Capitalism Promotes Equality

Highway traffic began to slow outside of Boston as we made our way to the airport. My wife was driving, so I took out my $100 Android phone and opened Google Maps. Google Traffic instantly showed me, in real time, the best route to avoid delays and estimated the number of minutes we’d save by altering our route. Thanks to Google, there was no threat of missing our flight.

It was not too long ago that we relied on traffic reporters in helicopters, and their advice was often useless by the time we heard their updates.

Have you wondered how Google Traffic does it? The answer is crowdsourcing. If you are among the two-thirds of American adults who own a smartphone, and if the GPS locator on your phone is enabled, you are generating real-time traffic information. Google Traffic measures how fast cars are moving compared to normal speeds and generates location-specific reports.

Rich or poor, most of the drivers on the highway that day had access to the same miraculous traffic report and the same opportunity to make better driving decisions. This is just one example of how the marketplace generates equality in consumption.

The cars we drive are another indicator of consumption equality. We were driving an inexpensive Subaru Outback. There are more expensive, comfortable, and bigger cars on the market, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that there are none safer than the Outback.

Would a rich individual, on this same drive to the airport, have any noticeable advantages over me? He or she could hire a driver and use the drive time for something more productive, but even that advantage will dwindle as driverless cars become the norm.

In his Wall Street Journal commentary “The Rise of Consumption Equality,” former hedge fund manage…

4 Options When Government Gets in the Way

We all want to live free, but we have a problem: governments don’t always want us to.

From seemingly mundane rules (like banning raw milk sales) to the truly horrific (like taking your house from you or throwing you in jail), the state is probably going to mess with you at some point in your life. It will throw taxes and fees and fines and rules at you and erect roadblocks and regulations inhibiting your progress — especially if you’re trying to do something new and innovative.

If you play the game long enough, the game ends up playing you. 

What can you do?

You do have options. Grave as the stakes may sometimes be, you must first accept this outlook: it’s all a game. If you treat it that way, you’re more likely to find a way forward rather than simply cowering in fear or trembling with anger.

Here, then, are four options when you’re faced with the game of government interference.

1. Play the Game

This is the strategy you’re probably most familiar with. It’s what we’re all encouraged to do. Whether through voting, lobbying, or holding office, you can try to take on the state while playing by its rules. You can try to change it from the inside. This is a strategy we cannot recommend.

In business, this strategy leads to the phenomenon economists call “regulatory capture.” Many companies become involved in lobbying and political action to prevent hostile regulations. It’s understandable. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on campaign donations and dinners trying to sway politicians and regulators to delay a vote…

An Oscar for Personal Courage

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.


I won’t be joining the social justice warriors in boycotting the 2016 Oscars, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be watching the show, either. Every year when Hollywood’s Academy Awards are presented, I seem to find something else to do that night. The program is always too long and often celebrates movies I didn’t like, while ignoring some of the ones I did. Wherever I am and whatever I’m doing while the show is on, however, my thoughts turn to a friend who won an Oscar more than 30 years ago.

On the night of the 57th Oscars in 1985, Amadeus claimed best picture; F. Murray Abraham won best actor; Sally Field, best actress. Then came the announcement for best supporting actor. To the stage, bearing the widest grin of his life, bounced a man few Americans had heard of, a man who had only ever acted in one motion picture. A physician in his native Cambodia, Dr. Haing S. Ngor witnessed unspeakable cruelty and endured torture before escaping and finding his way to America barely five years earlier. His Oscar-winning performance in The Killing Fields gave him the platform to tell the world about the mass murder that occurred between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia at the hands of the Khmer Rouge communists.

Ngor’s Oscar-winning performance told the world about the mass murder by Cambodia communists. 

When I met Ngor at a conference in Dallas a few months after he won, I was struck by the intensity of his passion. Perhaps no one loves liberty more than one who has been denied it at gunpoint. We became instant friends and stayed in frequent contact.

When he decided t…

Can the Working Writer Be an Artist?

Every four seconds, someone buys a novel by Lee Child, author of the popular Jack Reacher series. That’s 15 books every minute; 900 every hour; 21,600 every day.

University of Cambridge lecturer Andy Martin’s new book, Reacher Said Nothing, follows Child throughout the writing of Make Me, the 20th of Child’s Jack Reacher blockbuster novels, providing Child’s fans and anyone with an interest in the creative process with unprecedented access to the writer at work.

The part of Martin’s book that most interested me was the copy of Child’s schedule for one writing day:

7:45 Up, straight to work
Coffee 3 (mugs)
Camels 3

9:28 Breakfast. Sugar Smacks

9:35 Back to work
Coffee 3
Camels 5

1:29 Lunch
Toast and marmalade and cheese (Swiss)
Coffee 2
New Yorkers 1

1:55 Back to work
Coffee 5
Camels 7

7:01 Dinner
Alpen cereal
Coffee 2
Camels 4

7:35 Evening shift
Coffee 4
Camels 7

10:20 Shut down

Total number of words in the day: 2,173

Total mugs of coffee: 19

Total Camels: 26

I was fascinated not just because of the daunting amount of coffee and tobacco Child takes in every day, but because this rigorous accounting of his writing day reminded me of a similar account given by Anthony Trollope in his <a href="http://smile.amazon.com/Autobiography-Writings-Oxford…

Their Own Rules

                                 It took me a second to realize

I want to be someone who has her fingerprints all over.

I’m going to build an empire; it’s a pretty lofty goal,

a weird attempt at rebellion.

 

I want to be someone who has her fingerprints all over—

         really rude and feverish,

                 a weird attempt at rebellion.

                            (of course, there’s no reason.)

 

Really rude and feverish,

stand at the back and watch.

             of course, there’s no reason

             the ideas inside my own brain were better.

 

stand at the back and watch:

I’m going to build an empire;

                             it’s a pretty lofty goal

the ideas inside my own brain were better

(It took me a second to realize.)

 

This is a found poem. Source material: “Music’s It Girls!: Charlie XCX” by Carissa Rosenberg Tozzi. Seventeen, December 2014/January 2015, pages 88-91.

 

Give the Nazis What They Want

If you called Donald Trump a Nazi, he’d probably take offense, even though his nationalism is socialistic. If you called Bernie Sanders a Nazi, you’d be dismissed out of hand, though his socialism is avowedly nationalistic. But did you know that Adolf Hitler himself took offense when the word was applied to him and his political party?

“He would have considered himself a National Socialist,” writes word nerd Mark Forsyth in The Etymologicon.

Hitler himself took offense when the word “Nazi” was applied to him and his political party.

Sure, but as Steve Horwitz reminds us in “Why the Candidates Keep Giving Us Reasons to Use the ‘F’ Word” (Freeman, winter 2015), “Nazi is short for National Socialist German Workers Party [Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei].” So why would even Hitler be offended by the epithet?

Because “Nazi is, and always has been, an insult,” according to Forsyth.

Hitler’s “opponents realised that you could shorten Nationalsozialistische to Nazi. Why would they do this? Because Nazi was already an (utterly unrelated) term of abuse. It had been for years.”

The standard butt of German jokes at the beginning of the twentieth century were stupid Bavarian peasants. And just as Irish jokes always involve a man called Paddy, so Bavaria…

California’s Plan to Kill the Driverless Car

Instead of seeing driverless cars as a cheaper, safer, and more efficient mechanism to move people and goods, government bureaucrats are salivating at the possibility of inventing new and exciting ways to stifle innovation long before driverless cars even hit the market. As is so often the case, California leads the way.

What does California propose? First, prospective “drivers” will need a special state-issued certificate to operate a driverless car. To get it, they will need to complete a training regimen offered and paid for by the company that produced the car.

California has already mandated that all driverless cars have a driver, thereby missing the point of the new technology entirely. 

And these companies will not even be allowed to sell the product. Driverless cars will only be available for lease in the Golden State. Making matters worse, California has already mandated that all driverless cars have a driver, thereby missing the point of the new technology entirely. Companies producing driverless cars have had to retrofit their vehicles with pedals and steering wheels, neither of which was initially included, for obvious reasons. This situation is oddly reminiscent of early automobiles that came with fake horse heads hanging off their hoods.

As usual, reality has not made even the slightest dent in policy. Report after report, and much real-world experience, shows that driverless cars are much safer than human-driven cars. Former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz observes, “The autonomous car doesn’t drink, doesn’t do drugs, doesn’t text while driving, doesn’t get road rage.” They “don’t want to race other autonomous cars, and they don’t go to sleep.”

Lutz’s optimism has been reinforced by a recent report by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which concludes, “By midcentury, the penetration of AVs [autonomous vehicles] … could ultimately cause vehicle crashes in the…

Do Flyers Have a Basic Human Right to Fly First Class?

Anyone who flies coach probably wishes he or she had more legroom. Going “cattle class” isn’t fun. But for most people, it’s better than not going at all, which for most travelers is the real alternative.

For decades, the Civil Aeronautics Board regulated airfares, bolstering corporate profits. Airlines competed on service rather than price. Business travelers, whose companies paid the bill, enjoyed uncrowded luxury in the air.

It wasn’t as grand for anyone on a budget. You were more likely to drive, especially if you had a family. You flew to get somewhere fast — maybe a funeral, or to head overseas. After all, there’s no autobahn over the Atlantic Ocean.

There is no right to any particular amount of space on an airplane. 

Airline deregulation transformed flying: discount airlines emerged; legacy carriers were forced to compete on price; airports filled with leisure travelers; and flying became possible for even those of modest means. Everyone was happy — except the old business flyers, who now had to deal with the ill-dressed hoi polloi, sporting flip-flops and tank tops, and bringing babies and diaper bags.

The result was also financial murder for the traditional carriers. The industry as a whole has made little net profit since deregulation. Earnings have finally climbed in the era of multiple fees and minimal legroom. It isn’t fun being crammed into a metal tube zooming through the air, but most flyers still seem more interested in price than comfort.

Now FlyersRights.org wants the government to mandate minimum seat width and pitch. (That might mean banning small planes — prop or jet — entirely.) The group’s president, Paul Hudson, argued that safety and health are at stake, with emergency evacuation made more difficult and deep vein thrombosis made more common. Another organization, Travelers United, urged the government to “address” the issue.

Social psychologist Joanie…

Founding Mother and Conscience of the Revolution

Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.


Two centuries before “women’s lib,” in the run-up to America’s Revolutionary War, Mercy Otis Warren was already a liberated woman by the standards of her day. And she did the liberating herself.

In the latter half of the 18th century, Warren was an accomplished poet, playwright, pamphleteer, and historian — though much of what she wrote was anonymous, in part to get a hearing where a woman might not otherwise be listened to. She also risked reprisal from King George III and the British troops with her subversive rhetoric in favor of American liberty and independence.

She was a close friend and confidant to almost all the major figures of the revolution: the Adamses (Samuel as well as John and Abigail), the Washingtons (both George and Martha), Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and Patrick Henry, among others. Many of the plans and activities of the Sons of Liberty and, later, the Committees of Correspondence were hatched in her Massachusetts home.

When the Constitution was debated, she was an outspoken anti-Federalist who insisted on the adoption of a Bill of Rights. 

For decades, she advocated for women’s rights at a time when progress on that front must have seemed glacial at best. When the Constitution was debated, she was an outspoken anti-Federalist who insisted on the adoption of a Bill of Rights. She was the first person, man or woman, to pen a history of the conflict with Britain.

It’s for eminently good reason that Mercy Otis Warren is regarded in history as “the conscience of the revolution.”

Born in 1728 in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, Warren was stewed in the juices of independence from an early age. She was homeschooled by parents who encoura…

Why Government Should Not Regulate the App Economy

In Damon Runyon’s Broadway stories (and in the musical Guys and Dolls), a gambler named Nathan Detroit hosts New York’s oldest established floating crap game, presaging three functions of today’s app revolution. Thinking of the app market in such nontechnological terms shows us what is really happening today and lays bare the absurdity of government attempts to regulate it.

Making the Market

First, Nathan Detroit made the market by bringing gamblers together. The game, like today’s apps, was open to anyone with the right password:

So Nathan Detroit moves his crap game from spot to spot, and citizens wishing to do business with him have to ask where he is every night; and of course almost everybody on Broadway knows this, as Nathan Detroit has guys walking up and down, and around and about, telling the public his address, and giving out the password for the evening. (from the short story Blood Pressure)

Moreover, in Nathan’s game, “the guys bet against each other rather than against the bank, or house.” In economic terms, his crap game functions as a two-sided market, where two sets of agents come together and do business through an intermediary. Today, that intermediary role is played by apps like Airbnb and Lyft, which match people who need a place to stay or a ride with people who can provide them with that service. (Incidentally, a two-sided market provider won the award for the best…