[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hello everyone, and welcome to the 177th episode of the Atlas Society. Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. You can call me Jag. I am the CEO of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit introducing young people to the ideas of Ayn Rand, including in some fun, unconventional ways like graphic novels and animated videos. Am joining you from Austin, and our guest is going to be joining us, probably from the DC area. We are joined by Jim Pethakucas. Before I even begin to introduce our guest, I want to remind all of you who are joining us on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube you can go ahead, get started typing in your questions to the comment section and we will get to as many of them as we can. So our guest, Jim Pethakucus, is author of The Conservative Futurist how to Create the Sci-fi World We Were Promised, laying out a detailed roadmap for a freer, more prosperous and more benevolent future. Drawing on insights from top economists, historians and technologists, pathacucas reveals that the failed futuristic visions of the past were totally possible, and still are. He's a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. AEI. Pathekuchus also writes The Faster please substack and you can sign up for that. Where he explores how technological innovation, economic growth and pro progress, culture development can help foster and create and invent a better world.
Jim, thank you for joining us.
[00:01:53] Speaker B: Thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.
[00:01:57] Speaker A: All right. In the first pages of your book, the Conservative Futurist, you write a well, actually, in the final pages, you write a letter to the America of the future.
It's tricentennial of 2073, to be exact, which you intend to deliver in person, I hope.
To get a sense of your future self and the world that you'll be living in. But we also get a sense of you as a nine year old writing another Letter to the Future on the bicentennial of July 4, 1976. Before diving into the book, our audience likes to get a bit of a sense of the backstory of our guests and how it inspired the professionals they became. So maybe a bit of it about where you grew up, influences that inspired your professional interest in futurism, technology, innovation. Tell us about that nine year old boy and any experiences or events that helped to shape this scholar he would grow up to be.
[00:03:14] Speaker B: Well, I grew up in a working class suburb of Chicago area, western suburb of Chicago. And back then, if you were interested in science fiction in the future, there was not much. It's not like today. There was not much on television. You really had to go to the library and read about it, which I did everything from comic books to Ray Bradbury. I watched the Star Trek reruns. There wasn't much more that really showed an optimistic future. Beyond that, it was also a period where, unfortunately, for someone who wanted to be excited about the future, that the culture had started to shift from one which thought we could do anything space age, atomic age, which was the 1960s. By the early 70s, we started to see we saw in science fiction, you saw a really kind of a darker turn. He had films like Soil and Green or Logan's Run about really a much poorer future, a future maybe of nuclear war, of overpopulation.
So it was unfortunate that I became interested in this topic just when what was being presented to me by the culture turned so incredibly pessimistic. And I get into in the book, I sort of get to why that is. So 1976, there was an oil company which wanted people to write letters to the future, to the Tricentennial 2076 that was collected in a pretty interesting book. And a lot of those letters were super negative from people. They saw a future of overpopulation, of depleted resource, all that kind of stuff.
Unfortunately, we're still living with that. I think we're still living with that kind of dystopian attitude and I think super damn. It's a book about economics and history. But I think the culture matters. And I think a culture that thinks tomorrow is horrible and there's nothing we can do about it, and if we tried to do something about it, we would just make it worse. I don't think that kind of attitude can support a thriving society.
[00:05:38] Speaker A: Well, you're not going to find any disagreement here at the Atlas Society. People like to say that politics is downstream from culture, but they never ask themselves, what is culture downstream from? And of course, it's downstream from philosophy. And how do we see man? Is he a heroic being with great potential or is he a fallen creature with just a terrible nature? And how do we see the world around us? Is it knowable?
Can we discover it? Can we find objective truth? Or is objective truth somehow an outdated and a bigoted concept? So I think in order to develop the culture that we need, we also need a reflurishing of, I would say, of course, an objectivist philosophy, but a philosophy grounded in man's heroic potential.
So this period when you were writing that letter, the late 70s in the book, you say it marked the beginning of a long period of comparatively sluggish progress that has persisted until the present. First, help us explain how you measure progress, particularly with regards to productivity and what were some of the factors that contributed to that downward shift.
[00:07:03] Speaker B: Yeah, well, it's not an easy thing to measure. You can look at economic growth and what drives economic growth, really over the long run is something called productivity growth, which is how much output can a worker really produce over a certain period of time. And what drives productivity growth over the long term is technological progress.
And statistically, if you look at that, that productivity growth driving economic growth, downshifted in the early 1970s. And you can look at the numbers, but you could also look at what we didn't get, what people sort of imagined we would have by now from the 60s, which didn't happen.
But again, just looking at the stats we went from people let's put it this way, if we had grown as fast as what people expected in the 60s, instead of having a $25 trillion economy today, we might have 100 trillion dollar economy today. So it was really a big downshift from what our expectations were and how those expectations manifested. We don't have an orbital economy. We're not mastering the solar system.
We don't have vaccines for cancer and Alzheimer's.
We don't have bubble cities under the ocean, all that great stuff, and of course, the flying cars. But as to why that downshift happened, there's sort of these kind of like macro factors. We sort of exploited all the great inventions of the second industrial revolution electrification, chemicals, internal combustion engine.
That was going to happen, but we didn't really replace them with great inventions of the future. And why didn't we? And I think that was from us. That was our decision.
We began to regulate as if it didn't really affect innovation and our capacity to build government stopped doing what its role is, which is to fund the kind of research that businesses usually want. The kind of very basic blue sky research after Apollo was not really followed by anything, and that kind of funding really declined. So I think especially those two things, things we had control over, we failed to do. And I think the bigger question is, why did we fail to do it?
[00:09:25] Speaker A: How much of a role did the neo Malthusian perspective on population growth from intellectuals like Paul Ehrlich, as well as environmental doomsday scenarios have in driving this more techno pessimistic culture?
[00:09:46] Speaker B: Yeah, I went into this book I didn't want to write a completely unsurprising book.
Right winger writes a book criticizing environmentalists. Well, that's a shocker. And I think in fairness, we were always going to have an environmental movement that focused on the sort of the trade offs and downsides of growth. I mean, you see it across countries. As they become richer, they begin to think a lot more about the trade offs. But was it for certain that we were going to have an environmental movement, as you say, that decided to reject growth, that decided to embrace a view that we were using up the planet, that humanity was gobbling up all the resources, that there were too many of us, that technological progress was actually bad for the environment and bad for us? Did we have to have that movement?
I don't think so. That is the one we had sort of egged on by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring.
And as you mentioned, the Limits to Growth book, and Paul Ehrlich and I think the Vietnam War, which sort of radicalized a lot of these people, that companies were bad, companies were helping create the weapons for war. So capitalism was bad, business was bad, everything was bad, and we had to shrink, retreat, get smaller, go back to nature. And then, unfortunately, Hollywood absolutely picked up on that, began reflecting that view. So who was left to speak up for progress, for growth, for what humanity could achieve? There kind of really wasn't anybody, and it was really bipartisan.
[00:11:32] Speaker A: You talk about the possibilities of reigniting, bolder innovations in energy, science, technology, transportation, but you say for that to happen, quote, America must become, again, an upwing country. That was a term that was totally new to me and perhaps most of our audience. Tell us a bit about that's.
[00:11:54] Speaker B: Why the book's not called upwing? That's why it's not called upwing.
Nobody knew the term.
[00:12:01] Speaker A: Well, introduce us, enlighten us.
[00:12:03] Speaker B: Right. Well, it's not a term I invented. It does come out of the early 1970s, and it's the notion that rather than thinking about left and right as sort of the two great divides, we should think about it as up versus down. Up being kind of thinking, looking toward the stars, but specifically that man has enough wisdom and enough capacity and enough will to solve problems and move forward. And who knows? Some of those solutions, they might cause new problems, but we'll solve those too, and we'll keep moving forward.
The alternative is sort of the downwing, which is sort of looking into the dirt, which is, we shouldn't do that. We can't solve problems. Technology will only make things worse. And I think you see that. And the reason I think it's up and down, not left and right, is that you can find elements of those on the left and the right. People who there's plenty of people on the left and right who don't like economic freedom. They worry that technology is just going to cause job loss. That's what we've seen with AI, where people worry it's going to where AI is going to take our jobs and then kill us. That is on the left and right.
While I'm a person of the right, you can certainly find people, I think, on the left who also think, yeah, we can solve problems, and it was really bad that we rejected nuclear power in the 1970s, and it's going to be really bad if we screw it up again with AI here in the 2020s.
So that is my framing device. That we can disagree on what tax rates should be and what exactly programs should be funded or not funded. But if you fundamentally think we have it within our power to make the world better, more abundant, more prosperous and spread out to the solar system, yeah, I think you're on my side.
[00:14:00] Speaker A: Well, I want to remind everyone that is watching we've got another 45 minutes or so. So go ahead, help me out. Help us out with some questions in terms of figures that our audience would be mostly familiar with is of course, the famous upwinger in your terminology, Ray Kurzweil thoughts. You share some of them in your book, but thoughts on his predictions, particularly with regard to his vision of the coming singularity.
[00:14:30] Speaker B: What was interesting is that when I've talked about this book, people have focused, as we kind of have so far, on sort of those immediate post war decades, 1950s and 60s comic age, space age, where you had CEOs, people, think tanks, government officials, public intellectuals, Sci-Fi, writers like asimov Arthur C. Clark making big, bold, positive predictions. And that was an important period that I call upwing 1.0. But then you also have that late 90s period is where I sort of discovered Ray Kurzweil through the pages of Wired magazine, where you also had not just fast growth, that's part of it, and obvious technological progress, but also a feeling that this was just the beginning of something amazing, that this was a moment pregnant with possibility.
And it was really in that period I certainly became aware of the notion that we could have growth so fast, so exponential, that we almost couldn't describe the world on the other side of that growth. It was kind of a veil of uncertainty.
And you see in science fiction it's very difficult to write about those kinds of scenarios. And I began reading a lot more about kind of radical life extension. And so Ray Kurtzweil, Wired magazine, folks like Kevin Kelly, all very positive, very optimistic. And again, having gone through that period and been in that period as a journalist in California, I too thought like this is that something is happening here, that finally the dreams of the post war decades, we took a pause, but now it is full speed ahead and 21st century is going to be wild. And one of my favorite things I've held onto it for 20 years was a report put out by Lehman Brothers in December of 1999 predicting what the next ten years would be like, what the first decade of the 21st century would be like. And it was extremely bullish. Rapid growth, a repeat of the digital economy exploding.
But that's not really what we got. And of course, Lehman Brothers didn't even make it a full ten years after that. And we had another downshift, which you're sort of still experiencing today, and figures like Rake Hertzweiler and that optimism from the late ninety s, it looks kind of quaint because it didn't quite happen. And I'm hoping that it won't look very quaint five years from now that we are again at that moment that I don't want to blow up. Most of my life has been spent during the great downshift. I want to spend the next chunk of it in the great upshift.
[00:17:15] Speaker A: Well, before we leave the downshift entirely, and I know you don't want to drone on and on about the impact of environmental regulations, but you did give.
[00:17:26] Speaker B: As sizable as they have been.
[00:17:29] Speaker A: Well, I don't want to gloss over it either. And you had an interesting example in the book with regards to the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA regulations and how they have hamstrung particular projects, whether public or private, including those being pursued by Elon Musk's boring companies. So maybe just give us an example or two so we kind of can understand what the impact is in real life.
[00:18:01] Speaker B: Yeah, it's maybe the most important of a number of environmental regulations that were passed in the early 1970s. And when I've spoken about this book, people are like, well, that's a long time ago.
Surely you can't continue to blame a law passed a half century ago for why it is time consuming and expensive, and to fill out massive 5000 page documents that take years to complete.
[00:18:34] Speaker A: To.
[00:18:34] Speaker B: Build roads, bridges, a high speed rail, nuclear reactors, all that stuff. Surely that can't still be the problem. Yet once you start looking for it, you see it everywhere, whether it's building windmills, whether it's building the factories to build windmills, whether it's high speed rail in California, whether it's almost any project of any size anywhere. And people want to apply it to space as well, where you have to show what the environmental impact of your actions are. And it's really purely a procedural law.
You don't even have to demonstrate that it solves a problem. It's purely a procedural law. But number of pages and the time to complete it have grown longer and longer.
Again, there's research, just basic economic research showing just how much more expensive it makes. Building is it brings in all these sort of citizen groups, people who just don't want a new highway in their backyard, what they call citizen voice. It gives them a role in the process. Of course, it's a way of slowing down the process. And the result something that was passed by Congress as sort of a mother and apple pie. It's just kind of express a preference that we think about the environment when we do things. Who could be against that has turned over 50 years into a major obstacle to get anything, any project of any size at all done in the United States.
And now that the Biden administration suddenly has discovered this as well as they're trying to build transmission lines and solar farms and wind turbine farms, and I just don't see, with that law and the mini versions at all the states, how we can really physically build the kind of tomorrow that I think many of us would really want. I mean, good luck building coast to coast nuclear fusion reactors with laws like that on the book.
[00:20:49] Speaker A: All right, we're going to dip into some audience questions because they're all right from YouTube. Our friend. My modern golf is back. He says big pepakukas fan. Did we fail to reach the future we imagined in the past, or did we just not consider where the future was going to head? For example, miniaturization of computers and phones, right?
[00:21:18] Speaker B: To be like, I'm not imagining that we should have or that we should have in the past or should have now. Like a Department of the Future on the fifth floor of a new fancy glass and steel building where you have a bunch of PhDs in a room with big flat screens and they're moving things around, like in A Minority Report through gestures, trying to plan the future.
I give some ideas, like what I would like to see in the future, or what some other people are talking about, but I don't know exactly what it should look like. But when we create barriers to certain kinds of outcomes where we make it hard to build in the physical world, and thus innovation we do see tends to be with computers rather than in space or underwater or with energy, then we have picked a certain direction with our progress. I think, like all of the above, it is a big world. We are a rich country. I think we could sort of advance on all fronts that we could have had an It revolution, but also further progress with nuclear energy or in space. Indeed, those would all combine to help each other. That's what's so great about AI today. It's a combinatorial technology that not only might it help us solve problems easier by helping us think through things and connect the dots, but already have nuclear fusion researchers using AI, and it's being used with CRISPR. It's the kind of technology that enables other technologies. So I think that had we gone a different direction in policy, that we would have had sort of multiple revolutions, sort of all feeding off each other. And where that would have taken us, I don't know exactly, but I'll take my chances.
[00:23:16] Speaker A: All right. Also on YouTube, that's a great question. Kingfisher 21 says, I see a lot of people in their 20s who see a future as worthless, and so they don't have kids and just live in perpetual angst. What would you say to these young people?
[00:23:33] Speaker B: I did a podcast, and after the podcast was over, the 20 something producer said, everything you're saying. I think all my friends believe, like, just the opposite. I think that gets at that question. Listen, I have no doubt they believe.
If you're just a reader of the New York Times, you would think that almost assuredly, tomorrow is going to be worse, that the climate is going to be chaotic, that technological progress will only help the rich. And a movie like Elysium, which shows all the rich people having left Earth, they're living on a space station, and we're all down here in the rubble fighting it out that that's the future. That may be the best version of the future because at least we still exist.
Obviously, I think that's wrong and I think I make a pretty persuasive case that that is wrong. But I don't see we can go on thinking that is the best we can do.
There are problems.
Just take climate. I mean, would we be talking about climate change right now if we just had coast to coast nuclear reactors and imagine nuclear reactors with 50 years of learning by doing and experimenting and research, we might already have these coast to coast fusion reactors and we wouldn't be talking about climate change. I think problem after problem like that pardon.
[00:24:59] Speaker A: Or we might be depending on how much is being caused by humans and how much is being caused by other factors, but we certainly wouldn't be talking about it in the same kind of.
[00:25:10] Speaker B: We wouldn't be talking about it that we need to go back to nature and live like we did in the 18 hundreds. We wouldn't be talking about that. So technology is a tool that we can use and we kind of forgot about that and we thought that it wouldn't really help us. So I hope that the book is somewhat a corrective to that. Pessimism but man, oh man, it would be really great if Hollywood would make fewer movies showing that tomorrow is going to be awful.
[00:25:38] Speaker A: All right, candice morena on Facebook says jim, you mentioned people were pessimistic in the past because they feared nuclear war. That sentiment seems to have come back with a vengeance in the past two to three weeks. How do we pull these people back from doom? I'll venture kind of the answer myself. Again.
It goes back to principles, it goes back to philosophy. It goes back to whether or not you are in an aspirational mode where you want to improve life on earth and you're celebrating life, or whether you actually think that this is just a pale shadow and that if you sacrifice yourself and you not sacrifice others but kill others, that you will move on to a better, higher plane. And I think also, Jim, to what you were talking about in that movie, that it was still keeping with these ethics of envy and sort of hatred of the good, hatred of advance and hatred of people doing things differently.
And I think that those are all kind of very atavistic, very nihilistic and irrational counterproductive cultural elements that are still with us in some ways even stronger than they've been in many.
[00:27:13] Speaker B: Know. It's very interesting, the question about nuclear war, because my sort of role model for the conservative futurist in the book is someone who used to be a very big name, this guy, Herman Khan, who ended up running a think tape called the Hudson Institute. But in the 1960s he was a nuclear war theorist. He was an inspiration for the character, the mad nuclear scientist in Dr. Strangelove. And he was painted as kind of this dark character who wanted us to fight and win a nuclear war and that he didn't take it seriously because he thought sort of America's Yankee can do optimism would allow us to rebuild. But he went from being this nuclear war theorist in 1960s to really being a very optimistic, sunny scenario planner and futurist in the 70s who did classic kind of what futurists did back then, which different scenarios but at the heart he believed in the power of technocapitalism to create a better world. And I quote him in my and when he died in 83, ronald Reagan called him a futurist who embraced the future. He didn't fear the future as so many futurists later became very negative. But his advice, and this is a great summary of conservative futurism, is that look, if we get a little bit of luck and we don't make extraordinarily stupid decisions, we'll be okay. We don't have to make a bunch of perfect decisions, we don't need to be a perfect people, but if we just make enough good decisions, we'll be okay. And I think we've made a lot of good decisions, but we didn't make quite enough. So I think I would rather live today than 19 90, 19 80, 19 70. But if we made a few more good decisions, I think things could be so much better and we would have a more prosperous world, everybody would be more prosperous. And I just don't think in a world of that kind of abundance and that kind of prosperity, I think that is a more peaceful world and maybe we wouldn't be talking about the risk of nuclear war right now because we'd all be pursuing more interesting things in our own lives.
[00:29:37] Speaker A: Yes, we would be pursuing our long term rational self interest.
[00:29:44] Speaker B: Ein Rand is mentioned in the book.
[00:29:47] Speaker A: Well, why don't you talk about that? Well, I noticed that of course, about the Hollow Eleven launch.
[00:29:58] Speaker B: Yeah, it's actually maybe one of my favorite things that's a great thing about writing a book is when you kind of just uncover things, it's really an act of discovery.
And I just found an interesting essay that she had written because she had been invited down to Cape Canaveral for the Apollo Eleven launch. And it's a marvelous essay and I quote a tiny little bit.
And what she said was that if you just read the newspapers, especially again, this is by the late sixty s and the Vietnam War and a lot of trouble in big cities, that you would think that humanity was going down the drain. A nonstop beat about things are getting worse. And then to sit there and see this what man's mind can produce, was just awe inspiring.
Obviously it was. But my one problem is that we have to kind of go back to the find those awe inspiring moments when we should have a civilization that is generating them left and right.
I thought by now we would have mastered the solar system. Well, better late than never. But I'm on Spiderman when I see a SpaceX starship just sitting on the launch pad. And if you don't and you don't understand what that could represent, that's a downwink thinking. I actually feel sorry for those people because they'll dismiss it and say, oh, it's just a rocket. It's not just a rocket. It is what we have been able to produce. And it suggests what we can produce in the future and that we are not meant just to stay on this planet, but we can go out into the universe, find more opportunities out there, find resources out there, find adventures out there. So when I see that rocket, that spaceship rocket from SpaceX, that's what I see. And again, I pity the people who don't see that and all they see is like a billionaire's plaything or something. It's sad.
[00:32:02] Speaker A: So mentioning Ayn Rand, of course, this theme of hers, of human achievement, of what is possible to man, goes back through so many of her fictional works, even going back to Anthem, which is interesting, even though it was written well before 1984. About 13 years before 1984, of course, well before Atlas Shrugged. It is in some ways a sequel to Atlas Shrugged if we made very, very bad decisions. Right, because her view of dystopia was different than Orwell's. She didn't see collectivist policies as propelling us forward. She didn't see a collectivist future of telescreens. She saw a collectivist future of primitive feudalistic conditions.
And then, of course, our forthcoming graphic novel is called Top Secret. It's based on notes that Ain Ran wrote for a screenplay she was commissioned to write after World War II and the atomic bomb. And it was really all about how the making of the atomic bomb was only possible to the men of free minds in a free society, and that there was the geniuses in both countries. But there's something about being able to operate in freedom. So that kind of dovetails into another question that we have here from another regular on X. Zach Carter is asking about the title Conservative Futurist. He's saying some might argue that being conservative is about the future, is that we should be staying how things are. But I think you're using conservativism kind of differently. It's not necessarily about sort of a traditionalist returning to the way things were, except in some ways maybe it is, but more of a commitment to an optimistic and a freer society and a capitalistic one. But tell us why you chose the title.
[00:34:28] Speaker B: Yeah.
[00:34:29] Speaker A: Because Upwing wasn't accessible to everybody.
[00:34:32] Speaker B: Yeah, the phrase was more familiar. Maybe the title is different.
But the conservative part to me is really conserving the best of our inheritance of the past, which is liberalism, which is a belief in political and economic freedom and a belief in sort of social dynamism where you can. Climb the ladder. And your position today doesn't depend on where you were born.
To me, that's an extremely valuable inheritance that it is incumbent upon us to build upon and then provide hopefully in even a healthier fashion to our children. Edmund Burke famously talked about the connection between the past, the present and the future, and I agree with that. There is this connection that we've been given. We have bequeathed this amazing thing called freedom, both politically and economically, and that provides the foundation for what I think is the kind of future that we would want to live in, that people have the freedom and opportunity and tools to build the kind of tomorrow they want. Again, this isn't about me saying that this is exactly what the future this will be an organic thing, but we need to create sort of the ecology for growth through, I think, a pro progress culture through public policy. I work at a think tank, so obviously I think policy is pretty important. So that to me, that's preserving that inheritance, that's the conservative part of the conservative futures. Now, I realize today some people might not define it like that. They might define it as wanting to go back and live in 1963 or something like that and a real yearning for yesterday.
That is not what I want. Again, I would rather live today than yesterday and hopefully that we can create a better future in 20 years. I'll be like, yeah, I'm really glad I'm living in 2000 and 42,050 and not 2020. And I think that will be the case, but I'm not 100% sure.
[00:36:47] Speaker A: All right, George Alexopoulos on Facebook has a two part question which hinges on whether you are familiar with or have read Walter McDougall's The Heavens and Earth.
[00:36:59] Speaker B: I have not.
[00:37:00] Speaker A: Okay, so we will move on to.
[00:37:02] Speaker B: Peggy, who but I'm happy to pretend.
[00:37:05] Speaker A: No, that's all right.
We do not believe in faking reality here at the Outlaw Society.
Okay, peggy C is asking in our Zoom audience, how would you address some of the common fears about abuse of AI? And she says, I love your optimism and vision.
[00:37:25] Speaker B: Right.
So it was last November that we had OpenAI release chat GPT sort of into the Wild, and we had about, what, 15 minutes, where we're like, wow, this is neat, and I can pretend to be Winston Churchill, like writing an essay about something going on today. This is great. And then immediately we sort of downshifted into it's going to increase inequality to take our jobs and these sort of existential threats.
And speaking of culture with the film, the terminator as sort of the cultural touchstone for these very pessimistic visions, my view is, in a way, we've been here before, which is in the late 1990s, we had a brand. New technology that was evolving quickly.
And we decided we weren't going to create a massive new regulatory scheme to try to guide it and predict where it was going to go. We just had to have a very light approach. Let entrepreneurs and the markets develop it and see where it would take us. And if there were problems we would just fix them on the fly. And to me that is really the only way, the only sensible way if we're going to fully exploit this technology that I think will be extraordinarily important if we let it be important, is to let the innovators innovate. Don't let just a few companies with Washington policy offices and lobbyists innovate, but let 1000 innovative flowers bloom open source and as problems arise, we will fix them as they come. That is the only way, I think, to get this technology to be as productive as it possibly can. I certainly do not trust in 111 page executive order going into minute detail empowering agencies which already don't like the American technology sector and have them give them even more power. I think that's a way to have another 50 year downshift, another 50 year great stagnation and have this technology listen, progress delayed is progress denied. Listen, yesterday in the New York Times there's a great piece about the FDA approving or at least an advisory panel, a preliminary approval for a new vaccine for sickle cell know, based on CRISPR genetic you know, CRISPR uses AI. All these technologies would not be here if we did not have the internet to do research and collaborate.
I don't want a sickle cell cure to be delayed by five years or an Alzheimer's cure to be delayed by five or ten years because the Federal Trade Commission is investigating these companies or investigating new companies, preventing new companies from being born.
That is a tremendous, almost incalculable loss. Now spread that loss across the entire economy.
To me it's nightmarish.
[00:40:47] Speaker A: I'm not going to entirely gloss over what George Alexopoulos said because even though I certainly and you haven't either read this book The Heavens and Earth, he does mention the thesis that it advanced and I do think it's kind of worth pondering and maybe you'll get an off the cuff take on it. And that thesis being that the space race also marked a dangerous shift in the political and scientific cultures of America, one that moved technology out of the workshops of private inventors and into the realm of centralized government.
[00:41:26] Speaker B: I mean, what's super interesting is so after the space race, the amount that governments spend as a share of GDP on R and D began to decline.
What did we see?
So we didn't see science research only being done at national labs by big companies. In fact, after that we really saw the decline of the big corporate lab and we did see the rise of sort of your garage inventors. And now, you know, Silicon Valley, a lot of things went to the creation of Silicon Valley.
You could credit the counterculture, you can credit the cold War, a lot of things. So I think there's a place for different entities doing different things. I think there's a place for government funded blue sky research, but I've heard very little lately. And when we've been talking about doing more R and D funding or applied funding or industrial policy, there has been far less emphasis to me on the role of private enterprise in commercializing these technologies, experimenting these technologies, making them useful, because ultimately, they need to be made useful. And I hope this is a momentary pause that we remember that the big advantage we have over, say, China is not that our engineers are necessarily smarter, but we have a system that rewards people for taking risks, and it were not at the behest of government to direct us what risks should be taken. I think the free enterprise system over the long term will prove to be far more productive than perhaps what the engineers in Beijing think.
[00:43:16] Speaker A: Well, it's interesting. What you mentioned about China is very much top of my mind, because we had decided to try to lower the prices of our annual 365 Days of aynran Inspiration calendar. So we found what seemed to be a reputable company over in China.
But they have a CCP representative there, and they looked at the content, and they know last minute the company is saying, we don't have permission to proceed with your contract. So I thought that was interesting. And you also mentioned that politicians on both sides of the aisle are in danger of learning the wrong lessons from China's so called state capitalism. Of course, I remember back in April of 2020, california's Governor Gavin Newsom had said this about China. Quote, one of the things we could all agree on is the ability in an authoritarian one party system to move very quickly and do things that are beneficial.
Also probably to move things very quickly and do things that are extremely destructive. But what are the right and wrong lessons that we should be learning from China's growth and current situation?
[00:44:39] Speaker B: Yeah, indeed. I remember I was in China in 2011 and hearing Americans there marvel at the ability for this all of society effort to attack big centralized goals again. So for a short period of time, it seemed like they had figured out a new way to to do progress, to do cutting edge technological progress.
And then I think that really did help feed sort of this industrial policy moment that we're seeing in the United States.
But I think that was a very short term lesson. And we're seeing a country which, despite being still very poor, may never get rich, weak productivity growth, slowing economy. It would not surprise me that over the next ten years, the American economy, I think we certainly have this potential to actually grow faster than the Chinese economy, which would have seemed like a ridiculous statement to make five years ago. And we have seen the limits of central planning to really push forward the technological frontier, except in some very narrow areas. Hey, that's great. I'm really glad that Chinese AI is really good at surveillance, but I'm not sure that that is going to make that country richer, that they are creating an environment where creative and imaginative people can take risk and dream big dreams and turn their thoughts into crystals of imagination. I don't think in that society where you're worried about the camera looking over your shoulder again, that is a viable system over the long term. Again, I will concede that they've done great at surveillance AI, but the rest of it less impressive.
[00:46:33] Speaker A: All right, another interesting question from our friend King Fisher 21 on YouTube asks Jim, what was your view on the lockdowns and the damage it did to global productivity? You actually write about how there was this kind of moment of increased productivity, but maybe talk a little bit about how those two years of 2020, 2021 affected and had an impact on the great downshift or thinking about the ecological system that we need to foster progress and innovation.
[00:47:12] Speaker B: Yeah, that is a way to think of it kind of like as an ecology something not necessarily mechanistic. I would like that one lesson to be learned from the pandemic was that it's really good to be a rich, technologically advanced nation where you don't have to make perfect predictions nor act on those.
There were every think know in America had done something about the dangers of a pandemic and every national politician had been briefed on what we should do. And yet we get a pandemic and we're like, where are the ventilators? Where the mask? Where is everything? Oh, no, we don't have this. What mattered was not our preparation or all those reports, but the ability to grapple with this problem by creating vaccines and treatments, being rich and technologically advanced. Listen, I love to prepare, but in this case we saw that that's more important. And I would hope that politicians going forward would see that policies to make us richer and more technologically advanced are really good. And I'll tell you, on the productivity side, we will see the long term, horrific long term impact of ruining our child's educations for three years. One of the most enduring and widespread finding in economics is that school matters and kids learning matters and kids not learning really matters. And it's highly damaging whether you're in a developing country or a rich country. And to have ignored that finding the way we did, shame on us.
[00:48:58] Speaker A: Yeah, I might have a slightly different view about the preparedness. It does seem like we actually had extensive government, world Health Organization, CDC plans.
[00:49:13] Speaker B: For how, a lot of plans.
[00:49:18] Speaker A: But it seemed like the plans changed. So they had looked at all of the studies and none of the studies recommended lockdowns. They had looked at all of the studies on respiratory viruses and personal protection equipment. And so none of the plans recommended masks. And then all of a sudden, we said, oh, no, we do need masks, and we do need lockdowns, and China's doing it this way. They must know.
You know, there was some preparation. We just didn't follow any of it. So I'd say that was also part of the problem.
All right, one question that I wanted to get to, because, again, this goes back to our culture. It goes back to our philosophy, this altruistic focus that we always want to support philanthropy for the needy, the disadvantaged, the underprivileged.
But I think you make a case in the book that it is the very, very rare productive geniuses that invent the technology that moves us forward and that spurs these leaps in productivity. Maybe talk a little bit about that, either with regards to education or with regards to, you know, we have our own homegrown, john Golfs and Hank Reardon's and Innovators here, but we also import them, like Elon Musk and Amjad Masad and Sergey Brin. So maybe talk a little bit about, from your perspective, how do we get more geniuses and locking down our schools? Definitely not on the go.
[00:51:02] Speaker B: You know, I once heard Elon Musk say this in person, that if you want to do something great with your life and that can mean a lot of things, that can mean everything from starting a great company to starting a bodega that takes care of your family, that you have improved the future of your family. But if you want to do something great with your life, there's no better place to do it than the United States and America. And woe be the day that that is not.
I think, you know, one of the deep magic of the American economy is the ability for people to either come here or people who are here to do great things, take big risks, and, yes, be rewarded for their risks. Because whatever that reward is, even if that reward is a fortune of $100 billion, the benefits they will have given all of us far exceed the personal wealth is really just a sliver of the benefits they have given to society. So any sort of economic plan that disregards the importance of entrepreneurs or what somebody like Musk, who I might call a super entrepreneur, which we are able to generate in a way no other big country can, that is pretty darn important and that our children don't learn about this, that they don't know about, really. It's not just heroes of capitalism, but heroes of our society that have created the modern world. That someone can go from kindergarten and graduate high school and only know Elon Musk as a billionaire Twitter guy or not Carnegie, only not understand how Microsoft was, understand none of those stories.
That is an incomplete education. And Herman Khan, who I mentioned earlier, mentioned one of his big themes was that the sure way to undermine sort of a heroic capitalist market society is to not tell those stories that people forget and they think, like the good stuff just kind of happens.
Rain from the clouds, and we can only focus on redistributing that rain. No, it just doesn't happen. And if you look at most countries, it doesn't happen at all. So I think telling those stories and one thing I'm happy to see is that an effort to fill all those streaming channels, we're seeing a few more stories about how businesses were built. There was a great movie, I'm not sure if it was Netflix or maybe Amazon Prime about Tetris, which really is a great which shows global capitalism and the Cold War, a really great movie. So there's a lot of stories to be told. And if Hollywood won't tell them, then we'll have to tell them. But our children should know them.
[00:54:10] Speaker A: And of course, Ein Rand tells them fictionally in.
And you know, one of the things that I've always found so puzzling and so distressing is when I go to some technology conferences, like, I go to Abundance 360, and I'm there with my Ein Rand Pin, and I'm there with my Atlas Shrugged purse. And, of course, Peter Diamondis, who is one of our honorees and a supporter of the Atlas Society. He, of course, is very upwing with all of his, but so you have all of these people paying a lot of money to be there, to marvel at all of these up and coming technologies and innovations, and yet they still embrace this obsession with income inequality.
They still embrace this social justice agenda. And it kind of reminds me of Ayn Rand talking about, before anything can be distributed, it needs to be created, and we need to focus on the needs of the creator. And all of these people, whether they are there representing a VC firm or they are there looking for VC funding on a very practical level, they know that there's none of these inventions, that they're all looking for capital. Or looking to invest capital, but they somehow have a disconnect between capital and capitalism and still take a very negative view of.
[00:55:51] Speaker B: Know.
One interesting thing that people laughed at him that Donald Trump said was that he's like, I'm not going to do a Trump impression, but he said, like, China. They call China a developing country. Well, maybe we're a developing country. Well, that's kind of true, actually. I think compared to where we could be in 25, 5100 years, we're all developing countries compared to how rich we could be in the broadest sense of the term in 100 years, we are all poor compared to our future selves and our children, and the best way to make us richer in the future. And that the poor today. The people who are considered poor today should be as rich as anybody else, which is something environmentalists and degrowthers are already saying that can never be.
If you are very poor today in a poor country, you can never live like the west lives.
The best way for that to happen is to make the world richer, and you make the world richer through economic freedom. That's how we took a billion people out of poverty. A secular miracle over the past 25 years, to me, still an untold story.
It wasn't foreign aid or UN programs. It was making China richer by investing in trading with China and India and Vietnam. That is what created that miracle of.
So, again, I think we've talked about technology as a tool. Well, guess what? Markets are a kind of tool as well, and they have been employed in the past to make us richer. And again, to me, that is a key tool to make us richer in the future.
[00:57:39] Speaker A: All right, with the minute we have left, we've already put the links in on all of the chat streams about the book. By the way, folks, I can highly recommend the Audible version. It's extremely well done and Ein Rand's name is pronounced correctly.
[00:57:57] Speaker B: Also, I did not do the Audible version. That's why it's good.
It's not me.
[00:58:03] Speaker A: That, I think, was very selfish of you because you said, hey, I'm good at this, I'm not good at that, and I'm not going to spend my time training to be a voiceover narrator. I'm going to be working on my faster please substack. So tell us a little bit about that if we go and sign up. What we can expect when we subscribe.
[00:58:25] Speaker B: It is a newsletter devoted toward progress economic growth.
It has a lot of economics in it, but also has a lot of culture. I also try to interview interesting technologists and economists and other thinkers. So it's a combination of essays and Q and A's and podcasts, all with the fundamental idea of trying to think hard about how to create invent a world we all might want to live in.
It can be through public policy, can be through a better culture. It can be through building better tools. So I love doing it. It comes out three times a week, and I'd love if people would check it out.
[00:59:07] Speaker A: All right, we'll do that. Well, thanks, Jim. I really enjoyed this. And thanks for your magnificent achievement. And thanks also for some of the recommendations that you gave in the book for people who are looking for kind of optimistic science fiction and some kind of Randian oriented one. I am listening to your recommendation of Marcus Seki's brilliance.
[00:59:31] Speaker B: Yes, three books. It's a trilogy, but they're pretty great.
[00:59:36] Speaker A: All right. Okay. And I also want to thank all of you who watched, all of you who chimed in with your awesome questions.
Of course, if you enjoy this video, if you enjoy any of our other content or educational programming, go ahead and head over to our donate page, consider making a tax deductible donation. All first time donations are going to be matched. So thanks in advance and then be sure to join us next week when Bitcoin entrepreneur Robert Breedlove is going to join the Atlas Society asks to talk about the viral video that he produced reading Francisco Danconia's Money speech from Atlas Shrugged, as well as his podcast, what is Money? And his book, thank God for bitcoin. See you then.