Tuesday, August 16, 2016


"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.."
2 Timothy 1:7

When did this become a controversial statement?!?
[E]xperimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default....innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if any develop, can be addressed later. (1)
Permissionless Innovation, by Adam Thierer, is an academic investigation of regulatory issues related to technological modernization.  The book argues that attempts to regulate new technologies end up stifling efforts to make life simpler and cheaper.  While we found the academic approach frustratingly slow, that approach is appropriate when explaining these issues to newbs to those who haven't considered them in depth.

Thierer distinguishes between two approaches to regulation: 'permissionless' vs. 'precautionary.'  The permissionless approach gives "entrepreneurs...a clear green light from policymakers that signals a general acceptance of risk taking -- especially risk taking that challenges existing business models and traditional ways of doing things (10)."  By contrast, a precautionary approach entails asking "mother may I" from some political authority and accounting for every possible contingency that might arise before experimentation can proceed.

This discussion has consequences across the economy.  While issues like ridesharing and short-term rentals have forced the question, they're not limited to what we have historically thought of as the 'tech' industry.  The internet is hardly the last platform for innovation (16).  As Theirer explains, "the world of atoms and physical things -- is primed for the same sort revolution that the world of bits -- the information economy -- has undergone over the past two decades" (16).  3-D printing and commercial drones are the first two examples that spring to mind.

As a veteran of the Austin City Council's strange technophobia, we were struck by this sentence: "if harms do arise, consider whether existing laws and regulations are sufficient to address them, before assuming that new rules are required (109)."  In other words, if you really want to crack down on 'party houses' it might be advisable to enforce the noise ordinance that was already on the books before banning an entire industry.  As to the Uber/Lyft discussion, the notion that "[p]olicymakers should relax old rules on incumbents as new entrants and new technologies challenge the status quo (112)" speaks for itself.

From a political perspective, Permissionless Innovation is about pitching to persuades.  As such, there were times when it belabors certain points we consider obvious.  Still, for the intended audience, this is a robust discussion that will get them up to speed in a way that moves the ball forward.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, brother. The most unappreciated right we have enjoyed in this country is the right to earn a living and do new things, and that underappreciated right has largely left town. Rent-seeking bureaucrats tend to think that no uncontrolled development can be good, and thus must not be permitted.