The Poverty of Theory
Two tech-utopian tracts envision a world without politics
Why Information Grows:
The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies
by Cesar Hidalgo
$26.99 List Price
Some people will go through spectacular contortions to ignore politics and its role in the global economy. Technology just changes. Social change just happens.
Imagine a world that had never experienced the spice trade, colonialism, the slave trade, mercantilism, racism, two world wars, and a “cold war.” Envision a global matrix of trade and commerce that did not emerge via massive state investment (in some countries) in public education and universities; massive state investment (ditto) in military technology, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; and enormous state support for industry and agriculture.
In such a world, one might expect a level playing field among nations. States could leverage their natural gifts, such as climate, arable land, buried resources, labor supplies, and navigable bodies of water, to achieve comparative advantages over their competitors. And all the theoretical arguments for “free trade” might generate actual evidence supporting them.
Instead, of course, we live in a world in which economic dominance is stained by blood and marked by the nation-state’s brutally efficient machinery of resource exploitation. In reality, natural advantages shrink in importance next to the raw political power of the richest and most militarily aggressive states.
Nevertheless, American writers in the booming tech-seer sector continue to ignore the role of politics and policy in explaining how and why wealth is distributed unequally across the globe, usually deploying a pair of interlocking analytical strategies to transport their readers into the