Hey Obama, if you want to liberate women, liberate trade

In last night’s presidential debate President Obama referenced the US’s role in advocating for women’s rights in the Middle East at least three times.

We do have to make sure that we’re protecting religious minorities and women because these countries can’t develop unless all the population, not just half of it, is developing.

And we have put significant pressure on [Egypt] to make sure they’re doing that; to recognize the rights of women. These countries can’t develop if young women are not given the kind of education that they need.

Obama is absolutely correct that a country’s economic development and how it treats its women go hand-in-hand. Yet the president left me wondering how he intends to protect women and respect and support their rights in sovereign, non-US nations like Egypt and Iran.

There are only two ways, really: cooperatively or coercively. It seems clear which path Obama has chosen.

Who is going to be credible to all parties involved? And they can look at my track record, whether it’s Iran sanctions, whether it’s dealing with counterterrorism, whether it’s supporting democracy, whether it’s supporting women’s rights, whether it’s supporting religious minorities.

Economic sanctions barely budge governments (have we seen any progress as a result?) while inflicting serious hurt on people. Not only that, but they represent a huge missed opportunity.

Cultural norms have long flowed across state lines along with goods and services. By denying Iran trade with the rest of the world, we’re denying them chances to come in contact with our culture.



What impact would the latest Nicki Minaj video have on the Iranian people? In it, Minaj takes rap tropes like fully-dressed man surrounded by half-naked women and participates fully, in the masculine role, where she’s fully-dressed getting her hair done by a cleavage-bearing woman. And she’s rapping, a traditionally masculine activity. Yet Minaj is not in drag or otherwise playing a man. That, she leaves to her collaborator Cassie. Here’s her describing the idea to cross-dress like it’s NBD:

[The director] came to us with the treatment of us being in a Barbie world, and I wanted to put my little flavor on it, so I was like, ‘What if I was Ken?’ So Nicki loved the idea, and that’s where that stemmed from.”

Just as Elvis’ hips helped liberate American society from Victorian sexual mores, Cassie’s androgyny helps liberate American society from strictly-enforced gender roles.

How much better if we, through cooperative, liberating, prosperity-producing, innovation-creating trade could do the same for the entire world, Iran included?

Photo by sinosplice.

Siemens exits solar. It’s time for us to do the same.

GigaOM reports that Siemens announced on Monday plans to sell its solar energy business and exit the market completely.

The decision reflects the poor outlook for the solar market by an energy giant.

The growth of the global solar market hasn’t met expectations, Siemens said in a statement, adding that changes in government policies and slim profit margins are among the chief causes.

Nearly 200 more [solar panel manufacturers] in North America, Europe and Asia will likely disappear in the next few years.

The reality of the market for solar energy is that there isn’t much of one outside of government largess. Here’s a nice rundown of Obama green-energy bankruptcies.

British hippies making tea with solar power

But as recently as the first debate, President Obama was calling solar-flavored cronyism “investment.” From the transcript:

I… believe that we’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments.

The only way for solar power to grow in the near future is via government subsidy. And for every green job born more than one non-green job dies. Unfortunately numerous studies have demonstrated the net-job-killing effects of green energy subsidies. Even Europe has cut green energy subsidies in light of the economic realities.

It’s about time for Obama to see the non-solar-powered light.

The cities of the future will be private: How Anarcho-capitalism incubates tech innovation

What do the cities of the future look like? I predict that the cities of the future will be privately run. Here’s why.

Sometime between when cities were located near arable land and fresh water, or just navigable water, and the present, where and when most cities arose was based chiefly on a meeting between an innovation (such as a new way to mine or use metal or a timber ) and a natural resource (such as ore or timber). This brought industry to the resource, which created jobs, which drew people.

The way things were

Traditionally, companies have chosen where to locate based on four main factors:

1. Resources

It’s hard to mine where there’s no ore.

2. People

It’s hard to mine if no one lives or will live near the mine.

3. Infrastructure

It’s hard to mine if people can’t get to the mine

4. The state

It’s hard to mine when the regulations and taxes make it difficult.

The way things were more recently

But today’s first-world economies are service and not manufacturing based. Google and Facebook don’t turn iron ore into steel and make automobiles. They take people and combine them with computers to create services.

The transition from a manufacturing to a service economy in the first world presents a massive opportunity to radically change the way cities rise, which will ironically occur first in the third world.

The shift from making things to doing things will render nearly inconsequential three of the four reasons companies choose to locate.

1. Resources

Innovation in the services sector requires few natural resources.

2. People

The third world is outpacing the first in math and science education. English is quickly becoming ubiquitous. Travel and telecommunication are becoming cheaper and easier.

3. Infrastructure

If a person from anywhere can be qualified to work, and can work anywhere, much less infrastructure is needed. What infrastructure is needed is incredibly cheap to implement and will soon be nearly ubiquitous.

4. The state

Regulations and taxes will continue to affect the feasibility and profitability of service-sector innovations.

NOT the way things will be

What I think it means for the state to be the primary factor in business location is that businesses will be asking themselves three main questions when deciding where to locate:

1. Where are the barriers to entry lowest?

Service-sector innovation happens quickly. Having to dick around with licenses and paperwork for months to enter the market with your product can be the difference between failure and success.

2. Where are the regulations most transparent, fair and consistent?

Byzantine, labrynthine, compliance-costly, incumbent-protecting, ever-changing regulations kill otherwise profitable ideas.

3. Where are the taxes lowest?


In other words, cities will rise where companies find the best states.

In this case, best means all of the above — low taxes and barriers to entry with a clear, fair, stable regulatory environment — PLUS fair and effective contract enforcement and well-protected private property rights.

So how do you get the best state? The same way you get the best of everything else: innovation through market competition!

Competition and innovation in living arrangements has been tried to an extent, most recently via seasteading and charter cities.

Unfortunately thus far the attempted cities and seasteads haven’t been able to offer fair and effective contract enforcement and strong private property rights. And they’ve failed to protect the businesses that’ve tried to locate there from fuckery by other states.

But demand for better cities is rising. And when demand rises, the market provides.

Smart entrepreneurs may have to go inside, like the Honduras experiment, or under, over or beside (Waterworld holla!) existing coercive states. But they will be looking to build voluntary “states” that compete with coercive states and other voluntary states to offer other entrepreneurs an environment where innovation can flourish and wealth can be created.

If sold as such, with a valid business plan for creating that environment, I see no reason charter cities, seasteads or whatever else could have any trouble raising enough money to get started. It’s only a matter of time.

Photos by thelearnedfoot_smiling_da_vinci, and ILMO JOE.

The Heritage bloggers meeting at Google’s DC headquarters

I attended a Heritage bloggers meeting at Google’s DC headquarters today. On the agenda was their new Politics and Elections tools, selling us on Google+ and a conversation about the state of tech policy.

I am the worst photog evar!

First we heard from Sam Smith on the Politics and Elections team at Google.

Politics and Elections Trends and Voter Information Tool. Google Politics and Elections came out of a 20% project.

The tool allows you to find breakout search terms during a debate. The first debate’s breakout search terms included Big Bird and Simpson Bowles.

Then Graham Bonner talked about how Google+ works and what it can be used for. He also introduced Authorship Markup, something I’ve implemented at Reason which I think will be big.

Then we started talking about the FTC Google investigation. I’m not sure who was speaking for Google, but he basically said that investigations like this will hurt the next Google. This man and Lee Dunn, Policy Council for Google, also made the point that one of the hallmarks of an illegal monopoly is that it destroys the competition, and Google’s competition, namely Yelp and TripAdvisor, seem to be doing just fine.

They went on to voice their concern over whether the Lieberman-Collins definition of critical infrastructure could include Google services.

And they made the point that the tech industry continues to create jobs and grow the economy, so hamstringing it really isn’t wise.

It’s interesting to see Google reach out to the right in the face of FTC investigations. The right is WAY behind the left in their understanding  and coverage of tech issues and legislation.

It would make the most sense to reach out to libertarians particularly, who are generally much more with-it when it comes to technology. But then you have the issue of their ideological purity.

So we’ll see what happens. But there’s a LOT of opportunity out there for small-government people who understand tech issues and legislation.

Nazi Germany shows that the state cannot be trusted to decide which views get airtime

Yesterday Igor, Evelyn, Jessie and I headed over to the Holocaust Museum to catch the last day of their State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda exhibit.

State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda reveals how the Nazi Party used modern techniques as well as new technologies and carefully crafted messages to sway millions with its vision for a new Germany.

It was a fascinating exhibit, for two reasons.

First, it drove home the eternal effectiveness of appealing to emotion, particularly through narrative.

Many exhibits reminded me of what Arthur Brooks says in the Road to Freedom. Logic and reason don’t win hearts and minds. The Nazis, ironically, made moral arguments, while their opponents used effectual intellectual counterpoints. Brandishing facts and logic when your opponent uses morals and emotions = bringing a knife to a gunfight. The Nazi propaganda machine won by making the argument that doing right by your neighbors and being a moral citizen required supporting the Nazi party. The Nazis made shit up and the people believed it because the Nazis made believing it so emotionally rewarding.

The second thing that struck me was the pro-censorship tone of the exhibit, especially at the end.

The exhibit mentioned on occasion the Nazis’ censorship of opponents’ messages by, for example, distributing radios that had a hard time picking up foreign broadcasts. But the end of the exhibit displayed the trials of the Nazi propagandists with barely a word about the troubling precedent of speech restriction. The placards at the end seemed to gleefully describe the trials of Rwandan propagandists.

Censorship helped create the Holocaust; it’s not the solution. Had Nazi Germany protected free speech, it would have been much, much harder for Nazi lies to go unchecked. Had it been a truly fair fight between Nazi ideas and anything resembling opposition, I believe the outcome would have been very different. Nazi Germany should show us unequivocally that the state cannot ever be trusted with deciding which views get airtime.

I understand that allowing certain ideas to circulate is terrifying. But I’d argue that history has shown that using the force of the state to determine which ideas are allowed to circulate leads to far more horrifying results.

Failing to fully call out the role of censorship in bolstering Nazi propaganda’s effectiveness and failing to call for freer speech seems like huge missed opportunities in an otherwise eye-opening and informative exhibit.