The Roots of Progress

How to end stagnation?

Founders, funding, and freedom

When I wrote my post on technological stagnation, the top question I got asked was: So, how do we fix it?

I don’t have the definitive answer, but here’s a starting point. I generally think about the causes of progress on three levels:

Correspondingly, my top three hypotheses for technological stagnation are:

(These are complementary, not mutually exclusive. Incidentally, this is pretty much the same set of factors identified by J. Storrs Hall in Where Is My Flying Car?, which is part of why the book resonated with me so much.)

Inverting these (and changing the order), here are three broad approaches to accelerate progress:

Inspire people to pursue progress

In particular, create a culture that recognizes progress and appreciates it. Some ways to do this:

Enable them with funding

In particular, provide more decentralized, distributed, heterogenous sources for research funding. Some interesting proposals and experiments along these lines:

Unblock them through regulatory reform

Some examples of the problem:

I don’t know how to drive solutions to these problems, but folks at places like the Mercatus Center and the Center for Growth and Opportunity are working on it. (And maybe part of the solution is to create “special economic zones” as charter cities.)

To condense these ideas even further into a pithy formulation, you could call them the three F’s: Progress needs founders, funders, and freedom. By “founders”, I include entrepreneurs who found startups or nonprofits, scientists who found new fields or subfields, and inventors who found new technologies.

These are ways to address stagnation and accelerate progress at a broad level, society-wide. But let me close with a note to anyone in science, engineering or business who has a vision for a specific way to make progress in a particular domain—whether anti-aging, space, energy, or anything else. My message is: Just go for it. Don’t let the funding environment, the regulatory environment, or the culture stop you. Work around barriers or break through them, whatever it takes. The future is counting on you.

Comment on Reddit or debate me on Letter.

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