Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Better living through technology.

Y'all know I'm not a great fan of regulatory agencies in general, particularly at the federal level. Nitpicking and line-drawing issues aside, I think most reasonable people can at least agree that our current system, in which regulatory agencies generate libraries of micromanaging rules for every conceivable industry, creates costs that are undesirable.

That doesn't mean all reasonable people dislike the system, of course, because a goodly chunk of the citizenry believes those costs buy a worthwhile return. In particular, even people who believe in free market capitalism very often have concerns that a fundamental imbalance of information between merchant and consumer can undermine the ability of the market to remove bad products. In theory if Harry's Veeblefetzer Works produces shoddy veeblefetzers, traditional economic theory says Sally can drive him from the market with her superior veeblefetzers. The concern is that a customer in the shop trying to decide between a Harry's Old Time Veeblefetzer and a Sally's Home Style Veeblefetzer may be unable to assess their relative quality, and be taken in by the inferior product. Thus, we need government to step in with a Federal Bureau of Veeblefetzers, Widgets, and Gewgaws to set minimum veeblefetzer quality and safety standards, veeblefetzer labeling requirements, and mandatory pre-market veeblefetzer testing.

I disagree with this, as you'd probably expect, but it can't be glibly dismissed as irrational. While my libertarian attitude is that people can do a bit of research and take their own responsibility for knowing what they're buying, people need lots of things, and not everybody's good at dodging SEO and finding useful product information. There are certainly people for whom researching products would be a pain, and I can understand how a fan of the regulatory system could rationally come to the conclusion that the costs of our hyperregulatory system are worthwhile if they spare those people that pain.

But after all that, here's my point: Will they feel the same way when most people are walking around with a HUD that automatically displays a community consensus of every logo they see?

Technology can be oppressive, but free technology is the best thing there is for freedom. Flying cars are probably not especially useful for normal purposes, but they'd be worth it just to kill the old "I'll bet you drove on an interstate to get to your libertarian rally" fallacy.

[Thanks to Ian Argent for the link.]

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Love and guns

On Valentine's day, I went to a Starbucks in Manhattan. If there were no anti-gun protesters there, it's hard to believe there were any elsewhere.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In for a penny

Once again, a US Congressman wants to talk about making pennies cheaper. His proposal is to make them from copper-plated steel. If we assume the much more sensible option of abolishing the one-cent piece entirely is off the table--as it almost certainly is*--this is a sensible option. Our northern neighbors have been striking their pennies this way since 2000.

Not news. I bring the topic up specifically because of the comical rationale used to sell a bill that doesn't need rationalizing:

[Bill sponsor Steve] Stivers** and co-sponsors of the bill hail from a steel-producing state.

"At a time when too many of our products are being manufactured in other countries, we should at least be able to buy those products with money produced using materials made in America," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, a co-sponsor, said in a statement. Stivers said that much of the copper, zinc and nickel used in coins comes from Canada.

Swarthy Canadians are stealing our jobs! Secure the border! Learn the language, you milk-bagging Cuban-smokers!

[* - It would be easier if Lincoln hadn't landed there. But his adorers want to maintain his place of "honor" on the world's most valueless coin, and our benevolent governors presumably enjoy having a Caesar on a coin, to remind us who to render unto.]
[** - "Fun" fact: the name Stivers derives from a variant of "stuiver," a nickname for several silver and copper coins of northern Europe and colonial states influenced by trade with the Dutch East India Company. This is the kind of thing coin nerds think is hysterical.]