“For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property.”
With those ten words, the IRS has made it more difficult — if not impossible — for bitcoin and other virtual currencies from gaining widespread, mainstream acceptance as a currency for commercial transactions. Because they are now treated as property, virtual currencies are considered, like stocks, bonds, and other investment property, as capital assets and will be subject to capital gains tax.
But why does this hinder bitcoins use a currency? The answer is fungibility: Bitcoins are no longer completely fungible. (more…)
Well, the rationale is easy enough to explain: Not everyone at Acton agrees with me. Like other nerds who have an interest in the intersection of economics, liberty, and technology, many of us at Acton disagree about the merits of Bitcoin. (I’d offer to place a gentleman’s wager on the future of the crypto-currency, but they’d want to bet using Bitcoin. Either way – whether it increased in value or went defunct – I’d end up the loser.)
Opinions are still divided, but the evidence that Bitcoin is doomed to failure piles up almost every day. Over the 8 month span from October 2010 to June 2011, the market value of Bitcoins skyrocketed 9667-fold from a value of $0.06 to $29. Later, when I wrote my series last April, a single Bitcoin was worth less than $100. Today, it is worth $660, and that’s after falling from a high of $1,100 in November 2013. A currency that can fluctuate from $0.06 to $1,110 in a three-year period is not a currency – it’s a speculative bubble.
When 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. (more…)
“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?
Jerry: “So the market system is the operating system at best, but it’s not the user. That the entrepreneur uses an operating system called the market economy: there’s hardware to it, there’re rails and canals and buildings and factories; there’s software to it, in the sense that there’s operating system software equivalent to DOS or Windows or Linux or whatever, but that thing just lies there dormant until a user sits down at the keyboard and starts changing things, and that user’s the entrepreneur.”
George: “That’s right. And those operating systems themselves in turn were generated by other inventors and entrepreneurs and programmers. Every logical scheme and every machine requires an oracle, as Turing put it. The only thing Turing could say about that oracle, and he italicized it, is that it cannot be a machine. A machine is an orderly system, and all information is disorder; it’s disruption; it’s surprise.” (more…)
A recent report by the United Nations states that out of the world’s seven billion people, six billion have a mobile phone, but only 4.5 billion have a modern toilet. In India, there are almost 900 million cell phone users, but nearly 70 percent of the population doesn’t have access to “proper sanitation.” Jan Eliasson, the UN Deputy Secretary General has called this a “‘silent disaster’ that reflects the extreme poverty and huge inequalities in world today.”
Despite the lack of sanitation, most people are able to afford a mobile phone with a wide range available for [$15] or less and the price of calls reducing from [15c] a minute to [3c] a minute in the last decade.
This report focuses on the negative: the lack of sanitation for those in abject poverty, but it fails to note the extraordinary fact that people living in poverty have access to a device that was, until recently, a luxury item for wealthy Americans. Tim Worstall, a contributor on Forbes.com, addresses this report in a recent article:
It’s possible to be a little cynical about this phones versus thrones number though. Actual flush toilets aren’t in fact the problem. What is the provision of water to flush them and a sewage system to flush them into. Both of which are largely government provided. While mobile phone systems are largely private company provided. Whether you want to call it the lust for profit or the greater efficiency of the private sector, it won’t surprise the more right leaning of us that phones do have a greater market reach than toilets.
Andreas Widmer, president of The Carpenter’s Fund in Switzerland, has spoken a great deal about small businesses, aid, and investing in Africa. In an interview with PovertyCure, he explains causes of poverty: (more…)
In the video below, Ralph Baer, the “father of video games,” explains why he still invents at 90 years old. “What do you expect me to do?” he asks. He likens invention to the work of a painter. Would someone ask why a painter doesn’t retire? It’s what they love to do! Indeed, it is a calling.
Entrepreneurs, as agents of change, encourage the economy to adjust to population increases, resource shifts, and changes in consumer needs and desires. Without entrepreneurs, we would face a static economic world not unlike the stagnant economic swamps that socialism brought about in central Europe.
The same can be said about inventors like Baer as well. Like them or not, video games have been a huge source of wealth creation in our country over the last 40 years. Not only are whole teams of programmers required to create a single game, but modern games even employ actors, composers, writers, artists, and so on. In many ways they are (or at least could be) the culmination of culture up to our present time, and it all started because Baer invented a fun little gadget and managed to market it some 40 years ago.
I remember as a child of the ’80s, we actually had a Magnavox Odyssey 2 growing up. A child today would likely find it bizarre that I could find any enjoyment from such primitive sound, graphics, and interface, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. Yes, looking at it now, I can vividly remember the feel of the controller in my hand, the excitement of a child in wonder at what, at the time, was such amazing technology and a source of fun and competition with my brothers. It may not be impressive to many today, but inventions like this and the people who invent them ought to bring us to awe before the God who created heaven and earth and such fascinating and creative creatures as the human race, capable of wondrous invention after the image of the God who created them so fearfully and wonderfully unique.
In a recent issue of Metropolis Magazine, Thomas de Monchaux tells the story of an amazing lesson about innovation that Americans can learn from Rwandans. This is no surprise, but readers will learn that burdensome government regulations stifle innovation and undermine human flourishing.
De Monchaux recounts the story of Michael Murphy, executive director and co-founder of the Boston-based MASS Design Group, and Alan Ricks, MASS cofounder and COO, attempting to take what they learned from building health care facilitates and hospitals in Rwanda, with minimal building code regulations, and bringing that knowledge to building in the United States. He describes the project in Butaro, Rwanda this way: (more…)
Innovation is an ethical matter through and through, says Chris MacDonald, because ethics is fundamentally concerned with anything that can promote or hinder human wellbeing.
Innovation is generally a good thing, ethically, because it is aimed at allowing us to do new and desirable things. Most typically, that gets expressed in the painfully vague ambition to ‘raise productivity.’ Accelerating our rate of innovation is a worthy policy objective because we want to be more productive as a society, to increase our social ‘wealth’ in the broadest sense. The 20th Century has seen a phenomenal burst of innovation and increases in wellbeing, exemplified not least by the fact that life expectancies in North American have risen by more than half over the last hundred years. The extension and enriching of human lives are good goals, which in turn makes innovation generally a good thing.
Indeed, when looked at that way, innovation isn’t just a ‘good,’ but a downright moral obligation. Yes, lives for (most) people in developed countries are pretty good. But many still don’t have happy and fulfilling lives; many children, even here, still go to bed hungry. Boosting productivity through innovation is a key ingredient for making progress in that regard. And if less developed nations are going to be raised up to even a minimally tolerable standard of living, we need innovations that will help them, and we need innovations that will make us wealthy enough that we can afford to be substantially more generous toward them than we currently are.
The Acton Institute recently partnered with the Christian History Institute to produce the latest issue of Christian History magazine. The issue (which you can download as a free PDF) examines the impact of automation on Europe and America and the varying responses of the church to the problems that developed. Topics examined are mission work, the rise of the Social Gospel, the impact of papal pronouncements, the Methodist phenomenon, Christian capitalists, attempts at communal living and much more.