Technological innovation is the wellspring of human progress. Despite this, a growing array of interests – some economic, some ideological – now stand resolutely in opposition to innovation. Inspired by Englishman Ned Ludd, who led a social movement in the early 19th Century to destroy mechanized looms out of fear that the Industrial Revolution was going to ruin his way of life, today’s “neo-Luddites” likewise want to “smash” current technology. However, while for the most part these advocates no longer wield sledgehammers, they do wield something much more powerful: bad ideas. Neo-Luddites have worked to convince the public and policy makers alike that technological innovation is something to be thwarted. Indeed, the their target is broad, including genetically modified organisms, new Internet apps, smart electric meters, health IT, big data, and increasingly productivity itself. In short, they want a world in which risk is close to zero, losers from innovation are few, and change is glacial and managed.
These aren’t just interesting social and political developments. Rather they go to a central challenge of our time: the need to rapidly increase living standards and quality of life. For without society supporting risk taking and the constant and rapid introduction of new technologies neither goal will be accomplished. Fostering an environment in which innovation can thrive means first and foremost actively rejecting the increasingly vocal chorus of “neo-Ludditism” that pervades Western societies today. Indeed, if we want a society in which innovation thrives, replacing neo-Ludditism with an attitude of risk taking and faith in the future needs to be at the top of the agenda. (To determine how friendly you are toward technological innovation, go to www.doyoulikeprogress.org and take the test).
To highlight the worst neo-Luddite ideas that if followed would lead to reduced human progress, ITIF released the first annual Luddite Award nominations to recognize the ten organizations and or individuals that in 2014 did the most to smash the engines of innovation. Based on a public vote the top Luddite of the year went to multiple states that blocked Tesla from selling vehicles within their borders.
The ten nominees were:
- The National Rifle Association Opposes Smart Guns
- The Vermont Legislature Passes Law Requiring GMO Food Labeling
- Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas Take Action to Prevent Tesla From Opening Stores to Sell Cars Directly to Consumers
- The French Government Stops Amazon From Providing Free Shipping on Books
- “Stop Smart Meters” Seeks To Stop Smart Innovation in Meters and Cars
- Free Press Lobbies for Rules to Stop Innovation in Broadband Networks
- New York State Cracks Down on Airbnb and its Hosts
- Virginia and Nevada Take On Ride Sharing
- The Media and Pundits Claiming That “Robots” Are Killing Jobs
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Opposition to Health IT