In one of his gag appearances, this one as a 2000-year old man, Mel Brooks was asked to name the greatest invention he had witnessed in his long life. “Saran wrap,” he shot back. A useful product, surely, but if environmentalists had the power they now have, unlikely to have emerged from the lab into lunch boxes. And if the candle lobby were as powerful as the one that forced the repeal of Britain’s candle tax in 1831, Joel Spira, who died last week, might never have become the successful entrepreneur-founder of Lutron Electronics, the company built around his first invention, the dimmer switch. No longer did hostesses have to rely on candles for the soft lighting appropriate to the day when dinner parties were formal affairs at which diners spoke with one another -- this being the time before checking one’s e-mails and Facebook pages became standard activities at dinners, where people now gather to dine alone.
We have these conveniences because they were developed before powerful affected groups found ways to hold back the tide of change. As Texas doctors, pledged to do their all for their patients, have done by making telehealthcare illegal. Opponents of Uber’s urban transport revolution, masters of the art of stifling change and of protecting an obsolete business method threatened by disruption, have nothing on the healing profession. At least not the doctor/believers in Texas’ free-market, red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. The Texas Medical Board has decided it’s a bad idea for the not-very sick -- sore throats, rashes and other minor (although not to the sufferers) ailments to be able to dial-a-doc or nurse instead of showing up at an emergency room or retail clinic, or trying to see a real live doctor during his office hours, which generally coincide with the hours at which they have to be at work. In Texas, doctors must establish a relationship with patients before diagnosing or prescribing for what ails them. Sounds reasonable. But according to the report in the New York Times that relationship cannot be established via telephone, e-mail, electronic text or chat. Like all rules, there will be exceptions: a doctor may still treat patients by phone or video if the patient is at a hospital and a health care provider is there to “assist”. In short, Texas doctors have no intention of competing with a service that is instantly available, at a charge of $40 in cases in which the patient’s employer or insurer doesn’t cover this sort of thing. Teledoc, which employs 700 board-certified physicians specially trained in how to conduct these consultations, claims that health care in Texas has been set back by “more than a decade.” That’s what successful cartels do to impertinent disrupters who threaten their members’ livelihoods.
They are men, mostly. They are young, mostly. They are visionaries on a mission -- to systematize and make all the world’s knowledge accessible (Google); to connect all the world’s people with each other (Facebook); to change the way books are read and the sound of music is heard (Apple, Amazon); to reorganize urban transportation in 55 countries (Uber); to make brevity mandatory (Twitter); to create a more literate world and, not to be ignored, elevate free delivery to a right (Amazon).
Free trade is a huge benefit if you are a Walmart shopper. All those microwave ovens, lamps, sneakers, and other stuff available for a relative pittance. It’s a tragedy if you are a domestic manufacturer or worker attempting to compete with cheap labor and subsidized Chinese manufacturers pouring those goods onto supermarket shelves. Consumers are dispersed and unaware of their interest in free trade; workers and manufacturers know their interest in protection. So freer trade is always a difficult political proposition.
Conservatives of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your corporate sponsors. We must save capitalism from the capitalists. We must persuade our corporate and political classes that it is difficult for people to retain their belief that market capitalism works for them when they are struggling to find work, or to keep their homes, or to avoid declines in their living standards as their real wages stagnate and their taxes disappear into bailouts of banks and subsidies for solar millionaires.
Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren backed away from her statement that supporters of hers from Wall Street tell her she could "save capitalism." The Boston Herald reports on the Democratic candidate's walkback:
Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren says Wall Street types tell her she could "save capitalism" if she wins her race for U.S. Senate. Here's what Warren recently told a reporter, National Journal reports:
President Obama, envious of China’s economic model, proclaimed his admiration for the high-speed railways, bridges, skyscrapers, and solar panels that China is building. (“That used to be us,” he famously said – a line apparently so powerful it became the title of a book.) But even the Chinese know that Obama’s envy is misplaced.
There’s a lot of silliness on all sides of the Bain Capital debate.
On the one hand, Newt Gingrich’s attacks (and the follow-on assaults by Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry) on Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital have been unfair, over the top, and, for that matter, all over the place. Gingrich, Perry, and Huntsman deserve much of the criticism they’ve received from conservative commentators.
On the other, Mitt Romney’s claim throughout his campaign that his private sector experience almost uniquely qualifies him to be president is also silly. Does he really think that having done well in private equity, venture capital, and business consulting—or even in the private sector more broadly—is a self-evident qualification for public office? One assumes Mitt Romney would agree that Chris Christie is a better chief executive of New Jersey than Jon Corzine, and that Rudy Giuliani was a better mayor of New York than Mike Bloomberg. But Romney’s biography looks a lot more like Bloomberg's or Corzine's (leaving aside Corzine's recent misadventures) than like that of Giuliani (pre-mayoralty) or Christie. Past business success does not guarantee performance in public office. Indeed, Romney sometimes seems to go so far as to suggest that succeeding in the private sector is intrinsically more admirable than, e.g., serving as a teacher or a soldier or even in Congress. This is not a sensible proposition, or a defensible one.