This chapter addresses technology critics and others worried about the effects of technological disruption. It offers a framework rooted in rational optimism about how innovation generally continues to bring about positive outcomes for individuals and society. While the evidence supporting this assertion is voluminous, many defenders of progress make poor champions of their cause. Those defending technological innovation will need to do a better job communicating its benefits while also considering new strategies to counter its occasional downsides. This chapter concludes by offering some suggestions for how to do so.
- Technological disruption
- Rational optimism
- Technological innovation
- Economic growth
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Ip (2019) notes: “Poverty around the world is plummeting; half the world is now middle class; and illiteracy, disease and deadly violence are receding. These things don’t make headlines because they are gradual, relentless and unsurprising. That is why they are worth highlighting. The problems the world faces are far smaller than those it has already overcome and can be solved the same way: not by betting on miracles but by patiently applying knowledge and tools we already possess.”
For a critique of such thinking, see Florman (1994: p. 16), “Anxiety and alienation are the watchwords of the day, as if material comforts made life worse, rather than better.”
Gillespie (2019): “Prosperity is central to most human values. A wealthier world helps you be more creative.”
Marchant and Allenby (2017: p. 108) define soft law as “a variety of nonbinding norms and techniques,” which include “instruments or arrangements that create substantive expectations that are not directly enforceable, unlike ‘hard law’ requirements such as treaties and statutes.”
They continue on to note that “[m]achines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labour than at any time in the last 150 years. It is not hard to think of pressing, unmet needs even in the rich world: the care of the elderly and the frail, lifetime education and retraining, health care, physical and mental well-being.”
Andreeva N (2021) Peak TV: Scripted originals dipped in 2020 for the first time since FX launched tally amid pandemic. Deadline, 29 January.
Bajarin T (2013) The smartphone is the Swiss Army knife of gadgets. Time, 18 November.
Broughel J, Thierer A (2019) Technological innovation and economic growth: A brief report on the evidence. Mercatus Center, Arlington.
Carlen J (2016) A brief history of entrepreneurship: The pioneers, profiteers, and racketeers who shaped our world. Columbia University Press, New York.
Collinson P, Cowen T (2019) We need a new science of progress. The Atlantic, 30 July.
Cowen T (2008) In praise of commercial culture. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
Desmas J (2021a) Voters already love technology-they don’t need anti-China messaging to get there. Vox, 3 May.
Fischhoff B, Brewer NT, Downs JS (2011) Communicating risks and benefits: An evidence-based user’s guide. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC.
Food and Drug Administration (2009) Strategic plan for risk communication. Food and Drug Administration, Washington, DC.
Friedel R (2010) A culture of improvement: Technology and the Western millennium. MIT Press, Cambridge.
Frischmann B, Selinger E (2018) Re-engineering humanity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Florman SC (1994) The existential pleasures of engineering. St Martins Griffin, New York, 2nd edition.
Gilder G (1984) The spirit of enterprise. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Gillespie N (2019) Tyler Cowen’s gospel of prosperity. Reason, March.
Gillmor D (2004) We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. O’Reilly Media, Inc., Sebastopol.
Hagemann R, Huddleston Skees J, Thierer A (2018) Soft law for hard problems: The governance of emerging technologies in an uncertain future. Colorado Tech Law J 17:37–130.
Haskell TL (1985) Capitalism and the origins of the humanitarian sensibility, part 1. Amer Hist Rev 90: 339–361.
Heath D, Garcia-Roberts G (2021) Race to the vaccine. USA Today, 31 January.
Ip G (2019) The world is getting quietly, relentlessly better. Wall Street Journal, 2 January.
Jarvis J (2015) Optimism doesn’t sell. Medium, 25 May.
Johnson DG (2011) Software agents, anticipatory ethics, and accountability. In: Marchant KE, Allenby BR, Herkert, JR (eds) The growing gap between emerging technologies and legal-ethical oversight: The pacing problem. Springer, Dordecht, 61–76.
Juma C (2016) Innovation and its enemies: Why people resist new technologies. Oxford University Press, New York.
Kelly K (2016) The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. Viking, New York.
Lepore J (2017) A golden age for dystopian fiction. New Yorker, 5 and 12 June.
Lewis N (2018) The enduring wisdom of the crowd. Spiked, 24 October.
Longworth R (2015) A misguided view on technology and humanism. Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 20 January.
Marchant GE, Allenby B (2017) Soft law: New tools for governing emerging technologies. B Atom Sci 73:108–114.
Mitchell MD (2012) The pathology of privilege: The economic consequences of government favoritism. Mercatus Center, Arlington.
Mokyr J, Vickers C, Ziebarth NL (2015) The history of technological anxiety and the future of economic growth: Is this time different? J Econ Perspect 29:31–50.
Morozov E (2015) The taming of tech criticism. The Baffler 27, March.
Murphy R (2021b) This is what peak culture looks like. Works in Progress, 20 May.
Ridley M (2010) The rational optimist: How prosperity evolves. Harper Collins, New York.
Roser M (2018) Memorizing these three statistics will help you understand the world. Gates Notes, 26 June.
Rosling H (2018) Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world—And why things are better than you think. Flatiron Books, New York.
Saner MA (2013) The role of adaptation in the governance of emerging technologies. In: Marchant KE, Abbott KW, Brown JE (eds) Innovative governance models for emerging technologies. Edward Elgar, Northhampton, 92–107.
Schwartz B (2004) The paradox of choice: Why more is less. Ecco, New York.
Shepardson D (2021) U.S. labor leader calls for human drivers in automated vehicles. Reuters, 18 May.
Smith A (1759) Theory of moral sentiments. A Millar in the Strand, London.
Stewart I, De D, Cole A (2014) Technology and people: The great job-creating machine. Deloitte LLP, London.
Taylor MZ (2016) The politics of innovation: Why some countries are better than others at science and technology. Oxford University Press, Cambridge.
Thierer A, Esbin B (2009) An offer they can’t refuse: Spectrum reallocation that can benefit consumers, broadcasters and the mobile broadband sector. Progress Snapshot Release 5.13, Progress & Freedom Foundation, Washington, DC.
Thierer A (2013) Technopanics, threat inflation, and the danger of an information technology precautionary principle. Minn J Law Sci Tech 14:312–350.
Thierer A (2014) Muddling through: How we learn to cope with technological change. Medium, 30 June.
Thierer A (2016) Permissionless innovation: The continuing case for comprehensive technological freedom. Mercatus Center, Arlington.
Thierer A (2017) Are ‘permissionless innovation’ and ‘responsible innovation’ compatible? Technology Liberation Front, 12 July.
Thierer A (2018a) Is it ‘techno-chauvinist’ and ‘anti-humanist’ to believe in the transformative potential of technology? Medium, 18 September.
Thierer A (2018b) The pacing problem and the future of technology regulation. The Bridge, 9 August.
Thierer A (2019a) Countering threats to innovation with rational optimism. Technology Liberation Front, 29 April 2019.
Thierer A (2019b) Is there a science of progress. AIER, 8 August.
Thierer A (2020a) Evasive entrepreneurs and the future of governance: How innovation improves economies and governments. Cato Institute, Washington, DC.
Thierer A (2020b) Voice, exit, and innovation. Cato Unbound, 10 August.
Thierer A (2020c) Existential risk and emerging technology governance. Technology Liberation Front, 5 August.
Thierer A (2020d) Soft law in ICT sectors: Four case studies. Jurimetrics 61: 79–119.
Wallensten (2018) Cloud computing: Co-invention for the masses. Technology Policy Institute Blog, 19 July.
Wieseltier L (2015) Among the disrupted. New York Times, 7 January.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Thierer, A. (2023). Coping with Technological Disruption. In: Kassens, A.L., Hall, J.C. (eds) Challenges in Classical Liberalism. Palgrave Studies in Classical Liberalism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-32890-9_12
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-031-32889-3
Online ISBN: 978-3-031-32890-9