Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mythbusters, Markets & Awesomeness

I just posted this on Facebook, but it's something I've been thinking about for a few weeks, so I'd like it to be around for posterity's sake:

Watching a lot of Mythbusters in a row has made me really feel great about markets. Almost every commercial product they test not only does exactly what it's supposed to do, but does it safely and reliably, while almost always being affordable by the average person.

As one example, I give you this Emergency Hammer.

Not only does it do exactly what it's supposed to do - according to Mythbusters' test of commercial car escaping products used to escape a car submerged under water - incredibly well, it does so reliably, and perhaps best of all, it costs just $9.99.

So... Here you have an amazing safety product that could literally save hundreds of lives a year (thousands if you get the kind like this that also cuts seatbelt straps), that is small, portable, efficient and is within the reach of literally every person who owns a car in the United States.

That's remarkable.

I was thinking about this regarding internet security last night as well. Had you put the state in charge of coming up with a way to limit or stop spam or deal with other internet security issues, what would they do?

My bet: They'd have spent an inordinate amount of money on hiring experts to form a committee to research the problem, and they'd spend a few years coming up with options that will then be approved through a multi-stage voting process and sent up the chain to some executive branch official with the authority to implement the solution, and then they would force this one-size-fits-all decision on millions of American internet users, most of whom would find it useless and annoying and which - almost inevitably - hackers will work their way around in 4 seconds.

In my experience, this is not only what the incentives of government operations are likely to produce (and absolutely do produce in reality), it's also really just a pretty straight-forward expression of the central-planning mentality.

And the market solution? The Captcha.

Elegant, simple, maleable, completely effective, affordable and best of all: totally voluntary.


Anonymous said...

The internet itself was born as a government research project. So there! ;)

Sean W. Malone said...

That's an interesting case, actually... First, there were a LOT of private individuals working on solving the same kinds of problems and the DARPA thing worked with professors and engineers all over the place not directly employed by government to actually do that.

However, my real point on the internet thing is this: It took private entrepreneurs to actually understand the potential uses of the technology.

Left up to the state, I have no doubt that we'd still be stuck with an interoffice telegraph service almost only used by the military.