Imaging a Better Future. How Doomers Prevent Progress. James Pethokoukis

Yes, it's our 400th episode. But instead of looking back over the past eight-and-a-half years of our podcasts, we consider the future: How collective optimism or pessimism can have a huge impact on the economy, risk taking, and the acceptance of new technologies that spark growth and innovation.

Our guest is scholar and journalist James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, author of "The Conservative Futurist: How To Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised."

In this episode he argues that in the decades after World War Two and during the space race, America was the world's dream factory. TV and movies helped to turn imagination into reality, from curing polio to landing on the Moon to creating the internet. In those years we were confident that more wonders lay just over the horizon: clean and infinite energy, a cure for cancer, computers and robots as humanity’s great helpers. 

But as we moved into the late 20th century, we grew cautious, even cynical, about what the future held and our ability to shape it. James Pethokoukis says that this year— 2023— marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Great Downshift in technological progress and economic growth, followed by decades of economic stagnation, downsized dreams, and a popular culture fixated on catastrophe.

"If you cannot imagine or have someone present a plausible imagining of a better tomorrow, why should we take any risks today?", Jim tells us. "There will be failures. Failure is part of taking a risk. It's part of a capitalist economy, and if you're not seeing failures, you're not taking large enough risks or a big enough swing at the plate"

In our interview examine the impact of popular entertainment and its impact on our collective ambitions: "I think it influences how we think about the future, and that influences the decisions we make right now in the present."

We discuss the current debate over artificial intelligence, and how future breakthroughs might be held back: "If all we can imagine is AI taking all our jobs, only enriching a slice of the population or somehow killing us, why would we want to do anything?"

Among public policy decisions James Pethokoukis endorses are a dramatic increase in government spending on research and development as well as sharp cuts in red tape and severe environmental restrictions that prevent the construction of new transmission lines and other building blocks for clean technology projects. This is a wide-ranging conversation.

In the interview we mention the controversial best-selling book, "The Population Bomb" co-authored by Paul and Anne Erlich, and the work of Persian author, futurist, and philosopher Fereidoun M. Esfandiary.

Recommendation: Richard recommends a daily or weekly spiritual practice that could include prayer, meditation or yoga. He believes that a regular discipline that involves giving gratitude and thinking of the inner self can improve mental well-being. "We are often unkind to each other because we are unforgiving of ourselves and ungrateful for the world we have been born into," Richard days. "It’s no accident that a decline in church attendance in America has something to do with the rise in incivility."

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