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The (Political and Financial) Economics of Transformational Technology

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Over the past 250 years, the world has been repeatedly reconstructed by successive transformational technologies, as what were once experiments at the frontier become the ocean in which we swim. Frontier experiments necessarily proceed by trial and error and error and error. Consequently, the investments that have proved transformational have required funding from sources not concerned with immediately visible economic value: a mission-driven state and financial speculation. These have been the complementary engines of: upstream scientific discovery and technical invention; deployment of innovative networks, from canals and railroads, through electricity grids and highways, to the internet; and quasi-Darwinian emergence of novel applications in the new economic space thereby created.

Now we are experiencing the disruptive maturation of the latest technological transformation, the Digital Revolution. Like previous ones, the Digital Revolution has been shifting the distribution of power within and across economic and political and social domains. In the west, it has matured to challenge the authority of the state at multiple levels and even undermined the integrity of the political process on which that authority ultimately rests, inevitably motivating a range of problematically effective counter-movements. At the same time, in China it is enabling an alternative to representative democracy as the counter-weight to market capitalism: the “benevolent surveillance state.” Globally, the structures of political and social institutions are as much in play as are the competitive conditions of markets.

About the Speaker For over 40 years Bill Janeway has lived a double life as both an economic theorist and a practising venture capitalist. During that time he built and led the Warburg Pincus Technology Investment team that provided financial backing to a series of important tech companies and he remains actively involved with the company in various roles.

As an economist theorist, Bill was a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge and received his PhD in economics under the supervision of John Maynard Keynes’s leading student, Richard Kahn (author of the foundational paper on the ‘multiplier’). He went on to found the Cambridge Endowment for Research in Finance. In recent years he has been a Teaching Visitor at Princeton and a Visiting Scholar in the Economics Faculty in Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of Pembroke College. His widely-read book, Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, is published by Cambridge University Press and is now in its second edition.

Follow Bill Janeway on Twitter @billjaneway.

This event is part of WOLFSON EXPLORES | Transformation |.

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