About Brad DeLong, & About Grasping Reality—The SubStack Newsletter

J. Bradford DeLong :: U.C. Berkeley
925-708-0467 :: brad.delong@gmail.com :: @delong@mastodon.social

About James Bradford DeLong

Brad DeLong is a professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he teaches economic history, political economy, macroeconomies, and occasional other topics.

He was a deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury during the Clinton Administration.

He is a New York Times instant bestselling author (for Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century <http://bit.ly/3pP3Krk>, called:

  • “magisterial” by Paul Krugman,

  • “required reading” by Larry Summers,

  • “brilliant, important” by Robert Reich,

  • “immense scope and depth” by Diane Coyle,

  • “fascinating, mind-expanding… highly highly recommended” by Matt Yglesias,

  • “sweeping and detailed, learned and accessible, familiar and strange… justice-minded and tender hearted” by Annie Lowrey at The Atlantic, and

  • “impressive… written with wit and style and a formidable command of detail” by Ryan Avent at The Economist.

And he has been too online since 1995.

Why Subscribe?:

Subscribe to get full access to the newsletter and website. Never miss an update to this latest version of my long-running “Grasping Reality” weblog. I will tell you what I am most interested in—and what most struck me—in the moment, given who I am and what I am seeing. Yes, you will get most of it as a free subscriber. But if this thing starts producing enough money, I will hire a serious RA-editor to boost quality—I am not willing to do so and drive this thing cash-flow negative…

Do I think that, if you follow me and read, you will get more value than the $9.99/month that is the focal point for SubStack paid subscriptions? Hell yes. Smash that subscribe button, and also become a paid subscriber.

Spread the Word:

Do I think that what you read here is of substantial interest? Hell yes. Smash that share button:

Share Grasping Reality Newsletter

Too Online since 1995:

How did I get too online? What is the story of my journey to this particular virtual place in the noösphere?

The story:

Back in 1993, when Bill Clinton somewhat unexpectedly became president, I was one of the people who followed him to Washington. Coming down from Harvard where I was an associate professor of economics, I served not really as a policymaker but much more as a spear-carrier—those harried people you see running around carrying pieces of paper, trying to make sure that the right piece of paper is in front of the principal who has to speak or make decisions. It was glorious fun. The Clinton administration from 1993 to 1995 did many good things and made the country and the world a better place.

I left the Treasury in 1995. We had a change of Treasury Secretary from Lloyd Benson to Robert Rubin. Bentsen had been out of the Treasury building at 6 PM to attend cocktails and dinners, reinforcing his Washington social and political networks. Rubin—a truly brilliant and lovely man—had left his family behind in Manhattan, and could often be found still in his office working at 11pm, with his top and selected not-so-top aides around him. My wife and I then had a 5 and a 3 year-old. I wanted to stay married. So I came to the University of California at Berkeley. 

It was at that point that Paul Mende, one of my college roommates, then a physics professor, introduced me to the internet, suggesting I should start a website. Scholarly communication was about to move online, he said. I should start putting my working papers, lecture notes, and such up on the World-Wide-Web, he said.

Flash forward three years. One evening I open my copy of the new issue of Foreign Affairs and find myself cited by both Paul Krugman and Jagdish Bhagwati—cited very favorably by Paul, and cited very unfavorably by Jagdish. But, as Captain Jack Sparrow says in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”: “You have heard of me”. Both of these people were far above my pay grade, and I was then desperate to be noticed by them and their ilk. Krugman was going to win a Nobel Prize in Economics, after all, and Bhagwati certainly ought to have won one. 

They were citing me. But they were not citing anything I had written that had been printed. They were citing from my website. “Hmmm…” I thought.

And I have been too online since, to my great benefit and also detriment, but mostly benefit.

I used to host my weblog on TypePad:

Grasping Reality: The Weblog @ Typepad

I can be found, now that Twitter is owned by a Nazi-adjacent chaos monkey, on Mastodon at @delong@mastodon.social.

What Is He Known For?

At the moment, Google and Google Scholar say that the five pieces he has written that are the most influential and command the most attention are:

  1. Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the 20th Century—The book tells the story of how an unprecedented explosion of material wealth occurred, how it transformed the globe, and why it failed to deliver us to utopia. Of remarkable breadth and ambition,  it reveals the last century to have been less a march of progress than a slouch in the right direction. DeLong, J. Bradford. 2022. Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the 20th Century. New York: Basic Books <http://bit.ly/3pP3Krk>

  2. “Noise Trader Risk in Financial Markets” (with Andrei Shleifer and Lawrence Summers of Harvard, and Robert Waldmann of the University of Rome)—how Milton Friedman’s claim that irrational investors must in equilibrium have no impact on market prices is simply, well, wrong. DeLong, J. Bradford, Andrei Shleifer, Lawrence H. Summers, & Robert J. Waldmann. 1990. “Noise Trader Risk in Financial Markets.” Journal of Political Economy 98 (4).<http://ms.mcmaster.ca/~grasselli/DeLongShleiferSummersWaldmann90.pdf>

  3. “Fiscal Policy in a Depressed Economy” (with Lawrence Summers of Harvard)—how when inflation is as quiescent & interest rates as low as they have been since 2001, bond- & money-financed expansions of government purchases are, when properly hedged, truly a win-win free lunch that competent governments would pursue. DeLong, J. Bradford, & Lawrence H. Summers. 2012. "Fiscal Policy in a Depressed Economy." Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (Spring): 233-297.<https://www.brookings.edu/about/projects/bpea/papers/2012/fiscal-policy-depressed-economy-delong>

  4. “Did J.P. Morgan’s Men Add Value?”—reputation, managerial competence, oversight, & the benefits to society of long-term greedy plutocratic investment banks. DeLong, J. Bradford. 1990. “Did J.P. Morgan's Men Add Value? A Historical Perspective on Financial Capitalism.” In Inside the Business Enterprise: Historical Perspectives on the Use of Information, edited by Peter Temin, 205-249. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.<https://www.nber.org/chapters/c7182.pdf>

  5. “Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow’s Economy” (with A. Michael Froomkin of the University of Miami)—how the “Smithian” image of the economy that we economists have held in the forefront of our minds since 1776 is obsolete. DeLong, J. Bradford, & A. Michael Froomkin. 2000. “Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow's Economy.” In Internet Publishing and Beyond: The Economics of Digital Information and Intellectual Property. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. <http://osaka.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/articles/spec.htm>

And additional favorites from ChatGPT4 are:

  1. "The Marshall Plan: History's Most Successful Structural Adjustment Program": In this paper, DeLong explores the success of the Marshall Plan post World War II, analyzing its impact on European economic recovery and its role as a model for future economic assistance programs. DeLong, J. Bradford, & Barry Eichengreen. 1993. "The Marshall Plan: History's Most Successful Structural Adjustment Program." In Post-World War II Economic Reconstruction and its Lessons for Eastern Europe Today, edited by Rudiger Dornbusch et al., Cambridge: MIT Press. <https://www.nber.org/papers/w3899>

  2. "Globalization and Convergence": This paper discusses the phenomenon of globalization, focusing on the convergence of income levels across countries and the implications of this process for global economic policy. Dowrick, Steve, & J. Bradford DeLong. 2003. “4 Globalization and Convergence.” In Globalization in Historical Perspective, edited by Michael D. Bordo, Alan M. Taylor, and Jeffrey G. Williamson, 191-226. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.7208/9780226065991-006/html>

  3. "The Stock Market Bubble of 1929: Evidence from Closed-End Mutual Funds": This article offers a detailed analysis of the stock market bubble of 1929, using data from closed-end mutual funds to understand the market dynamics and investor behavior during this period. DeLong, J. Bradford, & Andrei Shleifer. 1991. “The Bubble of 1929: Evidence from Closed-End Funds.” Journal of Economic History 51 (3): 675-700. <https://scholar.harvard.edu/shleifer/publications/bubble-1929-evidence-closed-end-funds>

  4. "America’s Peacetime Inflation: The 1970s": The causes and consequences of the peacetime inflation that occurred in the United States during the 1970s, discussing its implications for economic policy and theory. DeLong, J. Bradford. 1997. "America's Peacetime Inflation: The 1970s." In Reducing Inflation: Motivation and Strategy, 247-280. National Bureau of Economic Research. <https://ideas.repec.org/h/nbr/nberch/8886.html>.

  5. "Productivity Growth in the 2000s": Trends in productivity growth as they looked as of the early 2000s, analyzing the factors contributing to these trends and their implications for the economy. DeLong, J. Bradford. 2003. "Productivity Growth in the 2000s." In NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2002, Volume 17, edited by Mark Gertler & Kenneth Rogoff, MIT Press. <https://www.nber.org/books-and-chapters/nber-macroeconomics-annual-2002-volume-17/productivity-growth-2000s>.

  6. "Is Increased Price Flexibility Stabilizing?": In this paper, DeLong investigates the claim that increased price flexibility is stabilizing for the economy, offering a nuanced view of the relationship between price flexibility and economic stability. DeLong, J. Bradford, & Lawrence H. Summers. 1986. "Is Increased Price Flexibility Stabilizing?" American Economic Review 76 (5): 1031-1044. <https://www.nber.org/papers/w1686>.

  7. "The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money" (with Stephen S. Cohen): This book, co-authored with Stephen S. Cohen, delves into the shifting global economic landscape, focusing on how the rise of other economies affects the United States' economic and political influence. Cohen, Stephen S., & J. Bradford DeLong. 2010. The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money. Basic Books.

  8. “Positive Feedback Investment Strategies and Destabilizing Rational Speculation”: Exploring the dynamics of stock market bubbles and crashes. How positive feedback investment strategies, where investors buy or sell stocks in response to recent price movements, can lead to excessive stock price volatility. Such strategies can create self-reinforcing trends, leading to significant deviations from fundamental values. DeLong, J. Bradford, Andrei Shleifer, Lawrence H. Summers, & Robert J. Waldmann. 1990. "Positive Feedback Investment Strategies and Destabilizing Rational Speculation." Journal of Finance 45 (2): 374-97. <https://www.nber.org/papers/w2880>

  9. “This Time, It Is Not Different: The Persistent Concerns of Financial Macroeconomics”: The financial and macroeconomic policy challenges following the financial crisis of 2007-2008, offering insights into policy responses and long-term economic implications. DeLong, J. Bradford. DeLong, J. Bradford. 2012. "This Time, It Is Not Different: The Persistent Concerns of Financial Macroeconomics." In Rethinking the Financial Crisis, edited by Alan S. Blinder, Andrew W. Lo, and Robert M. Solow, 59-95. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation

  10. “Grokking þe History of Antiquity”: The significance and challenges of understanding ancient history through modern interpretations, the complexities of translating and interpreting texts from antiquity, and the need for a nuanced approach to historical studies. DeLong, J. Bradford. 2023. "Grokking þe History of Antiquity." Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality. Accessed March 4. <https://braddelong.substack.com/p/should-we-read-steven-pressfields>.

Join the Paid-Subscriber Crew:

Paid subscribers—and commenters—gain my attention. Become part of a community of people who share your interests. Paid subscribers are my assignment desk: ask me to write something, & I will do so (albeit in my own time.) But maybe you want to ask a different question—not “is it worth it?” but “would I raise my utility by paying for it?” Do I think that the differential value of whatever extras I ultimately decide to put behind the paywall is more than $10/month? Paid subscriptions as a combination of a “Director’s Cut” and a “Patronage” model; if either of those sings to you—or if you want to comment here—get a paid subscription:

Feel as though you & the world would benefit from your having a subscription, & also feel that you cannot afford one? Please email me at brad.delong@gmail.com.

& Do Order “Slouching Towards Utopia”:

My economic history of the long 20th century, 1870-2010 <bit.ly/3pP3Krk>:

  • “History provides the only data we have for charting a course forward in these turbulent times. I have not seen a more revealing and illuminating book about economics and what it means in a very long time. It should be required reading for anybody who cares about the future of the global system, and that should be everyone…”—Larry Summers, Harvard University, Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton

  • “Brad DeLong learnedly and grippingly tells the story of how all the economic growth since 1870 has created a global economy that today satisfies no one's ideas of fairness. The long journey toward economic justice and more equal rights and opportunities for all shall and will continue…”—Thomas Piketty, EHESS & l’Ecole d’économie de Paris, author of Le Capital au 21e Siècle.

  • What a joy to finally have Brad DeLong's masterful interpretation of twentieth-century economic history down on paper. Slouching Towards Utopia is engaging, important, and awe-inspiring in its breadth and creativity.”—Christina Romer, U.C. Berkeley, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama

  • “Brad: You have a distinct angle of vision, encyclopedic knowledge, and wonderful facility with the language…. Appreciate [the book’s] audacity and reach.… Let it go [to the publisher] with confidence and joy…”—Fred Block, U.C. Davis

  • “Brad: I remember reading an earlier draft 30 years ago.  You haven't wasted the 30 years.  This book is vastly improved. It is, in my view, an amazing accomplishment…”—Robert Waldmann, U. of Rome “Tor Vergata

  • “Brad: Reading Slouching Towards Utopia, I am struck again at what a lovely writer you are. I find myself just marveling at how well you express things and how alive your prose feels. I am having trouble putting it down (even though I need to be preparing for Econ 2!)…”—Christina D. Romer, U.C. Berkeley, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama

  • “Brad: I love it.  The grand story you are looking to tell makes a lot of sense to me, and it is very engagingly told…”—Tim O’Reilly

Before 1870, humanity lived in dire poverty, with a slow crawl of invention offset by a growing population. Then came a great shift: invention sprinted forward, doubling our technological capabilities each generation and utterly transforming the economy again and again. Our ancestors would have presumed we would have used such powers to build utopia. But it was not so. When 1870÷2010 ended, the world instead saw global warming; economic depression, uncertainty, and inequality; and broad rejection of the status quo. Economist Brad DeLong’s Slouching Towards Utopia tells the story of how this unprecedented explosion of material wealth occurred, how it transformed the globe—and why it failed to deliver us to utopia. Of remarkable breadth and ambition, it uncovers the last century to have been less a march of progress than a slouch in the right direction.


Subscribe to Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality

Economic history, economics, political economy, finance, & forecasting. Here to try to make you (and me) smarter in a world with many increasingly deep & complicated troubles...


Author of Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the 20th Century, sometime Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, too online since 1995, UC Berkeley economic historian