The Conservative Futurist

How to Create the Sci-Fi World We Were Promised


By James Pethokoukis

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Discover the surprising case for how conservatism can help us achieve the epic sci-fi future we were promised.
America was once the world’s dream factory. We turned imagination into reality, from curing polio to landing on the Moon to creating the internet. And we were confident that more wonders lay just over the horizon: clean and infinite energy, a cure for cancer, computers and robots as humanity’s great helpers, and space colonies. (Also, of course, flying cars.) Science fiction, from The Jetsons to Star Trek, would become fact.
But as we moved into the late 20th century, we grew cautious, even cynical, about what the future held and our ability to shape it. Too many of us saw only the threats from rapid change. The year 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Great Downshift in technological progress and economic growth, followed by decades of economic stagnation, downsized dreams, and a popular culture fixated on catastrophe: AI that will take all our jobs if it doesn’t kill us first, nuclear war, climate chaos, plague and the zombie apocalypse. We are now at risk of another half-century of making the same mistakes and pushing a pro-progress future into the realm of impossibility.
But American Enterprise Institute (AEI) economic policy expert and long-time CNBC contributor James Pethokoukis argues that there’s still hope. We can absolutely turn things around—if we the people choose to dream and act. How dare we delay or fail to deliver for ourselves and our children.
With groundbreaking ideas and sharp analysis, Pethokoukis provides a detailed roadmap to a fantastic future filled with incredible progress and prosperity that is both optimistic and realistic. Through an exploration of culture, economics, and history, The Conservative Futurist tells the fascinating story of what went wrong in the past and what we need to do today to finally get it right. Using the latest economic research and policy analysis, as well as insights from top economists, historians, and technologists, Pethokoukis reveals that the failed futuristic visions of the past were totally possible. And they still are. If America is to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, take full advantage of emerging tech from generative AI to CRISPR to reusable rockets, and launch itself into a shining tomorrow, it must again become a fully risk-taking, future-oriented society. It’s time for America to embrace the future confidently, act boldly, and take that giant leap forward.

  • "Nothing is more confusing than the role of tech and innovation in our world. For years I have sought a guidebook to sort the good from the bad, and see how ingenuity can help take us to a better future. The Conservative Futurist is that book. This is a must read for all of us."
    Arthur C. Brooks, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, and #1 New York Times Bestselling Author
  • "It is a splendid paradox: American conservatism aims to conserve an open society that enables perpetual social dynamism. James Pethokoukis has peered over the horizon and discerned a future that works, a future of constant churning that displaces stale hierarchies and dissolves pessimism about society's prospects."
    George F. Will, Columnist, The Washington Post; commentator NBC News and MSNBC, author of The Conservative Sensibility
  • "We live in an era drenched in pessimism, in which populists and nationalists on the left and right are intoxicated with nostalgia for an imagined past. Any corrective would be a balm. But James Pethokoukis' sparkly argument is more than a balm—it is a shot of adrenaline. And a much needed one. Pethokoukis understands the deeper significance of the remarkable and unprecedented period of economic growth of the past two centuries—a short speckle in the long timeline of our species. Progress is not merely about nicer televisions and a greater variety of deodorant. It is not only about longer lifespans, modern medicines, and better nutrition. It is about human flourishing. It is about creating the conditions under which people can aspire, dream, and fulfill their potential. And, ultimately, it is about the survival of our species. Because he gets it, Pethokoukis' book has an urgency and an ambition which will propel readers forward. And it has a confidence not borne of emotional optimism, but rooted firmly in empirical evidence. Why is this book about 'conservative' futurism? Because it seeks to conserve that which is best about our species—that which got us to where we are, and which will mark the stars on our journey forward."
    Michael R. Strain, Economist, The American Enterprise Institute
  • "Thanks to a host of new technological advances, another gale of creative destruction may be ready to roar through the American economy. In The Conservative Futurist, James Pethokoukis offers a timely and needed reminder of the power of free-market, entrepreneurial capitalism, and pro-growth economics to create an abundant tomorrow of vast prosperity—and what happens when Washington gets in the way."
    Lawrence Kudlow, Former Director of the National Economic Council, host of Kudlow on Fox Business Network
  • "James Pethokoukis is an indefatigable champion of techno-optimism. With enormous passion, he weaves together innumerable threads to chronicle fifty years of economic stagnation and to yearn for the transformative future we need."
    Eli Dourado, technology analyst and senior research fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University
  • "Too often mainstream analysis of innovation finds only dystopian futures. James Pethokoukis provides a compelling antidote: an optimistic, but pragmatic, call to reignite our belief in technology's role in building prosperity and resilience."
    Azeem Azhar, Founder, Exponential View
  • "Conservatives today are grumpy. They're nostalgic about visions of a past that didn't actually exist. They detest the present. And they fear the future. It doesn't have to be this way. Indeed, it wasn't that long ago that one could be both a conservative and an optimist about America's future. James Pethokoukis' The Conservative Futurist marks the renaissance of bright-eyed, forward-looking conservatism in a moment defined by angry populism and cranky nostalgia on the right and wet-blanket despair on the left. With verve, a wry sense of humor, and a keen eye for hopeful trends, Pethokoukis demonstrates how we can have the future we were promised without losing sight of the things that matter."
    Jonah Goldberg, Editor in chief & Co-founder of The Dispatch, L.A. Times Columnist
  • "James Pethokoukis' The Conservative Futurist is essential reading on what made America great, how we lost it, and how we might reachieve it once again. Students of history, technology, economics, and the American dream should all read this compelling vision of our possible future."
    Tyler Cowen, economist, George Mason University
  • "James Pethokoukis is one of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable techno-optimists in the U.S. today. If anyone can show the conservative movement how to embrace the future, it's him."
    Noah Smith, economist and publisher of the Noahpinion newsletter
  • "James Pethokoukis has written an extraordinarily important book. He understands that the future is ours to create if we have the courage to dream and then work to make those dreams come alive. I hope every American--conservative, liberal, and moderate--will take his message to heart."
    Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
  • "If you're worried about the human prospect, be cheered and educated and entertained. Pessimistic, 'Wing-Down,' thinking is commonly thought to be so, so cool. But what could be more cool yet more sensible, more fun yet more grown-up than Pethokoukis’ 'Wing-Up' book?"
    Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Professor of Economics at University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World
  • "In his inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan wisely declared, ‘I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.’ James Pethokoukis' new book is a much-needed reminder that we are not inexorably destined for dystopia and that our best days are not necessarily behind us. The future could indeed be very bright."
    Matt K. Lewis, Senior Columnist at The Daily Beast
  • "A bracing tonic against pessimism and malaise, James Pethoukoukis' The Conservative Futurist makes a compelling case for a much better days ahead--if we embrace can-do culture and the policies it supports."
    Virginia Postrel, author of The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World and The Future and Its Enemies
  • "I have read widely and deeply in the progress literature, but Pethokoukis outclasses me in this regard. Every chapter contains fascinating quotes, stories, or ideas I hadn't heard before."
    Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress
  • "We have it within our power to build a future of greater opportunity, greater prosperity, less suffering, and more human freedom. We always have – but what we don’t have enough of right now is the confidence and imagination to make it so. It’s time to build, and this book shares how progress and growth can also solve the very problems they may create."
    Marc Andreessen, co-founder, Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz

On Sale
Oct 3, 2023
Page Count
256 pages
Center Street

James Pethokoukis

About the Author

James Pethokoukis is a policy analyst and the Dewitt Wallace Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he also writes and edits the AEIdeas blog and writes the Faster, Please! newsletter. In addition, he is an official contributor to CNBC television. A graduate of Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism, Pethokoukis is a 2002 Jeopardy! champion. Before joining AEI, he was the Washington columnist for Reuters Breakingviews, the opinion and commentary wing of Thomson Reuters, and the business editor and economics columnist for U.S. News & World Report. Mr. Pethokoukis has written for many publications, including Commentary, Investor’s Business Daily, National Review, the New York Times, USA Today, Washington Examiner, and the Weekly Standard. His numerous broadcast appearances include CNN, Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, The McLaughlin Group, MSNBC, and Nightly Business Report on PBS.

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