Daron Acemoglu has an interesting working paper entitled “The World our Grandchildren Will Inherit: The Rights Revolution and Beyond”. In it he surveys the 10 most important economic and social trends of the past century and asks what the future holds for these trends. The 10 trends are:
1. The rights revolution – the increase in civil and political rights of citizens. According to Acemoglu, this is the most fundamental right as it underpins the other trends.
2. The sweep of technology
3. Unrelenting economic growth
4. Uneven economic growth
5. The transformation of work and wages
6. The health revolution
7. Technology without borders
8. War and peace
9. Counter-Enlightenment in politics
10. Population explosion, resources and the environment
At the centre of Acemoglu’s paper is the idea that technological change is at the root of economic growth, and that technological change is shaped by political institutions. Societies which are pluralistic and have a broad-based distribution of political power, and where the government has a monopoly of coercive power have higher economic growth and are more prosperous. For this reason, Acemoglu is not optimistic about China’s future prosperity unless they move towards a more inclusive and broad-based polity.
Acemoglu’s paper can be criticised on at least three counts. First, he has a very Whiggish view of history. Second, there is the danger that the distribution of political power becomes too wide and ultimately begins to undermine democracy. Third, the rights revolution has created a huge rent-seeking culture and industry. The question ultimately is whether this industry is a parasite or a parasitoid.
There is also a review of Acemoglu's paper over at the NEP-HIS Blog.