Imagine if at the dawn of the industrial revolution, water wheels had been banned? Or if the Luddities had got their way, and outlawed new spinning machines? What if coal mining had been outlawed because the new-fangled pit technology was not trusted?
Why do some countries, at certain times in history, advance technologically, while others stagnate? Are they just lucky? Or smarter?
No. It’s all about freedom – the ability to apply and benefit from the new way of doing things.It is not that people in stagnant societies don’t have clever ideas. They’re just not free to exploit them.
Ming China is perhaps the most tragic historical example of this. Despite coming up with printing, gunpowder, the compass, and a host of other innovations, it wasn’t China that managed to really apply those new ideas. China might have had plenty of coal, yet no 19th-century industrial revolution took place there like it did in the West.
Why? In China, officialdom and obstructivism kept getting in the way. Edicts and decrees were drawn up micro managing things. A parasitical state meant that those who produced more ended up merely supplying more to sustain the state. China, once the world’s great innovator, fell behind.
Europe, on the other hand, forged ahead. Why? Because, in politically fragmented Europe, officialdom could not keep getting in the way. Quack ideas that would have otherwise held back the advance of reason could not hold things up.
To be sure, in some European states, princes and parasites did stop innovation. But the ideas and innovators simply moved next door. Europe in aggregate advanced.
Tragically, it is no longer like that. Europe and the UK are proving to be hostile to innovation.
Imagine if at the dawn of the industrial revolution, water wheels had been banned? Or if the Luddities had got their way, and outlawed new spinning machines? What if coal mining had been outlawed because the new-fangled pit technology was not trusted? (“It contaminates ground water” perhaps some shrieked. “Causes earthquakes!” yelled others. Thankfully history does not record such voices, and they were not allowed to prevail).
We are in danger of doing something similar with shale gas today.
Just like with coal at the beginning of the industrial revolution, beneath our feet lie zillions of cubic feet of gas. A way of extracting it has been discovered which could unleash enormous productive potential.
So what do we do? Enterprises that seek to lawfully utilise the new technology are prevented from doing so by the new Luddites. The state stands by, regulating every aspect of the new technology, but doing little to guarantee the freedoms of the innovators.