Innovation

Trump vs. Clinton vs. Everything Good

"Don't argue about it. Build the alternative."

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Just after midnight on July 18, Darren Charrier grabbed a surfboard, headed out past the breakers near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and settled in to wait. Before long, he got what he came for. His buddy—paddling just behind on his own board—documented the moment for Twitter. In the striking snapshot, Charrier is in silhouette, backlit by the flare of a rocket returning to Earth and settling upright on its launch pad.

Inspiring feats of aeronautics are not terribly unusual at Cape Canaveral, home to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. But this particular rocket doesn't belong to NASA. It belongs to Elon Musk, a man who is almost certainly both richer and smarter than everyone you know. His aerospace company, SpaceX, does have a contract with the U.S. government to carry several loads of cargo and hardware to the International Space Station. This mission, the seventh so far in 2016, successfully ferried a Dragon capsule loaded with two and a half tons of gear—including a handheld DNA sequencer—into low Earth orbit. But running a delivery service for the feds is merely a waystation for the co-founder of Tesla and PayPal, who has his eye on more radical experiments in living.

"I think it would be cool to be born on Earth and die on Mars," says Musk. He adds, "Hopefully not at the point of impact."

At the same moment Charrier was bobbing on the dark water, bathed in the glow of burning rocket fuel and Elon Musk's fever dreams, the rest of Twitter was exhaustedly signing off after day two of the Republican National Convention, which by that point had already been through a plagiarism scandal and an extended discussion of Hillary Clinton's exact relationship to Lucifer.

The following week in Philadelphia served up the Democratic variant of anti-trade, pro-intervention, debt-denialist rhetoric, with donkeys in place of elephants and the word fair in the place of the word safe, alongside an awful lot of Donald Trump trash talk.

The stakes are undeniably high in 2016, but the prospects for free markets and smaller government seem poor, no matter who wins. What to do?

"Don't argue about regulation. Build Uber." Balaji S. Srinivasan is CEO of the cryptocurrency firm 21 Inc. and that is what he tweeted right before the conventions got rolling. "Don't argue about monetary policy. Build Bitcoin. Don't argue about it. Build the alternative."

As the last U.S. space shuttle limped into retirement in 2011 and the agency's future looked uncertain, we could have had a big national debate about the future of space exploration. Instead, a bunch of billionaires were already strapping up to slip the surly bonds of Earth on their own—Musk with SpaceX, but also Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, and others. Don't argue about space policy. Build rockets.

For nearly five decades, reason has advocated the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service. But those calls have become less heated over the years. Why? The Post Office still exists, it's still awful, and we're all going to be paying mail carriers' pensions until the end times. But that awfulness is increasingly irrelevant to daily life, thanks to a glorious cascade of innovative workarounds. FedEx, UPS, email, IM, SMS, Slack—even those old fax machines. Each is a razor blade slashing the Gordian knot of entrenched bureaucracy and byzantine regulation. Don't argue about the Post Office. Build messaging apps.

This, then, is the only way out of the mess we've made: Culture and commerce must continue to get bigger and smarter faster than government and politics get bigger and stupider.

Shortly after the conventions ended, Amazon announced a sale on former reason editor Virginia Postrel's 1998 book The Future and Its Enemies, a bargain at $3.99. Almost 20 years after its initial publication on dead tree, Postrel's recasting of the American political landscape seems more on point than ever, shining up from the iPhone Kindle app.

"Some people," Postrel writes, look at "diverse, decentralized, choice-driven systems and rejoice, even when they don't like the particular choices. Others recoil. In pursuit of stability and control, they seek to eliminate or curb these unruly, too-creative forces.

"Stasists and dynamists are thus divided not just by simple, short-term policy issues, but by fundamental disagreements about the way the world works. These are not the comfortable old Cold War divisions of hawks and doves, egalitarians and individualists, left and right."

Two decades later, The Economist's convention wrap-up sounded eerily similar notes: "The political divide that matters is less and less between left and right, and more and more between open and closed. Debates between tax-cutting conservatives and free-spending social democrats have not gone away. But issues that cross traditional party lines have grown more potent. Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change, or resist it?"

The tricky part is that dynamism can look an awful lot like disaster. The month before SpaceX pulled off that Cape Canaveral landing, the company crashed a rocket into a barge on open water, splintering both into fiery wreckage. Musk is willing to literally crash and burn if it furthers the cause, something NASA hasn't been up for since at least the '60s. He's willing to absorb the cost of failure over the long term, too, thanks to his incomprehensibly vast wealth—precisely the kind of accumulation decried over and over from the podium at the DNC.

But when new ways of doing things dramatically sweep away old ways—when manufacturing jobs vanish, families change shape, and money transforms from paper to code—it's alarming, right up until the moment when no one can remember what it was like before.

When Uber opened up shop in a dozen cities, it operated on a forgiveness rather than permission strategy, winning market share as quickly as it could, and then deploying every single satisfied rider or happy driver as human shields against the predictable onslaught of state and local regulation.

One place where that strategy failed was Philadelphia. The city's parking authority started conducting stings on drivers in 2014, plunging uberX into a legal limbo. But when Democratic convention organizers realized the car-hailing app was their best bet to shuffle all those delegates, press, and hangers-on around the City of Brotherly Love—that it had gone from a luxury to a necessity—they went about quietly, ruthlessly, hypocritically clearing the way for the service to operate legally (and slapped on a new tax too) long before a single visitor in a button-covered hat realized her own party's bad policy made it impossible for her to get back to her hotel.

In her only major economic address so far, Hillary Clinton promised to "crack down" on what she called "the gig economy." But the Uber convention exception shows we're too far gone for that. While the taxi cartels and the labor unions were looking the other way, the gig economy became our new reality.

The pace of innovation and the growth of government are both accelerating. It is their relative rates of change that will determine whether the world we live in keeps getting happier and healthier and weirder, or whether we wind up locked in and kept down. One encouraging sign: Charrier, the young surfer, describes himself as an aerospace engineering student at the University of California, San Diego, whose research "focuses around 3D-printed rocket engines." And Moon Express, where he's a "propulsion intern", just secured Federal Aviation Administration permission for the first private lunar mission. Which sounds insane, right up until the moment that it becomes utterly unremarkable.

Most of us aren't in a position to 3D-print ourselves a ride to Mars just yet. But at least for now we can hop into an Uber and ride off into the sunrise together.

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  1. ” Don’t argue about it. Build the alternative.”

    This is a sentiment I can get behind. =)

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    2. Yes, but “build” does not mean “vote for”. It means working your ass off. It means you will lose something. It means you may lose. Typing something is one thing. Living it is another (yeah, I know, I am TYPING this).

    3. Yes, but “build” does not mean “vote for”. It means working your ass off. It means you will lose something. It means you may lose. Typing something is one thing. Living it is another (yeah, I know, I am TYPING this).

  2. “Stasists and dynamists are thus divided not just by simple, short-term policy issues, but by fundamental disagreements about the way the world works. These are not the comfortable old Cold War divisions of hawks and doves, egalitarians and individualists, left and right.””

    I agree with this sentiment, but the approach should probably always be one of offering alternatives to a statist approach and to picking battles that can be won. Libertarians aren’t going to win with an policy of repealing Social Security nor are they going to win with the opposite tack of promoting social Liberty exclusively and ignoring the Economic side of things.

  3. “The Post Office still exists, it’s still awful, and we’re all going to be paying mail carriers’ pensions until the end times.”

    The only reason it still exists? The endless piles of junk mail that you receive in your mailbox everyday.

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    1. Holy shit! The Yakuza are onto you!

  5. Why was Trump included? I can’t recall him ever attacking Musk or Bitcoin or Uber. He’s claiming he wants massive regulatory cuts.

    So how is he ‘against’ the “everything good” posited here?

    1. Trump claims a lot of things that are contradictory, but he’s been pretty consistently opposed to free trade and free markets.

  6. Mangu-Ward – You write a lot better than you talk. On TV you sound like a cynical twit.

    1. You leave our purple haired goddess alone! *runs away sobbing

      1. She might be your purple haired goddess, but to any sane person she’s just another affirmative action hire here to reinforce Reason’s SJW bonafides.

        1. Don’t let’s start that retard fiesta again.

  7. The regulators and legislators and other state enforcers are just as innovative as the entrepreneurs trying to thwart them, and with a lot more resources and a lot more righteous unscrupulousness. Just ask Ross Ulbricht

  8. Amazon is using USPS for some of its deliveries; some of those deliveries are made on Sundays — and, as the couple of USPS carrier trucks I saw in my neighborhood yesterday, Labor Day, seem to indicate, holidays.

    1. Yep. My Amazon Fresh (groceries) order has been delivered by USPS priority mail, on Sundays. Sometimes it’s delivered by a uniformed mail carrier, but more often by a contract employee.

    2. The postal service is another one of those really stupid hills for Libertarians to die on. Does anyone actually think “We are Libertarians and if you just give us a chance, we will get rid of the Postal Service” is going to convince anyone?

      1. Well, incremental libertarianism has failed spectacularly so why not go full retard now John?

    3. Yeah, last mile. Amazon contracts with the USPS. For now.

    4. Well, that changes everything! The USPS is totes awesome! Thanks, now I’m really woke! /sarc

    5. I just had a ups package delivered to my local post office instead of to the address I gave. Ofcourse the post office lost it. I guess ups contracts with the usps now. Something called ups sure post. Don’t use that service. Ups says they delivered it to the post office so they’re out of it and ur screwed.

  9. If your great new future of freedom is Uber, you need to come up with a better future. The fact is that the country has 94 million otherwise healthy and potentially productive people not even looking for a job. We have a federal government that seems bent on regulating everything. We have suffered over the last 20 years enormous losses in our privacy and freedom to engage in commerce. The US has an enormous criminality and prison population. We have thousands of people languishing in prison or trying to rebuild ruined lives because of the government’s obsession with victimless crimes. We have a legal code that is so vague and so full of strict liability crimes, virtually anyone can be found guilty of something if the government tries hard enough.

    Sorry but in the midst of all that “but Uber” is pretty fucking thin gruel. If you want to know why people like Clinton and Trump get traction and reason doesn’t, look no further than this article. I am sorry, Uber is great and all but no one but reason really gives a shit. In our list of problems and threats to our freedoms, lack of availability of really cheap taxis is not very high on the list.

    I want to kill the bureaucracy too. I am sorry but if the best reason you can come up with to do that is some vanity space project that maybe some day will take millionaires on joy rides to orbit and UBER, you better be ready for the bureaucracy to win. It is really that simple.

    1. In our list of problems and threats to our freedoms, lack of availability of really cheap taxis is not very high on the list.

      So true. This isn’t even a first-world problem. Its a “handful of cities in the first world” problem.

      You can build all the alternatives you want. Without changing the predatory, metastasizing State, it will consume them all.

      1. And you will never convince people to support stopping the state when your best argument for doing so is “but you will get Uber”. The more I think about this article the more tone deaf the article is. Ward says

        But when new ways of doing things dramatically sweep away old ways?when manufacturing jobs vanish, families change shape, and money transforms from paper to code?it’s alarming, right up until the moment when no one can remember what it was like before.

        And that is true as far as it goes. But what if you are one of the people who have lost your job due to the company relocating overseas for cheaper labor or because you were replaced by some HB1 Visa holder willing to work for next to nothing. What does Ward actually offer you here in return you supporting Libertarian policies and giving up on getting the government to force your company to give you your job back?

        Ward offers Uber and the ability of some eccentric millionaire to pursue a vanity space project. Doesn’t she understand how hollow and out of touch with reality that sounds?

        1. But when new ways of doing things dramatically sweep away old ways?when manufacturing jobs due process rights vanish, families change shape, and money transforms from paper to code due process rights vanish, surveillance by the State increases, business regulations pile up, taxes increase, corruption and cronyism become common?it’s alarming, right up until the moment when no one can remember what it was like before.

          Sad but true. And its that lack of memory of how the State used to be less intrusive, less massive, less omnipresent, which leads people to believe that a new business model or two and some shiny toys constitute a libertarian moment.

          1. And its that lack of memory of how the State used to be less intrusive, less massive, less omnipresent, which leads people to believe that a new business model or two and some shiny toys constitute a libertarian moment.

            Yep, I recently had my 69th birthday and, let me tell you, Uber and Elon Musk’s playpretties are piss poor compensation for the freedom we’ve lost.

          2. Pretty much that. You know what, if being less well off and have to pay more for things were the price of keeping my due process rights and my privacy, that is a trade I would make. Of course one does not preclude the other. We should be able to both be well off, have access to cheap things and keep our privacy rights and due process rights. Sadly, politics is never ideal. And maybe throwing people a bone on trade or immigration is what is necessary to get them to throw Libertarians a bone on all that other stuff. Reason seems to have no interest in that and instead just tells people they need to abandon their own self interest in the name of Uber and Space X.

        2. Leave Space out of it, if Musk sells rocket rides the the US gov, he still sells em cheaper. And I hope he does go to Mars, SciFi much John?, jeez

          1. I like space as much as the next guy. I wish Musk luck. But whether he makes it or not is really pretty far down on the list of concerns.

        3. You’re got it backwards. Getting Uber isn’t the benefit for embracing libertarian / free market politics; Uber arose despite the existence of a mostly unlibertarian government. You point to Uber to show that unless people begin to embrace freedom then the state will step and kill those advancements they currently enjoy.

          Uber is a case study in the government fucking up a good thing to placate incumbent interests. Thanks to that service and others like it, far more people are able to act as for-profit transportation service with better service for less costs to the consumer. It’s win-win-win all around and yet the powers that be are intent on taking their pound of flesh in order to let it continue.

          This cycle has been repeated and will continue to repeat whenever a new product / market is introduced unless steps are taken to prevent it. Contrast what is happening to Uber with what has happened on the internet as a whole, which has remained blissfully free of regs because governments are mostly forbidden by statute from fucking with it.

          1. That is all more or less true. That however doesn’t make Uber by itself that compelling. My point is that if you are going to convince people to stand up and stop the government, you better have better upsides to them doing this than Uber.

            1. I agree with that. Unfortunately, people are stupid when it comes to politics so you have to take something clearly tangible for them and beat them over the head with it. So you give stories of Uber, the tech economy, and police brutality to yuppie urbanites, ones about the horrors of zero tolerance and Obamacare to family folks in the suburbs, and gun rights and environmental regs to those in the sticks.

              There’s an argument to be made that if libertarianism is ever going to be a political force in its own right then the best place to start is by filling the void left by the Republicans’ complete inability to compete in urban areas. Consciously or not, the editors of this magazine seem to be saying that this where libertarians should focus their efforts.

              1. You need something tangible and that they care about. Uber is tangible but it is not important and most people don’t care about it. You are never going to convince anyone if Uber is your prize example of the benefits of freedom.

                Contrast reason’s love of Uber with its near silence on home schooling. Every year home schooled kids in this country do amazing things and kick the crap out of kids educated at even the best schools. There is a great example of something that is both the result of freedom and that the government hates. The government is always fucking with home schooling families. And reason covers that some but not that much. Why? Because it is not an issue urban childless hipsters find important. And even the ones with children no doubt think home schoolers are kind of icky anyway.

          2. The internet isn’t anywhere close to being ‘blissfully free of regulations’ if you’ve been paying any amount of attention whatsoever.

    2. I would have felt better if she had mentioned food trucks and self driving cars.

      1. The UBER obsession makes me feel bad for making fun of reason’s love of food trucks. A lot more people benefit from food trucks than will ever benefit from Uber.

        1. After thinking about it, I agree with you.

        2. Fun fact: most people don’t take cabs, ever.

          1. No they don’t. And Uber isn’t exactly free. During peak hours it is actually more expensive than cabs. During peak hours Uber raises its prices and offers the ability to get a cab more quickly but it is more expensive to get.

            It is not that Uber is a bad thing or that cities trying to kill it isn’t wrong. Uber is a good thing and the cities trying to kill it are wrong. It is that Uber really in the grand scheme of things isn’t a very important thing. The fact that reason thinks it is so important just shows how myopic their staff is. They really can’t seem to understand that most people are not young, urban hipster professionals and thus have a completely different set of priorities than said hipster professionals.

            1. Uber’s an important case study so it makes sense to focus on it. That its users are hipper, younger, and more urban than most is immaterial. It is, in principle, something that you can only be against if you’re a total asshole and yet they are beset with opponents.

              1. It is not an important case study. It is representative of something larger, yes. But since most people don’t use it or care about it, it is not the case study that is going to change anyone’s minds.

                Here is the bottom line. Ward wants me to walk away from my demands that government do things I like and be a libertarian. Okay, I reasonably ask what do I get in return for this? And Ward’s answer is Uber and Musk’s vanity space program. Can you understand why that isn’t very persuasive?

                Yes, Uber is an example of a much larger and damaging phenomenon. Talk about the larger issues and the other hundreds of good things the government is preventing instead of acting like the fact that it is trying to prevent Uber is in any way important beyond the larger issues at play.

              2. That its users are hipper, younger, and more urban than most is immaterial.

                Not if focusing on it is supposed to help with some larger libertarian awakening.

                Trust me, most of the country doesn’t give a shit about hip young urban folk. At best.

            2. Uber is cheaper and faster than a regular cab or car service ice where I live, even during peak hours. You’re anot upper class suburban guy who really shouldn’t be pontificating 9n uber.

              1. Wow so this is what posting from a phone is like

              2. I have used Uber. And it is not cheaper during peak hours here. It is actually not really that cheap. In fact, everyone I know who uses it are upper class. I don’t really see Uber as being a thing poor people seem to use much at all. Poor people take the bus or subway or walk or have a cheap car.

                Taking a car service at all is not something poor people do very often, no matter how relatively cheap it is.

            3. I’m not sure how much Uber is where you live, but it’s way cheaper than a cab ride here in Dallas no matter what time it is (unless it’s, say, midnight on New Years Eve.) I had to take Uber several times recently and it was ~$18 for a 14 mile drive, and something like $3 out of that cost was the toll road I made them take. That being said, Lyft is a better service since you can actually tip on your credit card, whereas Uber is cash tip only.

              By comparison I’ve gone half that distance with Alamo Can and it was $25.

    3. Reason has some good writers but they need better thinkers. Many of the concerns that most people ACTUALLY have (health, employment, crime) could improve with less regulation, but the Reason writers seem more preoccupied with trying to sway hipster millenials than regular people who have real political and economic influence.

  10. RE: Trump vs. Clinton vs. Everything Good

    Talk about a win-win situation! The little people have much to rejoice when it comes to this year’s executive race. One one hand, we have a notorious fascist (Trump the Grump) who is more than willing to engage in racist policies, especially when it comes to immigration. Then we have a died in the wool socialist slaver who will finally put the finishing touches in the Glorious Peoples Revolution, so we can all enjoy the many joys and privledges of living in a socialist slave state. The only question becomes, should invest in hammers, sickles and red paint, or jackboots and brown shirts.
    Decisions, decisions.

    1. Still waiting for you to describe Trump’s “racist” policies. … Tick-tock, tick-tock……

    2. Still waiting for you to describe Trump’s “racist” policies. … Tick-tock, tick-tock……

  11. Clinton = more of same. Not good.

    Trump = a chance for a change, and make no mistake, the work is not over.

    Gee? Which do I choose? (Gary Johnson? My dumbest cat has more experience, puh-leaze!)

    1. (and he “Colin” is an imbecile, though damned likable)

  12. my classmate’s aunt makes $74 /hr on the internet . She has been fired for eight months but last month her paycheck was $12598 just working on the internet for a few hours. find out here now

    ??????http://www.businessbay4.com/

  13. my classmate’s aunt makes $74 /hr on the internet . She has been fired for eight months but last month her paycheck was $12598 just working on the internet for a few hours. find out here now

    ?????? http://www.businessbay4.com/

  14. The month before SpaceX pulled off that Cape Canaveral landing, the company crashed a rocket into a barge on open water, splintering both into fiery wreckage. Musk is willing to literally crash and burn if it furthers the cause [?]. He’s willing to absorb the cost of failure over the long term, too, thanks to his incomprehensibly vast wealth?

    I think Ms. Mangu-Ward’s dewey dreams of a robot future are clouding her reasoning somewhat. Last I checked most economists agree the “costs or failure” (or success) were passed on to the customer, whether they be individuals, govt. or another business.

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