About the Blog

hic sunt dracones

Trevor Chow

I’m Trevor, and I write about progress.

We live in a truly special time, because we are lucky enough to be alive after AD 1850. That means we live in a world after the Industrial Revolution. In the 150 years following the Industrial Revolution, we saw unprecedented progress in human wellbeing. More people than ever before were brought out of extreme poverty and liberated from the shackles of injustice and tyranny. Underwriting all of this was unprecedented productivity growth.

Since the turn of the 21st century, we have continued to see technological innovation abound. Yet it doesn’t feel like we are living in an era of abundance. I want to figure out why that is and how we can get back to an age of progress!

In that vein, here are a few things I think a lot about:

The Deep Magic of Economic Growth

Economic history and theory can tell us a great deal about how growth happens. By looking to past examples of progress and stagnation, I want to appreciate the nuances of when we succeed and when we fail.

The Political Economy of Increasing Returns

The basis of civilisation is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s how we’ve gotten economic, social and technological progress in the past.

However, increasing returns to scale are badly handled by existing market and political mechanisms for collective choice. Under increasing returns, there are externalities and spillovers, for better and for worse. This means that those who get to make decisions rarely coincide perfectly with the group which is affected by the outcome of the decision.

Political economy is the art of building social technologies to complement scientific technologies. Institutions like property rights and democracy aren’t sociological or moral primitives; they are simply technologies which we have designed to allow human flourishing.

Unfortunately, our social technologies are designed for a simpler age, when innovation was faster-paced and more predictable. Institutional entrepreneurship has not kept up as the rest of the world changes.

I want to grasp how modern technological progress is different from its past forms and how we can build new institutions which tackle this problem head on.

The ABCs of Technology

We are only as powerful as our energy, software and hardware. Each time humanity has progressed, it is because technology has improved one or more of these.

The falling price of energy transitioned the world from an organic economy to a mineral economy in the early 19th century. That was the Industrial Revolution, transforming the world of atoms.

The falling price of compute transitioned the world from an analogue society to a digital society in the early 21st century. That was the Information Revolution, transforming the world of bits.

The next frontier in my mind will transition the world from carbon-based life to carbon+, or even silicon. That is the Biological Revolution, and it will transform the world of cells.

I want to understand how each of these technologies arose and how they work.

The Long Run is a Series of Short Runs

This may well be the most important century. That means we have an obligation to bend the arc of history towards justice.

It may seem like an insurmountable challenge to change the long-run future of humanity. Luckily, the long run is just a handful of short runs, and what happens now matters far into the future.

I want to know the sorts of policies that are most likely to set us on this positive trajectory.

One example is monetary policy.

There are plenty more too!

Trimmings and Accompaniments

Sometimes, I write about other things which take my fancy.