Welcome to The Economist’s Technological Idealism

The Economist offers a simplistic worldview in which technology will guide humanity out of the current darkness.
Peter Isackson Daily Devil’s Dictionary, The Economist newspaper, The Economist editorial position, The Economist tech section, The Economist neoliberalism, media awareness, media bias, neoliberalism news, economic disruption neoliberalism, disruptive innovation

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Every publication has a worldview. Each cultivates a style of thought, ideology or philosophy designed to comfort the expectations of its readers and to confirm a shared way of perceiving the world around them. Even Fair Observer has a worldview, in which, thanks to the diversity of its contributors, every topic deserves to be made visible from multiple angles. Rather than emphasizing ideology, such a worldview places a quintessential value on human perception and experience.

Traditional media companies profile their readership and pitch their offering to their target market’s preferences. This often becomes its central activity. Reporting the news and informing the public becomes secondary to using news reporting to validate a worldview that may not be explicitly declared. Some media outlets reveal their bias, while others masquerade it and claim to be objective. The Daily Devil’s Dictionary has frequently highlighted the bias of newspapers like The New York Times that claim to be objective but consistently impose their worldview. In contrast, The Economist, founded in 1843, has, throughout its history, prominently put its liberal — and now neoliberal — worldview on public display


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Many of The Economist’s articles are designed to influence both public opinion and public policy. One that appeared at the end of last week exemplifies the practice, advertising its worldview. It could be labeled “liberal technological optimism.” The title of the article sets the tone: “The new era of innovation — Why a dawn of technological optimism is breaking.” The byline indicates the author: Admin. In other words, this is a direct expression of the journal’s worldview.

The article begins by citing what it assesses as the trend of pessimism that has dominated the economy over the past decade. The text quickly focuses on the optimism announced in the title. And this isn’t just any optimism, but an extreme form of joyous optimism that reflects a Whiggish neoliberal worldview. The “dawn” cliché makes it clear that it is all about the hope of emerging from a dark, ominous night into the cheer of a bright morning with the promise of technological bliss. Central to the rhetoric is the idea of a break with the past, which takes form in sentences such as this one: “Eventually, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and robotics could upend how almost everything is done.”

Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Upend:

As used by most people: knock over, impede progress, halt a person’s or an object’s stability.

As used by The Economist: to move forward, to embody progress.

Contextual Note

In recent decades, the notion of “disruptive innovation” has been elevated to the status of the highest ideal of modern capitalism. Formerly, disruption had a purely negative connotation as a factor of risk. Now it has become the obligatory goal of dynamic entrepreneurs. Upending was something to be avoided. Now it is actively pursued as the key to success. Let “synthetic biology, artificial intelligence and robotics” do their worst as they disrupt the habits and lifestyles of human beings, The Economist seems to be saying the more upending they entrepreneurs manage to do, the more their profits will grow.

In the neoliberal scheme of things, high profit margins resulting from the automatic monopoly of disruptive innovation will put more money in the hands of those who know how to use it — the entrepreneurs. Once they have settled the conditions for mooring their yachts in Monte Carlo, they may have time to think about creating new jobs, the one thing non-entrepreneurial humans continue to need and crave.

For ordinary people, the new jobs may mean working alongside armies of artificially intelligent robots, though in what capacity nobody seems to know. In all likelihood, disruptive thinkers will eventually have to imagine a whole new set of “bullshit jobs” to replace the ones that have been upended. The language throughout the article radiates an astonishingly buoyant worldview at a moment of history in which humanity is struggling to survive the effects of an aggressive pandemic, to say nothing of the collapse of the planet’s biosphere, itself attributable to the unbridled assault of disruptive technology over the past 200 years.

What The Economist wants us to believe is that the next round of disruption will be a positive one, mitigating the effects of the previous round that produced, alongside fabulous financial prosperity, a series of increasingly dire negative consequences.

The article’s onslaught of rhetoric begins with the development of the cliché present in the title telling us that “a dawn of technological optimism is breaking.” The authors scatter an impressive series of positively resonating ideas through the body of the text: “speed,” “prominent breakthroughs,” “investment boom,” “new era of progress,” “optimists,” “giddily predict,” “advances,” “new era of innovation,” “lift living standards,” “new technologies to flourish,” “transformative potential,” “science continues to empower medicine,” “bend biology to their will,” “impressive progress,” “green investments,” “investors’ enthusiasm,” “easing the constraints,” “boost long-term growth,” “a fresh wave of innovation” and “economic dynamism.”

The optimism sometimes takes a surprising twist. The authors forecast that in the race for technological disruption, “competition between America and China could spur further bold steps.” Political commentators in the US increasingly see conflict with China. Politicians are pressured to get tough on China. John Mearsheimer notably insists on the necessity of hegemonic domination by the US. Why? Because liberal capitalism must conquer, not cooperate. But in the rosy world foreseen by The Economist, friendship will take the day.

Historical Note

We at the Daily Devil’s Dictionary believe the world would be a better place if schools offered courses on how to decipher the media. That is unlikely to happen any time soon because today’s schools are institutions that function along the same lines as the media. They have been saddled with the task of disseminating an official worldview designed to support the political and economic system that supports them. 

Official worldviews always begin with a particular reading of history. Some well-known examples show how nations design their history, the shared narrative of the past, to mold an attitude about the future. In the US, the narrative of the war that led to the founding of the nation established the cultural idea of the moral validity associated with declaring independence, establishing individual rights and justifying rebellion against unjust authority. Recent events in Washington, DC, demonstrate how that instilled belief, when assimilated uncritically, can lead to acts aiming at upending both society and government.

In France, the ideas associated with the French Revolution, a traumatically upending event, spawned a different type of belief in individual rights. For the French, it must be expressed collectively through organized actions of protest on any issue. US individualism, founded on the frontier ideal of self-reliance, easily turns protestation into vigilante justice by the mob. In France, protests take the form of strikes and citizen movements.

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The British retain the memory of multiple historical invasions of their island by Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans and more recent attempts by Napoleon and Hitler. The British people have always found ways of resisting. This habit led enough of them to see the European Union as an invader to vote for Brexit.

The Italian Renaissance blossomed in the brilliant courts and local governments of its multiple city-states. Although Italy was unified in 1870, its citizens have never fully felt they belonged to a modern nation-state. The one serious but ultimately futile attempt was Mussolini’s fascism, which represented the opposite extreme of autonomous city-states.

The article in The Economist contains some examples of its reading of economic history. At the core of its argument is this reminder: “In the history of capitalism rapid technological advance has been the norm.” While asserting neoliberal “truths,” like that “Governments need to make sure that regulation and lobbying do not slow down disruption,” it grudgingly acknowledges that government plays a role in technological innovation. Still, the focus remains on what private companies do, even though it is common knowledge that most consumer technology originated in taxpayer-funded military research. 

Here is how The Economist defines the relationship: “Although the private sector will ultimately determine which innovations succeed or fail, governments also have an important role to play. They should shoulder the risks in more ‘moonshot’ projects.” The people assume the risks and the corporations skim off the profit. This is neoliberal ideology in a nutshell.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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