The Real Luddites


Have you noticed that any person who exhibits any skepticism about global warming alarmism will, sooner or later, be called a Luddite?

“Are you a Luddite, a troglodyte? Are you a part of ‘The Planet of the Apes’ that doesn’t want science? Where would you place yourself in this argument?” newscaster and anti-simian Chris Matthews “asked” a congressman a few years back. “Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and the rest of the neo-Luddites who are turning the GOP into the anti-science party should pay attention,” warned columnist Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post this week.

And so on and so forth.

The Luddites, as you all know, were a 19th-century social movement that protested, often by violent means, the encroachment of the Industrial Revolution on their lives, fearing that it would leave them without their jobs and destroy their communities.

But Luddites weren’t challenging the veracity of some scientific theory; they just weren’t crazy about the options progress offered them.

So global warming skeptics — call them anti-science if you like — are not Luddites. Luddites have an irrational fear of development in a seemingly chaotic world. This is capitalism. Today’s Luddite fears that we have too much energy, too many people, too many choices, too much bad food, too many cheap knickknacks. Today’s Luddite believes that the free movement of money and economic productivity are immoral and that if your slice is too big, someone else’s slice has to be too small.

For example, Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. recently claimed that the iPad was “responsible for eliminating thousands of jobs,” you know, just like the modern-day automated loom. What, he wonders, will happen to “all the jobs associated with paper?” Surely, a remark as deeply juvenile as that one matches anything offered by those wild-eyed skeptics.

Or take President Barack Obama, who earlier this year — and not for the first time — claimed that “structural issues with our economy” have nothing to do with politicians. The problem, in his opinion, is that “a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient,” making the workforce smaller. “You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM. You don’t go to a bank teller, or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate.”

Those aren’t structural issues; they are productivity issues. And rather than kill jobs, efficiency drives output and growth and improves performance and the quality of goods and services — along with our lives. Perhaps if this administration weren’t busy trying to create morally pleasing but temporary and unsustainable jobs through bailouts, subsidies and “stimulus,” we could all hit that ATM more often.

Today’s Luddite also adamantly opposes a mythical institution called Wall Street, a place where a few players act illegally, some act recklessly and some team with government to undermine healthy competition. But the vast majority of companies create new technologies, services and products that make modern life possible. If they don’t, they fail.

Or at least they used to.

Luddites on the streets of Manhattan can demonize big oil, big food and big pharma all day long. They can decry profit as if Satan himself invented the notion. Yet when the multinational firm GlaxoSmithKline announces, as it did last week, that it has come up with the first effective vaccine for malaria, you can bet that it would never have happened in the system they propose. And if the vaccine is successful, the company will have done more good for the world than a million marches about the evils of capitalism could ever hope to produce.

What irks Robinson, Matthews and others like them is not that people do not accept “science,” but that they won’t accept the statist solutions tied to that science. Moreover, a Luddite opposes capitalism. A skeptic only asks questions.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Blaze. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.: 

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