Why does the government hate innovation?

posted at 10:41 pm on April 21, 2016 by Taylor Millard

One of the things which constantly flummoxes me is why some people in government see something new, and immediately want new rules set up. I’ve written before on California’s war on private business, but this isn’t something exclusive to The Golden State. It seems like groups just freak out when an innovation like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, e-cigarettes, and 3D printers comes along to threaten the status quo. It seems like most of the outrage is from people worried about seeing their own power disappear, while others claim to be worried about “public safety.”

The best example is obviously the war on Uber and Lyft. The taxi cab industry has been running scared over the transportation networking companies, using some of their influence to press allies to pass legislation against it or keep restrictive legislation on the books. Los Angeles Times reported in March how California Senator Ben Hueso was holding up deregulation efforts on Uber and Lyft by refusing to hold hearings on the bill. Hueso’s older brother just happens to own one of the larger taxi companies in San Diego. He denies being influenced by his brother, but proposed a bill this year which would essentially put Uber and Lyft under the purview of the state.

SEC. 3. Section 5431.3 is added to the Public Utilities Code, to read:
5431.3. The commission may fix the rates and establish rules for transportation network companies, prohibit discrimination, and award reparation for the exaction of unreasonable, excessive, or discriminatory charges by a transportation network company.

This would obviously crush Uber and Lyft, and thankfully the bill failed (by one vote). Cities have also gone after these companies with Dallas briefly considering regulations Uber said would drive them out of town, and leaving San Antonio completely due to the regulations inflicted on them. Columbus also tried to put the two companies out of business by suing over “public safety concerns” about driver background and vehicle safety. Why do this? In an era of politicians looking to “ban the box,” why are they pushing to find out the backgrounds of Uber and Lyft drivers? What happens if a city happens to find out an ex-con is a driver? Will they try to shut the service down? This is why the claims don’t make sense and reek of inconsistency to help the taxi lobby.

But “public safety” complaints aren’t just being levied against Uber and Lyft. The federal government, plus local and state governments are going after e-cigarettes and vaping devices. The Department of Transportation banned e-cigarettes last month, something Congress had already been considering. Via USA Today:

A House committee agreed last month to ban e-cigarettes, or vaping, under a proposal from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. The department said it was taking action to avoid any confusion about smoking and vaping. The e-cigarettes vaporize nicotine or other liquid substances for the user to inhale.

“Just last week, we saw frightening footage of an electronic cigarette battery exploding in a man’s pocket, causing second degree burns,” Norton said. “If such a fire occurred on an airplane, it could be catastrophic.”

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., urged the department in 2014 to ban e-cigarettes after a fire a Logan International Airport was caused by one in a passenger’s luggage. News stories described the devices exploding and causing firesd in the last week in Florida and Kentucky, he said.

“A passenger up in the skies shouldn’t have to worry about the cabin going up in smoke because an e-cigarette has sparked a fire,” Markey said.

The problem is most airlines were already banning vaping. So it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to step in, unless they just want to flex their muscles to make sure airlines say, “How high?” when the government says, “Jump!” It would make more sense for the public to ask airlines to ban vaping, even if there’s no evidence suggesting second hand vaping is a problem. There’s a lung doctor I know who believes vaping actually helps people stop smoking, and multiple smoking friends of mine have now quit tobacco products entirely thanks to e-cigarettes or exclusively vape. This seems like something individuals in government would want to promote (without using taxpayer dollars, mind you) instead of looking to stamp out. The only reason why is either to get money through taxes or cronyism (even though the tobacco lobby isn’t as strong as it used to be). It’s possible the government simply wants vape makers and Uber and Lyft to start playing the “buying and selling” game, as a way to make sure the wheels are still greased.

The federal government also flipped out over “public safety” concerns when 3D printers started becoming more popular. The biggest issue was over the Liberator pistol by Defense Distributed. New York Senator Chuck Schumer claimed it would only cost about a thousand dollars to buy the 3D printer and produce the gun, so the government had to ban the Liberator plans. The problem is the pistol was a single shot design and was only available on real high-tech 3D printers (ones which cost $20K to start). But this isn’t enough for Schumer and his allies, so the gun had to be banned under the idea of “public safety,” instead of looking at it as a way for people to protect themselves (even if in a limited way).

It’s easy to hate on be afraid of new technology because of the unknown. The Independent wrote how Henry Ford had to convince people the Model T was superior to the horse drawn carriage. Critics hated the first iPhone when it was unveiled. America fought a war with Britain over the idea of self-governance versus a monarch. The best response to new technology or business isn’t to try to stamp it out, but watch to see what happens. The ones in government who want to stop innovation are either bowing to the interests of their donors or just hoping to get more money through lobbying efforts from the new industry. That may be the worst part of it all. Politicians just want to make the fight for new methods to be all politically focused, instead of producing a new, helpful product. That’s NOT how it should work in this country, and it’s sad to see it going that way.


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