Category Archives: Shows

The Problem with California

I love California. I have lived here for four years now and love the fact that I can wear flip flops in January. However, I will admit California has its problems. Let me be clear, this clip is not talking about California but, having started a business in this state, it isn’t that far off.

This is a huge problem when it comes to growing an economy. When my wife and I started our business it felt like playing Russian Roulette.  Which form was going to take so long to fill out that we wouldn’t be able to open? What regulation were we going to miss that would close us down just after we opened? It was a nightmare. Proof that California has taken things too far is the fact that many businesses have decided to leave the state in recent years to  open in places like Texas.

If you listen to the full episode from Planet Money you will hear about something called the Doing Business survey by the World Bank. This is basically a list of all the countries in the world based on how hard it is to do business. The good news is that the U.S. is number seven. The bad news is the story doesn’t end there.

The survey also breaks down information into several different categories.  When it comes to the ability to start a business, the U.S. is number 46, dealing with construction permits, 41 and when it comes to getting electricity we are 61st. What numbers pull us back towards the top? When it comes to getting credit we are the second best in the entire world and we are number four at resolving insolvency. So basically we are really good at giving you money and then letting you walk away when you lose it.

Those are actually really good qualities. It goes right along with the whole “fail early, fail often” mantra of today’s entrepreneurs.  The problem appears to be how hard it is to use that money.

Now I absolutely do not agree with President Reagan who said, “government is the problem.” Government regulation is very important, however, it needs to be smart, well run regulation. We have created a world where all of the onus is on the individual or the business to figure out whatever byzantine rules the government comes up with. The government needs to take some of the responsibility for asking the question, how does one actually apply these rules in the real world, before they pass a law.

These things have real world consequences. Not just in how fast an economy grows, but in individual lives. The podcast ends with the dramatic story of the Arab Spring, which was started by a merchant in Tunisia who was so fed up with the police interfering with his business that he set himself on fire. We are no where near that in the United States, but we are absolutely at the point where a lot of potential entrepreneurs will just throw up their hands and say, this isn’t worth the trouble.


Free Marketplace of Bad Ideas

Most people usually lament and fear the fact that technology is now making it easier than ever to spread hurtful ideas. From shaming someone into suicide on Facebook to recruiting jihadists on Youtube, there are certainly plenty of examples of the negative implications of social media. But is it possible that in another sense, this will prove to be the ultimate test, and hopefully vindication, of a free Marketplace of Ideas.

Continue reading Free Marketplace of Bad Ideas

Changing Campaign Finance is Tough

During the 2014 election cycle, Lawrence Lessig tried to change the shape of American politics. Or at least he tried to start a change. With his PAC, the Mayday PAC, Lessig raised over $10 million and spent it to influence eight elections around the country. This was meant to be a test election to see if the PAC could get people who were supportive of campaign finance reform elected. Here is a little bit of what happened.

Continue reading Changing Campaign Finance is Tough

CIA helps spread of Polio

There have been a lot of unintended consequences of the War on Terror. This is one that I had not heard of before.

Polio had almost been eradicated in Pakistan and now it is on the rise again. This story from Freakonomics Radio is specifically about why more people don’t take the flu vaccine. In their examination they came across this story of how actions taken by individuals and organizations can effect peoples views of vaccines.

Humanities fight against disease has been waged for thousands of years. This fight has sometimes been extremely low tech such as sterilizing wounds alcohol and washing hands. Other times it is very high tech and experimental such as current efforts with gene therapy. Without a doubt, one of the greatest weapons in that fight has been vaccinations. Polio, small pox, measles, it is hard today to understand the fear that parents only a few generations ago had that their children would get some of these horrible diseases because our campaigns against them have been so successful

However, that success is leading to a strong backlash. This map from the Council on Foreign Relations shows the massive rise in preventable diseases, particularly in the United States. Even worse, the actions of the United States are giving people in other regions of the world proof that vaccines are part of a western plot.

As the Freakonomics story points out, providing additional information to people who don’t believe in vaccines tends to just make them less likely to get vaccinated. If we can’t change the minds of people in this country, can we at least not act in such blatant disregard for public health in other countries?

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