Every Successful New Technology Has Created Panic From Those It Disrupts
from the well-said dept
Jeffrey Tucker has an all around fantastic essay on capitalists who fear change -- discussing how companies and industries in an otherwise capitalist/free market society freak out when they face competition from disruptive innovation. They go to amazing lengths to claim that it's not real competition or innovation they face, but something that must be illegal, immoral, unethical or the death of all things good and holy. The technopanics set in with alarming frequency, and in the end, they are always wrong. The end result ends up being bigger and better than ever before, even if some of those legacy players don't make it through. Tucker tells the story wonderfully:
Through our long history of improvement, every upgrade and every shift from old to new inspired panic. The biggest panic typically comes from the producers themselves who resent the way the market process destabilizes their business model.Tucker includes other examples, but then explains the reality of innovation and profits. Profits are a temporary thing: because copycats do come along. But that's a good thing, because it forces greater innovation, as others seek to collect profits. You profit by being unique and different, and you encourage that to continue by letting others copy. That leads to more incentives to keep innovating and keeping make the world a better place. But, of course, that's hard, and companies want to keep their profits. So they move away from free market capitalism, towards crony capitalism:
It was said that the radio would end live performance. No one would learn music anymore. Everything would be performed one time, and recorded for all time, and that would be the end.
Of course that didn’t happen. Then there was another panic when records came out, on the belief that this would destroy radio. Then tapes were next and everyone predicted doom for recorded music since music could be so easily duplicated (“Home Taping is Killing Music”). It was the same with digital music: surely this would be the death of all music!
And think back to the mass ownership of books in the 19th century. Many people predicted that these would destroy new authors because people would just buy books by old authors that were cheap and affordable. New authors would starve and no one would write anymore.
There is a pattern here. Every new technology that becomes profitable causes people to scream about the plight of existing producers. Then it turns out over time that the sector itself thrives as never before but in ways that no one really expected.
This is why business is always running to government for protection. Kill this crazy new technology! Stop these imports! Raise the costs on the competition! Give us a patent so that we can clobber the other guys! Impose antitrust law! Protect me with a copyright! Regulate the newcomers out of existence! Give us a bailout!And, of course, the public often accepts the moral panic story. Hell, I'd bet that even the companies making those claims -- completely out of self-interest -- believe the horrible things they're predicting from these new technologies. Jack Valenti was being sincere when he thought the VCR would destroy Hollywood. He was wrong. They're always wrong.
Here is a striking fact about the human mind: we have great difficulty imagining solutions that have yet to present themselves. It doesn’t matter how often the market resolves seemingly intractable problems, we still can’t become accustomed to this reality. Our minds think in terms of existing conditions, and then we predict all kinds of doom. We too often fail to consistently expect the unexpected.The full piece is absolutely worth reading.
This poses a serious problem for the market economy, which is all about the ability of the system to inspire discovery of new ideas and new solutions to prevailing the problems. The problems posed by change are obvious enough; but the solutions are “crowd sourced” and emerge from places, people, and institutions that cannot be seen in advance.
Capitalism is not for wimps who don’t want to improve. If you want guaranteed profits for the few rather than prosperity and abundance for the many, socialism and fascism really are better systems.