George F. Will is feeling ‘age, simply’ but he’s right about America

I usually don’t quote the brilliant George F. Will, either to agree or take issue with him. His opinions stand alone. But today’s melancholy, poetic take-down of socialism and a planned economy is too tempting to turn away.

It seems, just now,

To be happening so very fast;

Those lines are from Larkin’s 1972 poem “Going, Going,” his melancholy, elegiac lament about the pace of what he considered despoiling change that was, he thought, erasing all that was familiar in his England. The first line of Larkin’s final stanza is: “Most things are never meant.”

This is a profound truth: The interacting processes that propel the world produce outcomes that no one intends. The fatal conceit — fatal to the fecundity of spontaneous order — is the belief that anyone, or any group of savants, is clever and farsighted enough to forecast the outcomes of complex systems. Who really wants to live in a society where outcomes are “meant,” meaning planned and unsurprising?

In his poem, Larkin explained why he wrote it: He was feeling “age, simply.” He was 49.

The rate of change is accelerating. As Moore’s Law states with semiconductors, growth will be exponential, not linear. And semiconductors–computers–drive everything today.

Your phone, the app you use to buy everything, the GPS that keeps trucks going to the right place, the drones that might deliver your goods, the technology that makes Amazon’s brick and mortar stores work: all of it ties to Moore’s Law and all of it is changing at an increasing rate of change.

Yet we expect our politicians to produce outcomes for us. It’s like us expecting them to navigate the streets of Manhattan at 120 miles per hour.

In the accelerated churning of today’s capitalism, changing tastes and expanding choices destroy some jobs and create others, with net gains in price and quality. But disruption is never restful, and the United States now faces a decision unique in its history: Is it tired — tired of the turmoil of creative destruction? If so, it had better be ready to do without creativity. And ready to stop being what it has always been: restless.

Disruption is the key word. What used to offer a stable career of 40 years until your job is eliminated now demands skills that didn’t exist even 15 years ago. Humans aren’t about to be replaced by computers, but certain jobs will absolutely be. My father’s job as a tool and die maker no longer exists. He was displaced in the 1980s by desktop CAD and numerical control machines.

But creativity is never in short demand. What was, 100 years ago, made bespoke, 30 years ago was mass produced, and now is bespoke again. (Think of 3D printers.) The skills the next generation will need to move through their world are different than the skills my father, Will, or I needed. But creativity will never be without a home.

That is, unless we demand outcomes from those who have the power to strip creativity. Progressives need to remember that progress is messy. Planned outcomes result in a grey, dull world where progress is devolved into linear equations producing known outcomes.

As Larkin, and Will now admit, we’re feeling “age, simply.” But we must choose not to strip our progeny of our greatest gift to them. And that will be messy.

Steve Berman

Editor

Editor of The New Americana. God, family, and country, in that order. With the exception of God, the other two cannot prosper without a firm belief in all three.

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