Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy – Tim Harford

Fifty inventions

Interesting book that was an easy read.  Each invention is a chapter that essentially stands alone, so it’s an easy book to pick up and put down.  The author’s self-described purpose is not to list the fifty most economically significant inventions.  It’s instead to tell of interesting inventions that shaped the economy by tugging on a complex web of economic connections.  Sometimes they tangled us up, sometimes they sliced through old constraints, and sometimes they weaved entirely new patterns.

The author is a good writer and the book is enjoyable and informative.  The only downside is that he’s a European who thinks all good things and all responsibility are ultimately inherent in government.  The book was written in 2017, so there are numerous references to climate change and several digs at the current administration in Washington.  That aside, however, the book is worth reading.  The fifty inventions are (apparently in no certain order):

  1. The plow
  2. The gramophone
  3. Barbed wire
  4. Seller feedback (pioneered by eBay)
  5. Google search
  6. Passports
  7. Robots
  8. The welfare state
  9. Infant formula
  10. TV dinners
  11. The pill
  12. Video games
  13. Market research
  14. Air conditioning
  15. Department stores
  16. The dynamo
  17. The shipping container
  18. The bar code
  19. The cold chain (refrigerated transportation)
  20. Tradable debt
  21. The Billy bookcase (Ikea)
  22. The elevator
  23. Cuneiform
  24. Public-key cryptography
  25. Double-entry bookkeeping
  26. Limited liability companies
  27. Management consulting
  28. Intellectual property
  29. The compiler
  30. The iPhone
  31. Diesel engines
  32. Clocks
  33. Chemical fertilizer
  34. Radar
  35. Batteries
  36. Plastic
  37. The bank
  38. Razors and blades
  39. Tax havens
  40. Leaded gasoline
  41. Antibiotics in farming
  42. M-pesa (mobile money)
  43. Property registers
  44. Paper
  45. Index funds
  46. The S-bend (traps in drain pipes)
  47. Paper money
  48. Concrete
  49. Insurance
  50. The lightbulb


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