Business Books

50 inventions that created the modern economy

Tim Harford is an economist and presenter of BBC World Service’s podcast series “50 Things That Made the Modern Economy”.

The series is nearing its end and its creators are looking for suggestions from the public for a “51st thing” that helped create the economic world we live in.

The lightbulb… clock… disposable razor… battery… barcode… iPhone… Ikea’s Billy bookcase… paper money… the contraceptive pill… leaded petrol… department stores… barbed wire… infant formula milk… air conditioning… passports… TV dinners… lifts… antibiotics…

These are just some of the featured inventions.

You may send your suggestion for the 51st thing to 51things@bbc.com.

Description of “Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy” on Amazon:

  • "Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy” paints the epic picture of economic change in an intimate way, by telling the stories of tools and ideas that had far-reaching and unexpected consequences.

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviewed Harford for his weekly business book review.

I’m fascinated by unexpected consequences – for example, the impact of the fridge on global politics, or of the gramophone on income inequality.

Tim Harford

Listen to the interview in the audio below (and/or scroll down for quotes from it).

The computer isn’t on the list… the motorcar isn’t on the list…

Tim Harford

Most of these inventions was originally government funded.

Tim Harford

Paper is one of my favourite inventions.

Tim Harford

…incredibly cheap sensors…

Tim Harford

We’ve outsourced the human brain to the computer.

Tim Harford

Click here (then “like” the page) to follow Bruce on Facebook.

Enter your email address in the form below to receive a newsletter containing the most-read articles of the week from Bruce Whitfield’s The Money Show every Friday morning in your inbox.

Subscribe to our Business Wrap Newsletter


702 welcomes all comments that are constructive, contribute to discussions in a meaningful manner and take stories forward.

However, we will NOT condone the following:

  • Racism (including offensive comments based on ethnicity and nationality)
  • Sexism
  • Homophobia
  • Religious intolerance
  • Cyber bullying
  • Hate speech
  • Derogatory language
  • Comments inciting violence.

We ask that your comments remain relevant to the articles they appear on and do not include general banter or conversation as this dilutes the effectiveness of the comments section.

We strive to make the 702 community a safe and welcoming space for all.

702 reserves the right to: 1) remove any comments that do not follow the above guidelines; and, 2) ban users who repeatedly infringe the rules.

Should you find any comments upsetting or offensive you can also flag them and we will assess it against our guidelines.

702 is constantly reviewing its comments policy in order to create an environment conducive to constructive conversations.

Read More
How do you have sex in space? John Maytham on his new book ‘Rapid Fire’…

How do you have sex in space? John Maytham on his new book ‘Rapid Fire’…

Bruce Whitfield interviews famed CapeTalk presenter John Maytham about his new book "Rapid Fire: Remarkable Miscellany".

How Satya Nadella rediscovered Microsoft’s soul

How Satya Nadella rediscovered Microsoft’s soul

Strive’s Andy Golding reviews Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s new book “Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft's Soul..."

‘There are a lot of d***s in business. I want to be the best one!’

‘There are a lot of d***s in business. I want to be the best one!’

Bruce Whitfield interviews Mike Sharman, cofounder at Retroviral and author or “The Best Dick”.

How to boost your reputation and change the way people see you

How to boost your reputation and change the way people see you

Ian Mann reviews “The Reputation Game: The Art of Changing How People See You” by David Waller and Rupert Younger.

Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian (also Stalin, Chairman Mao) messed up the world

Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian (also Stalin, Chairman Mao) messed up the world

Bruce Whitfield interviews Alexander Parker, author of “50 People Who Messed Up the World”.

You’re either a ‘money slave’ or a ‘money master’ (says author of 'My Money')

You’re either a ‘money slave’ or a ‘money master’ (says author of 'My Money')

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Sugar Creek financial expert and author of “My Money” Gerald Mwandiambira.

Popular articles
Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi opens up about his thesis

Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi opens up about his thesis

Ndlozi explains the significance of the the first chapter of his thesis: 'Trauma in the archives'.

German prosecutors probing Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste (for accounting fraud)

German prosecutors probing Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste (for accounting fraud)

The Money Show’s Bruce Whitfield interviews Steinhoff International Chairperson Christo Wiese.

Happy 50th birthday, Pick n Pay (congrats on growing your bottom line by 18%)!

Happy 50th birthday, Pick n Pay (congrats on growing your bottom line by 18%)!

50 years ago the retailer started out when Raymond Ackerman bought three tiny stores from Click founder Jack Goldin.

Is it normal to have a curved penis? Dr Shingai explains

Is it normal to have a curved penis? Dr Shingai explains

Urologist Dr Shingai Mutambirwa says penile curvature is only a concern if it impedes a man's ability to have penetrative sex.

Who is Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi?

Who is Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi?

The EFF lawyer stole the show during the state capture report court battle.

Meet Shoprite’s Christo Wiese, ruler of retail (and 3rd richest African)

Meet Shoprite’s Christo Wiese, ruler of retail (and 3rd richest African)

Bruce Whitfield interviews the remarkable Wiese (net worth R100 billion!) about how it all began and where it’s going.

3 easy questions could bag you R2000!

3 easy questions could bag you R2000!

WIN R2000! But only if you can prove you're a whiz of the MTN Biz Quiz by answering the following three questions...

Blesserfinder: Matching you with a sugar daddy near you

Blesserfinder: Matching you with a sugar daddy near you

Is social trend Blesserfinder, where girls are allegedly matching up with rich 'benefactors' in exchange for sex, a real thing?