A view from London

Lifelong curiosity, the ability to self-teach and wide interests emerge as the qualities of those who hit their stride later in life.

Ian Stewart

United Kingdom

This year’s reading list is actually a reading and listening list. The six articles and two podcasts aim to provide an engaging distraction however you spend your summer break. The articles and podcasts are available free online, although some websites restrict the number of articles that can be accessed without charge each month.

While many who find extraordinary success do so early in life, some, like Cézanne or Darwin, make their greatest contributions later in life. This long read from The Atlantic argues that ‘late bloomers’ make critical contributions in a wide range of fields. The peak age for innovation, for instance, comes in the late 40s while the success rate of entrepreneurs’ business ventures rises with age well into the 50s. Lifelong curiosity, the ability to self-teach and wide interests emerge as the qualities of those who hit their stride later in life.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2024/06/successs-late-bloomers-motivation/678798/  (The Atlantic allows free access to one article a month.)

Arguments about the aesthetic impact of wind power on the landscape date back not to the dawn of the wind turbine, but to the emergence of the first European windmills in the 11th or 12th century. One contemporary saw early windmills as being like the flailing limbs of Satan. American windmills, pumping water for remote farms and ranches, were derided as ugly when they emerged but, now, along with their European equivalents, are cherished. This thoughtful essay from Aeon proposes that education and engagement could see today’s windmills treasured as symbols of prosperity and independence.


In the 1960s, William Baumol, an American economist, observed that although musicians weren’t getting more productive — it took the same number of people the same amount of time to play a Beethoven string quartet in 1965 as it did in 1865 — musicians in 1965 made a lot more money. Baumol’s work showed how advances in productivity in the production of goods led to higher wages in – and prices for – services. The phenomenon of paying more for services whose quality was essentially unchanged came to be known as Baumol’s cost disease. This Vox piece from 2017, published shortly after Baumol’s death, gives a fascinating overview of his work and what it tells us about today’s economies.


To win the second world war, president Roosevelt challenged America to become the “arsenal of democracy”. This blog, written by Brian Potter, a senior infrastructure fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Progress, sets out how the US increased airplane production by a factor of 70 during the war, turning a near cottage industry into a mass-production behemoth. Lessons from this era shed light on the challenges facing the West today as it seeks to build up its defence industries.


As William Baumol’s groundbreaking works attest, it has long been a truism in economics that productivity growth in manufacturing industries is stronger than in service industries. Advances in machinery and technology mean that those industries that depend on machines are able to boost output faster than more labour-intensive services. But this blog post by Noah Smith argues that the reverse has been true in the US over the last decade, where manufacturing productivity has stagnated. Smith concludes by offering some intriguing ideas as to what has gone wrong.


Labour’s landslide victory in the UK general election has prompted comparisons with previous elections. This piece from History Today argues that regardless of which party has won previous elections, they more often result in continuity than radical change. One exception is the post-war victory of Clement Attlee’s Labour Party in 1945. This article sets out the bleak post-war context for that election and the factors that contributed to a period of rapid change, including the creation of the modern welfare state.


Quaker shopkeepers, believing that if everyone was equal before God, then everyone should be equal before price, began affixing price tags to their goods in the late 19th century, ending a custom that every sale could be haggled. This provocative episode of Bloomberg’s Odd Lots podcast charts the shift away from uniform pricing to a world where dynamic and differentiated pricing means that consumers can pay wildly different prices for the same purchase. Setting out the backlash, the hosts wonder whether ‘clean’ pricing could be a winning market strategy once again and ponder whether central banks, in light of these developments, are nimble enough to assess and deliver price stability.

Please choose from your favoured podcast provider below:

Apple podcasts


Spotify podcasts


YouTube podcasts


The 2008 bestselling book “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein sparked huge interest in using behavioural economics to prod individuals into making better choices. These often low-cost interventions claimed some major successes. However, doubts over whether some famous results can be reproduced, and allegations of fraud and publication bias, have since emerged. This BBC radio documentary presented by academic Magda Osman examines the state of the field 15 years on.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001slsl (requires free registration with the BBC or directly download the .mp3 file below)



Ian Stewart

United Kingdom