History textbooks are full of populist complaints about business: the evils of Standard Oil, the horrors of New York tenements, the human body parts in Chicago meatpacking plants. To be honest, I haven’t taken these complaints seriously since high school. In the absence of abundant evidence to the contrary, I say the backstory behind these populist complaints is just neurotic activists searching for dark linings in the silver clouds of business progress. When business offers new energy, new housing, new food, the wise are grateful to see the world improve, not outraged to see a world that falls short of perfection.
Still, I periodically wonder if my nonchalance is unjustified. Populists rub me the wrong way, but how do I know they didn’t have a point? After all, I have near-zero first-hand knowledge of what life was like in the heyday of Standard Oil, New York tenements, or Chicago meat-packing. What would I have thought if I was there?
If we’re talking about the year 1900, I’m afraid we’ll never really know. Yet what I’ve seen with my own eyes during the last fifteen years has done much to cement my out-of-sample confidence.
During this time, I’ve seen the tech industry dramatically improve human life all over the world.