The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson Investigates How Restaurant Closures Will Affect the Nation’s Economy

“A pandemic is war,” writes Derek Thompson in his latest article for The Atlantic. And our response to the biological enemy is a shut-down of public life, from schools to restaurants. Unfortunately, the latter closure especially will have profound effects on the nation’s economy. What we do to support the restaurant industry, then, is crucial for how we repair our economic life.  

Restaurant closures may not seem like an enormous deal at first, but if you consider the fact that restaurant spending in America surpassed grocery store spending for the first time ever, things begin to look a bit more grim. “This modern dining revolution has made restaurants one of the country’s most important sources of work. In 1990, manufacturing employment was almost three times larger than the food-service industry, but today there are about as many jobs in food service as in manufacturing,” writes Derek Thompson. “Restaurants are the new factories, and without them state and local economies across the country would fall to pieces.”


So what happens now, in a pandemic, when we are forced to do without them? It’s definitely uncharted territory, with no clear understanding of how long the closures will last. “Already operating at paper-thin margins, restaurants face the loss of their entire dine-in business, but they will still have to make rent,” explains Thompson. The current crisis in a nutshell is that the pre-pandemic financial obligations have not disappeared. According to Thompson, there is only one solution to the problem: “The public sector must step in and play consumer for several months, until the virus passes.”


Read his full article here.


To book speaker Derek Thompson for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency today, and speak with a knowledgeable representative from our sales team.

Business Professor Sarah Kaplan Discusses the Profit Potential in Climate Change Action for CBC News

This week, BlackRock—the world’s largest money manager—announced that it will begin adjusting its investment strategies with climate change in mind. Rotman professor Sarah Kaplan joined CBC’s Front Burner to discuss how this move will impact the company’s bottom line.  

In his letter to CEOs, BlackRock’s Larry Fink wrote that “we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.” Citing research from the UN, McKinsey, and the company’s own investment institute, Finks makes a compelling argument that climate risk is investment risk, and thus, cannot be ignored. While BlackRock won’t immediately pull out of natural resource companies such as Suncor or ExxonMobil, it will begin transitioning its portfolios to other companies—a move that Rotman professor Sarah Kaplan says will have huge implications. “If 7 trillion dollars is not going to be accessible to [natural resource companies], then the cost of capital for them is going to go up. It’s going to make their operations more expensive,” she explains. “Which, by the way, is a way that the marketplace is actually sanctioning these behaviors—because if their cost of capital goes up, then it means that taking fossil fuels out of the ground is going to be more expensive than wind energy or other renewables. […] It's a way of getting the market to invest in renewables, in a way.”


Whether it be from consumers, employees, or investors, companies today are facing intense pressure from a variety of stakeholders, with the environment emerging as a key concern. In her book The 360 Corporation Kaplan explores what organizations can do to respond to these concerns—without “greenwashing”—and continue to deliver shareholder value.


Read the full article here.


To book speaker Sarah Kaplan for your next speaking engagement, contact The Lavin Agency today, her exclusive speakers bureau.

Fast Company’s Stephanie Mehta Explores the Evolution of Venture Capital

Fledgling venture firm Felix Capital has announced it’s raised an additional $300 million in funding to continue to invest in digital lifestyle brands—such as Goop, Highsnobiety, and Peleton, reports Fast Company’s Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Mehta. Her latest piece investigates the company’s digital strategy and what makes their portfolio unique.  

“The growth of Felix underscores just how far venture investing has journeyed from Silicon Valley,” writes Stephanie Mehta, noting that North America’s tech hub is largely responsible for “canonizing” the funding mechanism. “Just a few decades ago, many of the companies in Felix’s portfolio, such as jewelry maker Mejuri or stationery brand Papier, would not have qualified for venture capital, which favored fast-growing—and risky—biotech or information tech companies capable of huge returns to private investors through a public offering or a blockbuster merger.”


Rather than set out to invest in deep tech, Felix founder Frederic Court explains he looks for companies that are using technology to “build communities and brands or to operate their businesses more efficiently,” Mehta reports. He’s especially interested in communities, such as Highsnobiety, that are not actively seeking investors, and that have been built authentically.


Read the full article here.


To book speaker Stephanie Mehta for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency today, her exclusive speakers bureau.

What Does WeWork’s Spiral Mean for the Future of Consumer Tech? Derek Thompson Explores for The Atlantic.

Though the case of WeWork—a company poised to go public before a sharp, unexpected decline in its valuation—appears as a “one-of-a-kind spectacle,” according to Derek Thompson the underlying narrative is more familiar than we think. 

“If you wake up on a Casper mattress, hail a Lyft to get to your desk at WeWork, use DoorDash to order lunch to the office, hail another Lyft home, and have Uber Eats bring you dinner, you have spent your entire day interacting with companies that will collectively lose nearly $13 billion this year. Most have never announced, and may never achieve, a profit,” writes Derek Thompson in his article “WeWork and the Great Unicorn Delusion.


Investors have poured money in companies that have no clear path to profitability. WeWork has lost $1billion in revenue this year and last year, the result of aggressive expansion that burns through funds. As Thompson notes in his appearance on NPR’s Here and Now, “Unicorns are billion dollar companies stuck between two worlds. As private companies they raise all this money with inflated visions of planetary conquests. Then when they turn public, all the money that they’re spending on conquering the planet appears, on profit and loss statements, as losses.”


While the delusion of private-sector wunderkinds is just that—a delusion—it doesn’t necessarily mean these companies are doomed. But it does mean that they’ll have to change their stories. “Magic made them,” says Thompson. “Only math with save them.”


To book speaker Derek Thompson for your next speaking engagement, contact The Lavin Agency today.

Lavin Speaker Daron Acemoglu Awarded MIT’s Highest Faculty Honor

Economist Daron Acemoglu has produced influential research in government, innovation, labor, and globalization. Thanks to his groundbreaking contributions to the field, this year Acemoglu has been named Institute Professor, the highest faculty honor awarded by MIT.  

Daron Acemoglu has spent over 25 years at MIT grappling with large and complex economic questions. Over the course of his tenure, he has been recognized as one of the most “dedicated teachers and mentors in his department,” and his research has had a significant impact on diverse areas of his fieldfrom labor economies to public institutions, democracy, and economic growth. Acemoglu has authored or co-authored more than 120 peer-reviewed papers on these topics, and is gearing up for the release of his fifth book, The Narrow Corridor, which will be published in September.


“As an Institute Professor, Daron Acemoglu embodies the essence of MIT: boldness, rigor and real-world impact,” said MIT’s President L. Rafael Rief. “From the John Bates Clark Medal to his decades of pioneering contributions to the literature, Daron has built an exceptional record of academic accomplishment. And because he has focused his creativity on broad, deep questions around the practical fate of nations, communities, and workers, his work will be essential to making a better world in our time.”


Acemoglu is one of two MIT professors to earn the distinction in 2019, and one of twelve Institute Professors in total. Acemoglu, and his colleague political scientist Suzanne Berger, are the first appointees of the title since 2015.


“MIT is a very down-to-earth, scientific, no-nonsense environment, and the economics department here has been very open-minded, in an age when economics is more relevant than ever but also in the midst of a deep transformation,” Acemoglu said. “I’ve spent […] my career at MIT and this is a recognition that makes me humbled and happy.”


To book speaker Daron Acemoglu for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau.

“Economist in a League of His Own”: Lavin Speaker Daron Acemoglu Wins the 2019 Global Economy Prize

The Global Economy Prize has been awarded by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and its partners since 2005, honoring those who have pioneered “creative and path-breaking” globalization initiatives in politics, business, and science. This year, it recognizes the outstanding contribution of economist Daron Acemoglu

Daron Acemoglu is an economist in a league of his own, not only because of his outstanding theoretical work, but also because he dares to write up his research findings in such a way that they are accessible to a wider audience,” The Institute writes of their decision to award Acemoglu with this year’s prize.


Acemoglu’s poverty research in particular caught the attention of the Kiel Institute and its partners, the City of Kiel and the Schleswig-Holstein Chamber of Commerce. Along with Harvard’s James Robinson, Acemoglu co-authored Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, an ambitious and cutting-edge work of major historical, political, and cultural significance. Drawing upon fifteen years of original research, the book effectively shows that it is man-made political and economic institutions that most significantly contribute to a nation’s economic prosperity or suffering.


Acemoglupictured left, aboveis honored with the 2019 Global Economy Prize alongside Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble MdB and Hikmet Ersek, Präsident.


To book Daron Acemoglu for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency today, his exclusive speakers bureau.


Forbes editor Randall Lane Reimagines Capitalism in His “Billionaires” Cover Story

“For the past year I’ve had one-on-one discussions with no fewer than two dozen billionaires, including face-to-face meetings with the three richest people in the world—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet—touching on various aspects of capitalism’s future,” says Forbes editor Randall Lane in his latest feature. “Among Millennials and Gen Z, free market skepticism is the majority view,” which begs the provocative question, should we have billionaires?    

The story is the cover of Forbes’ “Billionaires” issue, which profiles the richest people in the world, breaking them down by age, gender, country and more, and organizing that data so that readers get the fullest picture of where, and to whom, super wealth is distributed around the world.


In his illuminating and info-packed talk based on the article, Lane asks how we can fix a system intended to unite that continues to divide? And how can we move into the future and make the changes necessary to fuel a more stable economy?


To book Randall Lane for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency, his exclusive speakers bureau. 

New Videos: Douglas Rushkoff Dismantles the New Economy for Big Think

Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff surveys the modern economy and sees a broken machine, stubbornly plodding along on old software. We’re stuck in the past, he says, blindly following the outdated principle of “growth above all.” But we have the ability to change. In his latest book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Rushkoff outlines a new school of thought—one of value exchange and community investment—and champions an overhaul of modern business practices. In these four new videos from Big Think, he picks apart the new economy, fallacy by fallacy. Is the “economy of likes” sustainable? Are computerized algorithms stealing our jobs? Watch the videos to get Rushkoff’s eye-opening, incisive take.

In the newest video, Rushkoff takes to task the “scorched Earth” value creation paradigm exemplified by digital companies like Google, Amazon, and Uber. These businesses make money not by creating wealth in their communities, but by extracting it outright. And although we place tech on a pedestal, digital companies actually represent only a tiny fraction of the GDP—four percent. Our current financial system rewards this method of value creation, but should it? And is there an alternative?

In our second clip, Rushkoff tackles automation and computer algorithms. Increasingly, businesses are supplanting employees with digital technology to cut costs. But when we do this, Rushkoff says, we’re actually passing those costs onto our customers. And furthermore, he says, “When we implement digital technologies in order to get people out of the way, we end up killing the only expertise we have.” Unique insight from real people, not findings culled from big data algorithms, is a company’s true competitive advantage.

Online companies used to be evaluated on how much money they made. But in the digital world, says Rushkoff, we’ve developed an “economy of likes”—and it’s meaningless. Valuations of online entities like Facebook come primarily from their user bases, not from their profits, because “likes” are a conduit for measuring consumer behavior directly. But when online businesses are buying and selling likes, is anything really being circulated? When no real goods or services are being exchanged, the economy begins to stagnate.

Our economy has worked for three or four hundred years—but things start to go awry when you “juice it up with digital steroids,” says Rushkoff. Today, the “winner take all” mindset prevails—it’s about having a growth (and exit) strategy, regardless of how successful your business is. As he explains, Wall Street considers Twitter a failure, even if it makes $500M per quarter, simply because it won’t expand into new markets or reinvent itself. If we answer solely to shareholders, hang on to companies just long enough to cash out, and forget to invest in each other and our communities, we’re heading for disaster—in employment, in resource scarcity, and for the earth itself.

Named one of the world’s 10 most influential thinkers by MIT, Douglas Rushkoff delivers illuminating keynotes on the digital economy, the “like” generation, and the phenomenon of “present shock.” To hire Douglas Rushkoff for your next keynote event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

For U.S. Poor, Geography Determines Longevity: Raj Chetty’s Health Inequality Study

Geography and life expectancy are linked—at least for America’s poorest people. A major new study released by The Health Inequality Project—led by Lavin speaker Raj Chetty, who acted as Corresponding Author and Principal Investigator—shows that where poor people live has a profound impact on how long they live. And while clearly distressing, the study also offers an opportunity to address health inequality with more precision, given the role geography plays in longevity. “You want to think about this problem at a more local level than you might have before,” Chetty tells The New York Times.

It’s long been known that poor Americans live shorter lives than the wealthy. But this new research, garnering a well-deserved flurry of press coverage, has discovered a number of important correlations between geography, income, and longevity. Not only has the gap in lifespan between richest and poorest Americans grown between 2001 and 2014—the top one percent of male earners live, on average, a staggering 15 years longer than the bottom one percent (for women, the difference is 10 years)—but poor people have much to gain depending on what part of the country they call home.

In certain areas, the poor “live nearly as long as their middle-class neighbors,” reports The New York Times. But in others, low-income residents live shorter lives—much shorter. “To give you a sense of the magnitude,” Raj Chetty tells NPR, “men in the bottom 1 percent have life expectancy comparable to the average life expectancy in Pakistan or Sudan.”


Another way to conceive of this gulf is to compare cities. Poor people in San Francisco, for example, live an average of three years longer than those in Detroit. As The Washington Post illustrates, this difference matches the degree to which national averages would rise if cancer were wiped out. And if we “think about [the] new data as if the poor in Detroit get cancer and the poor in San Francisco don’t,” then we can see, with brutal clarity, how important these findings are.

The research allows a clearer picture of wealth distribution to emerge, as well. The middle of the country and the “drug overdose belt” (NYT) of the south and south-west are hardest hit. Among the top 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., low-income men and women live the longest in places like New York City, Miami, San Jose, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newark, and San Diego. They live the shortest lives in cities like Detroit, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Gary, Ind., and Las Vegas.

While certainly troubling, the study also shows that how much you earn and how long you live aren’t rigidly fixed. After all, regardless of income, people are living longer in particular cities—and that means there may be practices and policies to implement at the local level to help the most vulnerable people. 

While naturally reluctant to offer premature conclusions, Chetty does suggest that “the story is not just one at the national level.” And while medical coverage is important, it’s not the whole story. Speaking with Judy Woodruff of PBS, Chatty argues that “better health behaviors”—involving lifestyle, diet, exercise, work, sleep, stress, and more—are vital contributing factors in cities with smaller lifespan gaps. “One potential hypothesis is that these types of cities invest a lot in public health. They’re often the first cities to enact things like smoking bans or bans on trans fats, which could end up improving the health of not just the rich, but also the poor.”

Vaccinations, public health spending, education, and various public health initiatives to “establish a culture of health” (NYT) could motivate local initiatives to address this regional inequality. Ultimately, and based on this sweeping data, policymakers can begin to work more fruitfully toward instilling health and wellbeing across the country by investing economic and social opportunities in a local context. 

“There is a great deal of inequality in life expectancy in America,” Chetty informs PBS, “but it’s not inevitable.”

Raj Chetty speaks on the economics of inequality in America. To book Raj Chetty as the keynote speaker of your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

AskASpeaker #10: Twitter Q&A with Douglas Rushkoff

On Thursday, March 10, we were joined by media theorist, documentarian, and world-renowned public intellectual Douglas Rushkoff for our 10th #AskASpeaker Q&A on Twitter. Rushkoff’s the author of numerous groundbreaking books, including Present ShockProgram or Be Programmed, and Life Inc., but if you haven’t read him, you’ve probably quoted him: he’s coined such concepts as “viral media,” “social currency,” and “digital natives.” But our half-hour chat on Thursday was all about his new book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity—a book The Financial Times calls “a brilliant, bomb-hurling critique of the flaws in our digital economy, identifying what has gone wrong and what can be done about it.”

In Throwing Rocks, Rushkoff describes how our current economic operating system is broken. Rather than provide greater prosperity for all, the digital economy has meant fewer jobs, gutted neighborhoods, instability, and less power for most of us. However, Rushkoff argues, it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of embracing a ‘growth above all’ mentality, with endless extractive expansion and platform monopolies, we can reprogram the economy from the inside out. By harnessing the distributive power of the net, exchanging value and investing in each other—think Kickstarter, not Uber—we can reboot, grow, and prosper. 

For his arresting visions on how new media and technology are impacting culture, business, and the economy, Rushkoff was named one of the world’s 10 most influential thinkers by MIT. And in new keynotes, based on the theories outlined in Throwing Rocks, he offers a series of practical steps for businesses, consumers, investors, and policymakers to remake the economy—and prosper along the way. If you’re looking for someone in touch with how innovation, economics, and digital and social media intersect and interact with popular culture, then Douglas Rushkoff is a must-see.

Read the following Storify transcript to catch up with our live chat, and keep up with Rushkoff’s appearances, articles, and new projects by following @rushkoff on Twitter—and be sure to follow @TheLavinAgency, while you’re at it. Now, we’re also excited to announce our 11th guest: cosmologist Janna Levin! We’ll be chatting live at 1 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 31—the launch date of her new book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space! It promises to be a fascinating account of the surprises, disappointments, achievements, and risks of the recent discovery of gravitational waves, and a uniquely compelling and intimate portrait of the people and processes of modern science.

For more information on booking Douglas Rushkoff as the keynote speaker of your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Will Technology Make Your Job Redundant? Derek Thompson’s Atlantic Cover Story

Will you soon lose your job to a machine? Could new technology and disruptive innovation ultimately displace the majority of human labor? If so, what would this mean for our industries, institutions, and families? What will it mean for both our economic and psychological wellbeing? In his Atlantic cover story “A World Without Work,” Derek Thompson resurrects the age-old fear that technological process might one day “invent us out of work” and thereby “rob us of our agency.” As he writes, though, “a future of less work still holds a glint of hope.”

A Jobless Society

Thompson admits that the fear of technology replacing human workers is not new. But there are reasons why it’s time to revisit the issue. Here are three:

  • the ongoing decline of labor at the expense of capital (i.e., technology displacing human activity), 

  • sky-high rates of unemployment (or underemployment) of prime-age American men, and 

  • the dexterous, unpredictable ability machines have to replace jobs “previously considered ‘for humans only.’” 

It may seem like less work may also mean more time for fulfilling leisure. But people in the United States tend to work “to feel a lasting sense of purpose.” According to research, “people who lose their job are more likely to suffer from mental and physical ailments.” They may also find themselves caught up in socially isolating pastimes—watching screens and feeling guilty for their lack of meaningful engagement.

Contingency Plans

However, “A World Without Work” isn’t all distressing prognosis. Thompson uncovers several optimistic models for a post-work future that imagine how people might retain that sense of purpose without traditional labor.

One discusses the rise of the artisan economy, predicated on creative works made cheaply by innovative technology; in other words, “a future not of consumption but of creativity, as technology returns the tools of the assembly line to individuals, democratizing the means of mass production.” Another imagines an economy wherein workers hold a number of smaller, shorter-term positions, “carving up” those now extinct full-time jobs into “episodic work across a range of activities.” Further still, Thompson sees new chances for civic projects, economic redistribution, national work incentives, and even baseline incomes to handle widespread joblessness.

The end of conventional labor may also signal a return to a sense of work as calling rather than “just a job.” If people are no longer able to devote themselves to exhausting careerist endeavors, they may realign their sights on “immersive activities they enjoy” that provide “intrinsic fulfillment.” Thompson writes:


“When I think about the role that work plays in people’s self-esteem—particularly in America—the prospect of a no-work future seems hopeless. There is no universal basic income that can prevent the civic ruin of a country built on a handful of workers permanently subsidizing the idleness of tens of millions of people. But a future of less work still holds a glint of hope, because the necessity of salaried jobs now prevents so many from seeking immersive activities that they enjoy.”

Regardless of where how we might fare across the next recession, Thompson’s insights into a potential post-work future have undeniable takeaways for almost all sectors. Whether covering the consumer habits, employment opportunities, and connected activities of millenials, exploring the fraught future of paid media, or defending the value of post-secondary education, Thompson makes the most complex economic trends of the day seem understandable.

To book Derek Thompson as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.



Escaping Poverty? It’s All About Place: A Bracing New Study Co-Authored by Raj Chetty

A much-talked-about new study on poverty in America, co-authored by Lavin speaker Raj Chetty, reveals how hard it is for poor children in certain cities and towns (like Balitmore City) to climb the income ladder over the course of their lives. Place, it turns out, plays a major role in future earning potential. The New York Times writes that the study “has huge consequences on how we think about poverty and mobility in the United States”—but thankfully, as Chetty says, “the data shows we can do something about upward mobility.”

The study was conducted by Harvard economists Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren. Chetty, who won the 2013 Clark Medal for best American economist under 40, studies equality, education, and government policy. The two have presented their findings to the Obama Administration as well as presidential hopefuls Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeb Bush, who both plan on making economic mobility a core of their 2016 campaigns.

Their research draws on the earnings records of millions of families, and focuses on the chances children have of climbing the income ladder based on the counties where they grow up. Among their findings is that Baltimore City—currently in the news for roiling civil unrest—is one of the hardest places for children to escape poverty as they grow up. The average child in Baltimore City will grow up with $4,510 per year less in income than the national average, making it one of the worst-ranked counties in the country. You can read the entire study here

Chetty, who has also been awarded a MacArthur genius grant for his work on income inequality, specializies in studies such as this, which help reshape our understanding of class in the U.S.—and underscore how crucial it is that we work to change things for future generations. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter,” Chetty says.

Raj Chetty speaks on the economics of inequality in America. To book Raj Chetty as a speaker for your next event, contact the Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

On Walmart and Wealth Inequality: George Packer Talks to Stephen Colbert

Fresh off his National Book Award winGeorge Packer appeared on The Colbert Report last week to discuss his book The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, which the New York Times called “something close to a nonfiction masterpiece.” On the show, he explains the themes of his book (and manages to keep a mostly straight face despite Colbert's hilarious retorts). What's different about it, says Packer, is that it's not a policy book or an argument book. It tells the story of the country's unwinding through the lives of half a dozen Americans over the course of the last 30 or 35 years. “These are people who work hard and play by the rules,” says Packer, “but end up with very little or even nothing.” When asked what's wrong with America's economy, he told Colbert:

We have an economy that doesn't work very well because people who work at Walmart can barely afford to shop at Walmart…The six surviving Walmart heirs have more wealth than the bottom 42% of Americans. Now that is such a gap of inequality that the economy no longer works and people are cynical and think the game is rigged.

 The interview is embedded above (try the link here, if the above video doesn't play for you).

In his talks, Packer tells the story of what's happened to America over the past 30 years, and what we can learn from our country's successes and failures. To book National Book Award winner George Packer as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

First Look: Matt Taibbi’s New Book, The Divide

Matt Taibbi, an economics speaker and the author of Griftopia—one of the most entertainingly quotable, scathing, and illuminating histories of the current economic crisis—is publishing a new book this spring. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap is slated to land March 11, 2014 from Random House imprint Spiegel & Grau. The book is a searing portrait of an urgent new American crisis: how our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or poverty.

Here's the description from the publisher:

Over the last two decades, America has been falling deeper and deeper into a statistical mystery: Poverty goes up. Crime goes down. The prison population doubles. Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world’s wealth. The rich get massively richer. No one goes to jail.


In search of a solution, journalist Matt Taibbi discovered the Divide, the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends—growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration—come together, driven by a dramatic shift in American citizenship: Our basic rights are now determined by our wealth or poverty. The Divide is what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime—but it’s impossible to see until you look at these two alarming trends side by side.


In The Divide, Matt Taibbi takes readers on a galvanizing journey through both sides of our new system of justice—the fun-house-mirror worlds of the untouchably wealthy and the criminalized poor. He uncovers the startling looting that preceded the financial collapse; a wild conspiracy of billionaire hedge fund managers to destroy a company through dirty tricks; and the story of a whistleblower who gets in the way of the largest banks in America, only to find herself in the crosshairs. On the other side of the Divide, Taibbi takes us to the front lines of the immigrant dragnet; into the newly punitive welfare system which treats its beneficiaries as thieves; and deep inside the stop-and-frisk world, where standing in front of your own home has become an arrestable offense. As he narrates these incredible stories, he draws out and analyzes their common source: a perverse new standard of justice, based on a radical, disturbing new vision of civil rights.


Through astonishing—and enraging—accounts of the high-stakes capers of the wealthy and nightmare stories of regular people caught in the Divide’s punishing logic, Taibbi lays bare one of the greatest challenges we face in contemporary American life: surviving a system that devours the lives of the poor, turns a blind eye to the destructive crimes of the wealthy, and implicates us all.

In passionate talks, Taibbi makes clear sense of the financial history, lingo, and outright lies that led to our current economic crisis. To book Matt Taibbi as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

George Packer Wins the 2013 National Book Award for The Unwinding

Congratulations to George Packer, who took home the 2013 National Book Award last night for his portrait of a country in economic and political crisis, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

In his speech, he thanked:

Americans who gave me the great gift of trusting me with their stories and allowing me into their lives so I could try to illuminate some of what’s gone wrong with America in the last generation and in their own lives, some of what’s gone right.

Reviewing the book earlier this year, The New York Times said: “[Packer has] written something close to a nonfiction masterpiece.” With this latest accolade, we can only conclude they were right.

In his talks, Packer tells the story of what's happened to America over the past 30 years, and what we can learn from our country's successes and failures. To book National Book Award winner George Packer as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

Crowd Favorites: Lavin Speakers Selected For CNN’s “99 Must-Reads” List

CNN posted a list of its “99 Must-Reads On Income Inequality” today, and the work of five keynote speakers from The Lavin Agency made the cut! The suggestions came from a reader survey the news outlet posted online and the finalists were widdled down by a CNN editor. One professor wrote to CNN saying she plans to draw from this list as part of her course syllabus, and, many readers were excited to dive into a peer-reviewed list of material on the highly debated subject. Income inequality has become a widely discussed topic in the media lately, and our speakers have invaluable insight into the issue.

Here are the speakers on CNN's Must Read List:

The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau represents keynote speakers who are original thinkers, writers, and doers working in the cutting edge of their fields. If you're interested in booking a speaker listed above, or another of our innovative presenters whose ideas are at the forefront of numerous industries, contact The Lavin Agency.

Pure Policy Doesn’t Exist: James Robinson & Daron Acemoglu In The NYT

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<div class="apos-rich-text" data-rich-text>"<a href="../../blog-cant-ignore-politics-economics-speaker-daron-acemoglu-james-robinson.html" target="_blank">Economics Versus Politics: Pitfalls of Policy Advice</a>," a new study from economics speakers <a href="../../speaker-daron-acemoglu.html" target="_blank">Daron Acemoglu </a>and <a href="../../speaker-james-robinson.html" target="_blank">James Robinson</a>, has just gotten a nod of approval from <em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/24/us/24iht-letter24.html?_r=1&" target="_blank">The New York Times</a>. </em>"What our paper is targeted at is, there is a certain hubristic attitude among economists—we are the queen of the social sciences because we use numbers and data," Acemoglu, a professor in M.I.T.’s economics department tells the <em>NYT</em>. "But that can ignore the implications of political power." In the age of big data, the technocrat who is able to wield the power of statistical and technological thinking is king. However, there are definitive drawbacks to relying too heavily on the technocratic model of thinking. Mainly, that some ideas which seem foolproof in theory are actually horrific failures in practice. That's why the<em> NYT</em> writer who profiled Acemoglu and Robinson says their new study is an important new work more than worthy of a read. <br><br>While a theory may make a lot of sense in terms of economic efficiency, it is important to consider who these policies will benefit. And, you must consider whether the abstract economic proposals being put forward will also have the unintended consequence of strengthening only one group, instead of acting in the common good. When it comes to policy that will strengthen powerful, elite, populations of society, Acemoglu explains that we should "apply double caution." Pure policy, he argues, does not exist. While policy reform strengthened by the input of big data and economists is beneficial, it cannot ignore the other factors that will influence how that policy plays out in the real world. <br><br>Known for their groundbreaking book <em>Why Nations Fail</em>, Acemoglu and Robinson are prominent voices on economic policy. Both in their writing and their speeches, they explore the decades old question of why some nations prosper while others flounder. Combining rich political and historical research into their work, the two professors explain that government and institutions play a major part in the prosperity of a country. And part of that role includes drafting sound policy that acts in the common good. Something, they argue, that can only be accomplished when political economy is combined with economic policy. In their keynotes, they explore not only broad nation-wise policy reform—but how we can capitalize on their research to innovate and proposer on the individual level, as well.


Corruption: Matt Taibbi On Covering The “Sopranos” Of Wall Street

Matt Taibbi, a prominent politics and economics speaker, was recently a featured guest on the popular BS Report with Bill Simmons podcast. In an in-depth interview, Taibbi touched on the politics associated with the Boston bombings, the financial considerations when drafting players for sports teams, and the issues of corruption on Wall Street.

A seasoned reporter on economics and the inner-workings of Wall Street, Taibbi covers complex financial topics in his award-winning Rolling Stone columns. He told Simmons that writing about these issues, especially the more controversial and scandalous events, isn't something that many reporters are eager to do. Mainly, he says, because fully understanding complicated financial issues is hard work. It's not an area that you can just “jump into” without having put in the proper research. “It's all cloaked in its own language,” he says, “and if you don't understand it you won't get very far.” 

Because of this, he says many reporters are too intimidated to write about Wall Street. While it's a lot of work, Taibbi says he loves it because it's like “a new Sopranos episode every day.” The financial world, he says, is like reporting on criminal organizations led by villains—something that is well worth the time he put in to understanding what's going in the industry. He expands on his hard-hitting coverage of Wall Street corruption in his landmark book Griftopia, his eye-opening talks, and his numerous media appearances.

Big Banks: Are We In The Midst Of A Price-Fix Scandal? Matt Taibbi Weighs In

In a searing new article in Rolling Stone Magazine, economics speaker and Griftopia author Matt Taibbi presents a startling revelation: “The world is a rigged game.” He explains that “we found this out in recent months, when a series of related corruption stories spilled out of the financial sector, suggesting the world's largest banks may be fixing the prices of, well, just about everything.” Who's involved in this scandal? How deep does the corruption go? The megabanks, he tells us—including Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and the Royal Bank of Scotland—are all in on the game. We've entered into a situation where a small group of people are manipulating the prices in a multi-trillion dollar market. Not only are they fixing market prices—often at our expense—but they're profiting from doing so. And, scarier still, Taibbi says that neither the criminal justice system nor the civil courts have much power to stop it.

Here's Taibbi's explanation of the events in question:

Regulators are looking into whether or not a small group of brokers at ICAP may have worked with up to 15 of the world's largest banks to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark number used around the world to calculate the prices of interest-rate swaps. Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It's about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget. If true, that would leave us living in an era of undisguised, real-world conspiracy, in which the prices of currencies, commodities like gold and silver, even interest rates and the value of money itself, can be and may already have been dictated from above. And those who are doing it can get away with it. Forget the Illuminati – this is the real thing, and it's no secret.

In his Rolling Stone articles and in his speeches, Taibbi pulls no punches and gets to the heart of the backroom dealings that affect the global economic framework. His scorching exposés of America's biggest power players has earned him the National Magazine Award, and his book, Griftopia, has been critically hailed as well. In his talks, he expands on the eye-opening topics covered in his writing. Provocative and informative, Taibbi uncovers the wheeling and dealing of the country's business powerhouses—and lays the groundwork for how we can get ourselves out of this economic mess.

Economists Can’t Ignore Politics: Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson

“The standard approach to policy-making and advice in economics implicitly or explicitly ignores politics and political economy, and maintains that if possible, any market failure should be rapidly removed,” Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson write in a new essay. “This conclusion may be incorrect; because it ignores politics, this approach is oblivious to the impact of the removal of market failures on future political equilibria and economic efficiency, which can be deleterious.” The political economy, they argue, actually plays a vital part in the crafting of sound economic policy.

In a Foreign Policy review of the essay, the publication reports that Acemoglu and Robinson are urging economists to pursue a less standard approach to drafting policies. Political factors aren't just externalities that make economic systems function more efficiently, they argue. Rather, political issues are critical to shaping economic outcomes. An example they explore in the essay is the way that labor unions historically funded and founded political parties which then had a direct impact on the extent of taxation and income redistribution. It is crucial to assess the political sphere and incorporate it into any economic analysis.

Perhaps best known for their New York Times bestseller Why Nations Fail, the two economists provide insightful answers to decades old questions. In their book and on their website, they delve into the complex reasons that some nations are poor while others are prosperous. The culmination of 15 years of groundbreaking research, the book details the important role that government and institutions play in the economic success of a nation. In their keynotes, they expand on the points raised in their breakthrough book to show us how to make real change in the countries that need it most.

Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson’s Why Nations Fail: A “Must Read”

“To say that Why Nations Fail [written by Lavin economics speakers Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson] is an ambitious book would be like saying the Indian Ocean has some water in it,” The Business Standard writes. “And to say that the book has received worldwide attention would be like saying that Warren Buffett is an above-average stock picker.” In a recent review, the media outlet describes the book as an “elegant and simple explanation for why some nations have prospered while others have not.” Further: “If you haven't already figured it out, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to engage in a discussion on development from here onwards. Whether you agree with the authors or not…you will have no option but to engage with their ideas.”

The question of why some nations prosper and others flounder has been asked for decades. Robinson and Acemoglu's insightful input on the topic recently earned them a well-deserved spot on Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers list and praise from numerous reviewers. In their talks, the two economists speak to the driving forces behind economic prosperity. Understanding why some nations have charged ahead while others have fallen behind is key to improving the status of those struggling—and cementing the continued success of those excelling.

Democratic Participation Drives Economic Growth: Daron Acemoglu

“The question 'why are some countries poor and others not?' is one of the most important questions in social science,” economics speaker Daron Acemoglu argues, “yet, our understanding is still imperfect, to say the least.” Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail (with fellow Lavin speaker James Robinson) recently spoke at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) about this critical issue. At the Knowledge Circle event, the respected economist and M.I.T. professor drew on material from the book to spark a debate about some of the most pressing issues of the day, such as whether China's economy will continue to expand, whether America's best days are behind it, and if (and how) millions of people worldwide will soon begin a move from poverty to prosperity.

In an interview with The CIFAR Exchange prior to the event, Acemoglu touched on some of these issues in depth. He explained that Robinson and himself spent years researching why disparity between nations exists—and why that gap continues to widen today. He also discussed which conditions could pave the way for countries to increase their prosperity. While he admits that hindsight is far easier to analyze than the future is to predict, he does believe that a rise in the “knowledge economy” will be a critical facet of economic growth in the future. “It will be countries that enable the largest number of citizens to participate in new economic activities through inclusive economic and political institutions that will have the prosperity advantage in the 21st century,” he says in the interview. “While there are many contingencies affecting future outcomes, differences in education access, democratic participation levels and how level the playing field is will likely have a significant influence over which counties in the future will be rich and which will be poor.”

This kind of insightful thinking recently landed Acemoglu (and Robinson) on Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers list, and he is also one of the most cited economists in the world. In his talks, he combines research about nations across the globe throughout history to form a theory about what drives economic prosperity. By better understanding where we come from historically, and why some nations failed while others succeeded, Acemoglu says that we can help drive economic prosperity in the future.

Why Made In The U.S.A. Makes Sense: James Fallows & Charles Fishman

In December, an Atlantic cover story made quite a splash—and is continuing to make waves into the new year. James Fallows and Charles Fishman, contributors to the magazine, made convincing arguments to suggest that American manufacturing may be the way of the future. Outsourcing could soon be going out of style. Fallows, an expert on the Chinese economy, and Fishman, the author of the award-winning book The Wal-Mart Effect, claim that there are many reasons why a recent shift toward more insourcing and less offshore production will continue to pick up steam.

As Fishman has explained in his numerous media appearances since the release of the article, the previous reasons for manufacturing goods in China or Mexico are starting to become less beneficial than in the past. Manufacturing in the United States is becoming more appealing now that oil prices are skyrocketing and thus increasing shipping costs, natural gas costs are dropping and making it more viable to run an energy intensive factory in the U.S., and wages in China are five times what they were in 2000 and are rising at a rate of 18 per cent a year. Jobs in the United States are increasing, as is productivity—which is a clear indicator of the beginning of a trend towards a manufacturing revival. As Fallows explains: “a convergence of [these] trends makes operations in America more attractive and feasible, just as the cost and friction of operating in China is increasing.” Not to mention, the life-cycle of products is becoming increasingly shortened which requires quicker turn around between manufacturing cycles—something that is not afforded by offshore production. Further, products are more intricate and difficult to construct which is harder to oversee from the other side of the world.

Both authors offered refreshing insights into this new trend, and explained what an insourcing boom would mean for the North American economy and trade relations. Fallows writes extensively about the Chinese economy and way of life both in The Atlantic and in his book China Airborne. He is the recipient of many major writing awards and delivers sweeping and informative keynotes on doing business (or perhaps now, doing less business) in China and what that means for both the East and West. As well as exploring public policy and business, Charles Fishman is an expert on water: its use, its misuse, and the important role that it will play in the future of our planet.

John Ibbitson: New Gallup Poll Shows Money May Not Buy Happiness

We may feel a bit stressed trying to get everything done before the holidays, but John Ibbitson says that many of us have a lot to be happy about—and we should slow down and enjoy that good news in time for the festive season. According to a new Gallup poll, 80 per cent of Canadians agree with him, and are content with their lives. The poll, which Ibbitson discusses in a new Globe and Mail column, asked respondents in 148 countries to rate how good of a day they had the day before the poll was taken. Canada ranked 11th on the list, with 80 per cent of respondents answering that they enjoyed their day. The United States ranked closely behind with a score of 79 per cent.

Out of all the countries surveyed, the top ten were all developing countries—with eight of the ten being Latin American nations. Countries that experienced a high level of poverty and violence ranked the lowest on the list, not surprisingly. However, what Ibbitson notes as particularly interesting is that “above a certain level, money does not, indeed, buy happiness.” As he explains: “Singapore, the fifth wealthiest nation on earth, earned the lowest score of all (46 per cent), while Panama, which ranks 90th in GDP per capita, tied for first.” While having no money certainly contributes negatively to people's level of contentment, it turns out that family and community attribute more to happiness than a hefty paycheque does.

Ibbitson is an expert on Canada and Canadian politics; both as the The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and as the author of such books as The Big Shift:The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, And Culture And What It Means for Our Future. In the article, he examines why Canada ranked so high on the list: citing high levels of personal security and freedom in the country as contributing factors, as well as the large immigrant population. Whatever the reasons, Ibbitson says that it's essential to remember the good things we have in life. Even though it is important to analyze our shortcomings and improve on certain things we may be lack—80 per cent of us are happy. And that, he says, is “not bad at all.”

Life At The iPhone Factory: James Fallows Goes Behind The Scenes At Foxconn

If you've ever wondered what life is like in the factory complex where iPhones are manufactured, then the new Atlantic article by James Fallows will certainly pique your interest. Fallows, who has lived in and reported from China until recently, took an investigative look into the inner workings of the controversial Foxconn factory. In an extended version of a previously released article, Fallows delves deep into both the conditions of the factory complex and the lives that the employees lead. As he explains in the video tour of the facility (embedded above), from an outside perspective the massive complex looks like a city in China more so than a manufacturing plant.

The factory, which is the size of a small-to-medium city (with a population of about 250,000 people), is equipped with little shops, swimming pools, training centers and cyber lounges for employees to visit. There has been a great deal of debate over whether or not the conditions of the factory are ethical and safe for employees. Reports of suicide nets being installed to stop employees from diving to their deaths, for example, sparked serious concern. He explains, however, that he was surprised to find the amenities provided and complex support system put in place for employees living in the facility. While he admits there is still much to explore, the conditions at Foxconn are reflective of the pressures faced by Chinese manufacturers in the wake of a recent trend away from outsourcing and toward insourcing. Or, in other words, the shift toward bringing manufacturing back to American soil rather than having it completed overseas. He says he was surprised by what he saw, and vows to continue to explore the operation of one of the biggest factories in the world.

Fallows is an expert on Chinese-American relations and seeks to provide a cohesive look at the often misunderstood country. He recently just published the book China Airborne, about the Chinese airport boom, and regularly speaks about the social and economical landscape of the country. In his keynotes, he explains what you need to know to do business in the country, and what China's future means for the global economy.

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson: Two of Foreign Policy‘s Top 100 Global Thinkers

Foreign Policy has just released their list of 2012's Top 100 Global Thinkers—and four of our speakers have made the list! Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Haidt, and Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have landed in this year's group. Acemoglu and Robinson's selection is due to their monumental co-authored Why Nations Fail—the bestselling economics book that has created monstrous buzz in academic circles and the popular consciousness alike. The book explores why some countries are prosperous, and others flounder. Their argument? That economic prosperity is built on strong institutions, rather than geography. Here's Foreign Policy on Acemoglu and Robinson:

In tackling one of history's most vexing questions — why some countries flourish while others flounder — Acemoglu and Robinson argue that Mexico is poorer than the United States because of the institutions established by Spanish versus British colonialists, and that authoritarian China's current economic growth is simply not sustainable. The duo has also launched a blog to apply their thesis to everything from the eurozone crisis to sexual repression in North Korea.

Along the way, Acemoglu and Robinson are making people think again (and again) about geopolitics. “The more you read [Why Nations Fail], the more you appreciate what a fool's errand we're on in Afghanistan and how much we need to totally revamp our whole foreign aid strategy,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman marveled. “But most intriguing are the warning flares the authors put up” about America's growing inequality and China's unsustainable growth. They're danger signs world leaders would do well to heed.

Why Nations Fail: “A Grand, Provocative History In The Style Of Jared Diamond”

Fresh off the heels of a Goodread's Choice Award nominationWhy Nations Fail by James Robinson and economics speaker Daron Acemoglu just received a glowing review in the Huffington Post. “This is a great read,” the reviewer writes, “it is provocative and fun…go and get it.” Further, the reviewer compares Acemoglu and Robinson's book to the work of another Lavin speaker, saying it “is grand history in the style of Jared Diamond.” Diamond is the author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies; the latter winning him a Pulitzer. Similar to Why Nation's Fail, both of Diamond's contributions address the rise and fall of societies through a historical lens.

Why Nations Fail uses historical research to explain why some nations prosper and others do not. In the book, Acemoglu and Robinson provide numerous examples that showcase how their theory of growth—and stagnation—has taken place throughout the ages. Acemoglu, an MIT Professor and highly-quoted economist, also places an “emphasis on the intrinsic randomness of history,” in the book; something the book reviewer praises. The book has turned previous economic theory on its head, and the two authors' fresh insights on the prosperity of nations provides a new way to assess national successes and failures. In Acemoglu's speeches he breaks down these insights; explaining how we can use his research to help nations that are struggling, and help those that succeed become even more successful in the future.

James Fallows Visits the “iPhone Factories” in China

James Fallows—the author of two highly regarded books on China, Postcards from Tomorrow Square and the new China Airborne—recently visited the the infamous Foxconn factory complex where iPhones and other consumer products are manufactured in Shenzhen. Despite spending a great deal of time in China himself (Fallows lived in and reported from the country until recently), the overall reaction Fallows depicted in his Atlantic article about his visit was that of surprise.

“What I saw once inside the gate [of Foxconn] was very different from the picture that “Foxconn” had always conjured up in my mind,” he writes. “I am always surprised by things in China, but this day was at the more-surprising-than-usual end of the spectrum.” While he was not allowed to take photos that depicted any of the companies Foxconn manufactures for (he was not allowed to take snapshots of logos), the images Fallows did publish show a large community of workers reading newspapers, engaging in technology and traveling from site to site in shuttles. The workforce of the outsourcing company is 220,000 people strong, and from the photos there appears to be a bustling sense of community for those working for the massive organization.

As Fallows writes, “I am not yet going to characterize what I saw, and I am not pretending to know more than I do,” and has vowed to expand on his initial visit to delve into the concerns of gross employee mistreatment and sweatshop-like conditions that have been voiced about the company, especially after a wave of worker suicides in 2010.  While he notes the turnover at the company is high, and he points out that there are “suicide nets” and “staff care” centers on site, he admits there is much more to the story than what he can publish in an introductory magazine piece. As an expert on Chinese-American relations, Fallows has a penchant for debunking myths about the often misunderstood country. A well-respected journalist and gifted orator, Fallows strives to make the “important interesting”—sharing stories about culture and industry that have a tremendous impact on international relations and how we see ourselves on the global stage.

Ten Reasons Why Nations Fail: Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s bestselling book, Why Nations Fail, takes a hard-hitting look at why some nations prosper and others fall apart. In Foreign Policy recently, these two Lavin speakers offer ten  reasons why certain countries crumble: usually, the collapse is the ultimate outcome of a deeply flawed political institution and an “extractive” economic model, which focuses on harvesting or extracting natural resources for sale or trade, and very little else. In their words, “these institutions are not in place by mistake but on purpose. They're there for the benefit of elites who gain much from the extraction—whether in the form of valuable minerals, forced labor, or protected monopolies—at the expense of society.” Corrupt regimes will fail because they are tilted in favor of the upper class; they strip their citizens of opportunity and innovation at every turn—destroying incentives and making it impossible for the economy or the nation to grow.

In Foreign Policy, Acemoglu and Robinson target a specific city for each point they make, to illustrate the immediate reality—and the sad truth—of their findings. But regardless of the city under examination, the goal of the article (and of their work in general) is to not steer us clear of the same mistakes in the future.

Here are a few key points Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson make in Foreign Policy:

Coercion is a surefire way to fail. Yet, until recently, at least in the scope of human history, most economies were based on the coercion of workers—think slavery, serfdom, and other forms of forced labor. In fact, the list of strategies for getting people to do what they don't want to do is as long as the list of societies that relied on them. Forced labor is also responsible for the lack of innovation and technological progress in most of these societies, ranging from ancient Rome to the U.S. South.

New technologies are extremely disruptive. They sweep aside old business models and make existing skills and organizations obsolete. They redistribute not just income and wealth but also political power. This gives elites a big incentive to try to stop the march of progress. Good for them, but not for society.

One must-have for successful economies is an effective centralized state. Without this, there is no hope of providing order, an effective system of laws, mechanisms for resolving disputes, or basic public goods.

Why Nations Fail is a must-read for anyone interested in the economic forces that elevate prosperous nations. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s keynotes build on the book's lessons to offer a unique and intelligent look at what factors separate rich countries from poor ones.

Thomas Friedman Finds Why Nations Fail Fascinating

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's sweeping new book, Why Nations Fail, has a fan in Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. In a recent op-ed, Friedman says of the “fascinating” new book: “The more you read it, the more you appreciate what a fool’s errand we’re on in Afghanistan and how much we need to totally revamp our whole foreign aid strategy. But most intriguing are the warning flares the authors put up about both America and China.”

The lessons highlighted by Friedman revolve around Acemoglu and Robinson's premise that “inclusive” institutions—meaning ones enforcing property rights, and encouraging growth through tech and skill investments—allow countries to thrive. But, nations that choose the “exclusive” route of allowing power and opportunity to be accessed by a privileged few, fail.

America, meanwhile, is experiencing widening economic inequality, which undermines its institutions. “When one person can write a check to finance your whole campaign, how inclusive will you be as an elected official to listen to competing voices,” asks Friedman. As for China, they've experienced an economic growth burst from monopolizing power and mobilizing resources, but says Friedman, paraphrasing Acemoglu and Robinson's writing, “it’s not sustainable because it doesn’t foster the degree of 'creative destruction' that is so vital for innovation and higher incomes.”

From the book:

Sustained economic growth requires innovation. . . and innovation cannot be decoupled from creative destruction, which replaces the old with the new in the economic realm and also destabilizes established power relations in politics.

Unless China makes the transition to an economy based on creative destruction, its growth will not last.

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's Why Nations Fail is a must read for anyone interested in the economic forces that elevate prosperous nations. Their observations are fascinating to the lay observer, yet substantial enough to impress seasoned observers such as three-time Pulitzer prize winner, Thomas Friedman. The duo's keynotes build on the book's lessons to offer a unique and intelligent look at what factors separate the rich from the poor.

Why Nations Fail Is One of the Most Highly-Praised Books of 2012

Harvard's James Robinson and MIT's Daron Acemoglu are set to release Why Nations Fail—a gargantuan book in the tradition of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel that explores why some nations are rich while others are poor. They boldly argue that strong institutions, and not geography, lead to thriving societies. The positive reviews are already pouring in. Among the people singing the book's praise are a who's who of leading thinkers, including Steven Levitt (the Freakonomics co-author who, like Acemoglu, was awarded the prestigious Clark Medal for Best Economist Under 40) as well as Dr. Jared Diamond himself.

Here's what they're saying about Why Nations Fail:

Why Nations Fail is a truly awesome book. Acemoglu and Robinson tackle one of the most important problems in the social sciences—a question that has bedeviled leading thinkers for centuries—and offer an answer that is brilliant in its simplicity and power. A wonderfully readable mix of history, political science, and economics, this book will change the way we think about economic development. Why Nations Fail is a must-read book.” —Steven Levitt, coauthor of Freakonomics

“You will have three reasons to love this book. It’s about national income differences within the modern world, perhaps the biggest problem facing the world today. It’s peppered with fascinating stories that will make you a spellbinder at cocktail parties—such as why Botswana is prospering and Sierra Leone isn’t. And it’s a great read. Like me, you may succumb to reading it in one go, and then you may come back to it again and again.” —Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the bestsellers Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

“A compelling and highly readable book. And [the] conclusion is a cheering one: the authoritarian ‘extractive’ institutions like the ones that drive growth in China today are bound to run out of steam. Without the inclusive institutions that first evolved in the West, sustainable growth is impossible, because only a truly free society can foster genuine innovation and the creative destruction that is its corollary.” —Niall Ferguson, author of The Ascent of Money

Why Nations Fail is so good in so many ways that I despair of listing them all. It explains huge swathes of human history. It is equally at home in Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is fair to left and right and every flavor in between. It doesn’t pull punches but doesn’t insult just to gain attention. It illuminates the past as it gives us a new way to think about the present. It is that rare book in economics that convinces the reader that the authors want the best for ordinary people. It will provide scholars with years of argument and ordinary readers with years of did-you-know-that dinner conversation. It has some jokes, which are always welcome. It is an excellent book and should be purchased forthwith, so to encourage the authors to keep working.” —Charles C. Mann, author of 1491 and 1493

Daron Acemoglu: The Widening Gap Between Rich and Poor

Daron Acemoglu, an academic superstar and one of the world's most-cited economists, talks about economic inequality in a major Browser interview this month. The Why Nations Fail author addresses Occupy Wall Street, CEO wages, and the incredibly widening gap between what the rich earn versus what the poor earn—highlighting today’s complex wage realities.

Here are five things we learned from the interview:

Inequality has changed dramatically in the last thirty years and economists and laypeople have differing views on it.

A lot of things don’t change radically, but inequality has. Understanding why that has happened and what it implies for our society is important. So it’s a good thing that it’s in the news, it’s an important topic and there is no reason for it to be taboo. . . . The default position of economists is that inequality reflects the unequal human capital or productive capabilities of different workers. If you start with that premise – that what people earn is commensurate with their contribution to their employer, and also perhaps to society – then greater inequality tells you something about how people’s productivities have evolved over time. . . .  a layman’s view is that inequality is an indication of something that is failing in society.

Acemoglu blends both approaches for his interpretation.

My own view is a mixture of the two. If you’re looking at the average college graduate versus the average high school graduate, or the 90th versus the 10th percentile, then the things economists have emphasised – technology, globalisation, offshoring and outsourcing, changes in the supply of skills, et cetera – have played a major role and probably tell the bulk of the story. But if you want to understand the top inequality, why the top 0.1% – even more than what the 1% Occupy Wall Streeters are talking about – have been earning such huge amounts, then really you have to think about the social policy aspects of it and the politics of it.

The inequality gap is wide, and the ratio of CEO to worker pay is astronomically high.

If you look from the 1950s up to the end of the 1970s, the share of total national income in the US earned by the richest 1% was about 10%. If you look at the 2000s, it’s well over 20%. It rose up to nearly 25% and then came down. The trend towards inequality over the last 50 years has been very similar in the Anglo-Saxon economies, though it’s important to say that it’s not just an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. . . . If you look at the average pay of Fortune 500 companies, [CEO pay] would be more than 200 times the salary of the average US worker.

The Race Between Education and Technology is a must-read book. Here's why.

It gives a masterful outline of the standard economic model, where earnings are proportional to contribution, or to productivity. It highlights in a very clear manner what determines the productivities of different individuals and different groups. . . . The key idea is that technological changes often increase the demand for more skilled workers, so in order to keep inequality in check you need to have a steady increase in the supply of skilled workers in the economy. He called this “the race between education and technology”. If the race is won by technology, inequality tends to increase, if the race is won by education, inequality tends to decrease.

There's another book everyone should be reading to understand inequality: Why Nations Fail. Acemoglu is its co-author.

“How should we think about politics? What are the levers of politics? For that we need a conceptual framework and that’s what this book tries to provide. It’s co-authored with my long-term collaborator and friend Jim Robinson – and it’s not about US or UK or Canadian inequality. It runs through several thousand years of history, and tries to explain how societies work and why, often, they fail to generate prosperity for their citizens. It’s a very political story.”