Why is it illegal in many states to purchase an electric vehicle directly from a manufacturer? In this new Federalist Society podcast, Univ. of Michigan law school professor Daniel Crane and I examine how state protectionist barriers block choice and innovation for no good reason whatsoever. The only group that benefits from these protectionist, anti-consumer direct sales bans are local car dealers who don’t want the competition.

Additional Reading:

Corbin Barthold invited me on Tech Freedom’s “Tech Policy Podcast” to discuss the history of antitrust and competition policy over the past half century. We covered a huge range of cases and controversies, including: the DOJ’s mega cases against IBM & AT&T, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video’s derailed merger, the Sirius-XM deal, the hysteria over the AOL-Time Warner merger, the evolution of competition in mobile markets, and how we finally ended that dreaded old MySpace monopoly!

What does the future hold for Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix? Do antitrust regulators at the DOJ or FTC have enough to mount a case against these firms? Which case is most likely to have legs?

Corbin and I also talked about the of progress more generally and the troubling rise of more and more Luddite thinking on both the left and right. I encourage you to give it a listen:

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has kicked off a new project called “Digital Platforms and American Life,” which will bring together a variety of scholars to answer the question: How should policymakers think about the digital platforms that have become embedded in our social and civic life? The series, which is being edited by AEI Senior Fellow Adam J. White, highlights how the democratization of knowledge and influence in the Internet age comes with incredible opportunities but also immense challenges. The contributors to this series will approach these issues from various perspectives and also address different aspects of policy as it pertains to the future of technological governance.

It is my honor to have the lead paper in this new series. My 19-page essay is entitled, Governing Emerging Technology in an Age of Policy Fragmentation and Disequilibrium, and it represents my effort to concisely tie together all my writing over the past 30 years on governance trends for the Internet and related technologies. The key takeaways from my essay are:

  • Traditional governance mechanisms are being strained by modern technological and political realities. Newer technologies, especially digital ones, are developing at an ever-faster rate and building on top of each other, blurring lines between sectors.
  • Congress has failed to keep up with the quickening pace of technological change. It also continues to delegate most of its constitutional authority to agencies to deal with most policy concerns. But agencies are overwhelmed too. This situation is unlikely to change, creating a governance gap.
  • Decentralized governance techniques are filling the gap. Soft law—informal, iterative, experimental, and collaborative solutions—represents the new normal for technological governance. This is particularly true for information sectors, including social media platforms, for which the First Amendment acts as a major constraint on formal regulation anyway.
  • No one-size-fits-all tool can address the many governance issues related to fast-paced science and technology developments; therefore, decentralized governance mechanisms may be better suited to address newer policy concerns.

My arguments will frustrate many people of varying political dispositions because I adopt a highly pragmatic approach to technological governance. Continue reading →

If you haven’t yet had the chance to check out the new Progress Forum, I encourage you to do so. It’s a discussion group for progress studies and all things related to it. The Forum is sponsored by The Roots of Progress. Even though the Forum is still in pre-launch phase, there are already many interesting threads worth checking out. I was my honor to contribute one of the first on the topic, “Where is ‘Progress Studies’ Going?” It’s an effort to sort through some of the questions and challenges facing the Progress Studies movement in terms of focus and philosophical grounding. I thought I would just reproduce the essay here, but I encourage you to jump over to the Progress Forum to engage in discussion about it, or the many other excellent discussions happening there on other issues.

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As I note in my latest regular column for The Hill, it seems like everyone these days is talking about the importance of America “building again.” For example, take a look at this compendium of essays I put together where scholars and pundits have been making the case for “building again” in various ways and contexts. It would seem that the phrase is on everyone’s lips. “These calls include many priorities,” I note, “but what unifies them is the belief that the nation needs to develop new innovations and industries to improve worker opportunities, economic growth and U.S. global competitive standing.”

What I fear, however, is that “building again” has become more of a convenient catch line than anything else. It seems like few people are willing to spell out exactly what it will take to get that started. My new column suggests that the most important place to start is “to cut back the thicket of red tape and stifling bureaucratic procedures that limit the productiveness of the American workforce.” I cite recent reports and data documenting the enormous burden that regulatory accumulation imposes on American innovators and workers. I then discuss how to get reforms started at all levels of government to get the problem under control and help us start building again in earnest. Jump over to The Hill to read the entire essay.

An important new book launched this week in Europe on issues related to innovation policy and industrial policy. “Questioning the Entrepreneurial State: Status-quo, Pitfalls, and the Need for Credible Innovation Policy” (Springer, 2022) brings together more than 30 scholars who contribute unique chapters to this impressive volume. It was edited by Karl Wennberg of the Stockholm School of Economics and Christian Sandström of the Jönköping (Sweden) International Business School.

As the title of this book suggests, the authors are generally pushing back against the thesis found in Mariana Mazzucato’s book The Entrepreneurial State (2011). That book, like many other books and essays written recently, lays out a romantic view of industrial policy that sees government as the prime mover of markets and innovation. Mazzucato calls for “a bolder vision for the State’s dynamic role in fostering economic growth” and innovation. She wants the state fully entrenched in technological investments and decision-making throughout the economy because she believes that is the best way to expand the innovative potential of a nation.

The essays in Questioning the Entrepreneurial State offer a different perspective, rooted in the realities on the ground in Europe today. Taken together, the chapters tell a fairly consistent story: Despite the existence of many different industrial policy schemes at the continental and country level, Europe isn’t in very good shape on the tech and innovation front. The heavy-handed policies and volumes of regulations imposed by the European Union and its member states have played a role in that outcome. But these governments have simultaneously been pushing to promote innovation using a variety of technocratic policy levers and industrial policy schemes. Despite all those well-intentioned efforts, the EU has struggled to keep up with the US and China in most important modern tech sectors. Continue reading →

Here’s a slide presentation on “The Future of Innovation Policy” that I presented to some student groups recently. It builds on themes discussed in my recent books, Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom, and Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and GovernmentsI specifically discuss the tension between permissionless innovation and the precautionary principle as competing policy defaults.

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This weekend, The Wall Street Journal ran my short letter to the editor entitled, “We Can Protect Children and Keep the Internet Free.” My letter was a response to columnist Peggy Noonan’s April 9 oped, “Can Anyone Tame Big Tech?” in which she proposed banning everyone under 18 from all social-media sites. She specifically singled out TikTok, Youtube, and Instagram and argued “You’re not allowed to drink at 14 or drive at 12; you can’t vote at 15. Isn’t there a public interest here?”

I briefly explained why Noonan’s proposal is neither practical nor sensible, noting how it:

would turn every kid into an instant criminal for seeking access to information and culture on the dominant medium of their generation. I wonder how she would have felt about adults proposing to ban all kids from listening to TV or radio during her youth.

Let’s work to empower parents to help them guide their children’s digital experiences. Better online-safety and media-literacy efforts can prepare kids for a hyperconnected future. We can find workable solutions that wouldn’t usher in unprecedented government control of speech.

Let me elaborate just a bit because this was the focus of much of my writing a decade ago, including my book, Parental Controls & Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods, which spanned several editions. Online child safety is a matter I take seriously and the concerns that Noonan raised in her oped have been heard repeatedly since the earliest days of the Internet. Regulatory efforts were immediately tried. They focused on restricting underage access to objectionable online content (as well as video games), but were immediately challenged and struck down as unconstitutionally overbroad restrictions on free speech and a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Continue reading →

Almost every argument against technological innovation and progress that we hear today was identified and debunked by Samuel C. Florman a half century ago. Few others since him have mounted a more powerful case for the importance of innovation to human flourishing than Florman did throughout his lifetime.

Chances are you’ve never heard of him, however. As prolific as he was, Florman did not command as much attention as the endless parade of tech critics whose apocalyptic predictions grabbed all the headlines. An engineer by training, Florman became concerned about the growing criticism of his profession throughout the 1960s and 70s. He pushed back against that impulse in a series of books over the next two decades, including most notably: The Existential Pleasures of Engineering (1976), Blaming Technology: The Irrational Search for Scapegoats (1981), and The Civilized Engineer (1987). He was also a prolific essayist, penning hundreds of articles for a wide variety of journals, magazines, and newspapers beginning in 1959. He was also a regular columnist for MIT Technology Review for sixteen years.

Florman’s primary mission in his books and many of those essays was to defend the engineering profession against attacks emanating from various corners. More broadly, as he noted in a short autobiography on his personal website, Florman was interested in discussing, “the relationship of technology to the general culture.”

Florman could be considered a “rational optimist,” to borrow Matt Ridley’s notable term[1] for those of us who believe, as I have summarized elsewhere, that there is a symbiotic relationship between innovation, economic growth, pluralism, and human betterment.[2] Rational optimists are highly pragmatic and base their optimism on facts and historical analysis, not on dogmatism or blind faith in any particular viewpoint, ideology, or gut feeling. But they are unified in the belief that technological change is a crucial component of moving the needle on progress and prosperity.

Florman’s unique contribution to advancing rational optimism came in the way he itemized the various claims made by tech critics and then powerfully debunked each one of them. Continue reading →

I recently joined Rep. Dan Crenshaw on his Hold These Truths podcast to discuss, “What’s Wrong with Industrial Policy.” We chatted for 25 minutes about a wide range of issues related to the the growing push for grandiose industrial policy schemes in the US, including the massive new 3,000-page, $350 billion “COMPETES Act” legislation that recently passed in the House and which will soon be conferenced with a Senate bill that already passed.

On the same day this podcast was released this week, I also had a new op-ed appear in The Hill on “The Coming Industrial Policy Hangover.” In both that essay and the podcast with Rep. Crenshaw, I stress that, beyond all the other problems with these new industrial policy measures, no one is talking about the fiscal cost of it all. As I note:

In the rush to pass legislation, we’ve barely heard a peep about the $250-$350 billion price tag. This follows a massive splurge of recent government borrowing, which led to the U.S. national debt hitting another lamentable new record: $30 trillion. China already owns over $1 trillion of that debt, making one wonder if we’re really countering China by adopting a massive, new and unfunded industrial policy that they will end up financing indirectly.

Read my oped for more details and for a deeper dive of what’s wrong with the bills, see my earlier essay here on “Thoughts on the America COMPETES Act: The Most Corporatist & Wasteful Industrial Policy Ever.”

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