#23 The Pessimism of the Luddite

Many are under the mistaken impression that technology is taking away all of our jobs. What they might be surprised to learn is that this is not a new position. The term Luddite actually draws its origin from late 18th century England, skilled textile artisans, who had dedicated their entire lives to perfect the craft of weaving, were finding their livelihoods in danger of being replaced by fancy new machinery

Mechanized looms and knitting frames made work that previously required a skilled craftsman far more trivial for a lower skilled laborer. This, understandably, frustrated the weavers who had spent their lives working to become skilled artisans in their craft. Disgruntled workers even went so far as to destroy mills and factory machinery to protect the only way of life they knew.

Let us consider, for a moment, the march of human technological progress throughout time. Technology has always disrupted labor. By definition human labor exists where there is work to be done. Technology has always supplanted the need for labor by making certain tasks easier. This is certainly not a new phenomenon. Consider the mechanical advantages of a handled tool such as a hoe. Would a man not be thoroughly more productive, likely replacing the labor of 2 or 3 men on their hands and knees, with his tool?

There can be no doubt, that we should never find any balance between the march of technological progress and the desire to preserve inefficient labor. If the best course of action for the prosperity of a society were to maximize the employment of its populations then certainly the field plow was our greatest downfall.

But we know this is not the case. Surely just as the plow replaced the need for dozens of men to work a single field, lightbulbs replaced the lamplighter, refrigerators replaced the milkman, and looms replaced the weaver. But society as a whole is markedly better off today by these advancements than not. Imagine a world where the march of progress, the profit motive of efficiency, had been deliberately hindered to protect labor. Assuredly we would enjoy none of our modern comforts. Your daily activity would be completely dominated by fulfilling your lowest hierarchy of need. What a sad way to live.

In fact, you likely wouldn’t have the time or the ability to be reading this post right now, had technology not drastically improved your life up to this point. You would have little time for leisure or learning.

Humans will always march forward when left to their own devices and this is a net benefit for all of us. Don’t be like the Luddite’s who said “we must stop this mechanized loom from displacing our way of life”. Rather be the ones always looking to the horizon, asking “what problems can we solve next.” In this way, you will always find employment. You will always find profit. But you must not fear progress.

Book of the Month:

The Ethics of Money Production by Jorg Guido Huulsman

-“To be sure, central bank representatives are lecturing the public on the importance of business ethics; but their concerns do not seem to apply to themselves”

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A fierce Canadian goose aggressively defending his tower.