Couple of fellows I’d like you to meet: Ned Ludd and Thomas Malthus, both Brits now dead but with a lot to say about present U.S. government policy. Tom, an economist but respectable otherwise, did his thing in 1898. By running the numbers, (economists like numbers better than people, seems to me) he found that humanity multiplies exponentially, at least when the Black Death or WWII aren’t working, but what humanity eats only increases arithmetically. Therefore, we’re guaranteed to eat ourselves out of house and home, remaining always poor and starving in large numbers except for the now famous one percent.
Old Tom hadn’t provided for technology, he couldn’t even imagine what we’ve called the ‘green revolution’ that cut the numbers of folks engaged in farming over 80 percent while increasing farm output out of sight. He found a lot of followers back then, they’re called Malthusians after him. Without technology, he’d have been right on. And we’d be up to our hips in horse pucky…
Young Ned is supposed to have been a skilled weaver around 1811; he had the opposite problem. His craft was being replaced by technology; new, automated mechanical looms replaced the high-priced craftsmen with low-priced factory workers; he’s supposed to have led riots smashhing the fancy machinery in protest. His followers were called Luddites in his name.
See, people generally don’t much like change, right? Capitalism produces two things: great wealth…and constant change. Lots of folks who aren’t seeing the wealth (it takes a while) but are threatened by the change are easy marks for politicians who promise to stop the changes to protect them. What they’re actually stopping, is progress but of course, they don’t say that. And they call themselves: ‘Progressives,’ at least in the U.S.
You may remember the round of fear-mongering accompanying the arrival of affordable computers. Or maybe you don’t remember, but we had lots of writers, politicians and other professional sky-is-falling prophets predicting everybody would be replaced by these infernal machines that work cheap and needn’t eat, leaving us all to starve. I’m sure you’ve noticed that, au contraire, fewer of us starve now though our population keeps growing. Somewhere, Malthus is grinding his teeth. But neither he nor Ned are quitters.
Today, their fight is carried on under new euphemisms by ‘activists’ and under the covering logo of environmentalism, by government itself. We now have laws and regulators controlling what farmers can–and can’t–grow and how they grow it. And under those controls, America today imports about the same amount of food it exports, rather an impressive change in a country famous for surpluses. And rather than smashing machines in riots, government forces us to make and use less power and chases our industry offshore by restrictions making it uncompetitive here. We are greening ourselves out of technological progress back into lifestyles Ned and Tom would recognize and right on cue; we’re calling it: ‘Progress.’
The difference most impressive since the days of Ned and Tom is, our Luddites and Malthusians are politicians engaged in preventing progress in the name of Progress. Something to consider next time you screw in one of those funny, dim little light bulbs that poison our landfills with mercury and cost twice as much as the old ones did…