OPINION – Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in two highly thought-provoking podcast interviews. One was with Adam Thierer of the Mercatus Center on the subject of technological innovation, the other was with Connor Boyack on the virtue of the black market.
A common thread in both discussions was the necessity that we be willing to act without waiting for official permission.
These days, people freely making choices without some kind of official regulatory oversight tends to give melodramatic types a case of the vapors. For the rest of us, it’s a concept worth considering.
The fears that if someone official isn’t in charge, things will quickly devolve into a “Lord of the Flies” scenario are terribly overblown. Sometimes the results are nothing short of spectacular.
Take, for instance, the internet.
In a little over two decades, this innovation has impacted all of our lives in ways we couldn’t possibly have expected when we first became aware of it. How much of our communications, our commerce, our record-keeping and information seeking are tied to using the internet?
How different would our lives be without it? It’s easily the most disruptive technology most of us have seen within our lifetimes.
And would you believe it was allowed to develop without the micromanaging oversight of bureaucrats and politicians? Sure, the temptation was there. But somehow, they resisted the urge to tell us the precise form it should take.
As Adam Thierer pointed out in our conversation, more than a few people treated the emergence of the internet as somewhat of a novelty. They couldn’t imagine how people might put it to use or what further innovations it might inspire.
Thierer calls it “a fortuitous accident” that the internet didn’t merit greater scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators at first. That hands-off approach allowed for far greater innovation than is possible under rigorous central planning.
Congress also chose to stay out of the way and to limit government interference in the internet by immunizing it against oppressive types of liability and protecting it from predatory state and local taxes.
Instead of the traditional precautionary policy mindset that can hamper emerging technologies, the internet has become an infrastructure where innovation largely takes place without permission.
When writing about permissionless innovation, Michael Munger states:
Permissionless innovation allows us to create truly new things for each other to enjoy – things the experts may not understand or approve of, but that nonetheless hold the potential to transform the world.
This same concept of solving problems or meeting one another’s needs without first seeking government permission reaches much closer to home than most of us realize.
When we hear the term “black market,” television shows have trained us to envision sneaking through the shadows to procure goods that may not be available through legal channels. In reality, the black market in our communities is much more benign.
It can consist of a person who cuts their neighbor’s hair for pay but without having a cosmetology license. The black market can include kids who smuggle salt and pepper to school to spice up otherwise bland school lunches.
It could be a neighbor who barters unpasteurized milk or honey from their own cow or beehive in return for piano lessons for their kids.
Not so many years ago, an out-of-work investment banker in New York made a killing at selling hot, fresh grilled cheese sandwiches to people who contacted him via his pager.
Each of these activities could be construed as illegal at some level. Yet none of them have caused objective harm that would justify the state’s intervention. So why do some grind their teeth in frustration that people are solving one another’s problems without government permission?
It’s because we have been trained to believe that we must ask permission first, and it angers us when someone else points out the shackles we’ve grown used to wearing.
Think about how many things require us to seek government permission before we can safely act. Really think about it. It would take a lot less time to list the few things we don’t yet have to obtain permission to do.
Can we honestly say that we are still a free society when we must beg permission for even the most minor acts?
Eric Peters puts into perspective how we’ve allowed freedom to become illegal:
A child must ask permission of its parents. He is not free. A bondsman must ask permission of his master; he is not free. Anyone who must ask permission before he is permitted to act is not – cannot – be free.
The fact that some interpret freedom to act without permission as tantamount to the law of the jungle shows precisely how brainwashed we’ve become.
Our rights exist because we exist. This means that bureaucratic permission isn’t necessary to live self-governing and productive lives. We’d likely surprise ourselves with how innovative we can be if we simply started believing this once again.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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