New Report Argues ‘Techlash’ Could Undermine Economic Growth, Slow Progress on Pressing Societal Goals

October 28, 2019

WASHINGTON—Growing animus toward “Big Tech” companies and a generalized fear of technological innovation—the phenomenon known as “techlash”—risks undermining economic growth, competitiveness, and progress on societal priorities ranging from education to human health, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and tech policy.

The report traces how attitudes toward modern technology have shifted in recent years—particularly among opinion-leading elites—and analyzes 22 prevalent claims against tech and tech companies, on issues ranging from consumer privacy to jobs and market power. It concludes that while some of the concerns being raised have merit, the net effect of rising support for policies designed to rein in technology with bans, taxes, or stringent regulations would be to reduce individual and societal welfare.

“Techlash has created a mob mentality, and the mob is coming for innovation,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson, the report’s lead co-author. “Giving into techlash passions would slow down economic and wage growth, reduce national competitiveness, and limit progress on a host of critical societal priorities. Rather than techlash, we need a pragmatic ‘tech realism,’ recognizing that today’s technologies, like virtually all past technologies, are a fundamental force for human progress. To be sure, they can pose real challenges in some instances, and those deserve smart and effective responses.”

Among the 22 discrete techlash-related issues that Atkinson and a team of ITIF analysts delved into, there were 16 societal issues—from fears that social media is harmful for children to claims that technology is leading to pervasive surveillance—plus six economic issues, including claims that technology is driving income inequality and that it is giving rise to monopolies. The report acknowledges that some of these issues are complex and deserve detailed and thorough policy responses.

“The question is not whether technology has costs, but whether the costs can be managed sensibly and are outweighed by the benefits. The answer on both counts is, unquestionably, yes,” said Atkinson. “We should not go back to the naïve, utopian era of worshipping IT as our savior. But swinging to the other extreme of techlash isn’t warranted either. We should instead critically examine the impact of new technology so we can deterimine how to maximize its value and limit harms.”

Read the report: www.itif.org/techlash.