progress

Now and then TS “Movementarian”  will point me to an article about what’s on the cutting edge of new technology. These seem to be written by either

enthusiastic geeks, or

  1. respectable journalists.

As a geek-oriented fellow, I was always hearing snide dismissals about geek enthusiasm. “So when is the Internet going to change the nature of democracy? So when are we all going to start telecommuting for huge salaries? What ever happened to ‘Push Technology’?!”

What amazes me is the consistency with which group B, the respectable types, show their utter ignorance of economic history (which is a superset of technological history — a point missed by the geeks as well). An article will start off describing something seemingly science fictional — e.g., hologrammatic home video — and then explain who’s now working on it and how. Invariably, it will go on to quote someone with a university affiliation about how little demand there is for such technology at its projected $100k price tag.

As Mises emphasized, “An industrial innovation … enters the market as the extravagance of an elite before it finally turns, step by step, into a need of each and all and is considered indispensable. What was once a luxury becomes in the course of time a necessity.”

He continues:

Centuries passed before the fork turned from an implement of effeminate weaklings into a utensil of all people. The evolution of the motor car from a plaything of wealthy idlers into a universally used means of transportation required more than twenty years. But nylon stockings became, in this country, an article of every woman’s wear within hardly more than two or three years. There was practically no period in which the enjoyment of such innovations as television or the products of the frozen food industry was restricted to a small minority.”

Ludwig von Mises,
Economic Freedom and Interventionism,
“Luxuries into Necessities”

And here is Rose Wilder Lane on a similar point:

Men in Government who imagine that they are controlling a planned economy must prevent economic progress — as, in the past, they have always done. For economic progress is a change in the use of men’s productive energy. Only individuals who act against the majority opinion of their time will try to make such a change. And if they are not stopped, they destroy the existing (and majority-approved) Government monopoly.

To know the everlasting majority attitude toward new uses of productive energy, remember that your great-grandfather did not believe that railroads were possible. At the time, a committee of learned men investigating the question for the British Government, reported that railroads were not possible, for the reason that the proposed speed of fifteen miles an hour would kill any human being; the human body could not endure such a pressure of air.

Remember what sensible men thought of Alexander Graham Bell’s insisting that a wire could carry a human voice. Remember that ships could not be made of iron because iron does not float. Recall that the horseless carriage could never be more than a rich man’s toy, not only because it cost at least five thousand dollars, but also because it ran only on macadam and therefore could never leave the cities. Or, what do you think of the experimenters in New Mexico who are working on rocket-ships to carry men from planet to planet? How much of your own money will you invest in a rocket-line from here to Mars? No majority will ever take up arms against their Government to defend such men as these.

Rose Wilder Lane ~1943

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