Fifty Inventions That Shaped The Modern Economy by Tim Harford

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Published: 28 August 2018
About the author: Tim Harford is the author of the bestseller The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life and a member of the editorial board of the Financial Times, where he also writes the "Dear Economist" column. He is a regular contributor to Slate, Forbes, and NPR's Marketplace. He was the host of the BBC TV series Trust Me, I'm an Economist and now presents the BBC series More or Less. Harford has been…

If you are looking for an intellectual perspective on how certain inventions shaped the world we live in, this is the book for you. Tim Harford humanizes economics though storytelling as a result his interpretation of economics is relatable and above all ignites a change in perspective.

Fifty inventions that shaped the modern economy” is a time travel in an informative and entertaining manner that is short and straight to the point. These inventions are coupled with a good story especially those of unintended consequences, like how the invention of video games shaped the labour market by creating a large pool of young men who would rather play video games than look for a job and are completely content with that.

Tim also addresses inventions that had a social impact such as The Plow which shaped modern society, but one that stood out was The Contraceptive Pill because it liberated women, changed gender politics, and had a positive economic impact. Studies have shown that because of reliable contraceptives, there was a shift in the type of degrees young women chose in universities, as they were now able to prolong marriage and childbearing to focus on their careers instead.

Tim aims to explore the lessons behind these inventions, for instance inventions such as the grammar phone and a vinyl are obsolete in current times however their lesson is that they changed the distribution of income in the music industry, therefore creating winners and losers. Alluding that we should not get distracted by new inventions and completely ignore simple ones that are designed to solve particular problems.

It was so interesting to learn how land ownership evolved from the invention on the Barbed Wire, the Passport, Intellectual Property and even Property Registers. Land ownership proved the conquest nature of human beings when we learn of Chinese farmers who colluded in secret to increase production on “their land” therefore defying the community ideology of China, this simple act of defiance shaped the China we know today.

The role that government plays comes up a lot in this book, from its involvement in the creation of the iPhone to the Welfare impact which enabled South African girls to grow up healthier. The decisiveness of the state during uncertain times of wars, economic turmoil and black swans has also had an invisible hand in these inventions as majority of them were created to solve immediate problem of societies then. I was reading this book during the early stages of the lockdown and could attest to this, though not all government involvement had a positive impact.

I highly recommend this book, not only because it’s well researched, but because it will enable you to have a deeper understanding of the world we live in as well as inspire you in how you choose to place yourself in this world. The lessons of this book will change the way we create the future and Tim makes a point that new innovations should either fit into a system or we should adapt systems to accommodate them.

Inventions will always have winners and losers, from reinventing how we live to the new systems that shape our trade as well as the invisible hand that inspire new inventions, therefore avoid the Luddite fallacy and go create the next Google!

The book is available on Amazon.

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