Future

Good News: The Bad News Is Overhyped

Optimism isn't just an attitude-it's an accurate assessment of how well the human race has fared over the past several centuries.

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Alf Eaton/Flickr

Are you worried about the future? It's hard not to be. If you watch the news, you mostly see violence, disasters, danger. Some in my business call it "fear porn" or "pessimism porn." People like the stuff; it makes them feel alive and informed.

Of course, it's our job to tell you about problems. If a plane crashes—or disappears—that's news. The fact that millions of planes arrive safely is a miracle, but it's not news.

So we soak in disasters—and warnings about the next one: bird flu, global warming, potential terrorism. I won Emmys hyping risks but stopped winning them when I wised up and started reporting on the overhyping of risks. My colleagues didn't like that as much.

In England, science journalist Matt Ridley also realized he had focused on the wrong things. That realization led to the more positive outlook in his book The Rational Optimist. Now Ridley gives lectures about why he's an optimist. It's not just an attitude; it's an accurate assessment of how well the human race has fared over the past several hundred years. 

"I discovered that almost everything is getting better, even the things that people thought were getting worse," says Ridley. 

He was taught to think the future was bleak. "The population explosion was unstoppable. Famine was inevitable. Pesticides were going to shorten our lives. The Ice Age was coming back. Acid rain was killing forests … All these things were going to go wrong."

Yet time and again, humanity survived doomsday. Not just survived, we flourish. Population increases, yet famine becomes rarer. More energy is used, yet the environment gets cleaner. Innovation and trade keep improving our lives. 

But the media win by selling pessimism porn. "People are much more interested in hearing about something that's gone wrong," says Ridley. "It sounds wiser to talk about what might go wrong than to talk about what might go right."

Or what already went right. Over the past 40 years, murder dropped by 40 percent, rape by 80 percent, and, outside of war zones, Islamic terrorism claims fewer than 400 lives a year. The last decade saw the fewest lives claimed in war since record keeping began.

One unnecessary death is tragic, but the big picture is good news.

Our brains just aren't very good at keeping track of the good news. Evolution programmed us to pay attention to problems. Good news often happens slowly. The media miss it.

There is, however, one big problem that threatens our future: the political class. Politicians offer us unsustainable debt and incomprehensible regulations. So far the economy has survived that because of what the Mercatus Center's Adam Thierer calls "permission-less innovation."

No one got approval from Washington to do Google searches, create Facebook profiles, or invent apps for Apple. If we did, they probably would never have happened. It's fortunate entrepreneurs keep making things faster than worried, control-freak government can smother them.

Google now informs us about most anything within seconds for free. Today people in the poorest countries have access to more information than the rich used to have. Email is free. So are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Skype.

The new "sharing economy" improves our lives. Companies like Roomorama and Airbnb let us share homes. Uber, Sidecar and Lyft let us share cars. EatWith.com lets us share a home-cooked meal.

Government regulators reflexively move to crush or control every such development, fearing that rooms rented online will be disruptive to neighbors, rides from Lyft too dangerous, and meals found through EatWith unhealthy. There's always some reason to worry—even though these same politicians don't worry too much about the risks of excessive government and its $17 trillion in debt. 

Progress now depends on innovators finding customers faster than sleepy politicians can regulate. Better to beg forgiveness later than ask permission now. By the time bureaucrats wake up, entrepreneurs have lots of happy customers who lobby for the survival of those businesses. 

You might call it "entrepreneurial civil disobedience." It's what it takes to win in today's hyper-regulated America. It's a good thing—and our best hope of having more good things in the future.

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  1. We have nothing to fear but fear itself and Koch Industries being regulated.

    1. KOCHTOPUS!!!!!!

      1. If libertarians didn’t run the media, we would get more stories about how the Kochs murder orphaned transgender baby seals.

        1. And how they wiped out the dinosaurs!

    2. We have nothing to fear but fear itself and Koch Industries being regulated.

      “Here’s your daily dose of Think Progress talking points. Because original thought is just so overrated and just too white.”

      1. How many people do you think actually give half a shit about “too much regulation”? It’s a real concern to a few oil billionaires and practically nobody else. Yet in an article about being optimistic, it is mentioned as being one of the things we should actually fear? Give me a break!

        1. A lot of people are concerned about it, especially business owners, and not even the “few oil billionaires.” You really are a mendacious shitbag, aren’t you?

          1. No they aren’t. You’re just told to care about it. And nobody is really talking about stringent food safety guidelines or wheelchair ramps.

            Your political worldview exists so that Koch Industries can be one of the most polluting entities in the world and not have to stop it or pay for any of it. Period.

            1. Yeah, I’m not concerned about the massive amounts of red tape and regulations that people have to endure just to start a fucking business that employees people. Nope. Shouldn’t worry about any of that stuff. No, I only care about the government not allowing the KOCHTOPUS to pollute the air or water.

              Go fuck yourself, Tony.

              1. I doubt that’s your actual motivation. That’s their motivation, and the fact that you’re repeating slogans whose ultimate meaning is “Kochs get more money” and nothing else isn’t indicative of a sinister motive, just an inability to think about what you believe.

                We can all agree that “too much” red tape is always bad. It’s kind of not something anyone debates.

            2. Re: Tony,

              Your political worldview exists so that Koch Industries can be one of the most polluting entities in the world and not have to stop it or pay for any of it.

              You watch too many press briefings by Harry Reid, Tony. It’s quite comical, really. The Koch brothers are not the only ones in the US that sell coal or oil and do not even come close to the biggest producers of energy. They have plenty of competition out there.

              1. And it’s only good business sense for them to press Congress to let them pollute for free. And if it’s good business sense, obviously it’s good for everybody.

                1. Re: Tony,

                  And it’s only good business sense for them to press Congress to let them pollute for free.

                  Why would they do that? Mining coal does not pollute the air, at least not more than any other mining activity, and I can tell you with no risk of being wrong that mining limestone pollutes the air with particles much more than mining coal. Bringing out oil or gas does not pollute the air, not more than what other industries or everybody else does.

            3. “And nobody is really talking about stringent food safety guidelines or wheelchair ramps.”

              Anybody else reminded of the Family Circus comics? Nobody is talking about it. Everybody loves the ACA.

              Of course, instead of Jeffy’s dotted line all over the hood we have Tony’s dotted line back and forth between ThinkProgress and the President’s ass.

        2. You. Are. An. Idiot.

          1. What have we told you guys about feeding them?

        3. Re: Tony,

          How many people do you think actually give half a shit about “too much regulation”?

          Who the fuck cares?

          It’s a real concern to a few oil billionaires and practically nobody else.

          Probably. And until recently (in cosmic terms), segregation was a concern to a few blacks and nobody else. Ad Popullum arguments are still invalid, Tony. That hasn’t changed.

          Yet in an article about being optimistic, it is mentioned as being one of the things we should actually fear?

          You know, you radiate enough willful ignorance to make people buy sunblock. People may ignore the economic consequences of regulations even though regulations affect them all the time through higher prices and an unnecessarily lower standard of living, only because they don’t know enough economics to relate one with the other. But YOU have NO excuse to ignore the consequences. YOU willfully ignore them, disregard them. You’re not simply a fool, you’re a knave.

          1. I can always count on you to compare the interests of oil billionaires with victims of apartheid.

            I don’t ignore the consequences of regulation. I celebrate them. Food poisonings in my life? Minimal. Buildings falling on my head? Not one yet.

            Knave you say? Just how Old are you? Let’s get this straight. You’re told to care about too much regulation because the business interests that underwrite your bullshit philosophy want to operate more cheaply. Their ability to take in more profit has nothing whatsoever to do with any other person’s concern. Most people think not having buildings falling on them is a good tradeoff for whatever costs are incurred by a builder who’d rather cut corners.

            1. Once upon a time I felt as you do, Tony. I felt that it was the corporations vs us, with us being the government. That if it wasn’t for the government, the corporations would enslave us all. I felt that it was a zero-sum game out there, and every dollar held by the rich represented a dollar taken from the poor. I felt that I deserved some of that wealth because it just wasn’t fair that some people are rich while others are poor. I was a slave to envy and hatred. Yes, I felt as you do.

              Then I learned to think.

              1. No you got sucked into a cult. If you want me to believe you know how to think, less telling, more showing.

                If either of us has a stark zero-sum view of the world it’s you, to whom more government is always the same as less freedom.

                1. If you want me to believe you know how to think, less telling, more showing.

                  I have tried, but you have shown that your are impervious to logic and reason.

                  more government is always the same as less freedom.

                  Government is force. That’s all it is. Nothing more.

                  So more government always means less liberty.

                  Freedom? Well, since you feel that freedom means imposing your emotions on others, I can see why you always want more government.

                2. Re: Tony,

                  If either of us has a stark zero-sum view of the world it’s you [sarcasmic], to whom more government is always the same as less freedom.

                  An interesting retort, from which I gather that you believe the world with more government is one where individuals have more freedom (a perfunctory contradiction) and where there are no zero-sum results whatsoever, even under a re-distributive regime, I presume…

                  1. You gather and presume incorrectly, but just as someone with a zero-sum black/white take on the world would.

                    I don’t even know what “more” or “less” government means. Percentage of GDP? Government can harm freedom or it can increase freedom. It just depends on what it does.

            2. Re: Tony,

              I can always count on you to compare the interests of oil billionaires with victims of apartheid.

              I’m not a Marxist, Tony. The comparisons are perfectly apt, as both billionaires (as you want to call them) and the victims of segregation are people with the same rights.

              I don’t ignore the consequences of regulation. I celebrate them.

              Are you saying you’re instead a sociopath?

              You’re told to care about too much regulation because the business interests that underwrite your bullshit philosophy want to operate more cheaply.

              I haven’t seen a single check from the underwriters, so I will have to say that you’re making shit up.

              Most people think not having buildings falling on them is a good tradeoff for whatever costs are incurred by a builder who’d rather cut corners.

              You assume that the regulators know beforehand what corners could be cut, despite the fact that they’re always latecomers to the game. Always. Your expectation that regulators are cleverer than anybody else on the planet is unrealistic, and only serves to show that you care little for more profound thought, instead preferring the superficial and the dull when it comes to notions, like the utterly superficial notion that builders want their buildings to collapse.

              1. I know they don’t pay you; that’s what makes it all the more pathetic.

                I don’t claim regulators have special wisdom. I just acknowledge the reality that people seeking profit don’t either, and their motivation often clashes with the interest of other humans, who, if they are truly free, are entitled to live in a society where their lives and safety are more protected than an unregulated market would allow.

                1. I don’t claim regulators have special wisdom.

                  Really?

                  lives and safety are more protected than an unregulated market would allow

                  You just contradicted yourself.

                2. Re: Tony,

                  I don’t claim regulators have special wisdom.

                  Yes, you do. It is assumed, otherwise your argument holds no water.

                  I just acknowledge the reality that people seeking profit don’t either

                  Seeking profit would compel you to learn ways of doing things better, to get the attention of your customers and their business, whereas regulators have no such incentives, which is why they ALWAYS defer to industry lobbyists for their standards.

                  and their motivation often clashes with the interest of other humans

                  Maybe. My interests will certainly clash with the interests of those humans that want to steal from me. But profit-seeking is not about stealing; rent-seeking is. Yet you’re not talking about rent-seeking.

                  are entitled to live in a society where their lives and safety are more protected than an unregulated market would allow.

                  You keep referring to the market as if it were a separate entity from people. It isn’t. It is the result of people trading – all people. So if people want to live safely, the market WILL reflect this.

                  1. So if people want to live safely, the market WILL reflect this.

                    You’re delusional and I don’t think I can help you with that.

                3. I know I totally shouldn’t feed you, but people weren’t dying en masse 100 years ago when there weren’t any real enforced building codes and Architects didn’t have to ask permission from the state to practice.

                  You know, cause if I designed a building that collapsed and killed people I would be open to liability lawsuits and possibly criminal negligence.

                  1. I know I totally shouldn’t feed you, but people weren’t dying en masse 100 years ago when there weren’t any real enforced building codes and Architects didn’t have to ask permission from the state to practice.

                    I have had progressives say with a straight face that businesses would kill all their customers (and employees) in their evil quest for profits if not for the government.

                    They really feel it is true.

                  2. I would be open to liability lawsuits and possibly criminal negligence.

                    Which entails less government than regulations how, exactly?

                    You people and your weird claim that courts aren’t part of government.

                    1. Let me break it down for you imbecile:

                      1914 – Court system takes care of torts and or criminal negligence of architects. Anyone with a pencil and paper can be one.

                      2014 – Court system takes care of torts and or criminal negligence of architects. Architects forced to get a Masters Degree, do 2 years of internship, and take a 2 day exam to get licensed. Must maintain certain amount of continuing education to keep license.

                      Which one is the one with more fucking regulations?

                      Of course this also belies the fact that just because you jump through all of the governments hoops it doesn’t make you a good architect who’s buildings won’t collapse or leak or whatever calamity your fevered brain comes up with to justify the extra regulation.

                    2. I hear Haiti has pretty lax building codes, and presumably no less natural talent for architecture.

                    3. I hear Haiti has pretty lax building codes

                      This is such a stupid statement. First of all, you don’t actually know anything about Haiti, you’re just speaking out of your ass.

                      Second of all, the fact that a place is full of shantytowns and slums does not mean there is no government, or that there are no rules. In fact, what it says more often than not, is that there are rules, they are impossible to comply with, and so the people live day to day at the mercy of their rulers.

                      In fact, when it hasn’t been run by autocrats, Haiti has been governed overwhelmingly by socialists. The problem with socialism in a country like Haiti is that they long ago ran out of genuinely rich people to take from, and are left with the poor and the poorer.

                      Haiti, Somalia, Zimbabwe, and every other country that has been run into the ground by socialist government, are not lacking for rules. There are rules governing every aspect of life. Even Somalis get no respite, because the warlords and Islamists who rule various parts of the country now no more let people be free than the communists they replaced.

                    4. They also had a horrific police state where was de fecto and de jure in charge of all aspects of life. Way too much freedom there, I guess.

                      Or is the nationalized Ecuadorian oil disaster another example of non-governmental deregulation?

              2. He wants to murder people that disagree with him. He’s the definition of a sociopath.

                1. “He wants to murder people *who* disagree with him.”

                  1. He was trying to be gender incorporative. Eek. HE. They were.

        4. Well Tony it seems you have never tried, or thought of starting a business.

          1. Why are people who start or own businesses the only people on earth whose interests you think government should concern itself with?

            1. the only people

              Easily 90% of the articles on reason deal with government abuses outside of strictly economic matters.

              That you choose to ignore them reflects your bias, not ours.

            2. As a small business owner, I wish the government would stay the hell out of my shit. As long as I obey the laws, I should never have to interact with ‘the government’. This is exactly opposite of what business owners want ‘government’ to concern itself with.

              1. You don’t know what’s best for you and your business. Submit.

                Submitttttt!!!!1!!11!!

              2. …you didn’t build that.

        5. Clueless doesn’t begin to cover your wilful blindness. Any group of people hanging out will mention overregulation without even blinking an eye — they just don’t call it that. We are all, always, working the system to get around overregulation. It’s become as mundane as breathing.

        6. Tony:

          How many people do you think actually give half a shit about “too much regulation”?

          Apparently, about the same number of people who give half a shit about too much CO2.

        7. Tony, did you file your tax returns? Did you renew your driver’s license? Did you pay for your auto insurance and health insurance? Do you pay your bills to your local monopoly utilities for water, electricity, gas, and trash services?

          These things, and their regulation *ought* to concenrn you, because they affect you personally. And many more regulations affect you, your pocketbook, and your quality of life in indirect ways, as they greatly affect the price and quality of goods and services that are available to you and your family.

          If you aren’t concerned, that’s your business, but don’t pretend that regulations only affect a few oil billionaires and no one else. We are all affected by regulations, without exception. You have no idea how better things could be if we weren’t over-regulated, how many more options and improvements would be available to you.

    3. Tony, seriously. Sometimes you make a decent argument, but sometimes you’re just a hack.

  2. He was taught to think the future was bleak. “The population explosion was unstoppable. Famine was inevitable. Pesticides were going to shorten our lives. The Ice Age was coming back. Acid rain was killing forests … All these things were going to go wrong.”

    Well, he was taught. And he gleefully obliged to learn instead of showing some healthy skepticism at the attempt to scare the wits out of him with the series of hobgoblins the State invents to keep the population perpetually scared and longing for a savior.

    I grant him no benefit of the doubt. He should have known better.

  3. Did I mention I fucking hate Stossel and his stupid fucking mustache. Optimism!? Optimism!? I’ve got your optimism right here. Fuck you Stossel, fuck you H&Runners;, but most of all fuck you Tony.

    Oh, I feel better already.

    1. but most of all fuck you Tony.

      This cannot be said enough

  4. No one got approval from Washington to do Google searches, create Facebook profiles, or invent apps for Apple.

    Indeed, the computer revolution of the late 70s which lead to the great economic expansion of the 80s and the 90s was only possible because computers were not regulated or targeted by the US government. That revolution saved the US from total economic collapse and paved the way to exiting new industries that spread their value to other areas to make them much more productive. All because government did not know how to regulate it.

    Instead, most other industries in the US remain stagnant or growing very slowly. Most of these industries have moved away from the US altogether, precisely because of regulation, permits and licenses.

    As our resident Proggie mentioned above, he revels in the destruction that regulations bring. He prefers to obfuscate and believe that regulations affect billionaires and their profits much more than anybody else, without regard for the fact that regulations affect production and logistics, which in turn affect everybody else, including him.

    1. But, but, but none of that would have happened if the government hadn’t invented the transistor and the internet! You didn’t build that!

    2. The little old lady running the checkstand at my deli was bitching about how regulations are fucking small businesses here in NYC. It occurred to me to tell her that she’s just a billionaire tool of the Kochtopus, but I kept my mouth shut. A month later they were out of business anyway.

      1. Well without those regulations she would have deliberately poisoned all of her customers! Don’t you know anything? Without government, businesses kill people! That’s how they profit! We need government to protect us from murderous businesses!

        1. Wait, murderous businesses?? That’s why the SC said they’re people?? I’m so confused…

      2. One less capitalist leech on the collective body of the People! /derp

    3. I do really enjoy the overt defense of regulations, as if they only affect large corporations. In reality, they only hurt the poor and middle class price-wise through cost of living increases and those who are entrepreneurs, especially start-ups.

      A supposed champion of he poor who really believes that only the elite, the vanguard, should have access to anything.

      Can we just say he’s barking up the Marx tree?

      Or even better: Marxists/”Progressives” don’t have any cogent philosophy, only antagonism.

  5. Good news? Progress? How can we believe that when we can be sure that the U.S. Federal government is going to go bankrupt within my lifetime (I’m 28)?

    Then I think, you know what, the eventual collapse of American governments will probably be part of the good news and progress

    1. Considering that something like 20% of the market is considered “shadow economy” right now, I think we’ll be fine 🙂

      We’ll just need to train the townspeople with pikes and halberds to fight the nobility’s cavalry. Oh, oops. Sorry, went back to the 1340s for a second there. Oh no, wait. Our current rulers are fans of feudalism.

    2. Considering that something like 20% of the market is considered “shadow economy” right now, I think we’ll be fine 🙂

      We’ll just need to train the townspeople with pikes and halberds to fight the nobility’s cavalry. Oh, oops. Sorry, went back to the 1340s for a second there. Oh no, wait. Our current rulers are fans of feudalism.

  6. Tony, answer me this. Seriously. Do we need to regulate hair braiders? If not, then why do we?

    If not, then do you think it’s possible there are other regulations that inhibit people from doing mutually beneficial things to/with each other?

    You know, they used to regulate butt sex. Was this a good idea? Oh, that was the nasty socons? You can’t have it both ways dude.

    1. We should regulate when there is a good reason to do so. Included is in the case of market failures (monopolies, insufficient availability of information, to mitigate externalities); to protect health and safety; and for whatever other reason the people decide they want as expressed via the democratic legislative process.

      Libertarians are no good in figuring these questions out because they don’t believe markets fail and are dogmatically antigovernment. These attitudes are distinctly unhelpful when it comes to, well, any discussion about markets or government.

      1. You didn’t answer a very specific question.

        And yes, I’ll admit we’re anti-gov, maybe to a fault, but we can say the you’re pro-gov to a worse fault.

        If you can’t even pose the question of whether we have too many regulations now or that some/many are counterproductive, then having a discussion with you is unhelpful as well.

        I’m trying to be open minded with you, but you make it really difficult.

        Also, there has never been a monopoly in the United States, ever. Except for gov.

        1. Of course some regulations can be counterproductive. I am not dogmatic about things so I’d have to judge each one individually. Monopolies (or near-monopolies) in the US other than public ones: Standard Oil, US Steel, railroads, Microsoft, Monsanto, my cable company.

          1. Microsoft was not a monopoly.

            Your cable company is even less a monopoly. To the extent that they exert control over a given geographic area it is because the government has deemed that they shouldn’t have competition in that area.

          2. If those are your examples of monopolies, you are not illustrating why a monopoly is bad.

            The price of oil went up after Standard Oil was broken up; government-enforced “competition” did little to help the consumer.

            The government’s astute guidance of the US steel industry led to bankruptcies and offshoring.

            Railroads, cable companies, and AT&T (not in your list, but a classic example) are all government-granted monopolies, so that begs the question about “regulation”.

            Microsoft and Monsanto are not, nor were they ever, nor are they ever likely to be, monopolies. There has been and remains lots of choice in the tech and ag sectors.

            1. Monsanto is monstrously bad even if you don’t count it as a monopoly, and owning practically all seeds counts in my book.

              1. Monsanto doesn’t own all the seeds. They only own the rights to the seeds that they develop. If Monsanto owned all the seeds, where do you think we get organic food from? All of the traditional stock is still available, it is just less productive, so farmers choose (this is the important part here, choice) to use Monsanto’s seeds.

                1. Success must be punished.

              2. Monsanto is monstrously bad

                Yes, feeding more people with less land at a cheaper price is absolutely monstrous. Don’t like Monsanto? Don’t buy cheap food. As a rich person in a rich country, you have that luxury. Exercise it.

                If you think starving billions is a superior solution, then it is you who are monstrous.

          3. So the purpose of government is to break up and prevent monopolies? Then why are almost all of my utilities (electric, water, natural gas, sewer, trash) monopolies that have been granted by government?

        2. “We should regulate when there is a good reason to do so. Included is in the case of market failures (monopolies, insufficient availability of information, to mitigate externalities); to protect health and safety; and for whatever other reason the people decide they want as expressed via the democratic legislative process.”

          This is the basic libertarian position, isn’t it? Have enough for legal protection and safety, but don’t criminalize behavior or reasonably unharmful actions like having a duck pond.

          Anyway, yeah, the argument tactic tends to move from an extreme position derived from some moderate considerations.

          Which, yeah, we freedom-eaters tend to distrust the government by default, even when there are some institution that are helpful and benign.

      2. Also, who gets to determine when this good reason is? Some all-seeing, omnipotent being?

        No, people. Can they be bought or corrupted? Yes.

        Can you just admit or realize that this might, sometimes, possibly, cause a problem?

        1. Who gets to determine when there’s a good reason for not having a regulation? Let’s just ask the owners of the industries that would be regulated? That’s the alternative and pretty much what we have now. I prefer democracy.

          1. I prefer democracy.

            Democracy: The false notion that the ignorance of many is superior to the knowledge of a few.

            Also, apparently, we don’t live in a democracy. What are you conditions for a democratic state?

            1. Actually research into the wisdom of crowds is only a happy boon to arguments for democracy, which doesn’t rest on that idea so much as on the idea that it’s unjust to force government on people they don’t have any say in. My only condition is that people are free to vote for the composition of their government, usually meaning people who represent them in some responsive way. What form of oligarchy are you endorsing exactly?

              1. I sure hope you enjoy it when “democracy” turns around and bites you on your big gay ass.

              2. I don’t think you understand his point. The statement

                Let’s just ask the owners of the industries that would be regulated? That’s the alternative and pretty much what we have now. I prefer democracy.

                seems blatantly self-contradictory and lacking in self-awareness.

              3. research into the wisdom of crowds is only a happy boon to arguments for democracy

                What the fuck is “research into the wisdom of crowds”? What are the rigors of that discipline, and where can I read its findings? And don’t tell me to fucking Google it you lazy shit, put a goddamn link to something for once.

                it’s unjust to force government on people they don’t have any say in

                It’s unjust to force government on people, full stop. Fifty-one wolves voting on the lives of forty-nine sheep is not magically acceptable because the wolves have a majority. And what is it about the imaginary lines on the globe we call borders that makes them acceptable boundaries for the aggregation of people’s votes?

                My only condition is that people are free to vote for the composition of their government

                So do we or do we not live in a democracy under this definition, dumbass?

                If we don’t, then you need to identify what would constitute a democracy.

                If we do, then you need to identify what it is about our democracy that is producing such suboptimal outcomes in your mind.

          2. A lot of the more onerous current regulations stem from lobbies, industries, or government busybodies – i.e., unelected officials or bureaucrats – just like you said (and yes, government and lobbies are industries too).

            This is pretty neutral until it goes beyond reason (hey! the name of the magazine!) one way or the other.

            What if democratic elections call for deregulation?

            1. Drink.

              1. Dang right!

                Oh snap.

                The new regulations say one can only drink from 6-8 PM on Wednesdays, and I work at the alcohol-free, tobacco-free, music-free, water-free Collective National Humor Progress Farm of the United Prosperous People that night.

      3. We should regulate when there is a good reason to do so

        The road to hell is paved with…

        Included is in the case of market failures (monopolies, insufficient availability of information, to mitigate externalities)

        1. The government is itself a monopoly, in our time the largest and most powerful monopoly of all.

        2. The information problem is exacerbated, not solved, by centralization.

        3. Regulations cannot eliminate externalities, they can only shift the cost of them.

        to protect health and safety

        If people value their health and safety so much, then why are they putting themselves in unsafe situations?

        for whatever other reason the people decide they want as expressed via the democratic legislative process

        Your special pleading for democracy grows tiresome. If the people really wanted it, they would not need to pass a law about it, it would already be happening.

        The laws of man have no magical power.

        1. 1. Yes government has a monopoly on force and creates various monopolies. I didn’t say monopoly was inherently bad, but there is a theory that it’s bad in the private sector because it eliminates competition, the prime element of the market mechanism you guys claim makes the world so great.

          2. I don’t understand this and you’d have to explain. Would people be more or less aware of the contents of their food if labeling weren’t required, do you suppose?

          3. Why can’t you regulate away some externalities? You can tell a factory to stop dumping toxic sludge in the local drinking water or shut down. Not that shifting the cost to the perpetrators is a bad thing either.

          why are they putting themselves in unsafe situations?

          Life is unsafe. The goal is to make it a little less so. Speaking of the information problem, how do you know the building you’re in is safe? Or the food you’re eating? Are we supposed to inspect everything all the time in lieu of simple regulatory standards?

          The laws of man have no magical power.

          No just the power of enforcement.

          1. there is a theory that it’s bad in the private sector because it eliminates competition

            If it’s bad for one actor to dominate one sector of the economy, how can it possibly be good for one actor to dominate every sector of the economy (and all other aspects of peoples’ lives)?

            the prime element of the market mechanism you guys claim makes the world so great

            The prime element of free markets is choice. It doesn’t inherently make the world great; how people exercise their freedom matters. What we see in practice however is that people tend to make choices that benefit not only themselves but others as well. In the long run, this results in net increases in wealth. When you impose constraints on the choices people can make, their abilities to interact with each other are diminished. Past a certain point, you start destroying more wealth than can be created.

            More to follow…

            1. Your thesis lacks evidence, massively, and that means it’s not worth the cost of potentially not making the world better.

              1. Of course your thesis has been tried and tried again and always fails.

                Must not have the right people in charge. Right comrade?

              2. If people are so flawed that they cannot make the right choices without being forced, then the world cannot be made better, because the people in charge will be drawn from that very same population.

                I might consent to absolute rule by angels, but all we have are men.

                1. You are self-ruled; that’s what democracy means. Sure it’s extremely flawed and in some ways an illusion, but it’s better than alternatives. Anarchy isn’t good for making choices. It does reduce the number of them we have to worry about, though, so that’s something.

                  1. You are self-ruled; that’s what democracy means.

                    No, democracy means I am ruled by the will of a majority of others. Even if I agree with their will in some ways, I am not in control of it and the agreement is not universal.

                    Sure it’s extremely flawed and in some ways an illusion, but it’s better than alternatives.

                    Two different democratic states can reach drastically different conclusions about law and society. Who gets to say which of them is right? How is the will of distinct groups of people represented in ever-larger aggregates where their interests must compete against the interests of other groups?

                    Democracy is just a slogan, it doesn’t even begin to describe a system of government. It is at most a roughly defined category into which we lump various governments. Obviously, there are rules above and beyond “democracy”, so what should those rules be and who gets to make them?

                    Anarchy isn’t good for making choices. It does reduce the number of them we have to worry about, though, so that’s something.

                    What is the practical difference to your life between rule by a mob versus a government? You must submit either way, and your opinion is statistically meaningless in both cases.

                    I’m not advocating “anarchy” but your blind faith in “democracy” is not sufficient justification for it.

              3. The problem with command economies in the past has been that people who are in the control of the economy were typically tailored for those jobs – they never/couldn’t have worked in fields, factories, or owned businesses.

                Since it was all based on theory, their economic ideas were limited. In fact, a lot of command economics failed because the theories never accounted for externalities. This led to bankrupt governments, low quality goods, food shortages and starvation, and serious rationing of utilities.

                1. The problem with command economies in the past has been that people who are in the control of the economy were typically tailored for those jobs – they never/couldn’t have worked in fields, factories, or owned businesses.

                  That is always going to be the case.

                  1. Taking over businesses drives away the people who run them, leaving only “true believers” behind.

                  2. Smart people are not inclined to take the job, knowing the impossibility of doing it well.

                  3. Like any such position, it is subject to political pressure. Innovation will be punished and corruption will be rewarded.

                  4. If the economy is also communist, then it will suffer from a lack of talented people overall, since the only incentive is the lash.

                  Ultimately, to be effective at all, the centrally planned system will have to approximate a decentralized one, with the right incentives and a lot of delegation.

                  Thus begging the question.

          2. I don’t understand this and you’d have to explain

            Think of this in terms of local (small scale) versus global (large scale) economic outcomes. In a decentralized economy, participants only need to have enough information to optimize their own outcomes. In a centralized economy, central planners need to have all the information because they must optimize everyone’s outcomes.

            It should be fairly obvious that it’s not possible for consistently suboptimal outcomes at the local level to converge to a global optimum.

            As the population grows and technology advances, the amount of information that must be processed and the number of situations that must be optimized grows. Even the smartest men who have ever lived are not up to the task of managing the economy of a large nation, never mind the entire world.

            Now, there is a wrinkle in all this, which is that outcomes are never consistently optimal across the entire economy. There are always some suboptimal outcomes. So the question becomes about how to maximize outcomes while minimizing harm. The only definitive conclusion from this reasoning that can be made is central control is not part of that solution.

          3. Why can’t you regulate away some externalities?

            There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (TANSTAAFL).

            It’s not just a stupid slogan, it’s an empirical reality. Everything you do has a cost. When you tell somebody to stop polluting, he either has to stop producing altogether or else find something to do about the pollution.

            If he stops producing, then the people who were consuming his goods/services will no longer have the benefit of them. This is a cost to them, and it can be quite significant depending on the nature of the good/service no longer being produced.

            There are many ways to mitigate the effects of pollution, depending on the type of it, but all of them impose costs. Even one-time “easy” fixes have initial capital costs. Even if the producer takes it from his “profit” (provided he has any to begin with), that still has a cost (called opportunity cost).

            There are two important fallacies at play here: broken windows and aggregate demand. Essentially, not all transactions create wealth. Just because money is being spent doesn’t mean it’s being put to work on positive things.

            Now, eliminating something like pollution may be worth the cost, but that is entirely relative. Moreover, per our information problem above, central planners are really poor at judging the relative value of those costs in a globally optimal way.

          4. Life is unsafe. The goal is to make it a little less so.

            If life was meant to be safe, then nature would have given us everything from the start to live safely.

            Now, before your brain goes racing to conclusions, let me finish.

            When human beings take action to make life safer, they must exert some energy and show some intelligence above the common animals.

            This is in fact the essence of wealth: providing for ourselves in ways that nature did not. Wealth is what buys us the leisure time to spend not worried about the necessities of survival.

            Rules do not create wealth. And moreover, the rules of man are always inferior to the rules of nature, because the latter are truly immutable and inviolable while the former change often and can only be crudely enforced.

            It is not the existence of the rule that makes you feel safe, it is the belief that the rule was complied with. Compliance is a matter of incentives, and while the threat of violence is the most powerful incentive human beings can impose upon each other, it is not without its limits.

            People were making rules before the modern concept of the nation and the law. That is not to say I’m going White Indian and advocating gamboling, but these institutions we create can be no more than useful fictions.

            1. Are we supposed to inspect everything all the time in lieu of simple regulatory standards?

              There are ways of accomplishing these ends without the heavy hand of government force. This is the nuance of libertarianism: that a lack of rules from on high does not lead to utter chaos. People fill in the blanks and tend to do smart and sensible things when left to their own devices.

              The problem is that one person’s “smart and sensible” choice might harm another person, and that’s where libertarians start tolerating the imposition of rules backed by violence.

              But the people who make the rules and the people who enforce the rules are drawn from the very same pool pool of people as those inclined to violate them.

              Recognizing this fallibility means recognizing that there are limits to what this useful fiction we call government can do, and moreover that it can become nothing more than an amplifier for the abuse of some at the hands of others.

              If you can accept these premises, then we can have a discussion about what is and is not reasonable for the government to do. Until that time, we’re arguing about theorems without agreeing to any axioms, a foolish and ultimately pointless exercise.

              1. Not meant as a reply to myself.

          5. Tony:

            2. I don’t understand this and you’d have to explain. Would people be more or less aware of the contents of their food if labeling weren’t required, do you suppose?

            You could read about the economic calculation problem if you want to.

            To answer your question: it would depend on whether or not they chose to buy and eat unlabeled food. Not requiring people to label food contents != requiring people to eat unlabeled food.

      4. Libertarians are no good in figuring these questions out because they don’t believe markets fail and are dogmatically antigovernment. These attitudes are distinctly unhelpful when it comes to, well, any discussion about markets or government.

        Anti-libertarians of one stripe or another have had solid control of government since the 1930s, and had significant influence prior to then.

        And the history of their governance shows that their ideas about government can’t solve problems. Everything they do either fails to solve the issue it was created to address, or else creates such horrendous side effects along the way that the original “problem” looks good by comparison.

        Time and time again, libertarians and their fellow travelers have been proven right in their predictions about unintended consequences. Yet still we are derided by you as “unhelpful” for failing to redefine your dismal failures into successes simply because of your grand intentions.

        The day you admit the failures of progressive governance and the limitations of government in solving problems is the day we can begin to discuss compromise.

        1. People’s well-being by many measures has been increasing that entire time, and it was not despite the existence of increasingly sophisticated government but largely because of it. What was so special about the 20th century that vast leaps in innovation and consequent well-being occurred? Can’t be because of the advent of limited government, just as you are saying.

          1. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

          2. Limited government is only an invention insofar as the limits are explicit and not natural. Every government is limited by the laws of nature.

            During the same time that many nations prospered, many other nations did not. Communist China and the Soviet Union, for example, had very large and practically unlimited governments. Yet the people who lived under those regimes suffered poverty and death for decades.

            The size of government alone is not a sufficient explanatory factor for all outcomes, but what is undeniable is that as the power of government tends toward its upper limit, so the lives of the people tend toward poverty and misery.

            What we have precious little to compare with are examples of fairly limited (which is not the same thing as collapsed/failed) national governments over that same time period. However, sub-national trends frequently show that areas with laxer rules tended to be better off than areas with stricter rules.

            Correlation is not enough to establish causation. A commonly cited example is Detroit, where supposedly the “neoliberal” policies of the city (and state) government in the latter half of the 20th Century were to blame for the city’s dismal situation. Yet when you look closely, what you really see is that the industry came to Detroit before the rules, and began dying off long before any of them were relaxed.

            1. Yeah, Detroit is the ultimate example of disingenuous leftist talking points.

              Obviously, the free market and low prices killed the place. Not any of the proposed rules that Progs want to impose on the nation. Nope. Not at all.

          3. Tony,

            I think that a good empirical example would be to compare West Germany versus East Germany in 1989. WG was basically in the 1990s as far as technology, food, environmental cleanliness, air quality – all that good stuff. People could breathe city air and drink the water and not die. Their cars wouldn’t collapse or blow up on them. They could go to France by choice.

            East Germany, on the other hand…was stuck in the 1950s. The Trabant was a death trap, all the people were surveilled, the press controlled, constant food and utility shortages, the air pollution caused an inordinate amount of sicknesses, and 30% of the water was toxic. Even their clothes were substandard. Oh, and the EG troops had guns pointed on them to make sure they didn’t leave.

            Or, you can just look at South Korea and North Korea today.

            Now, West Germany and South Korea do have regulations and protection, but their markets are fairly free (especially South Korea’s), especially when compared to outright command economies.

            1. Oh, and it cost Germany billions of dollars to update things like electrical wires, streets, hospitals, medical equipment, sewers, and on and on.

            2. The funny thing is that you could just look at South Korea over its own (post-war) history. Especially since lefties love to throw out North Korea as an example for one reason or another.

              South Korea has only recently become an economic powerhouse, and for many decades trailed well behind Japan despite being otherwise similarly situated.

              The existence of rules is not what made SK what it is today; it had lots of rules under the various socialist-military governments. For lack of a better word, they have the “right” rules now, insofar as the weight of the rules upon industry is low enough that it can prosper.

              The trend is pretty clear over time and space: the less you try to control people, the more able they are to improve themselves.

              1. Here’s the thing. Anarchy is so ridiculous a notion that it’s not taken seriously by anyone, and anarchists have always been rightly held in suspicion, because it’s just a very bad idea. I know that’s not what you think you’re advocating. But you don’t get to hold up South Korea (or China, as inexplicably happens here) or any other advanced mixed economy as vindication of your radical antigovernment proposals. I never said capitalism was always harmful. I’m just defending strong and sophisticated government in addition as necessary to decent civilized places. And I have all the evidence in the world in my favor, while you have no evidence of societies working at the level of government all libertarians advocate having. I deal in evidence.

                1. Cause anyone talking to you in this thread brought up anarchy. Spay that straw man sparky.

                  Oh, and if you really dealt in evidence you wouldn’t be a progressive douchenozzle.

                2. Tony:

                  I’m just defending strong and sophisticated government in addition as necessary to decent civilized places. And I have all the evidence in the world in my favor, while you have no evidence of societies working at the level of government all libertarians advocate having. I deal in evidence.

                  Is it the same evidence that makes you say:

                  Let’s just ask the owners of the industries that would be regulated? That’s the alternative and pretty much what we have now. I prefer democracy.

                  I guess when we point out that the democratic system of strong government has given us regulatory capture at the expense of the taxpayer, we’re being anarchists.

                3. But you don’t get to hold up South Korea (or China, as inexplicably happens here) or any other advanced mixed economy as vindication of your radical antigovernment proposals.

                  South Korea stands as “vindication” of the idea that when you make people’s lives difficult by imposing too many rules on them, they suffer as a consequence.

                  Libertarians are constantly pointing out examples where the rules being imposed by our own government are onerous.

                  Yet you never bother to comment on those articles, and judging by your lopsided opinion of what Reason is about, you never bother to read them either.

                  We already live in a democracy and an “advanced mixed economy” so why the fuck are so many people being abused if this system is so great?

          4. Tony:

            What was so special about the 20th century that vast leaps in innovation and consequent well-being occurred? Can’t be because of the advent of limited government, just as you are saying.

            It’s not a coincidence that the vast leaps in innovation and well-being occurred in the most limited and most free nations during that time.

            The correlation between wealth, happiness, and innovation is towards less government, not more. Since government power never yields, and always creeps up as time passes,this allows you to make the lazy attempt to compare the progress of the present over past centuries, and pretend you’re comparing strong governments over limited governments.

  7. fearing that rooms rented online will be disruptive to neighbors, rides from Lyft too dangerous, and meals found through EatWith unhealthy.

    John Stossel, you’re a kind and optimistic soul. Allow me to introduce you to the phrase “public choice.”

  8. I agree with the thrust of the article.

    Any way you look at it, more people have more to enjoy and look forward to than at any point in human history.

    As the author points out, this is largely the creation of those “liberals” who run both Silicon Valley as well as the tech world (in general). Thank a Hippie today (Jobs and Wozniak, the open source folks, The Well, etc.)….

    Of course, the Kochs and their ilk do represent a threat to this optimism because they want the right to cause more disease. That’s not optimism, that’s profiting NOW and leaving the mess to future generations as well as current taxpayers.

    But that’s another story.

    The point is, the Kochs and their ilk may win elections (because of money and the fact that few vote), but in the end we (liberal thought and ideals and optimism) will win.

    We won’t win because of force. We will win because everyone, even the haters, desire community and cooperation. Cooperation, not the “every person an island” ideal, is what moves us forward.

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