Resistance to technological advancement and growing appeals for government intervention signify a country heading in the wrong direction.
The Luddite movement was a social phenomenon that emerged early in the Industrial Revolution in England, around 1811. It was initiated by a group of English textile workers who, threatened by job loss due to the mechanization of textile production, began to destroy weaving machinery as a form of protest.
The name “Luddite” is believed to come from “Ned Ludd,” an apocryphal individual who was said to have broken two stocking frames in a fit of rage after being told to change his work method.
The main concern of the Luddites was that machines were replacing skilled labor, and that this would lead to unemployment, lower wages, and worsening work conditions. Their rebellion involved not just machine-breaking, but also petitions, lobbying, and labor organization efforts.
Though the movement was ultimately crushed by the British government, with machine-breaking made a capital crime, the Luddites left a lasting legacy. Today, the term “Luddite” is often used to describe someone who resists technological change.
The Luddite Fallacy
The main arguments of the Luddite movement have been largely refuted by economists as the “Luddite Fallacy”.
The “Luddite Fallacy” refers to the belief that technological advancements will lead to widespread unemployment by replacing human labor. Economists generally consider this a fallacy because, while new technologies may displace certain jobs, they also create new industries and job opportunities, and increase overall productivity. This process, often referred to as “creative destruction,” ultimately reshapes the economy, shifting labor from outdated industries to new ones.
For example, the economy has changed rapidly since the industrial revolution ramped up and spread across the world, with industry after industry being replaced and company after company being wiped out by competitors who were in turn often wiped out themselves.
Yet, there is no mass unemployment, poverty has declined substantially, and living standards are up across the entire planet compared to the pre-industrial era.
This time is different?
Unfortunately, despite the evidence showing the benefit of technological advancement and embracing new ways methods of production, there is a growing ‘neo-luddite’ movement.
It is based around opposition to automation, social networks, and artificial intelligence. And, while the original Luddite movement was opposed to the government, the neo-luddite movement has many adherents in the upper echelons of government.
Consider how the Trudeau government has reacted to the rise of social media and the financial struggles facing the legacy media in Canada.
The legacy media is an industry that – like the horse and buggy industry of the past – is less and less relevant because of new technologies. Whereas you once needed to own a printing press, a large fleet of trucks, employ truck drivers, and employ a large staff of writers in order to run a newspaper that reaches tens of thousands of people, now all you need is a website and social media account. Since the internet and websites can’t be ‘un-invented,’ the legacy media was always going to struggle going forward.
But instead of embracing the potential of a modern and adaptive new Canadian media industry, the Liberal government is doing everything possible to slow it down and prop up uncompetitive media outlets. Policy like C-18 may not be about directly destroying anything physical, but as we see it cause Canadian news to be removed from key platforms, a digital destruction is taking place that seems quite in line with Luddite sentiment.
There is also a quasi-Luddite sentiment behind the B.C. Port strike. Port automation is gaining momentum in many parts of the world, as increased efficiency and lower cost bring significantly enhanced productivity. This benefits society as a whole – increased productivity means more wealth and more job creation in the overall economy – while also meaning fewer port worker jobs.
Unsurprisingly, one of the three main goals of the B.C. Port workers strike is as follows:
“To protect current and future generations from the devastating impact of Port Automation”
Of course, if Canada doesn’t automate our ports, we will be outcompeted by those who do, and that will itself lead to fewer port worker jobs and fewer jobs overall.
Now, some may ask the following question: How is this different from those who argue in favour of protecting oil & gas sector jobs?
The answer is that those who support the oil & gas sector are largely asking for the absence of government intervention. If the government stepped back and allowed market forces to play out, Canada’s oil & gas sector would be more successful than it is today. Instead, the government is actively intervening through higher taxes and increased regulations in an attempt to artificially stifle the sector. Additionally, with oil and gas demand set to keep going up, and oil & gas remaining essential to powering the economy, a technologically advanced future still requires significant oil & gas production.
The same cannot be said for demands for government intervention to prop up the legacy media or demands for governments to stop the automation of our ports. In those instances, the demand is for intervention to stifle market forces and hold back progress, rather than stepping back and unleashing it.
Luddite Nation or Prosperous Nation?
Canada can be a Luddite nation or we can be a prosperous nation, but we can’t be both. If we want to be prosperous, we must embrace technology as much as possible. The alternate path – the Luddite path – is the path to long-term decline.
Photo – YouTube