NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Technological Innovations Require Freedom

January 10, 2003

Technology and freedom are symbiotic, forming a virtuous circle, host James K. Glassman told a recent meeting of the Mount Pelerin Society. By empowering individuals, technology helps the spread of human freedom around the world.

Without the freedom provided by market economies, technological innovation is stymied. But in market economies, one new technology can enhance others, synergistically improving human welfare. For example, the increasing power of the computer chip has made possible the spread of related technologies. (See Figure I.)

  • Over 30 years, the cost of sending 1 trillion bits of information has dropped from $150,000 to 17 cents.
  • Ten years ago there were only 23 million wireless phones in use worldwide; today, there are 1.4 billion.
  • In just five years, the number of global Internet users has increased from 96 million to 650 million, with more than half in Asia; within a year, users are forecast to reach one billion.

Further improvements in the conditions of human life can be made through new technologies. For example, for the first time in human history, bioengineering of foods holds the promise of an adequate food supply for everyone, but antimarket forces in the European Union and elsewhere threaten the adoption of new biotech crops.

Thus, as in medieval China -- which produced many technological innovations but lacked a market economy to propel their widespread adoption -- the major roadblocks to new technology are political.

Source: James K. Glassman, "Technology and Freedom: The Virtuous Circle," Backgrounder No. 158, January 10, 2003, National Center for Policy Analysis.


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