I’ve had a piece by Newt Gingrich in my inbox for a few days, but I knew sometime I would get to it. The piece is relatively evergreen as op-eds go so I just figured when the time came I would contribute some of my thoughts – well, the time is now since you’re reading this.
In Newt’s new book, called Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate, he describes those who would hold on to tradition for its own sake as the “prison guards of the past.” The two cases in point he described in the piece I kept around were Google’s driverless cars and “coding boot camps” where top programmers conduct intensive training programs designed to encourage employment at some of the best companies in the field – where they can perhaps work on the driverless car or other breakthroughs.
As always, there’s a fly in the ointment – whether it’s the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fear bordering on paranoia about these Google autos zipping around without some sort of new regulation to cover them or the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education fretting that these would-be hackers aren’t getting the well-rounded politically correct education the state seems to demand, bureaucrats have to get their grubby little fingers into the pie. My question is: what exactly would they contribute?
I’ve often stated the case that government is a solution, but it rarely addresses the correct problem. It’s obviously in Google’s best interest to put out a usable and safe product such as the one which they are testing right now, just like it’s in the best interest of those who run “coding boot camps” to educate their students in the best way possible to assume the demanding task of writing millions of lines of code. (They probably could have written the Obamacare website in a couple weeks, made it work, and saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.) Snark aside, just think of the possibilities these present if left unfettered by government interference, in particular that of the driverless car.
As someone who sits behind the wheel for several hours every week doing his outside job, imagine how much more productive I could be with a good internet connection as, for example, I make my weekly drive around my various stops on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Suddenly I may more enjoy that trip I occasionally have to make to Cape Charles for calls there. And what if we could make it so cars could traverse the rural interstates safely at a higher speed, say 120 miles per hour? Then we wouldn’t need the high-speed rail boondoggle, and politically correct urban planners can’t have that. To me, a car equals freedom because you’re not a slave to another’s timetable, whether bus, train, or airplane. Sure, it will take a decade or two for a driverless car to become affordable for the average person but there may come a point – even in my lifetime – where the car with a driver may only be seen at the NASCAR track.
The problem with the idea of using government to solve a problem is their lack of incentive to find a lasting solution. If we ended poverty or, to use an issue hitting closer to home, cleaned up Chesapeake Bay to a state where you couldn’t dive in without running into the aquaculture that’s in abundance, would the government regulators say “our work is done here” and go away? Not on your life – then they would have to get honest jobs. Left to government’s own devices, we will never end the “war on poverty” or finish cleaning Chesapeake Bay because there’s too much taxpayer- or donor-supplied money at stake.
Yesterday I was thinking about freedom, and it dawned on me that we cannot have absolute freedom because that would be anarchy – everyone would live for their own self-interest and it would deteriorate into a simple game of “survival of the fittest.” But we also could not have absolute tyranny because at least the tyrant would have his or her own free will, even if he or she is the only individual so unconstrained. In all societies, we have some sort of rule of law, but the difference is in who calls the shots and whether things are set in stone or as capricious as the weather on a particular day. We are at war with Eastasia, and have always been at war with Eastasia; that is, until someone decides we’re at war with Eurasia.
It seems to me that the sweet spot in a society would be one where there are some fairly simple rules (the Ten Commandments and Constitution as written come to mind) but aside from that people have the freedom to live their lives as they see fit. Google wants to make a driverless car? On balance, it seems to me the benefits far outweigh the costs to certain other areas in the transportation industry. Software makers want good coders? All they seem to be hurting is the feelings of the government which can’t regulate them into their approved little box.
I’ve always admired Newt Gingrich – maybe not so much politically, but for the fact he seems to be thinking a generation or two ahead. I try to do the same here, as this blog and (especially) my book aren’t always for the here and now, but to look into the future and see possibilities. I may not always be right, but I try to learn as I go along.
The key going forward is to impress upon society at large that they have a purpose. We can advance under a system which has brought the world prosperity, or backslide into the tyranny mankind has known for most of its miserable existence. It’s still our choice, but the window is closing fast. Those “prison guards of the past” are aptly named, for this nation was born from tyranny and of late it’s devolving in that direction unless we can break the chains.