An Economy of Progress

The best way to summarize the relationship between capitalism, empire and science is through Harari’s own words. Namely, capitalism and empire are “The sugar daddies of science.” (Harari p. 271) Scientific research, like all things, requires money, and the two most likely sponsors of any research will always be the government or private enterprise. As Harari notes, it would be nice to believe that science always acts objectively with only the progress of humanity in mind, but this is naive thinking. All scientific research must have a goal or bias from it’s supporter, else it wouldn’t have been funded in the first place. Government sponsors often will fund research in the hopes of increasing military power through technology, or in the hopes that it will create growth in the economy in some way. whether that be decreasing the cost of resources in producing goods, or providing the pathway for new and innovative technologies that could create new markets. Corporate enterprises, on the surface level, often have similar interests. In funding research often they’ll hope to decrease the cost of producing goods or create a new technology that the public would have interest in. However, rather than do this for the benefit of their citizens, corporate interests will always be in either saving money, or earning more. Like it or not, the objective studies of scientific research will always be guided by the subjective hand of government or private interests.

Well, like most things Harari says, his views about progress in relation to science, empire and capitalism make a lot of sense. I think all three of these are related to progress but each in their own specific way. I think in reality science brought on the notion of progress in people’s minds and the other two rapidly followed suite. Science in its nature has to be forward thinking. This is because, as Harari puts it, science was ultimately a revolution of ignorance, not knowledge. By people admitting to not knowing everything it ultimately resulted in people believing that they could find out, thereby defying the logic of the day that there were certain things that only god could understand. With each new scientific breakthrough that ultimately ended up benefiting humanity, it’d be hard not to fall into the trappings of progressive thinking. Namely, that humans could change their societies for the better through their own will and not the will of some god. It’s only natural then that empires would follow this same shift in attitude as although ideals of progress had been a recent breakthrough, conquest had been a desire for kings since man’s inception. Progress would allow a king’s empire, and therefore military, to thrive and would in turn allow them to be greater than their enemies. Capitalism is an ideology so ingrained with notions of progress that it’s entirely reliant on it. Capitalism is only sustainable if there is perpetual economic growth, and growth can only be acquired if human inventiveness causes something that can decrease the cost of goods, or create goods that cost more money.

1 thought on “An Economy of Progress”

  1. Great post Noah. Your point in the first paragraph especially interested me where you bring up the interests and motivations behind innovation. We would like to think that technological innovations are created to better humanity. But, as you point out this is far too idealistic. Innovation is driven by bias namely self-interest in the private sector and power in the government. I also agree with your points made in your second paragraph. My only question to it would be if you think rulers or societies have the notion of progress in their minds when they make decisions or actions?

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