by Patrick Cox
October 16, 2017

Where’s my flying car? The question has become a meme of disappointment regarding unfulfilled predictions of scientific and technological progress. At least as far back as the 1870s, futurists have been dreaming of vehicles that could be driven and flown.

In fact, we have solutions right now. Safe road-ready vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) craft could be built today. Technology could also solve the air traffic control problems that flying cars would create. The biggest hurdle has been meeting the nearly impossible legal requirements such vehicles are subject to.

To solve that problem, we’ll need a major societal transformation. And we’ll get it.

Whether or not you and I live to see that day depends on another change. I’m talking, of course, about the attitudes about anti-aging biotechnologies.

Granted, it may seem that progress is slow, but dramatic changes are going on behind the scenes. Scientists are making breakthroughs into the processes of aging that are almost unbelievable. At the same time, the institutions that influence public policy are slowly changing. At some point, gradual change will become sudden.

 

Hollywood Reaches a Tipping Point 

Change is happening all around us. Perhaps the best current example is the crisis playing out in Hollywood.

Admittedly, I’m not Hollywood’s best customer. I’m more likely to play first-person-shooter video games than watch TV. I go to only a few movies each year, and usually regret it. But I did do a stint in Hollywood a couple of decades ago, so the industry interests me.

A producer with a string of major hit movies was working on a script about the IRS. He wanted a policy economist involved in the project, and I found myself working on the Paramount lot.

A mere cog in the entertainment machine, I wasn’t invited to parties with Harvey Weinstein. But I did know a lot of insiders… and I heard a lot of stories.

Every business has a gossip network, but Hollywood is unique. A whole industry exists simply to satisfy public demand for details about the private lives of celebrities. Those who work with and around those stars are probably even more interested. And they talk to one another.

That’s why I’m skeptical of claims by the well-connected that they were ignorant of things even low-level studio employees knew about. A more likely explanation is that they rightly feared a lawsuit if they broke the code of silence. At the very least, they faced retaliation by the Hollywood image machine.

A few brave people, like Courtney Love, spoke out about Weinstein, but they suffered professionally for it. Now that Weinstein’s predations are finally exposed, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has expelled him.

It won’t solve Hollywood’s image problems because it doesn’t address concerns about the systematic exploitation of underage actors. Those are the stories that really disturbed me when I was in the “biz.”

The industry’s defenders would like us to believe that these stories were made up by former child actor Corey Feldman. That’s a hard line to sell, though, because director Roman Polanski has admitted to the rape of a 13-year-old and is accused by others. Polanski is still a member of the academy and is defended by recipients of its Oscar awards.

What are we supposed to make of all this?

Clearly, it’s confirmation of Lord Acton’s axiom: power corrupts. People who can deliver or end careers worth hundreds of millions of dollars have a lot of power. Not only can they do things that would get the rest of us thrown in prison, they engender an army of extremely wealthy defenders.

It doesn’t seem to be working anymore. The movie industry is suffering its worst-attended summer movie season in 25 years.

I think we’re seeing a cultural tipping point. The entertainment business has always seen itself as occupying a higher moral sphere. Yes, most of its product is salacious and trivial. Yet, there are times when it produces works of “art” that justify the industry’s enhanced self-image. Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films, more than any other studio, filled that role.

That’s over. Hollywood’s reputation has been seriously and permanently harmed.

 

Creative Destruction Will Win Out

It’s not just the entertainment business that is losing its luster. In the last generation, public confidence in banks, media, big business, Congress, the presidency, religious organizations, and the medical system have fallen significantly. Exceptions are the military, the police, and small business.

The Gallup poll that I just cited didn’t ask about academia and academic science, but these groups are also suffering from self-inflicted wounds. Primary among them is the reproducibility crisis.

What we’re seeing is creative destruction at work. Successful industries and institutions fight desperately to maintain the status quo. Innovation is resisted and demonized.

Eventually, innovation and market forces win out. The old order falls, often quite suddenly, and a new one evolves organically.

We’ll get our flying cars.

 

— What the Collapse of Hollywood Credibility Has To Do with Biotech originally appeared at Mauldin Economics.