Chambers of Commerce Dump Commerce and Embrace Big Government

 

The Chamber of Commerce, long a supporter of limited government and low taxes, was part of the coalition backing the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. On the national level, the organization still follows a pro-growth agenda — but thanks to an astonishing political transformation, many chambers of commerce on the state and local level have been abandoning these goals. They’re becoming, in effect, lobbyists for big government.

. . .

In as many as half the states, state taxpayer organizations, free market think tanks and small business leaders now complain bitterly that, on a wide range of issues, chambers of commerce deploy their financial resources and lobbying clout to expand the taxing, spending and regulatory authorities of government. This behavior, they note, erodes the very pro-growth climate necessary for businesses — at least those not connected at the hip with government — to prosper. Journalist Tim Carney agrees: All too often, he notes in his recent book, "Rip-Off," "state and local chambers have become corrupted by the lure of big dollar corporate welfare schemes."

. . .

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce boasts that the organization’s "core mission is to fight for business and free enterprise before Congress, the White House, regulatory agencies . . . and governments around the world." The national chamber has done just that, pushing tort reform and free trade — but in the states, chambers have come to believe their primary function is to secure tax financing for sports stadiums, convention centers, high-tech research institutes and transit boondoggles. Some local chambers have reportedly asked local utilities, school administrators and even politicians to join; others have opened membership to arts councils, museums, civic associations and other "tax eater" entities.

. . .

"I used to think that public employee unions like the NEA were the main enemy in the struggle for limited government, competition and private sector solutions," says Mr. Caldera of the Independence Institute. "I was wrong. Our biggest adversary is the special interest business cartel that labels itself ‘the business community’ and its political machine run by chambers and other industry associations." 

 

For the full commentary, see: 

STEPHEN MOORE.  "Tax Chambers."  The Wall Street Journal  (Sat., February 10, 2007):  A8.

(Note:  ellipses added, except the one in the quote following the word "agencies.")

 

Private Money Can Top Government Money in Space, as in IT

 

Lots of people are building new IT companies. You can start a company and sell it to Yahoo! or Google in a couple of years. But so can anyone else. Aerospace is different. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy in 1962: We choose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.

That’s why, as a long-time investor in IT and Internet start-ups, I’m now spending more and more time on private aviation and commercial space start-ups. I’m trailing an illustrius crew of IT pioneers: Elon Musk (Space-X, rockets, formerly with PayPal), Vern Raburn (Eclipse Aviation, very light jets, formerly at Microsoft, Symantec and Lotus), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin, rockets, and still at Amazon, too!), Jeff Greason (XCOR, rockets and formerly with Intel) and Ed Iacobucci (DayJet, air taxi operator, and founder of Citrix).

. . .

On the space side, there’s a . . . strong parallel with the world of IT. The establishment in "space" is the government and especially the military, just as it once was (along with academia) for the Internet. I remember the days when commerce on the Internet was considered sleazy—but look at the innovations and productivity it unleashed.

In the same way, the current priests of space are dismayed by the privately funded space start-ups—unsafe, sleazy, frivolous. Imagine: Ads on the side of a rocket ship! Well, why not, if it helps pay for the fuel… and the R&D that designed the thing?

 

For the full commentary, see: 

ESTHER DYSON  "New Horizons for the Intrepid VC."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., March 20, 2007):  A19.

(Note:  ellipses added, except for the ellipsis following the word "fuel" which was in the original.)

 

Why Starbucks Coffee is a Bargain

 

(p. 161)  These coffee places, most of which didn’t even exist ten years ago, had several virtues.  They were always in convenient locations.  They permitted, even welcomed, patrons to sit and talk for several hours.  And they had tables for spreading out my materials and electrical outlets for plugging in my equipment.  In short, they provided a four-hour office rental for the price of a three-dollar latte.

. . .  

(p. 162)  Starbucks and its caffeinated cousins are part of what I call the free agent infrastructure.  The components of this infrastructure, which I’ll review in a moment, include copy shops, office supply superstores, bookstore cafés, overnight delivery services, executive suites, and the Internet.  Like America’s system of federal highways, the free agent infrastructures form the physical foundation on which the economy operates.  But unlike the federal highway system, which was planned and paid for by the government, this infrastructure emerged more or less spontaneously.  Like so many other aspects of Free Agent Nation, it is self-organized.  Nobody is in charge of it.  That’s why it woks.  It  works so well, in fact, that few people realize that this collection of commercial Establishments even constitutes an infrastructure.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 

Internet Transmits and Applies Libertarian Ideas

 

Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/1586483501.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_.jpg

 

Today the Internet has become, Mr. Doherty notes, an efficient way to transmit libertarian ideas and show their practical application. (With its decentralized, free-wheeling ethos, the Internet is itself libertarian without even trying to be.) Jimmy Wales, the man who started the interactive online encyclopedia Wikipedia, believes that "facts can help set the world free." The largest retail market in the world is eBay, which allows anyone to buy and sell without a government license.

Louis Rosetto, the "radical capitalist" who founded Wired magazine, notes that, even if libertarian ideas must now push against a statist status quo, "contrarians end up being the drivers of change." Among the most ornery contrarians, he says, are the libertarians "laboring in obscurity, if not in derision." They have managed "to keep a pretty pure idea going, adapting it to circumstances and watching it be validated by the march of history." Mr. Doherty has rescued libertarianism from its own obscurity, eloquently capturing the appeal of the "pure idea," its origins in great minds and the feistiness of its many current champions.

 

For the full review, see: 

JOHN H. FUND.  "BOOKSHELF; Free to Choose, and a Good Thing, Too."  The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., February 15, 2007):  D7.

 

Should Netscape Be Viewed as a Failed Company, or as a Successful Project?

 

(p. 53)  Recall the story of Netscape, once the darling of the New Economy.  Netscape was formed in 1994.  It went public in 1995.  And by 1999, it was gone, purchased by America Online and subsumed into AOL’s operation.  Life span:  four years.  Half-life:  two years.  Was Netscape a company—or was it really a project?  Does the distinction even matter?  What matters most is that this short-lived entity put several products on the market, prompted established companies (notably Microsoft) to shift strategies, and (p. 54) equipped a few thousand individuals with experience, wealth, and connections that they could bring to their next project.

And Netscape is not alone.  A University of Texas study found that between 1970 and 1992, the half-life of Texas businesses shrank by 50 percent.  Likewise, a Federal Reserve analysis of New York companies found that the type of firm that created the most new jobs (microbusineses with fewer than ten employees) often had the shortest life span.  The life cycle of companies has been that jobs, too, have diminishing half-lives.  Ten years ago, nobody ever heard of a Web developer.  Ten years from now, nobody may remember Web developers.

Most important, at the very moment the longevity of companies is shrinking, the longevity of individuals is expanding.  Unlike Americans in the twentieth century, most of us today can expect to outlive just about any organization for which we work.  It’s hard to imagine a lifelong job at an organization whose lifetime will be shorter–often much shorter–than your own.

 

Source:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

 

Medicare Part D Privatization “Has Succeeded”

 

The author of the commentary excerpted below, won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2000. 

 

Last year, Medicare underwent a major expansion with the addition of Part D prescription drug coverage. A controversial feature of this new program was its organization as a market in which consumers could choose among various plans offered competitively by different insurers and HMOs, rather than the single-payer, single-product model used elsewhere in the Medicare system. Proponents of this design touted the choices it would offer consumers, and the benefits of competition for product quality and cost; opponents objected that consumers would be overwhelmed by the complexity of the market, and that it was unnecessarily generous to pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

Part D is a massive social experiment on the ability of a privatized market to deliver social services effectively. With the support of the National Institute on Aging, my research group has monitored consumer choices and outcomes from the new Part D market.  . . .

. . .

My overall conclusion is that, so far, the Part D program has succeeded in getting affordable prescription drugs to the senior population. Its privatized structure has not been a significant impediment to delivery of these services. Competition among insurers seems to have been effective in keeping a lid on costs, and assuring reasonable quality control. We do not have an experiment in which we can determine whether a single-product system could have done as well, or better, along these dimensions, but I think it is reasonable to say that the Part D market has performed as well as its partisans hoped, and far better than its detractors expected.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

DANIEL L. MCFADDEN.  "A Dog’s Breakfast."  The Wall Street Journal  (Fri., February 16, 2007):  A15.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

“Free Agent Nation” Still Rings True

 

   Source of book image:  http://g-ec2.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/10/ae/8ca3d250fca0f5b077de4010.L.jpg

 

Daniel Pink’s 2001 Free Agent Nation has been on my to-read list since it first came out.  It finally made it to the top—at least in the author-abridged two-cassette incarnation.

I always found the basic idea appealing:  the appeal of the freedom of working for yourself—Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, but for real. 

But I also was a little anxious; fearful that the book would place too much emphasis on seeming flash-in-the-pan dot.com labor market phenomena and rhetoric.

To my relief, I can report that little in the book depends on the dot.com over-exuberance.  The internet appears, as an infrastructure enabler, but the free agents are mainly doing more standard stuff, but doing it from a home office, and doing it project-by-project.

Pink is not an academic, which has pros and cons.  One of the pros is that his prose is pleasant.  Another is that he has an ear for a good story and a telling example.  Perhaps a con is that he often hasn’t had the time, or the interest, (or maybe the data just don’t exist) to often follow-up with how widespread his examples are.

Still there’s some good stuff here.  Like suggesting that free agency is what you would expect more of us to pursue, as we work our way up Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.  (In college I was enthused enough about Maslow that I was thinking of minoring in psychology, until they told me how many hours I would have to run rats through mazes before I’d be allowed to open a Maslow book.)

And there’s plausible discussion about how in some ways free agency is more secure than a regular job (multiple clients means diversification).  And there is more freedom to control your own time, and be your authentic self.

There’s also some good discussion of how the government makes free agency harder through health care and taxation policies.

All-in-all, this book helps make the case that labor can thrive in a Schumpeterian world of creative destruction.

 

Reference to the book:

Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: How America’s New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.