Pushing Buttons Like the Jetsons
Jeffrey A. Tucker
by Jeffrey A. Tucker: Obama
on Auto-Defrosting Refrigerators
In the classic
and futuristic television series from 1962 to 1963 I admit
that I adore this show and could watch every episode 100 times
people work only a few hours a day, travel at 500 miles per hour
in flying cars that go as fast as 2,500 miles per hour, and the
main job is "pushing buttons."
is their home. Healthcare is a complete free market with extreme
customer care. Technology was the best (but of course it still malfunctions,
same as today). Business is rivalrous, prosperity is everywhere,
and the state largely irrelevant except for the friendly policeman
who shows up only every once in a while to check things out.
The whole scene
which anticipated so much of the technology we have today
but, strangely, not email or texting reflected the ethos
of time: a love of progress and a vision of a future that stayed
on course. Appropriately, it was the first show shown on ABC television
in color instead of black and white. It was neither utopian nor
dystopian. It was the best of life as we know it projected far into
the future. People did not dress in uniforms or obey some dictator
on a monitor in their homes. The people in the show were as fashion
conscious as any American. Their food was not embedded in pill food.
They had the equivalent of fast-food delivery services in their
is a true one. Human nature and the structure of reality itself
doesn't change. Only the gizmos we use change. We can become poorer
or we can become richer. But the fundamental facts of how the world
is built are immutable. Things are scarce but the possibilities
for economic creation are infinite in a world of trade, boundaries,
law, and private innovation.
Why is it so
fun to watch? Because it is a cartoon, because neat gadgets are
everywhere, but mostly it amuses us because everyone seems so strangely
blasé about all the miracles that surround them. They are
living in postmodern houses that seem to be braced on some giant
poll in the sky, and yet they think and act just like the rest of
us who live on the ground. They aren't surprised by anything, no
matter how amazing.
the extraordinary conveniences of life, the essential problems are
the same, the human vices documented since the beginning of the
written human language. The kids have the same trouble as our kids.
"Daughter Judy" is spoiled and pouts too much; "his
boy Elroy" gets into trouble; George tries in vain to solve
all troubles but is mainly concerned about keeping his job; and
"Jane his wife" keeps the home together.
of choice leads to complaints that there isn't enough. "Pushing
buttons" is the main thing everyone complains about. When they
want to get away and relax, they usually choose some enterprise
that offers the experience of a made-up world of the past that seems
to take them back to the Old West (the "Beta Bar Ranch")
but it is only pretend. We have the equivalent with our fantasies
of "returning to nature" by shopping at grocery stores
with philosophies, or believing that by not printing "this
email" we are saving the planet.
In what other
ways is our world like theirs? We too are surrounded by amazing
miracles generated by private enterprise and entrepreneurship. Every
day we wake up to some overnight development that makes our lives
slightly better. The advances have come along so quickly that articles
on technology written just a few years ago now strike us as old-fashioned.
Boy Elroy has
a machine that can conjure up real-time worlds that allow him to
play baseball and tennis with family members. We call that the Wii.
The vacuum cleaners work without pushing them, and, sure enough,
we have those, too. The video phone is the great dream that this
show dreamed up. You had to pay. When you call long distance (does
anyone remember that?) "collect" (does anyone remember
that?), you had to accept or reject the charges. The video phone
was strapped to the ceiling and couldn't be moved, just like telephones
were until the day before yesterday.
a heavy hitter at the Mises Wiki, recently called my Skype app on
my iPhone, something I downloaded the other day just to test it
out, and I answered and, voilà, I'm video talking
to a colleague in Germany. I walked around with my phone. The app
was free. Skype begs me to use the service. The iPhone 4 came with
FaceTime built in, not that the appearance of this miracle created
much chatter at all.
All this stuff
is amazing. It is astounding and beyond belief more outrageously
advanced than anything the makers of The Jetsons could even
imagine. With this tiny box in my hand, I can do a real-time video
chat with anyone on the planet and pay nothing more than my usual
service fee. This means that anyone on the planet can do business
with and be friends with any other person on the globe. The borders,
the limits, the barriers they are all being blasted away.
The pace of
change is mind-boggling. Email has only been mainstream for 15 years
or so, and young people now regard it as a dated form of communication,
used only for the most formal correspondence. Today young people
use instant messaging through social media, but that's only for
now and who knows what next year will bring.
anyone seems to care, and even fewer care about the institutional
force that makes all this possible, which is the market economy.
Instead, we just adjust to the new reality. We even hear of the
grave problem of "miracle fatigue" too much great
stuff, too often. Truly, this new world seems to have arrived without
much fanfare at all. And why? It has something to do with the nature
of the human mind, which does not and will not change so long as
we live in a world of scarcity. We adjust to amazing things and
don't think much about their source or the system that produces
Jetsons' world is our world: explosive technological advances, entrenched
bourgeois culture, a culture of enterprise that is the very font
of the good life. But there is one major difference, and it isn't
the flying car, which we might already have had were it not for
the government promotion of roads and the central plan that manages
transportation. It is this: we also live in the midst of a gigantic
leviathan state that seeks to control every aspect of our life to
its smallest detail.
is still Flintstones, an anachronism that operates as this massive
drag on our lives. With its money manipulations, regulations, taxation,
wars (on people, products, and services), prisons, and injustices,
we similarly look the other way. We try to find the workaround and
keep living like the Jetsons. Oftentimes things don't go right,
and the reason is the anachronism that rules us. And yet, unless
we understand cause and effect in the way that the old liberal tradition
explained it, we can miss the source.
Tucker [send him mail]
is editorial vice president of www.Mises.org.
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