Saturday, September 20, 2014

In the end, there can be only one.

Collectivism, regardless of the flavor (communism, socialism, progressivism, wealth redistribution, social justice) ultimately can not work without total government control of resources, how they're produced, when they're produced and who gets how much. They only differ in how they get from our current situation to the one they're all driving at. So if someone tells you they support your individual rights and freedoms, but also support one of the above, they either don't understand what they are saying, or they're lying. That's not a political statement. That's a fact. I'm not presuming to tell you which you should prefer, but you can't have both liberty and collectivism. Eventually, you're going to have to make a choice, or the choice will be made for you.

What is "Community"

Community is a word you hear a lot. It's invoked by politicians and speakers frequently, every day. What does it actually mean though?

Community is a feeling of commonality;  a sense of being a part of a group; a common bond. It could stem from geographic location, common interest, family, group membership, affinity for a particular kind of music, hobby, sport. It can stem from almost anything multiple individuals have in common.

The term "community" can also refer to everyone who shares the feeling of community based on the same thing, i.e. "the skateboarding community". Often it's a combination of many things and each individual can feel a part of numerous communities.

The important thing to keep in mind is that it originates as a feeling. It can be a good feeling. It can be an efficiency as well. One can direct messages at a particular community (target marketing). One can get questions answered more quickly and reliably if one knows which community to access for help.

It's important to note that neither feeling nor the group is a person. Community has no property ownership, no vote, no rights. How could it? You can't speak directly to "community". It's not legally liable for anything, anywhere, ever. The individuals within it may be, but "community" is not.

Community can be enjoyed, employed, reinforced, amplified, but it should never be served. The degree to which you indulge in any community is entirely your business, but you owe "community" nothing. Don't worry. It's not a person. It has no feelings. It wont be upset with you if/when you choose not to engage, and it will still be there if/when you decide to go back.

Fun experiment. Try to be aware whenever you hear someone use the word "community". See how many times it's used in the context of asking or suggesting that you give up some of your time and/or money.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Internet of Wheels

With all the new technologies that have come to market in the last couple of decades, at least one thing has remained a tough nut to crack; transporting physical objects from point a to point b.

Whether it’s people, cargo, mail or dry cleaning, moving it from place to place is often the most expensive part of any project or endeavor.

Now despite the best efforts of some municipalities, lobbying groups and even countries, ride sharing operations like Uber, Lyft and others may be on the verge of breaking down that wall.

One of the reasons logistics is so expensive is the barriers to entry in many markets. In many places you’re supposed to have a special license, permit or very expensive medallion to operate a “taxi” service. Competing with the US Postal service in mail delivery is technically illegal. There are myriad rules and regulations that come along with operating a courier service as well. Some of these barriers are well intentioned, some not so much. None took into account the model presented by these relatively new companies.

The new model would not be possible without the Internet and mobile apps. The company recruits drivers, who provide their own vehicles, determine their own hours (so long as they’re within window the company specifies) and agree to abide by company standards as far as the vehicle, service and rates. The company (Lyft, Uber or other) handles payment processing, dispatch and marketing. It’s a great way for individuals to make some extra cash, or even work full time. Now they’re getting into courier and errand running service as well. Other models simply use apps to connect drivers to riders and let them work out the terms on their own. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) even has its own program called Vanpool. From the website:

“Vanpooling provides an alternative to carpooling and public transportation by offering options on traveling by van. Vanpools are most successful when 6-15 passengers that live and work within a small radius of each other commute together.

Vanpools can be owned by the driver, they can be sponsored by an employer or a third-party program sponsored by a Public agency such as Mountain Metro Rides, VanGo or Way to Go are available.”

This could be a breakthrough in logistics similar to what the Internet was to information. Imagine having several million independent drivers, always at the ready. You could call and have something picked up within a few minutes to be taken wherever you need it to go. If the control freaks can let it evolve, it could lead to much higher efficiencies in the delivery of everything from letters, to pizza to merchandise, lumber, trash/debris hauling; essentially we could see the same type of organic network configuration development that we’ve seen with the Internet and to a lesser extent, the power grid.

Naturally, the folks who have a vested interest in the status quo will continue to block such efforts in the name of public safety and consumer protection. Hopefully, entrepreneurs and public demand will push back hard enough to bowl them over.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The forest and the trees

We are definitely living in interesting times. It can be hard to see that from here though. We’re too close to it. We can’t see the forest. We’re too close to the trees.

Consider the whole Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, et al, explosion is only a few years old. Three D printers are cranking out body parts. There actually is a flying car on the market. The stock markets continue to hit new highs as some companies continue to reach record profit levels.

In average Joe land, things aren’t quite so fantastic. Unemployment (real unemployment) is still quite high, median income is dropping, grocery prices continue to rise as the official government position is that inflation doesn’t exist. Labor participation rates (percentage of people who can work that actually do work) are at historic lows.

What’s going on? Are these the best of times or the worst of times? These are transitional times. The people, by way of their elected government, have made hiring people more expensive, paper work heavy, lawsuit prone and generally less attractive than ever before. At the same time, technology has enabled companies like Google to earn more than most country’s GDP with just a handful of employees. Meanwhile, the people (again through their representative in government) have expanded the safety net, which makes the unemployed less likely to take very low paying jobs.

Where do we go from here? Eventually, there will be enough “gotta have it” new stuff coming to market that people are going to want to do whatever it takes to earn the money to buy it. They’ll also vote in more business friendly representatives to make getting the goodies easier. The economy will soar to new heights and whoever is in charge at the time will be hailed as an economic genius.

Stossel is right, things have been getting better over time if you take the long, or even mid-range view. It’s just more fun and better for ratings to focus on what’s wrong I guess. In fairness, you can’t let what’s wrong hang around too long, so it does deserve some attention. But, I think the only thing that could really do us long term harm is if we were no longer free. We’re still free enough to make mistakes, make adjustments and make new mistakes that in the long run, we get a lot of things right, even if we don’t realize it for a while. When we lose that ability to central control and force, game over.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bright sides and Green Chutes as 2013 comes to a close

 Bright sides and green chutes

For those of us who are free market capitalist types, this may be the "Winter of our discontent" but that means that Spring is just around the corner. There are signs that point to very good things ahead for liberty, vibrant markets and improved quality of life.

The phenomenon of the role out of the Affordable Health Care (Obamacare) is one great example. It's still possible to win elections and even get legislation passed using the tried and true spin machine, back room dealings, double speak and out right deception. But fudging beyond the actual implementation is almost impossible now. Especially when that implementation affects so many people so directly. The rise of the Internet, mobile and social media has made the spread of information and opinion from one coast to the other, almost instantaneous. You may believe you have only impacted 5% of the country, but once the posting, tweeting, sharing and emailing is done, 100% of the country is going to know about it and form and opinion about it. So long as we have freedom of speech and information flow, even the worst of ideas can be corrected in increasingly short order. This bodes well for almost everything and everyone going forward.

The unveiling by Amazon.com of their project to provide 30 minute delivery of products via drone has caused some excitement and some concerns. There are a number of issues that come up around it, but none of them are technological. Most have to do with how to manage a crowded sky or ensure privacy, not with how to make it technologically feasible on a commercial scale. It already is. Technology has gotten to a point where it is now progressing faster than we can develop protocols to accommodate it. This is also a good trend. It increasingly puts control of the product and service mix back in the hands of the producers and end users and takes it out of the hands of gate keepers and regulators. Soon, 3-D printing technology may well make banning individual products totally moot. If you can draw it or imagine it, you can have it.

The rise of alternate currencies like Bitcoin is another hopeful sign. As it turns out, creating and managing currency on a global scale is not something that is over the heads of everyone except the most enlightened of bureaucrats appointed by our wisest elected officials. In fact, Bitcoin is open source. It has no Central Banker, and it works. Will it become used by the common man on a daily basis? I don't know, but it did prove the concept. By borrowing more than they can ever hope to repay, leaving hyper-inflation as their only way out, governments have long counted on the fear of currency collapse to encourage people to "whistle past the graveyard" and perhaps put more of a value on currencies than they would if there were an alternative. If we develop a competitive, private global market of easily exchanged currencies, they can't play that card anymore. Collapse of the government's finances doesn't have to be much more than a temporary inconvenience. We throw the bums out and start over without any total apocalypse taking place.

Maybe the most hopeful sign is the decreasing tendency, especially among young people, to long-term commitment to a political party. Policy makers have lots of grand plans and schemes that they are confident will create a better world, if you'll just tolerate the transition long enough. Most of those plans involve taking money from one group and giving it to another. However, they pretty much completely ignore the aspirations of people who want more than a hand out and more than mere survival. You don't tell an ambitious teen ager in America "You only need a little success." Call it the American Dream, call it human nature, but a good portion of the population will not accept limits on their imagination, dreams and drive. They want to be free to do what they want to do. Even if they don't have well refined notions of the proper role of government or the private sector or informed positions on policy questions, they know what they like. What they like is things that work. What they don't like and don't have to accept is mediocrity. Some will, but they will be pushed aside by those who want more.

It all comes down to freedom. Freedom is what gives us the capacity to try new and different things. Freedom is also what give us the capacity to self-correct and it's much more efficient and a lot less bloody than the alternative. If we can only agree on one thing as Americans, it's that freedom must be preserved above all else, because even if you get all else wrong, freedom will let you fix it. We will right this ship, not because of a political party platform or some new legislation, but because of us; because we still give each other the right to be wrong so long as no party introduces force.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Health Care Comprimise?

At some point, perhaps we'll get to an environment where solutions to health care industry issues can be logically and calmly discussed. One such idea might go something like this:

The 'no consideration of pre-existing conditions' is one quite popular provision of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). There is obviously demand for it. But, can it be provided in a sustainable (profitable) manner? I believe it can, with one condition. Consumers must be able to choose and providers must be able to offer, coverage for conditions a la carte, with prices reflecting the actual cost of treating everyone in the pool with said condition. No mandatory coverage.

Of course, the incentive from the consumer standpoint would be to not buy a particular condition coverage until after you've come down with the condition. This could still work. One condition could be a limited annual sign up window. You'd be responsible for your own expenses for up to the first 9 months or so, if you choose to wait. Also, plans would be based on actual costs, so your monthly premium might be quite high, but you'd only carry coverage for as long as you needed treatment for the condition.

This is very close to a direct purchase situation, except that the monthly price for treatment is based on the average monthly cost of treating everyone with the condition rather than the individual case. Providers could be organized as mutuals or trusts (as an option in addition to for-profit companies) and enabled to invest premium surpluses in order to offset treatment costs. Companies or coops could specialize in a particular condition and provide treatment directly for a flat periodic rate in a competitive marketplace. Of course this would not preclude other ideas/products for the provision of health care from entering or remaining in the market. The point is to expand the realm of possibilities, not restrict it.

Maybe this proposal is a real possibility. Maybe it can't work for some reason I haven't seen. But, if our goal is to actually create a healthy, vibrant, growing, innovating, thriving health care market, things like this will have to be objectively evaluated on their merits, not based on the logo sported by the individual who proposed it.