Chelsea Follett on Cities that Changed the World

prudence progress dubrovnik baghdad athens invention matt ridley amsterdam

Chelsea Follett with Juliette Sellgren

October 13, 2023
I am excited to have Chelsea Follett on to talk to us about her new book Centers of Progress: 40 Cities that Changed the World. The title speaks for itself. She is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s center for global liberty and prosperity and the managing editor of

We talk about a few key characteristics of centers in progress, the connection between cities and progress, and some interesting cases of progress!

You can also check out Janet Bufton's Great Antidote Extra on this episode.

Want to explore more?
Chelsea Follett, Centers of Progress, in Discourse magazine.
Janet Bufton, a Great Antidote podcast Extra on Ed Glaeser on the Unseen Beauties of Cities.
Kyle Swan, Three Cheers for Adam Smith's Cities, at Speaking of Smith.

Read the transcript.

Juliette Sellgren 
Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. Hi, I'm Juliette Sellgren and this is my podcast, the Great Antidote named for Adam Smith, brought to you by Liberty Fund. To learn more, visit www Adam Smith

Welcome back. We've talked a lot about abundance and prosperity, the state of America, the state of the world on this podcast, but how did it all come about? How does that actually happen? Abundance prosperity. So that's exactly what we're going to be talking about today on September 22nd. That's the date, right? Yes, 2023. I'm excited to have Chelsea Follett on to talk about her new book, Centers of Progress, 40 Cities that Changed the World. The title basically speaks for itself. She's a policy analyst at the Cato Institute Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. And the managing editor of human Welcome to the podcast.

Chelsea Follett 
Thank you so much for speaking with me.

Juliette Sellgren 
Alrighty. What is the most important thing that people my age or in my generation should know that we don't?

Chelsea Follett (1.22)
I think a very important thing for young people, but for everyone really is just to have perspective. If you are just listening to the news, it's easy to get the impression, especially if you're young and you don't have a lot of context to reflect back on. It's easy to get the impression that everything is getting worse and you've just been born on the brink of disaster. The world is about to end. Humanity has really messed up conflict in so many areas has never been higher. But if you look backwards and you zoom out and you look at the big picture, you find that actually we have come a long way. And you have been born in a pretty amazing era to be alive, especially compared to everything that our ancestors had to contend with.

Juliette Sellgren (2.09)
Yeah, that's a great answer. I think about this a lot because, well, obviously human progress and all and econ and history, but just the narrative of the people around me, I can almost feel it coming off of certain people, this energy that the world is going to end and I don't know, it's not not vibes is what it is. Either it turns into some sort of anger that is directed in the wrong way or some sort of sadness and I just don't think it's good for humans. Not only is the narrative wrong, but I don't think it's good for our sense of wellbeing.

Chelsea Follett (2.48)
Not at all. One of the few things that is empirically getting worse it seems would be our levels of anxiety, including for young people in your generation, anxiety and depression and things like that. Those are up. Even though materially the world is better in so many ways, people are living longer, poverty is down, literacy is up around the world. The environment is obviously something people are very concerned about, but even there are some indicators that should give us optimism about the future of environmental stewardship, like green areas and forested areas increasing in much of the developed world, many species rebounding. There are so many positive stories right now that people are not aware of or they're not focusing on. And I think that you're right that not only does this lead to many negative mental health consequences potentially of anxiety and so forth, but it can also lead to bad policy because if you think that the world is completely falling apart, things have never been worse, we are essentially doomed then why not change everything? What do you have to lose after all? And people can then throw away the very policies and institutions that have enabled so much of the progress to date, and that actually is dangerous. It could lead to some very negative consequences. 

Juliette Sellgren (4.18)
I feel like progress is kind of a buzzword in different circles in different ways. So before we jump into what the centers of progress are, can you define what you mean as progress for us and how you use it and why you use it?

Chelsea Follett (4.36)
Absolutely. I think you're right that in some contexts now it's just used as a buzzword or it can be used in a politicized way. Some people, if you're more on the left, you call yourself a progressive. You want to kind of own the word progress. But on and in the book Centers of Progress, the definition of progress being used is the least politicized, most non-controversial definition possible. Literally just whatever empirically seems to be bettering human wellbeing, whether that's more people gaining access to electricity, poverty falling, people living longer, infants being less likely to die, prosperity, increasing literacy, increasing education rates, increasing better legal equality, women being allowed to vote. These sorts of extremely non-controversial things that people across the political spectrum in our country agree all represent progress. That's really what human focuses on empirically measuring around the world. And that's what Centers of Progress focuses on telling the story of how did we overcome so many terrible things in the past? How can we celebrate those milestones? How did we get to where we are today with the modern world?

Juliette Sellgren (5.55)
So I almost want to ask, how did this book come about? In some ways it seems like a natural result of human, but can you tell us a little more of maybe your personal story with it, how your work led to this work?

Chelsea Follett (6.13)
Absolutely. So as managing editor of human, I do spend a lot of time not only thinking about whether we've made progress in different areas, what areas we're still not making progress, and also what kinds of conditions and policies and institutions lead to progress, where does progress come from? And I sat down and made a list of the different aspects of the modern world of our current civilization that we take for granted everything from a stable food supply and a written language to sanitation, all of these different things that make up the modern world. And I wanted to write a series for the website looking at these different aspects of civilization and where they came from. And I found that many of them could be traced actually to a particular spot. And these were disproportionately places where quite a few people live. They tended to be either cities or places that had high populations for the era.

They might not need our modern definition of city, but were probably the closest thing to a city that existed at the time. And that's really where the book came from. Making a list of different aspects of the modern world and then tracing all of those to an origin point and trying to tell the story of how we built the modern world that moves not just chronologically like most histories, but also geographically and gives a tour of these different origin points, these centers of progress that helped us to create incredible innovations in so many areas, again with a very broad view of progress in mind. Everything from scientific discoveries and technological innovations to artistic achievements and progress in human rights, again with very non-controversial subjects. Things like women being allowed to vote, the abolition of slavery, historical events that everyone agrees represent progress.

Juliette Sellgren (8.24)
I was kind of wondering about the center's thing. Is it like a rectangle square dichotomy where you have all centers are kind of like cities or are cities, but not all cities are centers in the sense of your book or how did you choose the 40 that you feature? Because if all cities are somewhat centers of progress, what was the distinction between what made the cut and didn't? Why 40?

Chelsea Follett (8.51)
That's a great question. So I don't actually think all cities are centers of progress. There have been terrible things that have happened in cities as well. Obviously initially, cities are often the sites of disease and chaos and crime and cities are typically that serve as the capitals of oppressive regimes and dictatorships just as the capital of any polity is typically a city. So cities, very bad things can happen in cities as well. Terrible things can originate from cities. So I would not classify every single city as a center of progress if a city exists mainly to further the slave trade back when that was a prominent institution around the globe, for example, that would not be a center of progress, even if it's a thriving city in some sense for some people who are gaining from that oppression. I do think though that that progress tends to emerge from cities.

So not all cities are centers of progress, but centers of progress do tend to be cities. And when I first set out to create this work, again, I kind of reverse engineered it. I started with different innovations and I tried to find origin points for them. And initially I hadn't planned that they would all be cities, but it turned out that they were all either cities or about the closest thing to cities that existed at the time. And as I started writing this series, I also then got a punch of recommendations. I was inundated with recommendations. And so the book was initially 30 cities, we ended up expanding it to 40 and I had to stop somewhere, but the book probably could have continued on and contained even more than that. If this is a best seller, help make that happen, by the way, please, then maybe we can release an expanded edition and feature even more cities. But these 40 all were extremely significant in terms of contributing to human wellbeing in some way, either being the place where some incredible discovery or innovation first took place or representing the sort of pinnacle or the peak of some different art form or some other achievements.

Juliette Sellgren (11.19)
What I've been curious about, okay, so last semester now I'm kind of telling my own little story of my progress. So last semester I took this math class called basic real analysis, which is the philosophy of math. And essentially in that I learned that in order to tell a story to tell a compelling and logical narrative, you need to know way more than what you're actually trying to say in order to be able to say what you're trying to say, if that makes any sense. And then I've been TA-ing this semester for intro econ, and I'm kind of relearning the same lesson that I have to know way more about econ in order to effectively teach, or the more I know, the more effective my teaching seems to be. The more concise I am at explaining something, the more various ways I have of explaining the same concept if the first way doesn't make sense. And so I kind of was reading and thinking, wow, not only are there so many details, so many interesting details, little sentences that just indicate how much you had to learn and how much you know about a place before you write about it. But how long did it take you to research? How much did you research to create such a nice little package of every single story in that book?

Chelsea Follett (12.44)
Oh my gosh. It varied a bit depending on whether or not I already had some basis of knowledge going into a particular city's exploration. The book, I started writing it at the start of the pandemic when travel was very restricted and everyone was kind of staying home. And that made it a nice mental tour of the world, getting to learn about all of these different places even when I couldn't actually visit them. And now my list of places I'd like to visit has certainly expanded for some of them, like Dubrovnik would probably be a great example. I really came into it with very little knowledge and had to spend a bit of good bit of time reading on it. But it's such a fascinating story, especially to read about amid the world's recent experience with a pandemic. What happened there in Dubrovnik? It's a city in Croatia today, but it's not to get into too much detail on the book and spoil any particular chapter, but it used to be it's a very old city and it used to be a city state, its own little republic, and it was called Ragusa at that time, and it was very into freedom for its time period.

It was among the earliest polities to ban the slave trade and it was a sort of free trading medieval supernova, and it actually managed to even achieve significant mercantile expansion during the Black Death Pandemic, even when other trading city states like Venice had to close their doors with innovations in public health, Dubrovnik managed to continue to trade and to keep its people relatively healthy and achieve all of that in the midst of the worst pandemic that the area had ever experienced. So that was a really inspiring story, and it was a city I knew nothing about going into writing this, but some others I knew a good deal more about. And as you say, there are a lot of things that could have gone into these chapters that would make them significantly longer, but I wanted to keep them very short through these little vignettes that you can get through very quickly.

Each is about maybe 10 pages and plus it's a 12 point font we use, so it's very easy on the eyes and seems shorter probably than it sounds from those 10 pages. And so it's very easy to read. This is not a thick wonky policy book. This is a book where you can kind of flit from one city to another based on your interest and it's enjoyable. At least that was the goal. It feels like a light read at the same time. It's filled with different facts that give you a sort of whirlwind crash course in global history going all the way back to the start of permanent settlement and the agricultural revolution up until the present day and the digital revolution. So yeah, I'm very proud of it. And thank you again for giving me the opportunity to advertise this to young people because I think that this is a great book to read if you're in university because something in this almost certainly relates whatever class you're taking.

You were taking a class on philosophy of mathematics that really interested you. Well, there's a chapter on Baghdad during the opposite Dynasty when Baghdad is not something we think of now as a center of progress usually, but at one point it was this center of scholarship where math and astronomy were at the forefront, the cutting edge, and they were drawing people from all over the world to come study at a place called The House of Wisdom, the significant center of scholarship at the time. And it was a very open and relatively tolerant society at the time. There were so many stories like this that people may not be aware of. I learned a lot in researching and writing this book. And I think that anyone from a younger person who does not have a lot of background in history at all to hardened hardcore history buff who just devours history books regularly, I think that there are at least some studies in this book that will surprise them as well. There's something in this book for just about everyone.

Juliette Sellgren (17.09)
Okay, maybe this is a weird thing to ask, but can you give us your favorite tidbit? Very trivial, non-important, just fun fact type tidbit that you learned that isn't essential to the story, but is fascinating anyways.

Chelsea Follett (17.31)
Oh, it's hard to pick a favorite. There are lots of quirky little facts in the book. One of them would be that in classical Athens, they actually discovered steam power and it was seen as sort of a novelty. It was used for this little gimmicky device which had released steam and it would create movement and it would be interesting to the people watching in the audience, but they didn't see any broader application for steam. And so he didn't get the Industrial Revolution obviously until much, much later. But the idea of steam power was actually discovered much earlier. And so that was fascinating to me. There were all these sort of missed opportunities in history when things were discovered or invented and they could have taken off, but they didn't.

Juliette Sellgren (18.28)
Yeah. Well, what's crazy about that is maybe it just wasn't the right time, and obviously I guess it wasn't where would we be if it had been the right time, maybe light years ahead of where we are now. But the thing that is so interesting to me is that I couldn't even quantify, and I don't know if anyone could quantify because it's like the story of the entire world, how many more ideas and progressions, like little progressions were necessary for us to go from steam to the industrial revolution. There's a reason why they didn't think anything more of it. And that is so weird to think about because you could think of today maybe the next greatest invention, except we might not be in the time when enough other proximate ideas exist or circulating. So then it won't take off. Now, do you think that's the case?

Chelsea Follett (19.25)
No, I think that's a really good point. So many people, how many people actually do even spend any time focusing on trying to change the world or create the next big discovery? Many people don't even consider that. I think most people aren't dedicating themselves to that kind of invention. And even if you do happen to create something groundbreaking, you might not realize it. You might not realize the potential of what you've discovered. And that gets to, I think the reason why so much of progress that we've seen in history has tended to emerge from cities even when the vast majority of people in many areas throughout history lived in rural areas, it was often cities that made these breakthroughs. And I think that's because when you have more people gathered together, able to freely engage in the exchange of ideas and debate one another and collaborate and compete and exchange knowledge, you are more likely to make those sorts of realization that you just hit upon something that could change the world. You're more likely to recombine ideas in a way that has a meaningful impact on addressing whatever problems humanity is currently facing and coming up with an innovative solution. I think we really are smarter collectively when we are engaged in that kind of collaboration and competition with one another than when we are acting on our own usually. And so that's one reason why it does seem that cities, that any place where people gather together have a better chance of creating world-changing innovations than rural areas.

Juliette Sellgren (21.22)
So you've already of jumped ahead to something that I've been not struggling with but kind of grappling with. So I want to add my 2 cents of thought and then see again what you think. So at two different points in the book, there are these two quotes. So first, and this is kind of a tension that I see, and I want you to kind of let me know what you think about the tension, if it really is a tension, how different people might see that tension and how to, I don't know, correct the narrative maybe. So first there's an HL Mencken quote where he says, human progress is further, not by conformity, but by aberration. And for those of you who would have to look up aberration, I already did it. It's basically an unwelcome departure from the norm. And then in the forward, Matt Ridley said, progress is a team sport, not an individual pursuit. I don't know if the tension there is necessarily obvious, but I kind of felt it. So what are your thoughts there?

Chelsea Follett (22.26)
How does this relate to cities too, what you're saying? Yeah, we tend to think of conformity as something that involves a crowd, right? It's going along with the crowd. It's doing what other people around you want you to do because of social pressure. And so we associate conformity with large groups of people as exist in the cities, and yet what we actually see historically does tend to be, and this is why that me quote is in there, that cities with so many people gathered together actually do not enforce conformity the way smaller communities tend to. In a small group, it's pretty easy to police behavior and induce conformity, but in a very, very large group, the city ceases to be just one community. It breaks into different communities and subcultures, and there actually tends to be a lot more freedom for experimentation. But again, it does depend.

Not all cities are free and not all cities encourage that kind of experimentation. And one of the factors that we see that define the centers of progress featured in my book and throughout history is not only do they have relatively high populations, but those populations are relatively free. A great example of this would be Amsterdam during the Dutch golden age, and this was an era when so many different innovations occurred. This is where many people believe that the great escape from poverty, the great enrichment really began. There were so many innovations in business with the first major stock exchange, the first corporation innovations in arts with the Northern Renaissance paintings. But the thing that really defines Amsterdam during this era, and what I ended up using as the subtitle for that chapter because I couldn't really pick just one achievement, was openness. That was the overall lesson I took from the story of Amsterdam.

This was a city which allowed John Locke, the father of liberalism to take refuge for a time because his ideas were controversial enough that he felt more able to speak freely in Amsterdam than in other places in Europe. This was the same city that published works by Thomas Hobbes and other famous English philosopher with somewhat opposite views to Hobbes. He was the famous absolute monarchist, right? His ideas are also controversial, and a lot of printing presses in Europe would not touch them, but Amsterdam was willing to print them and let all sorts of different cutting edge controversial thinkers across the political spectrum. Again, people from Locke to Hobbes express their views and duke it out in the marketplace of ideas and allowing for that kind of debate and discussion and openness that can lead to aberration, as you said, to what was the definition, an unwelcome change that can lead to changes that many people are uncomfortable with. But if you never experiment with change, you can never make positive change. And so all progress really does come from someone going venturing outside the norm and trying something new, and some people are going to feel uncomfortable with that. And so if you have a place with an atmosphere of openness and tolerance toward intellectual discourse and dissent, and that is all right with some level of controversy, you are more likely to end up with new ideas that do make a positive difference taking hold.

Juliette Sellgren (26.24)
So in order for an innovation to kind of occur, right, it seems as though especially we talk about this a lot during free speech and you summarized it slash showed it beautifully with this Locke-Hobbes freedom thing, little story. So in order for an innovation to come about, it seems as though there has to be this sort of conversation whether or not it's like a real conversation or a positive conversation is another question, but kind of this back and forth between ideas in both theory and practice. But it seems like sometimes these sorts of things happen in a domino effect of sorts. So I guess, does every innovation follow a similar pattern or every progression, and then what happens in between innovations and progressions?

Chelsea Follett (27.20)
Oh, both great questions. So it is true that there are many cities in the book where progress was driven by conversations, whether that would be the conversations taking place in the salons of enlightenment era, Paris, or the reading societies of Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment and the birth of modern social science. Great minds coming together and debating and discussing new ideas. But not all of the centers of progress in the book match that pattern, especially for a lot of the earlier centers of progress. In the book before the world population was very high at all. And in the earliest chapter, Jericho, which many scholars believe to be the first city, certainly one of the earliest cities, that chapter takes place during the Neolithic revolution when people first settled down and started to grow food domesticate it. And at the time, the population of the entire world was about equivalent to what the population of Portugal is today, and the population of Neolithic era Jericho or the site around where Jericho now stands was maybe equivalent to the rural town of Victor, Idaho.

This was not really a city by modern standards. Even if it was the most populated, most densely populated place in the world at the time, it would've felt like a bustling metropolis. But because you didn't have very many people, in part it seems like agriculture and a lot of the really early innovations featured in the book, they didn't come about as a result of conversations. There was just not that large a pool of people to bring that about. Instead, they seemed to have arisen very, very gradually. So agriculture, we don't know exactly how it arose, obviously, and it arose in different places at different times, but it seems to have likely happened gradually. Permanent settlements probably happens gradually with people camping out for longer and longer periods of time every year, writing when it came about, and you can learn about that story in the Jericho chapter came about for a rather non-glamorous purpose, accountants basically trying to find a quicker way to take inventory and write down receipts, that kind of thing.

Instead of drawing elaborate pictures to record financial transactions and inventories of what was being stored in warehouses, they eventually created simpler and simpler pictures and over many, many years, slowly this evolved into the first written language. And so those sorts of innovations, agriculture, the written word, these didn't come about. Through a couple of conversations between ingenious individuals, these things arose gradually and many, many people were probably involved. So not all of these things came about quickly, but it does seem like the pace of progress has sped up. And more recently, the golden ages of many of the cities featured in the book were often quite short periods of time, quick flickers in and out of existence, which gets to your next question of what comes after a center of progress. I think the lesson of so many of these centers of progress only actually being at their creative peak or at their best for a few decades, is that the conditions that promote progress are very, very fragile.

Now we see again and again that they can unravel due to war or conflict. Another one of the key conditions besides a high population and relative freedom seems to be relative peace. Also, the conditions for progress can also unravel because of a closing off of that openness and freedom that allowed a city to prosper initially. That was part of the undoing of Baghdad, which we were talking about earlier at one point. Again, a global center of scholarship in mathematics, astronomy, and so many other areas, and a very relatively tolerant society at the time, bringing in scholars from all over the world, from different cultural backgrounds, different religious backgrounds, all to study these great questions together. And then a faction rose up within the city that had a much more closed view. It was much less friendly to the idea of foreign ideas or people from different cultures or different backgrounds engaging in scholarship. And the intellectual atmosphere shifted with that faction gaining power in the city, and much of what made Baghdad so successful was then lost. That contributed to the unraveling of it as a center of scholarship. So when we do see a city that is creating incredible innovations, whenever we see any place that's prospering, that's thriving in any way, we need to remember that the conditions that allow that kind of success are fragile and worth safeguarding and can be very easily lost.

Juliette Sellgren (32.46)
So I guess following right off of this, is there a lesson to be learned as people who value progress and are optimistic a lot of the time, even though some of us call ourselves realists, but we tend to be more optimistic than others still, do you think there's something to be learned about prudence, even just with regard to safeguarding the institutions that work? What can we be more careful about in talking about progress because of what you've learned through stories like these?

Chelsea Follett (33.23)
Absolutely. On the one hand, any kind of progress is about positive change, right? We talked about aberration and the role of change and allowing new ideas and controversy, but progress also can depend on safeguarding and maintaining and keeping around some old established things, policies and institutions that allow for that kind of experimentation. For one thing, peace, also very much worth safeguarding openness to different sorts of people and ideas. All of these things can very easily be lost. I think this connects to what we were talking about at the very beginning, how a lot of, maybe young people especially, but so many people, regardless of their age, lack historical context or a sense of the big picture and view the presence as a failure for not living up to some imagined perfect ideal world, and they don't see how far we've come and how fragile it may be. Backsliding is absolutely possible, and that can be dangerous. Absolutely. I think there's a policy lesson there and studying the past and seeing how we have overcome problems in the past and celebrating each of those milestones and learning about them and learning about the conditions that helped to bring those achievements about that may hold the secret to fostering innovation in the present and the future.

Juliette Sellgren (34.58)
So something I've been thinking a lot about in learning about China and Russia, and not just current policy slash foreign policy debates and conversations, but historically culturally, is that actually culture plays a big role in what institutions work in a place or not. Do you see this in all of the cities and the centers that you follow? And how much of a role do you think culture plays in which institutions, institution's work? I'm a big proponent of liberalism, but I think there's something special about the American narrative and culture that makes it work here in a way that is just so fabulous and unique. Yeah,

Chelsea Follett (35.44)
No, that's a great question. I think that it is certainly very difficult to suddenly transform a culture, to impose a love of freedom where there is currently a suspicion of it or there are other norms in place. At the same time, I do think that if you do have an established culture of support for freedom, for experimentation and all of that, then no matter who you are, no matter where you are in the world, that will help your community to do well. And if you read this book, I think one of the things that may surprise you is just how geographically diverse it is. Well, it does have, of course, all of the cities that you'd expect from your history of Western, the civilization chorus that's probably required at a university, Athens, classical Athens Renaissance, Florence, Paris during the Enlightenment, London, New York and so forth, all of the cities you'd expect.

It also has a lot of, I think, rather surprising cities. And I think that, again, no matter how into history you are, there will be at least a few places that surprise you. And what we see again and again, no matter where we're looking at in the world, again, whether we're looking at Baghdad or Dubrovnik, you can be looking at places that are geographically and culturally very different where there is a respect for freedom, whatever other cultural differences that goes along with, as long as there's that sort of respect and tolerance and openness that gives the city a better chance of thriving and contributing to human progress.

Juliette Sellgren (37.40)
Do you have a favorite city that you looked at or center? I've been using them interchangeably.

Chelsea Follett (37.47)
Oh, that's a great question. Dubrovnik again, is probably the one that was the most surprising to me. I thought that was just fascinating to learn about. Hong Kong was one I knew already a lot about, but the whirlwinds for free market transformation that it engaged in the sixties, going from almost unimaginable poverty. The sort of poverty that you see today in some places in Sub-Saharan Africa would be comparable to one of the sparkling metropolis with a higher average income than its former colonizer, the United Kingdom. And that happening so quickly. I just think that's an amazing story, even though that's one that I'd known about quite a bit before writing this book. It's a story that I think not enough people know about.

Juliette Sellgren (38.43)
Yeah, that is a good story. I always think about when we talk about Hong Kong, I think about the first episode of Milton Friedman's Free to Choose where he takes us on a little tour and it's like, look at this. Look at what happened. And it's very cool because you can actually see the change, and I think the visual is really helpful, but the story is just fascinating.

Chelsea Follett (39.09)
It also just emphasizes the speed, the potential speed of progress, and how quickly things can change with the right policies and institutions. So yeah, that's fascinating. Another counterintuitive thing in the book I think, is that for the centers that are not focused so much on the creation of prosperity and entrepreneurship or scientific discovery and invention, but are focused more on artistic achievements, there's a pattern to those chapters, which I think may be surprising to a lot of people. We have this sort of idea in our heads of the starving artist, it's a very popular concept of people who create art solely for art's sake and sort of just want to live off of their artistic creations without any reimbursement. And this idea that true, true art has to have no profit motive involved, but instead for the chapters in artistic achievement. And these range from the creation of the Taj Mahal in Agra, the first novel in Kyoto to some of the most beautiful art ever created in Renaissance, Florence and some of the most beautiful music ever composed in Vienna.

The common denominator for all of these is that actually what seems to have helped these places create such groundbreaking art is that art was very, very lucrative in those places at those times, whether it was the Viennese Court suddenly deciding to make music very lucrative and drawing the best musicians from many different locations to Vienna to compose there because they knew they could be paid for it and be very well reimbursed for it. Or the wealthy bankers of Florence competing to patronize and fund beautiful works of art, the courtier in Tokyo, Kyoto also competing to fund different art forms. That's basically what led to the novel. There were two different empresses who both wanted to show that they were more sophisticated and by funding better artwork, and that eventually led two different ladies and waiting in their service, creating different literary works in a competition with each other. That led to the novel and Agra that was a wealthy emperor putting a lot of money toward the creation of what many people believed to be the world's most beautiful building, the Taj Mahal. In all of these cases, it was not the case that the profit, motive or financial incentives somehow weakens the quality of the artworks. But actually having more prosperity seems to have led to some of the most beautiful and renowned art that humanity has ever created.

Juliette Sellgren (42.28)
And I'm wondering, maybe this is wrong, and I'm just thinking, and this is wrong, but I'm wondering if there's something about prosperity that is either a celebration or it inspires something, right? There's almost the transaction cost and displacement of progress in some senses, but also the celebration of what that brings, and maybe it's the move to progress that actually spurs part of this inspiration for art.

Chelsea Follett (43.03)
No, I'd agree with that. And first of all, if you are not in a subsistence environment where you're starving and you're worried about just surviving, you have the actual time and energy to put forward toward the creation of art in the first place. It's true that we know that even in pre-history, people who were not very well off at all did manage to devote some time to cave paintings. People have always been making art, but once you have true prosperity, you're able to invest so much more in that art, creating new techniques, using different materials, different mediums. And with all that increased time, you get more creativity. You get an ability to focus on beauty for its own sake. And so I think that you're right. I think prosperity can be very inspiring artistically.

Juliette Sellgren (43.59)
I have one last question for you. Thank you so much for speaking to us. I have learned so much. Listeners, go check out the book. It is fabulous, fabulous, seems to be my word of the day. I really couldn't recommend anything more. It's a good coffee table book, lots of conversation. Also, your guests can just pick 'em up, read a little story, or you can just like a little bit of conversation. But there is something to learn for everyone. I think that you're right about that. So here's my question. What is one thing that you believed at one time in your life that you later changed your position on and why?

Chelsea Follett (44.36)
I'm going to cheat a little bit by bringing this back to that first question you asked me. In so many of the things that we've been talking about, I think when I was young and I was in college and in graduate school, I did lack of perspective. I was so zoomed in on the current drama of what was happening that I did not see the big picture. And I think that if you are a young person, especially taking that time to zoom out and not be too caught up in whatever's going on at the moment in your life and instead asking, will this matter in 10 years? Will this matter in a hundred years? That will give you a little bit more perspective. Whatever you're currently working on, whether it's a term paper or it's some sort of relationship drama, all of that ultimately is just so small in the grand scheme of your life and your life itself is so small in the scheme of human history. And just getting that kind of perspective I think is very helpful. And I hope that this book that can potentially contribute to that and seeing just what a big place the world is in history has been and how far we have come.

Juliette Sellgren (46.02)
Once again, I'd like to thank my guests for their time and insight. I'd also like to thank you for listening to the Great Antidote Podcast. It means a lot. The Great Antidote is sound engineered by Rich Goyette. If you have any questions, any guests or topic recommendations, please feel free to reach out to me at great Thank you.