, because he doesn't see a lot of growth potential in the future. There's been this general theme of saying, if you look over the last 50 years or so, since roughly 1970, technology has actually slowed down. Hasn't gone to zero, there's been a lot of progress, but if you just compare it - and there's been more progress than anytime before the Industrial Revolution, let's not get too pessimistic here - but if you compare the last 50 years to the equivalent period, 100 years prior. Look at the period from 1870 to 1920. That was a period of amazing change that, actually, was where things were rocketing ahead even faster than in the last 50 years. In that period, we got the growth of the oil industry, the invention of the internal combustion engine, and its application to both automobiles and airplanes. We got the invention of the light bulb, the electric generator and motor and the entire build out of the electrical industry. We got, really, the application of applied chemistry, the first pharmaceutical companies. Aspirin, one of the first marketed drugs, some of the very first antibiotics - although the real antibiotic revolution wouldn't come until sort of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. We got some of the very first plastics, like Bakelite. We got the telephone and radio and then, just after that period, came television. Really, the whole germ theory was sort of developed and applied in that time. We got water sanitation systems and rates of disease started coming down fairly dramatically. We got some of the first vaccines since Edward Jenner's smallpox vaccine, which is almost a century earlier. Just across the board, there were five technological revolutions going on all at once that affected the entire economy. Then you look at the last 50 years, and what did we get? Well, we got the computer revolution, and the internet, which was amazing. I don't want to downplay that at all. That was absolutely amazing. And then we got some stuff in genetic engineering, although we've really only scratched the surface of that so far. Manufacturing, we're still making stuff in factories kind of the way we did in the 60s and 70s, only now with computer control, right. Airplanes haven't gotten any faster. They've gotten safer, sure, they've gotten cheaper, but they've actually gotten a little slower. Cars are fundamentally the same. Again, they're safer, and they've got cameras in them now. That's cool. There just hasn't been this fundamental, nothing as fundamental as the invention of the car, the invention of the airplane, or even the jet engine, right. And so, when you look at it, to claim that we've had as much progress in the last 50 years as we did in that previous period is sort of to claim that computers and the internet are as big as telephone, radio, the germ theory, the internal combustion engine, electricity, the lightbulb, like all of those things put together, and it just doesn't make sense. You just can't really claim that. When you look broadly, you have to see that progress has kind of slowed down. And the other way to see this is to look at, to tie it into our theme here in this venue, is to look at the things that people thought were going to happen 50, 60, 70 years ago, that did not happen. Nuclear is like number one on that list. Like I said, supersonic transport, space exploration and colonization, and sort of all of these things that people thought were going to come, the sci-fi future that we were, quote, unquote, promised and that didn't make it here. When you look at this, I see a few kind of big things that happened. These are all themes that you'll find in that flying car book, by the way, and you'll find in my review of that book, they pretty much accord with my own research. One is, as in nuclear, this dramatic growth of regulation, and regulation really beyond what is, in my opinion, kind of necessary or justified for safety and kind of human health. A large degree of safety theater, I think is the term for it. And I think it happened not only in nuclear, but in a lot of other places. And then another interesting theme is just the centralization and bureaucratization of funding for science and research. Before World War Two, the federal government did not do a lot of research funding, and since then it has more or less taken over the field. The NIH has a 40 plus billion dollar budget, now. The NSF is another 8 billion or so on top of that. The NIH just pretty much dominates biological, biomedical research these days. It's not the sole player, but it's just so huge that, by its weight, you kind of have to play by its rules if you if you want to get anything done. Centralizing and bureaucratized funding is just a way to miss breakthrough opportunities.

Bret Kugelmass
And create a lot of groupthink.

Jason Crawford
The sort of consensus and groupthink, especially when you adopt the committee-based, peer review model that the NIH and the NSF use for grant proposals. DARPA, at least, is a little bit more like, pick a program manager and let them run with things. I think DARPA has been more successful. That's a very interesting model to look for. But I think, even if the NIH is a good model to fund some stuff, I don't think we should have any one model funding everything, or really dominating the way it does. And if we are going to have something like this peer review based, committee-based groupthink model is one of the worst models you can come up with to make fundamental breakthroughs that are, these are things that, by definition, sort of challenge the status quo. The third thing, and to tie it back to my work, is just fundamental cultural attitudes towards progress. Do we believe in progress? If you look on the broad sweep of the last few centuries, I think people really did believe in progress in the 19th century. They had even perhaps a naive optimism about how easy or inevitable progress would be and how material progress would go along with moral and social progress. It was just, everything was going to be great and they didn't see any problems at all. The 20th century ran smack into some of the problems of progress and some of the disconnect, by the way, between moral and material progress. As you know, you got the amazing technology of the 30s and 40s combined with the world wars. We just saw, wow, these things are going in opposite directions. In fact, technology is not only promoting moral progress, but it's making war more horrific and destructive. That's just one example of a number of things. People got worried about environmental impacts. They got worried about unintended consequences of technology, obviously, job loss, and going along with automation, and many, many things, concerns came to the fore. I think what happened was, the culture sort of turned against progress in the 20th century. And we sort of threw the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than just confront the real problems head on and try to come up with solutions to them, we turned into this very reactionary mode. I think the reactionary wing that had always been there ever since the 19th century, and even before, came to the forefront, and was able to influence the conversation like never before. My basic thesis is, we need a new philosophy of progress for the 21st century. We need to rescue the baby from the bathwater. We need to figure out how to confront the real problems of technology and industry and progress. But without throwing out progress itself. Let's find ways to make good, to go forward in a way that is safe, is healthy, and that works for everybody, and make sure that the whole world benefits from progress. I think that's how we need to go forward, but we need to rescue this concept. Rescuing the concept begins with history. Begins with a retelling of the story of progress, going back and just reminding people what we've forgotten. Too many people just take for granted this amazing world that we've all been born into. The standard of living that we now enjoy the health and comfort and safety and just the lives that we can live, this is a gift from our ancestors. It is something people did not have a couple hundred years ago and it's something that we should not take for granted. We should have gratitude for that. We should look around at the industrial civilization with awe and amazement and wonder. And we should look at things that seem ordinary, like steel girders and plate glass windows and paved roads and fresh fruit in the supermarket and hot running water from the tap and air conditioning and electricity and light bulbs, and all these things. We should see all these things. It's like, Wow, this is amazing. I'm so grateful for this gift, thank you, and I'm gonna pay it forward to future generations by making sure that their standard of living is as much better compared to ours today, as ours is compared to that of 200 years ago. That's what my work is. I am trying to make the story of human progress accessible to a broader audience, not bound up in sort of academic, economic history, but really bring it out there in a way that anybody can read and enjoy. And to start to use that to establish this new philosophy of progress that we can take to go forward with in the 21st century. So, if you do want to find out more about my work, rootsofprogress.org is my website. It's where you can find those essays and learn more about the things that I'm doing. I'm also pretty active on Twitter as Jason Crawford so look me up there.

Bret Kugelmass
Jason Crawford, everybody.

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