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Is ‘conservative futurism’ an oxymoron? James Pethokoukis on building the sci-fi world we were promised

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Podcast & Video

This episode of Hub Dialogues features American Enterprise Institute scholar James Pethokoukis talking about his must-read new book, The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Spotify. The episodes are generously supported by The Ira Gluskin And Maxine Granovsky Gluskin Charitable Foundation and The Linda Frum & Howard Sokolowski Charitable Foundation.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host, Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honoured to be joined today by James Pethokoukis, the DeWitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based policy think tank, as well as the weekly host of a podcast and newsletter on innovation, technology, and progress. He’s the author of the must-read new book, The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised. I’m grateful to speak with him about what it means to be a “conservative futurist”, why you think such a vision is needed, and what we can do individually and collectively to get back to a world of rapid progress and rising living standards. James, thanks for joining us at Hub Dialogues, and congratulations on the book.

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Thank you so much, and thanks for having me on.

SEAN SPEER: I want to start by unpacking the book’s title if that’s okay. Let’s begin with the subtitle first. It conveys that our past assumptions of progress have failed to materialize. That idea might seem counterintuitive to some listeners who are accustomed to hearing about how fast the world is changing and how technologies are disrupting how we live and work. What were we promised, and why do you think we haven’t yet realized it?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Now, when I think about that question, I think about world’s fairs. People think these things have gone away. They still exist. They don’t really exist much in North America, but they exist in other places around the world, often places that are emerging or developing economies. But they used to be a very big deal, especially here in the United States. And I think about the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, which had this kind of ride called the “Futurama ride”, where people would get in these little booths and they’d go around, and they saw this kind of model of the future of several decades in the future. It was super popular. I think there was an exhibit of Michelangelo’s Pietà was the only thing more popular.

This exhibit is like a 15-minute ride and it had all the classic, what is now called retro-futurist concepts in it. Cities under the sea, lunar colonies, just like soaring skyscrapers a mile high. So this vision of the future, it’s like a very Jetsons vision, which is like another example from the era. This is what the future was going to be. And by the way, the ride was sponsored by GM, so when you got done with the ride, you went into a GM showroom. So this was a techno-capitalist future, but we didn’t get that.

Now, we didn’t not get just a lot of the obvious things which people may think are of secondary importance. There are no undersea cities, and we don’t have any lunar bases or Mars bases, but we also aren’t living as well as what we could be. Had those visions come true, we would be a richer people, a healthier people, and I think that would go for not just rich countries like the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and so forth, but the whole world. I think that didn’t have to be. So I guess that’s the point of the book, where there’s all these kinds of outside factors that maybe we don’t have control over, but a lot of that we do have control over. And we made some poor decisions that have led us to a world which I think is better than the world in the 1960s. I don’t want to make that argument that nothing has progressed, but I think compared to where we could be, it probably feels a lot like stagnation.

SEAN SPEER: We’ll come back to your diagnosis later in the conversation, but now I want to turn to the first part of the title: the idea of a conservative futurist. It might strike some of our listeners as oxymoronic. How can one be a conservative and a futurist in your mind?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Well, it probably seems a lot more oxymoronic today than maybe it did several decades ago. When people think of conservatism, especially in the United States, they think about a very kind of a philosophy of nostalgia. Like, “Why can’t we go back to the world of the 1950s and 1960s? A world of men working in factories, women’s day at home.” There’s a lot of nostalgia. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about, first, the conservative part, which focuses on conserving the best of the legacy of the Enlightenment: of individual rights, of the freedom of conscience, freedom to start a business if you want to; private property. So it’s really a philosophy of freedom. That is the American-style conservatism.

Maybe that’s not what it means to many people these days, but that’s what I’m talking about. Something that may be a lot more home with pre-Trump conservative movement, pre-Trump, even Republican Party. But that’s what I’m talking about. A philosophy built around freedom. So that is—and preserving that. And I think that philosophy also—we’ll talk about at some point—also informs the kinds of policies, public policies I’m talking about, to create a better world.

SEAN SPEER: You cite George Will in the book, who argues that American conservatives, and I’d argue Canadian conservatives, are “custodians of the classical liberal tradition.” Talk about Will’s insight here, James. What does it mean to say that North American conservatives are seeking to conserve liberalism? And why does this point matter to your story?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Oftentimes when people say conservative, like, “What is a conservative?” They’ll think about, “Well, you’re trying to preserve the status quo, or maybe you’re even trying to go backwards, and that is not. That may—and there are kinds of conservatism in other countries. That’s kind of exactly what it is. I mean, are you trying to bring back the monarchy, those kinds of questions? I’m not trying to bring back the monarchy, but the liberal tradition, which is really built around individual freedom. That’s what I’m talking about.

And that, I think, fits in perfectly with the kind of future that I’m talking about. Because at the core of idea is not that, well, we should create a department of future here in the United States. And that department would have—they would be in a fantastic office building, huge room, lots of flat screens, and they would be planning the future exactly what it was going to look like. Where are we going to build the new dome cities, where are we going to build the other—what would be the tax policy on Mars? That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more organic. That you create the environment for economic growth and technological progress so everybody can have the opportunity and tools at their disposal to pursue the future they want. While in the book I give a few ideas of what things might look like, those are just suggestions. If this is going to work, it’s going to be a bottoms-up futurism built on the decisions of not just a few bureaucrats but all of us.

SEAN SPEER: I want to return now to what you call the “Great Downshift” to describe the relative slowing of progress over the past half century or so. It hasn’t materialized in every part of the economy of course. There’s still been a narrow cone of progress in areas like computing, software and internet. What, James, explains their aberrant performance in your mind? And what lessons can we derive from these parts of the economy in order to boost progress elsewhere?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Well, right after the peak of progress enthusiasm we have in the 1960s, we saw this downshift. Statistically, in the United States, it’s 1973 though, we saw aspects of this across advanced economies that measured worker productivity growth output per worker and particularly, the part of that, which is represented by innovation, downshifted, slowed down by half, and stayed there other than really the late 1990s or early 2000s. That productivity growth—and if you look at living standards it’s almost entirely driven over the long term by how productive people are— downshifted, and at first people thought it was a temporary thing; maybe it’s because of the oil crisis, but it never up-shifted again, really, until those years right around the internet boom.

Because that slowed down, to the best that people were forecasting, they assumed very fast productivity growth, very fast economic growth, and it just didn’t happen. The main reason it didn’t happen is we didn’t get the technological progress we expected. And the reasons for that, we’re not entirely sure. There are a lot of great candidates. Everything from we extracted all the gains from the big inventions of the past, like electrifying factories and the internal combustion engine. Maybe it’s just that it got hard as we’ve climbed the tree of innovation that we’ve already got stuff off the low branches. Now we have to climb up so high to make new big discoveries.

I go through a lot of—some people, and this is one of my favourites. By the way, this is not particularly accepted by a lot of economists. I know someone who blames it on the Drug Control Act here in the United States, the early ’70s. So it was tougher to get LSD unless [inaudible] because a lot of those early Silicon Valley guys, they were counterculture people. So maybe the crackdown of that played a role; I don’t know. But there were a lot economic reasons. And that was certainly a part of it.

But I think of what you’re getting at some parts of the economy—the parts of the economy which they were unregulated. They didn’t have obvious environmental impacts. Those did great. They really talked about the information technology revolution. Atoms. We’re dealing not in atoms but in bytes. We’re in cyberspace. That stuff accelerated.

It’s everything else. Everything else that we worried about, was it going to pollute the atmosphere. Was it going to obscure our views if we built something? Anything we had to physically build, that stuff tended to slow down. And a lot of the things I was talking about earlier was stuff we had to build. We have to build high-speed rail everywhere, and we have to build dome cities. It was a futurism of building. And if you have to build in the real world, that stuff didn’t do nearly as well. And again, a problem: we’re still fighting today trying to build anything in the United States, from a highway to a nuclear reactor, not so easy. You want to write an app, that you can do.

SEAN SPEER: I want to discuss some of the different factors that, as you say, came together to contribute to the Great Downshift. Years ago, I listened to your AEI colleague, Charles Murray, speak about the Apollo program. He essentially said that it was shot through with a high-risk tolerance. In fact, if I recall correctly, he even says that the weather conditions were suboptimal the day of Apollo 11’s launch and that today, it would’ve undoubtedly been delayed. It leads to the question: what explains, in your mind, the modern risk aversion that now pervades the worlds of business and government? Why did we retreat into safetyism?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: I think the simple answer—the first answer may not be the entirely correct answer—is that we had more to lose. We became a richer country, and we started focusing a lot more on preserving the status quo and taking big risks. And with the environment, it’s the classic case that generally, when countries become richer, they start caring a lot more about the environment. When you’re super poor and you’re still struggling to industrialize, that’s secondary or tertiary. So I think that’s a huge part of it. But also, we had a culture telling us that risks weren’t worth it, that it wasn’t worth it to go to Mars; that it wasn’t worth it to build nuclear reactors because, sure, you’ll have lots of energy, but those things are going to—eventually, there’s going to be a meltdown. 

So the world was portrayed as far riskier, so that risk-reward ratio altered. And if the economy suddenly is growing slower at the same time, and I mean, I certainly hear this today, when people talk about how slow the economy has been since the global financial crisis, they’re like, “Well, it’s not worth it. All this disruption that will be caused by growth and progress, it’s not going to be worth it. Whether it’s AI or any other new technology, well, it’s just going to cost jobs, and it’s going to raise inequality. And who knows? After they take our jobs, the murder bots may kill us. So what’s in it for us?” People can’t imagine too often what’s the game from all this progress. So that’s might as well be risk-averse because there’s no reason to take a risk.

SEAN SPEER: What would you say to the argument that a key cause is demographic? That is to say, as the baby boomers have aged, they’ve come to preference safety and stability over dynamism and progress?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: I mean, that’s a big concern that as you get a country that is older, that’s not growing a lot from—but that the birth rates are falling, all the more reason to have scrappy immigrants come to your country. Yes. And that is one of those sorts of exogenous macrofactors that we just have to deal with. I mean, there’s some things it’s going to be very hard to change, like the demographic issue other than bringing in people from other countries, which obviously, it’s a very—I think that’s super important, but it’s a difficult policy issue. That is a headwind. So then, if we’re going to have that kind of headwind, then we need to make sure that the tailwinds are fully exploited, that the kinds of things that we have control over. You can’t just necessarily predict and conjure up a fantastic new invention. You can’t do that. There are things you can do to make that more likely, perhaps, but you’re not quite sure when it’s going to pay off. The tree of innovation, where you have to know so much more as a scientist to make that new discovery—that’s just the reality. So when you have those kinds of headwinds blowing, then the stuff you can control, you better make sure you do that right.

SEAN SPEER: That’s a good segue to my next question. What’s the role of public policy in your story? What changed in the era before the Great Downshift relative to what we’ve witnessed in recent decades to explain the slowing of progress?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: I went into this book not wanting to create—especially being a conservative working at centre-right think tank, wanting to portray the usual suspects as villains. But it became very difficult as I went through the book and did my research not to view that environmental shift in the 1960s, where people became a lot more worried about radiation. They became a lot more worried about pesticides at the same time. And then they became worried about technology too because you have a Vietnam War, and the worst fears of people about big government and corporations using high technology to kill people and chemicals seem to be appearing in the Vietnam War. That whole era, and I think environmentalism was a big part of it, really played a role in creating not just a cautious culture but actual, actual regulations and rules that made it super hard to build.

And again, you don’t have to just go back then. Anything proposed in this country of any significance, whether it’s building a road, whether it’s trying to drill a new geothermal well, you can’t get it done very quickly. You can’t get it done very inexpensively. Either it will take so long that they abandon it, or it’ll take so long that the price shoots up. And I think that has pervaded the culture. Why is it very difficult to create with atoms rather than bytes? It’s hard not to see these kinds of rules, which, again, I think it was pretty natural that we focused a lot more on the environment back then. But clearly, there was a wild-over correction that, finally, I think you have people on the left and the right when people who want a green economy realized, “Guess what? We can’t build a transmission line in under 20 years in this country.” And that’s where some of my hope comes from—that people are starting to realize broadly that we overcorrected and we can’t build anything. And that means we can’t build a future.

SEAN SPEER: What do you think explains the political salience of nostalgia, and what must we do to create the conditions for the politics of progress to trump—no pun intended—the politics of nostalgia?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: We have, I think, built into us a lot of things just make us nostalgic. There’s different—in behavioural economics, there’s things called loss aversion, in which we feel losses. You lose five bucks; you feel it more, then suddenly, oh, you find five bucks somehow shoved in a $5 bill under the couch or something. There’s a net loss aversion, risk aversion inherent in us. And I like to point to political ads. Political ads love to show, and America, that used to be—for some people, it’s an America never was. I’ll see ads; they’ll show the Olympics. Just [unintelligible] the Olympics, or they’ll show the Apollo landing. That’s fine. But know, I want those ads to have new stuff in them, which is what I’m trying to do.

I hope what we’re finally seeing, because we just went through a pandemic where we saw what happens. Both, we saw what happens, we saw how hard it’s to prepare for the unexpected. Even though we had a million white papers about pandemics, we still didn’t have enough protective equipment—not enough respirators, not enough stuff. But we saw what happens if you’re a wealthy country that’s technologically advanced: you can solve a problem probably far faster than you ever imagined. And I’m hoping that concerns about the climate suddenly, gee, if we were 90% nuclear energy in this country, we probably wouldn’t be talking about climate change.

We saw that from the pandemic. The power of science and government, and the private sector to solve a problem quickly. I’m hoping those examples will be powerful enough that, at some point, we’ll see a finally breaking out of this paralysis and begin to take more risks as a society. I mean, I don’t think going nuclear is particularly risky. A lot of people do. I’m also seeing a lot more people begin to think, “You know what? There’s some risk, but know what the rewards are going to be worth it.” And I’m hoping that this book is coming out perfectly timed to be at an inflection point both for sales and also for America and the world.

SEAN SPEER: I would just say in parentheses, as Canada pursues the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, you are seeing even progressives making the case that we need to speed up the process to approve new mines because, of course, we won’t be able to put an end to the internal combustion engine if we’re not mining the critical minerals that will support the expansion of electric vehicles. So I think you are right that we’re in a bit of a moment where progress seems to be back on the agenda.

In that vein, James, let me ask you: what are some practical steps that we can take to further that trend? What’s the Pethokoukis plan to revive progress?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Even though the book says a conservative futurist, I really view this as a non-partisan book. Because I think if you believe we have it in our power to make tomorrow for our kids and grandkids significantly better, that they can have more opportunity, they can have a better climate, they can be free of disease. If you think we have it in our power, then I think then we’re all on the same team. So I think if you look at some of my ideas, they’re ones I think which are broadly appealing. Everything from, at least in the United States, doubling how much government spends on research at least back to what we saw during the Apollo era. I often wonder, “What was—okay, we were spending a lot of money on Apollo, and then what did we replace it with? We won that race. Did we start a different race? No, we stopped racing.” So maybe the second Apollo could have been clean energy or something else. We did it. 

So I want to spend a lot of government money on research while also hopefully reforming and making that process a lot more efficient. And in this country, there’s a thing called the National Environmental Policy Act. It’s a big regulatory act, which makes you fill out a lot of forms and it takes a long time to do, and really slows things down. I would get rid of that. I highlight some ways to reform it, but it may just be too far gone. So we need to say goodbye to the 1970s outlook toward regulation.

Again, the conservative part, the economic freedom part. I like trade. I like immigration. One of my favourite quotes from Elon Musk is, “There’s no better place in the world with all—” Apologies to Canada. We’ll say, “Canada to make your dream come true than the United States.” I want that to stay true, and I hope other countries compete hard for that honour because when countries are competing for that honour, they’re doing smart things. Like they’re accepting immigrants. I want there to be a race to get the smartest people to come to our country.

I think colonizing the moon would be a great idea. I mentioned a story in the book when Newt Gingrich down here was running for president back I think 2012, and he said, “We should colonize the moon.” People made fun of him. Mitt Romney made fun of him. That would be actually an awesome idea because, not only would it be highly inspirational, it would begin to move us off planet. We could test all the technologies we’re going to need if we want to move further out in the solar system and begin to do things like mine asteroids. That’s not crazy. A lot of the technology to do that, we already have. So that would be a great proof of concept. It can also be darn inspiring. That’s okay, too.

SEAN SPEER: Hear hear. Let me take up your point about global competition. Is a new Cold War with China, or whatever one calls it, possibly a positive development for progress? Do we need that type of sense of urgency to pull us out of our collective complacency?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: I wish we didn’t. I wish my optimistic vision and me talking about what we could do would be enough. The history of government and society doing big things suggests that often it isn’t enough that we need to feel some sort of pressing crisis, such as the pandemic, to do something. And I’ll tell you, I know in Washington, D.C., using China, say like, “We need to do this or China will do it first.” China’s already doing this. Why aren’t we doing it? That is a very—it may be an easy argument to make, and sometimes it’s a cheap argument to make, but it’s always a very compelling argument to make to people. The example I’d like to point is then last November we had the emergence of these new generative AI models like Chat GPT. And we spent about five minutes thinking about how cool they were before we started worrying about them taking our jobs and so forth. 

But what if, instead of it being open to AI and Microsoft and now Google with Bard and some other, what if these had been all Chinese companies? What if they had not been Western companies? What would our reaction—that would’ve been like a real Sputnik moment for us. There would be a panic throughout the west. What did we do wrong? What’s going to happen? Are they going to get super-intelligent AI first? That’s all we would be talking about, right? You think you’re sick of hearing about Chat GPT and AI now? That’s all we would be talking about. And it would be talking about how we lost that race.

SEAN SPEER: Yeah. Just in parentheses, I observe that competing against China seems to be one of the few things that animates bipartisanship in Washington. So for better for worse, those in favour of progress might as well use it to make some of the changes that you outlined in the book.

In that vein, I want to ask about reforming the ecosystem in and around research and development. There’s a debate occurring in Canada, James, about whether public R&D resources ought to be prioritizing incremental research or big bets. Where do you come down on that question?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Well, I think we need to start at the thing which everyone should agree with, with early stage basic kinds of research. The companies just will not do because it’s going to take too long and there’s not an obvious commercialization aspect. Government needs—I mean, government—there should be no debate about that; we need to do more of that. And the more you move away from that, that’s when it becomes more controversial. For instance, there are companies which are doing this kind of advanced geothermal, where they create their own heat reservoirs in the rock using fracking techniques. And a lot of these companies will get money from the Department of Energy. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think in a world where we had a big carbon tax and that would, I think, incentivize the market to do that. In a world that we don’t have that, this United States. But I don’t mind those kinds of early-stage partnerships between government and the private sector.

Things like moon shots—I think it needs to be a very specific goal. I think there needs to be suppressing urgency in order to keep people focused. Otherwise, I think it ends up being a moon shot for this, a moon shot for that. And then I think you’ll get just another unfocused government program. One final thing on that: China looked like they had figured out. They knew how to identify key technologies. They would pour money into them, and they would leap ahead. That does not seem to be happening. So I think anybody who wants to duplicate those kinds of policies, pick 9, 10, 11 key sectors and then poor resources and think that’s going to work. I wish it were that easy, but it doesn’t seem to be that easy because China’s trying to do it and they’re not doing so well. It’s one thing to catch up. It’s another to push the frontier forward. Still, the free enterprise system with government doing its role still seems to work pretty great.

SEAN SPEER: We had you on the podcast previously, and we talked a bit about fault lines within American conservatism. I want to come back to that subject in the context of your book. It seems to me that many of the things you’ve outlined here and that you discuss in the book would’ve fit comfortably in, say, a Ronald Reagan-led agenda. Why do you think some parts of the American conservative movement are flinching when it comes to economic growth and progress?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: I think one reason is that we’ve had a long period—it didn’t start with the financial crisis, but that’s part of this slow growth. I made it look like business didn’t know what it was doing. You had with Donald Trump an influx—and I think this might end up being the most important reason, though it’s a symptom of the previous one—a lot of new voters who are far more skeptical about markets and disruption from growth because that’s going to be part of it. If you want a strong economy, it’s going to grow, it’s going to be dynamic, and there will be changes in jobs, businesses rise, businesses fall, different parts of the country will accelerate other—that kind of tumult is not very appealing to some people. And there’s a lot more of those kinds of people inside the Republican Party.

And again, when you have slow growth, it really feels to a lot of people like no growth. And if you recall, like in the 1990s, we had very fast growth. There was a rising inequality, but growth was so fast. Which are up growing up so fast, nobody cared. And I think people care far less about these kinds of issues—issues of inequality—about how much the CEO is making. If it is rising all boats, all boats are rising, period. And you’re only going to give that with rapid economic growth. And that’s still the case. Oftentimes, you’ll read this, they’ll say, “Well, there’s a disconnect that workers could become more productive, have great new machines, but it won’t reflect in their pay.” That’s really not the case. If we become more productive, wages will go up. That is the only way for them to go up over the long term. And I addressed that in the book. So you’re right, what I’m describing now that could easily fit into the Republican Party. In fact, I spent a lot of time talking about a conservative futurist named Herman Kahn. And when he passed in 1983, Ronald Reagan made sure that he announced it and said he’s a futurist who was optimistic about the future at a time when there were a lot of futurists who were not.

SEAN SPEER: In light of some of those “small p” political challenges to your agenda, talk a bit about the way the book thinks and talks about political coalitions and building a coalition around breaking out of the great downshift.

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: I think one of the most I think positive thing that’s happened is that you’re seeing these coalitions develop around issues for some of the broader reasons we’ve been talking about. Issues like housing, where now it is not just a bunch of crazy libertarians talking about make it too hard to build housing across the country, particularly some high-productivity regions where people should want to move to and not have any wage gains get gobbled up by housing costs. That issue that’s “not in my backyard” now—yes, in my backyard issue—there are plenty of people on the Left who have realized that that issue hurts—it hurts wages, it hurts quality, it hurts opportunity, it hurts productivity. That is like an everything issue, which now is attracting people on the Left and Right.

Again, nuclear energy being another one where if you want cheap, abundant, clean energy, it’s going to probably have to be nuclear. That’d be great if we—And, of course, the technology’s helping us. We just had this great nuclear fusion energy breakthrough. There’s all kinds of breakthroughs with deep geothermal, which doesn’t get as much publicity, but we seem to have this kind of suite or portfolio of issues which people can be attracted to.

So it’s not just like my kinds of conservatives who are talking about economic growth, and that’s great. When you have the Biden Administration saying, “We need to have a more productive economy,” I love hearing that word productive because that means they’re focusing on how we can have faster economic growth and make workers more productive. Once you begin thinking like that, begin to look at every policy, like, “Does this make us more innovative? Is this going to help accelerate technological progress?” It’s a whole different way of looking at the world, and I hope there’s more people on both sides of the aisle looking at the world from that perspective.

SEAN SPEER: I want to return to a subject we discussed earlier. The book is dedicated to your wife and seven kids. It made me think, “If parenthood turns us into futurists, what will be the consequence that fewer and our societies are having children?”

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Listen, I have seven kids. If people don’t want to have seven kids, that’s fine. They can have no kids, one kid, whatever works for them. But I think people who decide not to have kids because they think they’re sentencing their children to a worse place, that I don’t get because I don’t think that needs to be the case. I think there are things to worry about, but I think we have it within our power to create a better world that you absolutely want kids to be a part of. Because that world’s going to be better. That world’s going to be—they’ll be able to do more cool things. They’ll be able to do whatever they want. 

It’s easy to say, “You and I, we live in very well-run countries” but my goal is that everyone should have the lifestyle of someone who lives in Canada or the United States or France. I think that is a very explicit goal. Yet there are a lot of people—unfortunately, while some environments are changing, a lot of the environmentalists—still think like, “We can’t have that.” That you’re selling people a false bill of goods. Not only they will never get rich, we all must live less. Well, I think that’s a losing message. I think it’s a false message.

So that’s what I’m trying to create a world of abundance and prosperity, not just for my kids here in the greater Washington, D.C., area, but for kids everywhere and their kids everywhere. Both here and perhaps out in space

SEAN SPEER: In addition to being a father, you’re also a Christian. How does your faith influence your futurism? And again, does contemporary secularism represent a challenge to a futuristic orientation in your mind?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Yeah, I’m not a, they call a transhumanist, which are people who want to use technology either to conquer death or upload themselves. I’m fine knowing that I won’t go on forever. But I think we have a responsibility. If you want to go back deep in the Bible, you’ll find out we’re supposedly have dominion over the Earth. Well, I think that with great power comes great responsibility. We have the responsibility, I think, to create and preserve what’s best about humanity, to preserve what’s best about the world while also being creative. To me, fundamentally, being a Christian is about the creative act. That’s just creative act having children, but creating music or new technology and exploring the universe. There’s the saying that like, “The universe is empty; it’s an awful waste of space.” Well, if there’s no aliens out there, I guess we’ll have to go out there and fill it up.

SEAN SPEER: Final question. Paint a picture of the American tricentennial. How will we know if the Pethokoukis plan has won out?

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Well, if no one has air conditioning, then something’s gone very, very wrong. I think that is a world where people are not—listen, there are going to be problems. It’s like you solve one problem, there’s going to be another problem. In fact, that solution might create a problem, but then we go solve that one too. So this is not an utopia. It is not a problem-free world. But I would hope that is a world where things that concern us the most, we’re not concerned about. That we have cures from many chronic diseases that people no longer worry about any sort of the extreme climate scenarios that you couldn’t make a movie about climate disaster because it would be ridiculous to people because we know we’ve solved that problem. That we don’t even have to worry about some rogue asteroids smashing into us or not paying attention. That those big existential risks have been solved. Over the past generation, we’ve raised a billion people out of poverty. Well, I hope we’ve raised multiples of that out of extreme poverty. If we can talk about that, then the tricentennial lot to celebrate.

SEAN SPEER: That’s a powerful vision for the future and just some of the ideas reflected in The Conservative Futurist: How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised. James Pethokoukis, thank you so much for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Sean, thanks for having me on.

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