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.]

3 comments:

  1. 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 think much of the 'need' for the government to step in was due to the size of the nation and the lack of an efficient way of communicating problems.

    Now connectivity and automation is rendering that need obsolete. We used to need dozens of people spread over the country to compile information on Veeblefetzers; now a single person with a connected computer can do the same thing.

    The trust issue can be resolved by a simple solution; 3rd party certification company that back their word with a financial stake.

    UL is an example but without the financial stake. It is a trusted brand that people use to determine minimum levels of quality and performance. Now imagine a drug certification company willing to review/approve drugs and back that will billions in an escrow account.
    Think they couldn't do it better and faster then the FDA?

    Companies like Google will eventually displace the .gov; if the people will wake up to see that.

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  2. UL has a financial stake; think about what the U stands for...

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  3. XKCD has a comic about the usefulness of online reviews today.

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