Recent Discussion

The introduction of factory manufacturing in the developing world changed the lives of more than a billion people, and in doing so, it helped to lift an entire continent out of extreme poverty. Factories in developing countries are often portrayed as involuntary labor camps at worst and as centers of coercive employment at best. Hot, dark, dangerous, a wholly unwelcoming place where workers are conscripted against their interests to toil for the betterment of Western civilization. 

While this picture of the factory may feel temptingly intuitive, it is far from an accurate picture of modern industrialization and manufacturing in low- and middle-income countries. For more than fifty years, the factory has provided an escape from the crushing immiseration and unfathomable drudgery of subsistence farming. 

Subsistence farming in low-and middle-income...

This is a linkpost for:

If there’s one thing that the millions living across the San Francisco Bay Area can agree on, it’s this: things are falling apart. From homelessness and fentanyl to rents that are unaffordable even on six-figure median incomes, the lack of tangible progress on these issues gives the impression that the Bay Area is fundamentally ungoverned, and maybe even ungovernable. 

This is strange because governments are the one thing the Bay Area does not lack. The region is made up of 101 municipalities distributed among nine large counties. In addition, numerous agencies and institutions operate across these boundaries. One might expect that the fight for talent and capital in the region would force these myriad administrations into competence, but this never seems to happen.


3Connor O'Brien7dHi Evan, Very interesting piece and I think San Francisco isn't alone in the need for some form of greater regional governance. My mind immediately jumps to all the regional planning bodies throughout the U.S., like CMAP (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) in Illinois, which covers an area vastly greater than the City of Chicago but whose powers are purely advisory. From what I understand, they put out excellent regional plans full of great TOD and YIMBY proposals. Yet it's ultimately the Aldermen of Chicago who exert a kind of feudal authority over every little land-use decision in their patches of turf. With a playing field like this, it's no wonder NIMBYs dominate (or why Aldermen keep going to jail, for that matter). Consolidating land-use authority in a regional body certainly would tilt the balance of power towards pro-housing forces. But the transit issue is where I think your case is strongest and most generalizable. I live in DC, where our regional metro system WMATA is chronically under-funded and terrified of making long-term investments needed to ensure the decent and reliable service a metro area of our size deserves. WMATA has to go hat-in-hand to Maryland and Virginia soliciting voluntary contributions for a system that reaches very deeply into both states. The share of operating costs recovered by fares is pretty low, but I don't think it's totally out of the ordinary for U.S. transit systems. DC residents end up bearing a much greater cost for what is a truly regional system. But we simply can't compel Maryland and Virginia to pay their fare share. It sounds like BART has the same issue? We could use some regional bodies with actual taxing authority whose jurisdictions actually align with the reach of our infrastructure needs. Maybe "save our metro" is a useful political rallying cry for this. Are there any examples of cities around the world you've seen that do this particularly well? Greater London, essentially coterminous with the Tube,

Funny enough, Chicago didn't have a dramatic consolidation, but it is the result of a lot of annexation. During the failed 1912 SF consolidation, Chicago was also held up as an example of a successful consolidation. Toronto consolidated in the 1990s. So it can still happen.

Transit is challenging. As I talk about in the piece, I don't think that every consolidation makes sense. You can't say "it's all integrated" or "there's regional rail, so become one city!" and free-riding is a timeless problem. SF is is somewhat unique at this point in time in how uniqu... (read more)

1Heike Larson7dWow, Evan - what an amazing essay this is! As a former SF resident I had not mental picture of 101 municipalities but of course am very aware of the challenges. The New York analogy is great and super helpful. The solution makes total sense - and yet it’s also clear that inertia and self-interest of bureaucrats and local politicians will work against it. What do you think will it take to get an advocate (or a group of advocates) like Green in NYC to get this going? (I guess getting your essay as much readership as possible with SF people is a good first step!)
2ejz7dI think awareness this is an option is an important part. It's also a multi-step process where I think you can have multiple parts. Maybe consolidate the police department and the many transit agencies. Perhaps some of the smaller towns into some of the bigger cities. The most important part is just that the conditions need to already exist. There's already a cultural connection and integrated economy. The legal conditions are already there. Now we just need to build political will over a decade+ with an organized, if quiet, movement with small steps over time.

I'm a Roots of Progress fellow, and I've been researching the interplay between large governments (like the US or the EU) and more local governments (like states or EU countries). The 10th Amendment gives states lots of power to self-govern, but not the money to do it. I'm curious why states receive such a small percentage of tax revenue if the intention was for us to manage our own communities locally? Does anyone have any good sources on our tax structures and how they are meant to support local vs. federal governments?

1Answer by John Buridan8dUS tax policy changed during the WWI era. It was all quite local until 1917. [] Also, you'll notice that even at the state level, income tax was rare. Income tax has historically been ill-regarded. Until 1905 most of the state of New York was funded through alcohol taxes: []They then passed a mortgage tax and a stock tax to counter the rising costs of a growing population. Every government level has the power to tax in the US, and they all find very different ways to do it.

Thank you so much!

The short version: I’m creating a new kind of government degree for adults in NYC, and if you want to help, have experience teaching or researching, or know someone who might be interested, let me know (, or DM me on Twitter)!

I’m currently developing a complete educational program that I currently call the “citizens law degree.” It takes less than a year to fully complete, teaches students about the city/state government foremost (although they’ll learn about the federal level too), and gives them a comprehensive model of how their government and law work. This will also be mixed with practical doing and interacting with the political system; it’s not just a classroom and theory, although those both have their place.

It will be offered as affordably as possible,...

I think it would add a lot of value to this post to emphasize that this is already something that's being implemented / you already have the infrastructure for.  Like Dumbledore's Army, I would have a lot of skepticism towards this if it wasn't clear that this was already being put into practice / the way was already paved. My first thought was to comment on practicalities and purpose. Since it's already in practice or on the way to being there, knowing that fact would allow people like me to move on and give comments that are more relevant to the project in its current state.

This week, twenty talented progress intellectuals begin their eight-week blog-building intensive journey.

We’re delighted with the quality of these fellows. We selected them out of nearly 500 applicants, after conducting over 80 interviews. It was hard to choose just 20 (and we’re thankful that we were able to raise more funding to welcome 20 instead of 15; it would have been gut-wrenching to say no to 5 more great people: a special callout to our fellowship program supporters, O’Shaughnessy Ventures and

When we announced this program in July, a crucial open question was “is there enough talent out there worth accelerating?” We now know the answer is a resounding yes. Our fellows:

Will explain and advocate for a wide range of progress topics: from longevity to biotech to health care...

Some books stand out, not necessarily for their compelling style, but for the insights they offer. “The Knowledge Machine” by Michael Strevens delves deep into the interplay between systems thinking and human nature, starting with a thought-provoking idea: most people lack the inherent drive to pursue knowledge. It's the systems in place that propel them forward. At the heart of the book's argument is the 'Iron Rule': the idea that scientific explanations should be grounded exclusively in empirical evidence, sidelining personal biases or philosophical interpretations.

Progress, as we understand it, is underpinned by scientific thinking. Yet, this mindset isn't innate. Children are not born with a scientific temperament; in fact, they often exhibit the opposite. Even adults, who may apply scientific rigor in one domain, might abandon it...

To get the best posts emailed to you, create an account!
Subscribe to Curated posts
Log In Reset Password
...or continue with



A quasi-monthly feature. Recent blog posts and news stories are generally omitted; you can find them in my links digests. I’ve been busy helping to choose the first cohort of our blogging fellowship, so my reading has been relatively light. All emphasis in bold in the quotes below was added by me.


Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress (1990). I’ve been a big fan of Mokyr ever since the start of this project; his book A Culture of Growth was part of my initial motivation. I’m only a few chapters in to Lever of Riches, but it’s excellent so far. Most intriguing so far is his comment that classical civilization was “not particularly technologically creative” even though it was “relatively literate and mobile,...

I am experimenting with pulling more social media content directly into these digests, in part to rely less on social media sites long-term (since content might be deleted, blocked, paywalled, etc.) That makes these digests longer, but it means there is less need to click on links.

I will still link back to original social media posts in order to give credit and make sharing easier. As always, let me know your feedback.