This article is the fifth part in a series on how technology disrupts politics. Part five asks why so many disruptive technologies apparently lean right.
In the previous four parts of this series, we have looked at various new and emerging technologies that have the power to transform politics. A pattern is now starting to appear. Most of them disrupt politics in favor of conservative or libertarian views and values. That’s surprising and demands an explanation.
We have been told that technology is value neutral. They are just tools that can be used for both good and evil purposes. Why then do so many disruptive technologies seem to lean right?
Each disruptive technology is very different – everything from biotech to cryptography – but what they all have in common is that they democratize productive capability. Abilities, which previously only were reserved for a small elite, became accessible to the great majority of people due to falling prices and miniaturization.
Take the computer for instance. ENIAC was the first general-purpose computer, made in 1946. It filled a whole room and cost more than 6.7 million (in 2016 dollars). Today any mobile phone is far more powerful than ENIAC, yet so inexpensive that even poor people in third world countries can afford them.
When everyone has affordable access to a technology, it becomes practically impossible to control. People then don’t need to ask politicians to be able to do the things they want. They can just do them. That’s precisely why these technologies are politically disruptive.
Knowing this makes it easier to explain why disruptive technologies tend to lean right. The political left is about centralized power and a planned economy. In the ideal socialist state, the government owns and controls all productive capabilities. Everyone just passively receives handouts from the state. Compare that to the vision of the political right where production is decentralized. Everything is owned and controlled by the individual. There is no central planning. Each person makes his own plans and coordinates them with others through voluntary agreements in the free market.
This political difference explains why technologies that take power away from a small elite and disseminates it to the people tend to be more aligned with a conservative vision than with liberal ideals.
This insight brings us to an interesting final question: how can we make it easier for disruptive technologies to be created? In what kind of milieu do they prosper and thrive?
One of their key properties is low cost so that they become ubiquitous. What fosters falling prices? Competition in a free market seems to be an essential ingredient.
Another key factor appears to be the freedom to experiment. Electronics and software have been the main areas of innovation in the world for the last fifty years. During that time of breathtaking pace of improvement, the industry was completely unregulated. By contrast, industries that were under heavy government regulation, such as education, experienced little progress.
This leads us to the somewhat surprising but satisfying conclusion that the most fertile ground for right-leaning disruptive technologies seems to be the free market. When the free market is permitted to bloom, it tends to produce technologies that strengthen the free market. Trade is one of mankind’s oldest inventions, so maybe then, in a sense, the free market itself is a politically disruptive technology?