The Conservative Futurist

How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised

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I'm kind of a sucker for this sort of book, I guess. In the past few years, I've devoured Soonish by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith; Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall; The Skeptics' Guide to the Future by Dr. Steven Novella; Innovation and Its Enemies by Calestous Juma.

James Pethokoukis's book (I'll just call him JP from here on out) is disappointed with (approximately) the last half-century. It seemed, back then, that America would lead the world in bringing about innovative technological process. We'd have nuclear fusion, longer lifespans, routine space travel, and better household robots than the Roomba. I know: we got the Internet, smartphones, SpaceX, CRISPR, AI, etc. But JP says: we could have done better, and we could have done it faster.

And, above all, we'd have those flying cars. As someone who's lived through every one of those fifty years, I agree: it's difficult not to be disappointed.

JP sidesteps the left/right political spectrum, instead going with "up wing" and "down wing" attitudes. Up-wingers are optimistic about progress, economic growth, innovation; down-wingers… not so much. He makes a convincing argument that there have been too many down-wing victories over the years, stifling progress through onerous regulation, protectionism, and overall pessimism.

So what's "conservative" about JP's futurism? Good news: he's an unabashed fan of free markets and individual liberty. Exceptions: he does grant government some room to encourage R&D spending on blue-sky research, infrastructure, and space stuff; also "smart" industrial policy to (for example) ensure that we're not totally reliant on Taiwan for chip manufacture. And he's a fan of immigration, especially high-skilled workers.

But, overall, we need a cultural shift toward optimism, confidence, openness, and growth. I'm not sure how we get there, even after reading JP..