Category: Technology and Regulation

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” said Charles Dudley Warner. And nowhere is that more true than in the political alliances that form around regulation.

In a 1983 paper, regulatory economist Bruce Yandle coined the catch-phrase “Bootleggers and Baptists” for the observation that regulations are often supported by peculiar alliances who have very different end-goals in mind.

Yandle explains the Bootleggers and Baptists theory of regulation in this video by LearnLiberty.

(Via: Art Carden)

bitcoin-wallBitcoin is dead, long live Bitcoin.

A few weeks ago the IRS killed off any chance that Bitcoin could become a mainstream currency. That’s probably for the best since it clears the way for it to become something much more important: the world’s first completely open financial network.

Timothy B. Lee has a superb article explaining why this could be transformative. Lee highlights one particularly helpful innovation:

One obvious application is international money transfers. Companies like Western Union and Moneygram can charge as much as 8 percent to transfer cash from one country to another, and transfers can take as long as 3 days to complete. In contrast, Bitcoin transactions only take about 30 minutes to clear, and Bitcoin transaction fees could be a lot less than 8 percent.

An “alternative to Western Union” doesn’t sound revolutionary, does it? Now look at this graphic produced by The Daily Mail which shows how much money is being sent by migrants to their families back home.

Last week was one of mixed blessings for those engaged in the U.S. political process. On the positive side, the U.S. Supreme Court – by a 5-4 margin – struck down overall limits on campaign contributions. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction for Brendan Eich, co-founder and chief executive officer of Mozilla, who resigned after the Los Angeles Times disclosed his $1,000 contribution in support of California’s 2012 Proposition 8.

Eich’s unfortunate circumstances bring to mind the many proxy resolutions submitted to a plethora of companies each year by so-called religious shareholders such as As You Sow and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility. These resolutions bleat endlessly of the need for transparency in corporate lobbying, political expenses and donations to the American Legislative Exchange Council and The Heartland Institute. The call for transparency, however, is a ruse – what’s most important is shaming the companies publicly so they’ll give up fighting for their First Amendment rights. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
Thursday, April 3, 2014

american heroIn a fascinating essay in Mosaic, Charles Murray examines the spirit of innovation in America. He asks,

As against pivotal moments in the story of human accomplishment, does today’s America, for instance, look more like Britain blooming at the end of the 18th century or like France fading at the end of the 19th century? If the latter, are there idiosyncratic features of the American situation that can override what seem to be longer-run tendencies?

The author of Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, Murray amassed data from virtually all of human history, across cultures and in vast categories of human endeavor. He believes that there are patterns to innovation, creativity and advancement, and that certain cultural standards support and encourage this, while others degrade it. Murray makes the case that America is floundering, if not fading, when it comes to innovation and invention. (more…)

IKEA-Refugee-Shelter3When looking for solutions to humanity’s problems, conservatives and libertarians tend to prefer turning first to free markets rather than government. The reason for such a preference is often misunderstood, and can be difficult to explain since it appears paradoxical: free markets are often better at serving human needs than governments because free markets make it easier to fail.

As Arnold Kling explains, the best way to deal with failure depends on the institution. An individual needs to fail with a fallback position, a small startup firm needs to fail quickly, and a large, established firm needs to fail gracefully. But government, says Kling, cannot do any of these things well.

Of the many things that governments do poorly, failing is probably the worst. That is why governments rarely produces significant innovations. To produce innovative ideas, products, processes, or services requires testing what works and adjusting what doesn’t until you find the right formula. In a free market, the actions of consumers provide a signal to individuals and firms that they are doing well – or that they are failing.

If a company is failing, they have an incentive to adjust — and are pressured by competitors to adjust quickly — in order to give the customer what they need. They are often faced with a brutal, binary choice: innovate or fail. Government agencies, in contrast, tend to lack such feedback mechanisms and the ability to adjust quickly precisely because they have a low fear of failure. Even if they are unable to innovate and serve the needs of their “customers” they will likely stay in business due to bureaucratic inertia.

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, March 3, 2014

“Most CEOs now spray the word ‘innovation’ as if it were an air freshener,” says Dennis Berman in the Wall Street Journal, “A little spritz can’t hurt.” A prime example, notes Berman, is what Kellogg’s CEO John Bryant described as one of their company’s most important “innovations”: a peanut butter Pop-Tart.

Most of us would probably agree that a new flavor of breakfast pastry isn’t as innovative as, say, the iPhone. But how do we know? What exactly is innovation?

As David Brier explains, innovation is about “seeing and connecting the dots.”

MedicaidMoney_jpg_800x1000_q100If a large Oregon study is any indication, says Jonathan Witt in this week’s Acton Commentary, the Affordable Care Act may drive up frivolous emergency room visits and do little to improve people’s physical or economic health:

In essence, the healthcare industry becomes the enabler in a lucrative game in which patients put off needed lifestyle reform, opting instead for prescription pills, surgeries and conversations about “genetic predispositions.” None of this gets at the root problem, and indeed exacerbates the root problem. People face a moral challenge, to accept responsibility as stewards of their bodies to live a healthy lifestyle. The system, instead of spurring them on to do the responsible thing, all too often invites them to believe they are not responsible and should entrust their genetically hopeless selves into the hands of the medical/pharmaceutical industrial complex.

The full text of his essay can be found here. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.