“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
How would you like to drive from New York to Los Angeles with just one stop for gas? It seems incredible and wonderful, but it can happen. In late 2010, the Volkswagen Passat BlueMotion set a new world record for the “longest distance traveled by a standard production passenger car on a single tank of gas.” It travels 1,526.63 miles. It translates to a fuel economy of 75 miles per gallon.
Sweet! Only one thing — this passenger car is for the U.K. You can’t drive this car in the United States. We have a Passat, but it gets nowhere near this excellent mileage. Even stranger, many of the engines in these, which are driven all over Europe, are actually built in the U.S. The trouble is that it can’t jump through the regulatory hoops in the land of the free.
This fact was first brought to my attention by a video blogger who had been driving a van version of this amazing car in the U.K. He came home to ask his Volkswagen dealer about it. The dealer quickly informed him that this model is not allowed on U.S. roads. The Passat in Europe runs on a 54.1-fluid ounce common-rail four-cylinder engine. The standard in the U.S. is a 67.6-fluid ounce engine. For this reason and a few others, the version you can drive here gets 45 miles per gallon.
The blogger was furious as he reported this, and he further explained the absurdity. It seems that the emissions regulations are calculated based on a per gallon basis. The U.K. Passat does not pass because its emissions pollutants are slightly over regulation.
The blogger further pointed out the silliness: The car goes much farther than the American version on a single gallon, resulting in less overall pollutants. But that doesn’t matter, given the manner in which fuel-efficiency happens to be calculated. In the U.S., a car with low emissions could get 1 mile per gallon and pass, but one with slightly higher emissions couldn’t get through, even if it went 100 miles on a gallon.
Infuriating, yes. But because the video was widely circulated, the revisionists started getting to work to debunk the claim. One blogger called Volkswagen. The spokesman made several salient points. A gallon in the U.K. is actually slightly larger than in the U.S., thereby reducing the mileage disparity between the U.K. and U.S. models. Further, these 54.1 engines are actually not that popular in the U.S. market because Americans don’t really care that much about mileage. Finally, mileage is actually calculated differently in the U.K., so the cars aren’t quite comparable in this sense.
Now, that’s all very interesting, and provides an interesting corrective, but it begs the critical question: Can this record-breaking, high-mileage car be sold in the U.S.? It would appear that the claim of the original video blogger stands: It cannot. You might want this car. VW might want to sell it. Europeans love it. But we, as Americans, are not permitted to buy it, and VW is not permitted to sell it. Regardless of the details, these are facts. The VW spokesman was really just talking around the point, as all corporations do when they are confronted with the awfulness of regulations.
The original blogger suggested conspiracy. But then, there is Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to conspiracy what can easily be explained by stupidity. Regulations are inherently stupid because they presume the perpetuation of an existing technology and production model. They can never account for change or improvement.
No matter how you write them, no matter how smart you are, there will come a time when the intended results of all regulations will reverse themselves. They will inhibit, rather than advance, progress. They will degrade, rather than improve, products. They will block, rather than inspire, technological improvement. This is an unavoidable fate, no matter how smart the regulators are.
In a private market, rules and standards adapt to change. This is because private parties get that the point of a rule or standard isn’t the rule or standard but the results. The point is to achieve results. If the exact reverse of the point is observed, the rule is changed over time. In this way, private markets are flexible in ways that government regulations can never be.
Let’s raise a point about another incredible and wonderful thing: the flying car. It appears that the Terrafugia “roadable aircraft” is finally going into production and might be available for purchase sometime next year. It has recently been subjected to vast media attention, and that’s all to the good.
Now, one might suppose that the journalism on this car would focus on what an amazing thing this really is, how it takes us a step toward the Jetsons’ world, how it might make a contribution to unclogging highways and so on.
But no, that’s not what the stories have been about. It seems that the major “work” that has gone into the engineering behind this flying car has nothing to do with making it amazing for you and me. It is all about the endless government regulations that have stood in its way. The bureaucrats, not the consumers, rule the day.
Imagine: It’s hard enough to build a car that complies with regulatory bureaus. It’s hard enough to build an airplane that complies with the mandates of regulatory bureaus. It appears to be darn near impossible to make something that complies with both! It has to pass emissions tests, crash tests, navigation tests, design tests, mileage tests and a million other tests. Then there’s the problem of licenses for the drivers and fliers and the compliance with airport and road regulations. What a nightmare! It seems that the bulk of the energy of the company has been spent on this.
The actual reality of the flying car has been around since the 1930s. It keeps being revived again and again. What’s making it flounder? The problem is that this innovation is neither fish nor fowl from the point of view of government bureaucrats. Therefore, they don’t know what to do with it.
The results are, quite frankly, rather disappointing. The Terrafugia is a small plane with foldable wings so that you can drive it around. That’s it. There will be no levitating out of traffic. There will be no landing in your driveway. You have to drive it like a car to the airport, and then take off, fly, land and drive home again. That’s kind of cool, yet it raises the question: Why not just park your car and hop in your airplane?
You have to have a wild imagination to see the world that would exist were it not for government controls. These controls wreck innovation. They deny us access to seeming utopias. They kill the entrepreneurial spirit and set society back. They thwart progress and forbid us from working toward a future that is better than the past.
We will never know what we are missing so long as we continue to allow government to throw the whole of society into a regulatory thicket. Life is pretty amazing, true, but it could be far more so. Instead, we suffer in ways we don’t know. This is the big, horrible picture.