On my way to Mexico City to attend my friend’s wedding in Acapulco*, I’ve finally got the chance to read Andreessen Horowitz’s new Techno-Optimist Manifesto, and as the title suggests, it beams with hope for technology being an ultimate an band aid for (almost) all of our human ills.
The manifesto lays down the natural forces governing our markets which derive from a human behaviour of self-interest (which is good if properly funnelled) and need for growth. For that, it quotes Adam Smith: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.” He also quotes David Friedman who points out that
people only do things for other people for three reasons – love, money, or force. Love doesn’t scale, so the economy can only run on money or force. The force experiment has been run and found wanting. Let’s stick with money – Andreessen advises. He and his team at A16Z believe the ultimate moral defense of markets is that they divert people who otherwise would raise armies and start religions into peacefully productive pursuits.David Friedman
Andreessen states that there are only three sources of growth: population growth, natural resource utilisation, and technology. Developed societies are depopulating all over the world, across cultures, and the total human population may already be shrinking. (some people like Musk strongly believe that and try to counteract by spreading his genes far and wide :). Natural resource utilisation has sharp limits, both real and political. And so – in Andreessen’s opinion – the only perpetual source of growth is technology. Technology new knowledge, new tools, what the Greeks called techne – he goes – has always been the main source of growth, and perhaps the only cause of growth, as technology made both population growth and natural resource utilisation possible.
He concludes that technology is the best way to make more with less.
He warns that, such optimism is not utopian, nor apocalyptic. He believes something which he calls “the Constrained Vision”. Contra the Unconstrained Vision of Utopia, Communism, and Expertise – it means taking people as they are, testing ideas empirically, and liberating people to make their own choices.
Economists measure technological progress as productivity growth: How much more we can produce each year with fewer inputs, fewer raw materials. Productivity growth, powered by technology, is the main driver of economic growth, wage growth, and the creation of new industries and new jobs, as people and capital are continuously freed to do more important, valuable things than in the past. Productivity growth causes prices to fall, supply to rise, and demand to expand, improving the material well being of the entire population.
He also argues, why we should not worry about job scarcity due to AI and any transformational technology, since people building and advancing technology create generate market value, not exploit them. In his view, participants in markets build on one another’s work and output and it’s always a positive sum, never a zero sum. He also strongly believes that since
a market sets wages as a function of the marginal productivity of the worker, therefore technology – which raises productivity – drives wages up, not down. He notices that it’s likely the most counterintuitive idea in all of economics, but 300 years of history prove it.Andresseen
The manifesto touches on lots of other interesting angles and economical subjects such as infinite human needs and wants, so I highly recommend you to check it out.
A lot of things written there speak to me since I’m also a strong believer in tech, and always have been. At the same time, I know that there is a huge access disproportion, so many brilliant people don’t get the chance to benefit as much as they could, and market in turn, doesn’t get to benefit from their unique perspective and experiences. We, the lucky ones, need to build with that in mind too.
Pic: New York from this perspective look so small and insignificant. In the grand scheme of things, we should not run like hamsters in the wheel, – and maybe, just maybe, just like Andresseen believes, technology can be liberatory. Liberatory of human potential. Liberatory of the human soul and our spirit. Expanding what it can mean to be free, to be fulfilled, to be alive.
What’s your view?