The Greatest Story Ever Told

I gave a series of four talks last week at Cato University; only the first of them was broadcast by C-SPAN, and you can watch it here. (The title was “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, meaning the story of economic growth.)

Much of this material will look familiar to those who have watched other videos recently posted in this space, but I think it comes together a little better in this one. The remaining lectures contained more in the way of new material, and I’m hoping to be able to post at least some video excerpts in the near future.

There were a lot of fabulous talks at this event by such luminaries as Tom Palmer (here and here) and the extraordinary Robert McDonald, who held the audience in thrall with his gripping three-part series on the history of the American revolution (not, unfortunately, online, even in part).

If you missed it, there’s always next year!

Click here to comment or read others’ comments.


12 Responses to “The Greatest Story Ever Told”

  1. 1 1 Martin

    I like the video, but I was a bit confused at first when you said that “our ancestors are going to be making $1,000,000/day”, because I’ve been told that the afterlife is a timeless state with few opportunities for spending money.

  2. 2 2 Dirk

    So what was the answer to the question “Is political freedom correlated to economic freedom?”

    Since the other parts are not online, we didn’t get to hear the answer.

  3. 3 3 Kostis

    i like the video & the evidence . i would like to see a blog post about europe and greece prospects if it is possible.

  4. 4 4 Vic

    I heard several lectures by Rob McDonald and got to meet him at an Institute of Humane Studies Seminar. He is an amazing speaker, both because of his lecture’s content and his delivery. He is also a pretty funny guy. Glad to see Landsburg found him interesting as well.

  5. 5 5 Martin-2

    Who’s the intended audience of this relativity book?

  6. 6 6 Barry Zuckerkorn

    It should be entitled “The Best Story NEVER Told.”

    Can you name a college level course that introduces this topic? I didn’t learn about Angus Maddison and quantitative economic history until after I had graduated. A major shortcoming of college level Econ.

    My favorite concise intro:

  7. 7 7 Jim Post

    I watched the CATO presentation on C-SPAN, and it was terrific. I will keep my eye out for more of your talks. It is great to add you to my radar screen, it will be of great benefit to me.

  8. 8 8 Steve Landsburg


    Who’s the intended audience of this relativity book?

    Advanced undergraduate math majors. But while the book is 3/4 finished, I haven’t worked on it in years and I don’t know that it will ever be complete. My vision is for six chapters (Algebra, Topology, Geometry, Physics, Cosmology, Philosophy). Of these, the first four are written and the first three are online; you can find them by poking around at .

  9. 9 9 Ken B

    Re 8: I had a peek at chapter 1. Degenerate bifunctors and injective coverings; reminds me of my misspent youth.

  10. 10 10 Ken


    With regards to bases and vector spaces, I think you should make clear that each vector space has a basis. It is not clear at all that this is true, particularly since the sum 1.5.1 is finite and there are infinitely dimensional vector spaces.

    I didn’t read the whole of chapter 1, so am not sure if this theorem is included, but I think this is sufficiently important to linear algebra that you should include this in 1B.

  11. 11 11 James Knight

    It was a good talk – and humans are gradually getting better. I’d like you to consider the following question: What do you suppose to be the most extreme human behaviour history has seen? Is it, for you, the larger scale atrocities like the antics of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Mussolini? Or what about people like Myra Hindley and Ian Brady? Or maybe they’re just less sane than the rest. What about Islamic suicide bombers? Or what about the couple who recently murdered their daughter in an honour killing because her embracing western values was seen as a disgrace to their religion? There’s lots to choose from – but which strikes you as the most base and evil that humans ever sink to?

  12. 12 12 Paul T


    The Sears catalog example is pungent. Another that I like,
    is automobile tires. Ask the audience: how many flats
    have you had in the last 10 years, and how many miles
    did you drive? Then note that 70 years ago, one had to
    budget for 2 flats on a cross-country trip. This saving
    in time and aggravation is significant, but doesn’t show
    up in growth data, and represents a conundrum for economics.
    Longer life tires -> fewer purchases. Thus, less
    consumption and production. Egad, recession, Bernanke
    save us!

    “I’m an economist, not a philosopher.”
    You might want to re-think that, personally, and in the
    general terms of these disciplines.

    Re your rocky relation with John Rawls – as it happens,
    Rawls’ son, who got a PhD in a social science – can’t
    recall which – was a libertarian, who disputed the old
    man’s opus, in public screeds (I don’t know if he feels
    the same today). So you can take consolation knowing
    that, if you misunderstood Rawls, apparently his cub
    was likewise befuddled.

    Your extrapolation that standard of living will continue
    to rise tomorrow is tenuous. It’s true that life has
    improved dramtically since 1800, thanks to capitalism and
    industrialism (for which sins Romney now grovels and
    apologizes, but let me not digess). But, crucially, the
    price of energy dropped in tandem, from lumber to coal
    to petroleum. And energy is the foundation of everything.
    Today, we see that trend reversing (the fracking novelty
    notwithstanding). It’s absurd to claim future growth, if
    energy supplies shrink.

    The link between education and innovation; where’s the
    proof this isn’t a correlation/causation fallacy? The
    problem is that ‘education’ is nebulous; doesn’t every
    country claim dedication to this ideal? And, more is better?
    This argument is a gift to the statists.

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