50 things that made the modern economy

“It’s all very well having a complicated, expensive machine but it’s being cheap that changes the world,” said Tim Harford.

In his book and podcast, 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy, he charts the inventions and technologies that have transformed the way humans live. From paper and parchment to beehives and bricks, his work discusses the things modern society cannot live without.

He delved into what he called the ‘IKEA-isation’ of solar panels, that is, the notion that as more of something is made, the cheaper it becomes. It’s all about practice, he said. By doubling the manufacturing of a product, the more accessible it becomes for the public.

“When you change everything,” he said, “you suddenly unlock the potential.”

For Harford, the best way for society to develop and for productivity to increase is through adaptation. “Technology is always tugging at us… we don’t get the benefit of it unless we re-organise and react.”

If you are interested in the economy, also see Adrian Weller's talk at 1 pm, on 29 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally please sign up to Hay Player for more from the world's greatest writers and thinkers.

Photograph by Morgan Williams.