Why Do Socialists and Populists Fear Technology?

James Pethokoukis

One thing democratic socialists and nationalist populists seem to have in common is a discomfort with technology. Sure, folks in both camps may love tweeting on their iPhones and binging Netflix — and one day may be happy that a terrible illness is cured through genetic editing. But the economic process that helps generate all that good stuff is less appealing to them. 

On the right, a Claremont Institute essay “For Real American Greatness, A Tech New Deal” latches onto just about every tech scare story out there to make its case for government intervention into the tech sector. As I recently blogged, the authors fear an approaching “new world” where “right-wing speech about race and gender is suppressed, Big Tech is an unproductive monopoly, robopocalypse means men are all caregivers or jobless, and AI-controlled humanity is fast-evolving into posthumanity.” 

On the left, a new essay in the democratic socialist magazine Jacobin takes aim at driverless cars. Now the common technologist view is that autonomous vehicles will one day save a lot of lives through the near elimination of auto accidents. As tech analyst Benedict Evans points out, accidents kill over a million people globally every year, including 35,000 in the United States with an economic impact of nearly $250 billion. 

Even so, writes Nicole Aschoff in “Against Self-Driving Cars,” we shouldn’t forget the potential downsides. In fact, we should give them tremendous weight. From the essay: 

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