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The Year 2000 Would've Been More Futuristic With Fewer Regulations

What might have been.

Recently, a friend of mine came across a copy of a 1959 issue of Modern Man, an American quarterly magazine that was published between 1951 and 1967. The article that caught his attention, and which he shared with me via email, tried to imagine the life of an ordinary person in the year 2000.

"Most scientists," the author of the article averred, "agree that the year 2000 will compare to 1960 as 1960 compares to 1660." In the morning, a person will step into a "wheelless car that rides on air… piloted by radar… huge, transparent plastic domes… [will] cover large sections of the great urban areas from New York to San Francisco, thus affording every advantage of the outdoors without being exposed to wind and cold. And the average life span in the United States will be 110 years… By necessity [i.e., overpopulation], the great cities will be rebuilt on two or three levels. Streetcars, buses and taxis will be as rare as flying reptiles, with conveyor belts replacing sidewalks." It goes on.

As readers of Reason know, the future is very difficult to predict. That's especially important in relation to our policy makers, who should be strongly discouraged from flights of fancy. Remember those 5 million "green jobs" that our former commander in chief of the economy promised to create in order to "stimulate job growth" and America's transition to green energy? In the event, it was fossil fuel fracking, not green energy, which helped to lower the price of oil, revived the U.S. economy and secured Barack Obama's reelection. Scientific agreements about the future are to be taken with a pinch of salt—something that the sage of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue refused to appreciate.

Obama's successor, unfortunately, appears to suffer from similar delusions. Unlike Obama, who saw America's economic future in "green jobs," Donald Trump sees America's economic future in the kind of manufacturing jobs—cars and air conditioners—that the 1950s readers of Modern Man would recognize.

It's bad enough to know that we are being ruled by wannabe clairvoyants, but it gets worse. Say what you will about the silly scribbling of the 1950s futurologists, it is undeniable that they were, in spite of the nuclear Armageddon hanging over their heads like the Sword of Damocles, infused with can-do optimism. (When was it the last time you watched an optimistic movie about the future?) And why not? The first half of the 20th century was filled with technological wonders. In 1903, for example, the Wright brothers had amazed the world by staying in the air (10 feet above the ground) for nearly a minute. By 1959, an artificial satellite was circling the earth. Was it really all that crazy to think that by 2000, there would be a human colony on the moon?

And that brings me back to policy making. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Peter Thiel noted that when he was a child, "Opportunity was everywhere." "America," he continued, "was high tech. It's hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon—and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio. The future felt limitless. But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can't even fly in the rain… Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East."

Thiel believes that American optimism and technological progress were throttled by overbearing regulation and out-of-control bureaucracy. If Trump focuses his energies on dismantling the regulatory state, rather than mandating who should make the steel pipes for the Keystone and Dakota pipelines, he may yet do America a lot of good.

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  • UnCivilServant||

    A Tupy article without Graphs?

    It's like the Judge not asking questions.

  • ColoradoKook||

    Yeah, what the hell? It's like he's trying to throw us off the scent with this graphless abomination.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...with conveyor belts replacing sidewalks.

    No wonder we have an obesity epidemic in the 21st Century! But how would one on the streetside, northbound conveyor belt get off and into a building on the other side of the southbound, inside conveyor belt? Jump over it? Concept Year 2000 city engineers were idiots.

  • UnCivilServant||

    I suppose they expect the robots to clean up all the trash that gets caught in the mechanisms too.

  • gaoxiaen||

    At the very least, we should have the Nexus 5.

  • Robert||

    U-turn wheels.

  • Unemployed Armenian Tranny||

  • CE||

    If the roads were made out of rubber and the car tires out of concrete, you would never have to worry about a flat.

  • Pompey:何 Class Mothersmucker||

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Conan: "In the year 2000, Sting will reveal that he is able to have sex with his partner for 24 straight hours."

    Sting: "In the year 2000, Conan will reveal that he is able to have sex for 24 straight hours by himself."

  • Princess Trigger||

    My most recent Regulation and the Future story: at a alumni event for my girlfriend's school I met a NASA engineer. He was talking about his interactions with the Space X folks. He said the young engineers were blowing off all the NASA safety regs and when challenged, saying those regs were what were holding us back for the last 50 years. I agreed with the Space X guys (i'm no engineer and don't know shit about rocket ships) and this jacked up the NASA guy. He stormed away when I accused him and his hidebound government regs were keeping us from living on Jupiter now.

    I get to skip my girlfriend's alumni events now.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Two words - aerostat colonies

    While originally proposed for colonization of Venus, the concept can be adapted for use in the upper atmosphere of a gas giant.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    +1 Cloud City

  • Princess Trigger||

    We'd have Anti-gravity by now if it wasn't for your regulations!

    In my diamond castle on Jupiter, we're straight up An-Caps and we sneer at your "Laws of Physics".

  • ||

    The secret was to declare that pi = 3. Right?

    Once you did that the math got super easy and all sorts of cool inventions were discovered.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Well that and the laws of physics.

    And what laws would that be? Just curious.

  • SQRLSY One||

    The PRIME Law of psychics is, The Crystal Ball Knows All!!!

    (The lesser Laws of psychics are things like, holding a chick's hand and tracing her lines, while blabbering gently about her future, can be a good way to pick her up!)

  • JR Robble Dobbs||

    Two Words, Market Forces!

  • Fascist loofa-faced shitgibbon||

    "As readers of Reason know, the future is very difficult to predict"

    Us Reason readers are just so damn smart.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    We were also supposed to all die. Y2K!

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Donald Trump sees America's economic future in the kind of manufacturing jobs—cars and air conditioners—that the 1950s readers of Modern Man would recognize.

    Not to sound like a Trumpelo or anything, but I think you can make a pretty strong case that the actual pathway of technology toward digital processing, communications and information technology has been a little influenced by the fact that the regulatory hammer has come down much more squarely on physical manufacturing. If Facebook were as heavily regulated as an air conditioning manufacturer, I'm not so sure we wouldn't see technology and employment growth in the IT sector moving about as briskly as in the legacy industries.

  • Clegg||

    More childish, thoughtless, petulant, "I want my way" thinking from the little Libertarian children who have no concept of living in a complex civilization, but prefer to focus on themselves, their immediate needs (even if it imbalances the commons), and to hell with everyone else. Libertarianism is among the most me-centered and childish ways of understanding humanity. Smart entrepreneurs can build vast fortunes, and serve humanity, without resorting to false Ayn Randian fantasy narratives. There is no secret mountain enclave where genius entrepreneurs must hide from government regs. We innovate in plain sight. Grow up, join the human community, and stop living in a fantasy world.

  • Clegg||

    Oh, and since you asked, yes .... I've built, or played key roles in building, more than one business in California that thrived, and continues to thrive. One went public, another is a small. California, that evil over-regulated state, has served me well. Happy to work within California's regulatory and tax structure, and take care of my employees and my environment and my schools, etc... Anyone who complains about regs is clearly not DOING, but simply TALKING (blah blah blah blah). Go talk to Larry Page or Elon or anyone else in California. Are they complaining. Sure, a little bit. Are they thriving? Yes. And they're not hiding in a secret mounting enclave. Grow up.

  • Set Us Up The Chipper||

    Jesus this one is foaming at the mouth. It must have rabies. I rename Clegg to Old Yeller.

  • Fascist loofa-faced shitgibbon||

    "Go talk to Larry Page or Elon or anyone else in California. Are they complaining."

    As has been demonstrated umpteen times, the leaders in an industry are usually the biggest advocates of regulation and other obstacles to free competition.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Go talk to Larry Page or Elon or anyone else in California. Are they complaining. Sure, a little bit. Are they thriving? Yes.

    Larry Page used to complain bitterly about regulation, but since they started lobbying and Democrats were in power, they have found the usual convenient arrangements with big government. Elon Musk's company depended from the start on the state, for delivering an inefficient and overpriced product.

  • CE||

    So, it's possible to succeed despite the hurdles California puts in your way. Of course it is, but we'll never know what progress was already prevented by those hurdles, or how much better off everyone would be.

    Libertarians are the least selfish people -- they are the only ones who don't want other people's money for their grand schemes.

  • Chip I. Alhazred||

    My paraphrase of Clegg: (Clegg, Larry Page, and Elon Musk prospered in California, so regulations aren't a problem.) Is that a good summary?

    If that's what you mean, then you are committing the error known at Wikipedia as "Survivorship Bias."

    You can't just look at the successes and conclude regulations didn't cause the failures to be failures. You would need to look at successes AND failures before and after regulations. Or you could look at successes AND failures in a regulation heavy area and in a regulation light area.

    The latter experiment has been done outside the USA.

    (East Germany, North Korea, 1980's Mainland China) are proxies for heavy regulation areas vs. (West Germany, South Korea, 1980's Hong Kong) which are proxies for comparatively lightly regulated areas.

    Please look up Survivorship Bias. It's worth knowing about.

  • Fascist loofa-faced shitgibbon||

    "Smart entrepreneurs can build vast fortunes, and serve humanity, without resorting to false Ayn Randian fantasy narratives."

    I believe that was Rand's thesis.

  • Juice||

    Except for the serve human humanity part.

  • Fascist loofa-faced shitgibbon||

    I believe she deferred to the "invisible hand job" service theory.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    More childish, thoughtless, petulant, "I want my way" thinking from the little Libertarian children who have no concept of living in a complex civilization, but prefer to focus on themselves, their immediate needs (even if it imbalances the commons), and to hell with everyone else

    If you like "complex civilization", why don't you move to Europe? They are fully committed to collectivism. You should love it.

    We innovate in plain sight.

    Really? What great innovation have you created? The Chia pet?

    In any case the fact that some innovation happens even in progressive and socialist shitholes doesn't tell you anything about the opportunity cost of such political systems.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Obama's successor, unfortunately, appears to suffer from similar delusions. Unlike Obama, who saw America's economic future in "green jobs," Donald Trump sees America's economic future in the kind of manufacturing jobs—cars and air conditioners—that the 1950s readers of Modern Man would recognize.

    Obama was one of the worst statists in a long time, and you defend him? As for Trump and manufacturing, the reason he is pushing it has nothing to do with wanting more stuff to be made in the US, it has to do with social and political issues. We don't live in a libertarian country, and we don't realistically live in a constitutional Republic anymore either, we live in a Eurpoean-style democracy where a majority can vote itself whatever government handouts it wants.

    A large part of our voters can't do new economy jobs and aren't willing to undergo retraining, they want manufacturing, and they are going to vote for whoever provides it. You can either satisfy their wants with a free-market-ish solution like Trump, or you can go down the path of socialism and statism, like Obama.

  • CatoTheChipper||

  • CatoTheChipper||

    BTW: these are, in fact, real-world, low-carbon, green jobs that were organized by Obama's community organizer, ACORN.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Computers are a big part of the problem. We've become so lazy and dependent on them that we don't prototype and experiment any more. We don't understand the underlying physics and reasonable approximations the way our predecessors did. The same disease that gave us the GCM models of climastrology stops us from learning from experiment. In fact we model in lieu of experiment.

    Remember: simulation and masturbation are alike in that the more often you do them the more you think they're real.

  • MyCroftxXx||

    "When was it the last time you watched an optimistic movie about the future?"
    This has been bugging me for a while. It seems to go in phases. In the 1920's and 30's, dystopia was all the rage in pop culture (perhaps coinciding with rise in statism??). Anthem, BNW, 1984, can't happen here... and so on. After WWII, at least in USA pop culture, SyFy/fantasy had a much more positive view. The Foundation and the like, while not exactly positive, portrayed humanity as (i) still existing and (ii) able to handle the challenges of the times. Heck even the characters in StarWars don't wallow in their own futility. I take issue with the whole "march of History"/"whateves" narrative rampant in the culture, but I have to admit that a scenario were mankind comes to its senses sounds too much like a fairy tale.

    OT Read any good books lately?

  • Juice||

    Star Wars is about the past.

  • MyCroftxXx||

    StarWars = Fantasy = LOTR
    Star Trek = SyFy = Blade Runner

  • Juice||

    In 1903, for example, the Wright brothers had amazed the world by staying in the air (10 feet above the ground) for nearly a minute. By 1959, an artificial satellite was circling the earth. Was it really all that crazy to think that by 2000, there would be a human colony on the moon?

    So without the Soviet communist government Russia would have launched Sputnik earlier? Is that the point of this article?

    And the space race was extremely expensive. It would have been orders of magnitude more expensive to built a moon base. And to what end? It would be extremely difficult and expensive to maintain and for what?

    And people dreaming of going to work in a double decker using their personal hovercraft was just dreaming.

  • Juice||

    *build

    *double decker city

  • Cyto||

    That last bit of the last quote: "instead of going to Mars we invaded the Middle East"

    That is the salient point that nobody is going to face. If we had simply punted on Iraq after it became clear that it was a loser (I'm not even claiming we needed to be pacifists all the way, just get out when the thing proved to be rotten) and put that cash toward "there's not enough money for that" futurist projects, think where we could be.

    For the amount we have spent since 2005, we could have fully funded every fusion research proposal by every physicist anywhere. And fully funded Elon Musk's pie-in-the-sky mars ships. And his tube-train thingie. And every solar power research proposal. And every battery technology research proposal.

    Just by diverting that military money to alternative power research we could have solved the "middle east oil" problem and the global warming problem - maybe not by now, but surely by 2025 - 20 years of a few hundred billion a year would have gone a long, long way toward solving those problems.

    I put forth such a proposal on this very board in that time frame. I think we were spending about $400 billion per year in Iraq. The DOE today has about $32.5 billion to toss around - including nuclear weapons stuff if I"m reading it right. So it was less a decade ago. If we had taken half of that $400b as savings, and devoted half to energy, space, medical and materials science research, where would we be?

  • Threedoor||

    In a more statist place with an entirely nationalized energy sector.

  • Cyto||

    Don't need to nationalize anything. Just divert "national security" money from invading Iraq to doing basic science research.

    The underlying assumptions of this proposition are:

    1. We are going to confiscate and spend a metric crap-ton of money.

    2. We are (have been) spending to the tune of $400 billion per year on a war that isn't making us safer, and is killing and maiming our people and others
    2b. Item 2 is a bad thing.

    3. The rational for the meddling in the middle east by the west is the presence of vast oil reserves. Those reserves are critical to the world price of oil and the world economy.

    4. If you could wave a magic wand and eliminate 90% of the demand for oil, the importance of the middle east would drop to near zero. So the same national security function that now requires bombs and soldiers

    5. There exists a possible replacement for oil as a cheap source of energy, whether that be in fusion reactors, new forms of fission reactors (thorium salt?), better solar, wind, geothermal, etc.

    6. A big pile of cash for research could accelerate the development of these technology from 50-100 years away to 2 decades away.

    Given this set of assumptions, it is a much more rational approach than our current path.

    Now, you could suppose that we should not interfere in far away places regardless of the importance of the oil. That's a different argument, and not one that can succeed with today's western economies.

  • CE||

    Or just don't let the government spend it at all.

  • CE||

    Pretty good trick, since a top of the line Alfa Romeo 4c goes for about 56K.

  • CE||

    Admit it -- your "top of the line Alfa Romeo" was really a used Sentra.

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: The Year 2000 Would've Been More Futuristic With Fewer Regulations
    What might have been.

    But...but...but without more regulations, our bloated and overpaid bureaucrats wouldn't be able to justify their existence.
    Did the author of this article ever stop to think about that?

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    Deadwood had it best:

    "Fuck the future!"
    "You can't fuck the future, the future fucks you."

  • CE||

    When was it the last time you watched an optimistic movie about the future?

    Last year. It was called "The Martian".

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