I’m excited to announce that The Roots of Progress is now a nonprofit organization.

The Roots of Progress started in 2017 as a side project, not much more than a blog. After Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison published their call for “progress studies”, and the progress community started to form, it became my full-time job. For the first year or so I was an independent writer, supported by grants. Now I have enough support not only to fund myself, but also to hire help and sponsor programs. The new nonprofit organization is the vehicle for this.

The mission of The Roots of Progress is to establish a new philosophy of progress for the twenty-first century. The world needs a clearer understanding of the nature of progress, its causes, its value and importance, how we can manage its costs and risks, and ultimately how we can accelerate progress while ensuring that it is beneficial to humanity.

My focus now is on two priorities. First is the intellectual content, the history and philosophy of progress itself. I’m writing a book on this topic, The Story of Industrial Civilization, and the new organization is sponsoring this work. But much more is needed: more books, articles, talks, journals, documentaries. We need more histories of different aspects of progress, to make the story accessible to a broader audience. We need progress-oriented solutions to the problems facing the world, such as poverty, climate, pollution, job loss, and pandemics. And we need an ambitious, inspiring vision of the future, of where progress can take us. If you’d like to write on any of these topics, get in touch.

My second priority is building out and strengthening the progress network and community. Stay tuned for announcements here.

For advice and governance, I’ve formed a board of directors. The people I invited, while not in the limelight of the progress community, have been some of my strongest supporters: Ray Girn, CEO of Higher Ground Education (which commissioned my high school progress course), and Anil Varanasi, CEO of Meter. Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen are serving as advisers (as they have informally, ever since I was considering going full-time).

Our first-year fundraising goal is $500,000, and thanks to generous donations from Patrick and John Collison among others, we’re already more than halfway to that goal. You can support us through Patreon, or get in touch to talk about a larger or one-time contribution. (We’ve filed for IRS recognition of our status as a 501(c)(3) public educational charity. In the US, donations to such organizations are tax-deductible. The recognition is expected later in 2021, and will be retroactive to our founding in May.)

The Roots of Progress is working towards a world in which the idea of progress is communicated through education and journalism, creating industrial literacy among the public. A world with a positive vision of the future, embodied in optimistic sci-fi and new World’s Fairs. A world where young people see progress as a meaningful career, and where new organizations for science, research and development give them the career paths they need to build the future.

Thank you for joining us on this journey!


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Cool! I've read and enjoyed many of your most popular essays.

I'd like to see RoP investigate the role of unpaid work in human progress. I have the impression that many of the famous scientists and polymaths of the 19th century (and earlier) were wealthy, often via inheritance rather than entrepreneurship (correct me if I'm wrong). This implies that free time enabled their scientific hobbies which drove human knowledge forward. (Meanwhile, I'm an open-source developer who has put thousands of volunteer hours into free software that corporations would not normally produce.) So, among all the work our economy doesn't reward, how much of it is important, and how can society arrange to do more important work of this sort?

In my opinion there is a particularly important underappreciated category of work that can be done to hasten progress, work that one of Scott Alexander's old stories alludes to...

“Then you really could never advance past 700 years of knowledge.”

“You would have to be clever. We imagine each master writing down his knowledge in a book for the student who comes after, and each student reading it at a rate of ten times as quickly as the master discovered it. But what if there was a third person in between, an editor, who reads the book not to learn the contents, but to learn how to rewrite it better and more clearly? Someone whose job it is to figure out perfect analogies, clever shortcuts, new ways of graphing and diagramming the information involved. After he has processed the master’s notes, he redacts them into a textbook which can teach in only a twentieth the time it took the master to discover.”

Humans must spend a lot more time than necessary learning before they can advance any "state of the art" further than it has ever gone (this is especially true for the non-geniuses like myself, those of IQ 110 or 125 — these brains greatly outnumber the geniuses, so there is value to society in harnessing them). Plus I feel like the whole LessWrong project of sorting out the truths from the falsehoods feels unnecessarily slow and laborious, and mostly futile: having discovered a truth, sharing it with others is only occasionally useful, as others will normally go on believing whatever they believed already. For reasons such as these, I believe that "Improving Human Intellectual Efficiency" will be one of the pillars of future progress (but I've greatly procrastinated at publishing anything about this, and can only offer a draft).


It's true in the past, that many scientists and engineers were independently wealthy (and yes, often though not always through inheritance). Others had patrons or got jobs as assistants to other scientists. More here: https://rootsofprogress.org/funding-models-for-science-and-innovation

Today there's a set of institutions to support science and a whole career path based on them. What remaining important work is there that's not being rewarded? I don't know off the top of my head. My guess is that it's something that most people don't think about and that doesn't have a prominent role in society—like science itself in the 17th/18th centuries.

On your second point, I agree that improving intellectual efficiency is an important part of progress. But I think that pretty much all of information technology, from the first writing system to the Internet, has been part of that effort.

Academic science works for learning about objective knowledge. It works less well for learning subjective knowledge like skills. If we look at the question like how one becomes a good software engineer, academia does pretty purely at answering the question. 

We have inadequate equilibria where nobody is payed to solve it but it's possible for someone who's not payed to organize solving it. 

Making Macroeconomics a Much More Exact Science 

Today macroeconomics is treated inexactly within the humanities, because it appears to be a very complex and easily confused matter. But this does not give it fair justice, because we should be trying to find a viable approach to the topic and examine it in a way that avoids these problems, and for us to better understand of what it comprises and how it works. Suppose we ask ourselves the question: “how many different KINDS of financial (business) transaction occur within our society?” 

The simple and direct answer shows that that only a limited number of them are possible or necessary. Although our sociological system comprises of many millions of participants, to properly answer this question we should be ready to consider the averages of the various kinds of activities (no matter who performs them), and simultaneously to idealize these activities so that they fall into a number of commonly shared operations. This approach uses some general terms for expressing the various types of these transactions, into what becomes a relatively small number. Here, each kind is found to apply between a particular pair of agents—each one of which has individual properties. 

Then to cover the whole sociological system of a country, it requires only 19 kinds of exchanges of the goods, services, access rights, taxes, credits, investments, valuable legal documents, etc., verses the mutual and opposing flows of money. The argument that led to this initially unexpected result was prepared by the author. It may be found in his working paper (on the internet) as SSRN 2865571 “Einstein’s Criterion Applied to Logical Macroeconomics Modeling”. 

In this model these double-flows of money verses goods, etc., necessarily pass between only 6 kinds of role-playing entities (or agents). Of course, there are a number of different configurations that are possible for this type of simplification, but if one tries to eliminate all the unnecessary complications and sticks to the more basic activities, then these particular quantities and flows provide the most concise yet fully comprehensive result, which is presentable in a seamless manner, for our whole social system and one that is suitable for its further analysis. 

Surprisingly, past representation of our sociological system by this kind of an interpretation model has neither been properly derived nor formally presented before. Previously, other partial versions have been modeled (using up to 4 agents, as by Professor Hudson), but they are inexact due to their being over-simplified. Alternatively, in the case of econometrics, the representations are far too complicated and almost impossible for students to follow. 

These two reasons of over-simplification and of complexity are why this pseudo or non-scientific confusion has been created by many economists, and it explains their failure to obtain a good understanding about how the whole system works. The model being described here in this paper is unique, in being the first to include, along with some additional aspects, all the 3 factors of production, in Adam Smith's “Wealth of Nations” book of 1776. These factors are Land, Labor and Capital, along with their returns of Ground-Rent, Wages and Interest/Dividends, respectively. All of them are all included in the model, as a diagram in the paper.

(Economics’ historians will recall, as originally explained by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, that there are prescribed independent functions of the land-owners and the capitalists. The land-owners speculate in the land-values and rent it to tenants, whilst the capitalists are actually the owners/managers of the durable capital goods used in industry. These items may be hired out for use. Regrettably, for political reasons, the concept of these 2 different functions were combined by John Bates Clark and company about 1900, resulting in the later neglect of their different influences on our sociological system-- the terms landlord and capitalist becoming virtually synonymous along with the expression for property as real-estate.) 

The diagram of this model is in my paper (noted above). A mention of the related teaching process is also provided in my short working paper SSRN 2600103 “A Mechanical Model for Teaching Macroeconomics”. With this model in an alternative form, the various parts and activities of the Big Picture of our sociological system can be properly identified and defined. Subsequently by analysis, the way our sociological system works can then be properly seen, calculated and illustrated. This analysis is introduced by the mathematics and logic, which was devised by Nobel Laureate Wellesley W. Leontief, when he invented the important "Input-Output" matrix methodology (that he originally applied only to the production sector). 

This short-hand method of modeling the whole system replaces the above-mentioned block-and-flow diagram. It enables one to really get to grips with what is going-on within our sociological system. It is the topology of the matrix which actually provides the key to this. The logic and math are not hard and are suitable for high-school students, who have been shown the basic properties of square matrices and the notation of the calculus. 

By this technique it is comparatively easy to introduce any change to a pre-set sociological system that is theoretically in equilibrium (even though we know that this ideal is never actually attained--it simply being a convenient way to begin the study). This change creates an imbalance and we need to regain equilibrium again. Thus, sudden changes or policy decisions may be simulated and the effects of them determined, which will point the way to what policy is best. 

In my book about it, (see below) 3 changes associated with taxation are investigated in hand-worked numerical examples. In fact, when I first worked it out, the irrefutable logical results were a surprise, even to me! Developments of these ideas about making our subject more truly scientific (thereby avoiding the past pseudo-science being taught at universities), may be found in my recent book: “Consequential Macroeconomics—Rationalizing About How Our Social System Works”. Please write to me at chesterdh@hotmail.com for a free e-copy of this 310 page book and for any additional information.