Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Cue Card Libertarianism - Technology

TECHNOLOGY: The mechanical means of providing objects for human sustenance, health, knowledge, pleasure and progress. The practical application of theoretical science. A symbol of man’s glory – his mind – his power over nature. As such, the bane of ecologists and other back-to-nature 'sustainability' kooks, to whom a smokestack is a symbol of evil.

Technology is itself the answer to pollution and unemployment. Yes, the answer, not the cause! Each new advance in technology makes possible new and cleaner industries and more and cleaner jobs – more than are lost as old technologies are superseded.

Technology is man's means of staying alive, and enjoying the life that technology makes possible.

These lessons have still not been learned by modern-day Luddites even though they are as old as technology itself. In 1760, when there were 5,200 spinners and 2,700 weavers in England, Arkwright invented his cotton-spinning machinery, destroying the spinners’ and weavers’ jobs. The revolt (led by Ned Ludd, the original Luddite) had to be put down by force. Twenty-seven years later a Parliamentary enquiry showed that the number of people employed in the spinning and weaving of cotton – with the new machinery – had risen from 7,900 to 320,000 – an increase of 4,400 per cent!

An obvious equivalent in our own time is the computer and the internet, which between them have markedly lessened the need for people to labour at lesser jobs, and made all of us infinitely more productive, and much better off. Says Michael Walker in his Lexicon of Economic Thought:
Technology does not in total displace employment. Increasing productivity means that for the same cost more can be produced. It also means that the same goods can be sold at lower prices. To the extent that increased productivity is passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices, they will have more income to spend on things other than the commodities which are now being produced more efficiently.
Or as Earl O Shrieve points out, “In the mounting miracles of science, in the rapid advances of technology, lie the foundations for almost countless new industries and for far swifter social progress.”

Technology is the fruit of research and development; R&D is the fruit of profit-making (or the fruit of profit-stealing when the government sponsors it); those societies where profit-making has flourished have become the most technologically advanced. Technology is inseparable from capitalism and freedom.

Technology is man's means of staying alive. Human existence without technology is characterised by squalor, disease, plagues, starvation, drudgery, and helplessness in the face of natural disasters. This is the state to which the eco-freaks would return us.

When you look at the change in average life expectancy since Ned Ludd and his fellows first sacked the cotton mills -- from thirty-five years of age then to well over seventy now -- you might realise that everyone over the age of thirty-five owes their lives to technology, and to the Industrial Revolution that made it possible. When you realise the extent of the improvement in life and life expectancy brought about by technology, and the almost limitless hatred and ignorance directed towards it by assorted hippies and other human ballast, you might find yourself agreeing with Ayn Rand that all of us and especially "those hippies should get down on their knees and kiss the dirtiest, grimiest smokestack they can find."

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by New Zealand's libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.


  1. I'm sorry, but I grimaced when I read this. Sure, your Gaia-worshipping, Luddite 'eco-freaks' are out there, PC. So are the money-grubbing, anti-human, heartless capitalist swine that the likes of Maia blog about.

    The problem? When your argument hinges on taking a broad field (environmentalism/capitalism) and rendering it as a one-dimensional caricature, the credulity of your audience is bound to suffer as a result. You'll receive a hearty round of back-slaps from that weeny sector of society that actually agrees with you, and a lot of sidelong glances from the rest of us.

    Why? Because a great majority of self-proclaimed 'environmentalists' don't direct hatred towards technology - au contraire, we see continuing technological development as one of the vital means to solving many problems facing us. I actually agree with you!

    I just cringe with a capital 'C' when you create this boogeyman fantasy enemy of 'technology'. The reality is that the total number of muttering Luddites who wish 'this was all just fields again' could likely be reckoned on the dreadlocks of a single hippy.

    The tendency to exaggerate and overstate the motivations of your ideological 'enemies' is a real weakness, as I pointed out in the 'would you shoot your grandmother' thread. Sure, technology haters are out there, but the way this is worded is straw-man city, and makes it look like just another tiresome anti-environmentalist bit of dandruff.


  2. *ahem*

    Apparently environmentalists don't agree with you Den.

  3. Good post pc. Although I do agree with den on some points (not all greenies hate technology, just the more devout primitivists) there are a growing amount of dangerous misanthropists in the world. A nice addition to the cue card section. Is it just me or does the number of cue cards seem to be dropping?

  4. On another note, Ned Ludd never existed. He was a fictional leader made up Luddites, in a similar manner to how Uncle Sam was made up by soldiers who saw the initials U.S on their meat cans.

  5. iPhone - Arrrrgh!!! Arguably good design and marketing not 'tech'.

    Greg rates true tech companies Intel (INTC) and nVidia (NVDA) BUY.

  6. DEN: "...a great majority of self-proclaimed 'environmentalists' don't direct hatred towards technology .."

    I'll look forward to their celebrations and applause then next time a resource consent applications for a power station hits the papers.

    GREG: "Greg rates true tech companies Intel (INTC) and nVidia (NVDA) BUY."

    Yep. Done very nicely out of NVidia over the last two or three years. They've about tripled what they were bought for. :-)


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