Is 'Progress' Good for Humanity?
The stock narrative of the Industrial Revolution is one of moral and economic progress. Indeed, economic progress is cast as moral progress. The story tends to go something like this: Inventors, economists, and statesmen in Western Europe dreamed up a new industrialized world. Fueled by the optimism and scientific know-how of the Enlightenment, a series of heroic men—James Watt, Adam Smith, William Huskisson, and so on—fought back against the stultifying effects of regulated economies, irrational laws and customs, and a traditional guild structure that quashed innovation. By the mid-19th century, they had managed to implement a laissez-faire (“free”) economy that ran on new machines and was centered around modern factories and an urban working class. Europe had rescued itself from the pre-industrial misery that had hampered humankind since the dawn of time. Sadly, this saccharine story still sweetens our societal self-image. But what if we rethink the narrative of progress?
Related: The Idea of Progress
• Idea of Progress