One of the most frustrating things about America circa 2016 is there is virtually nothing any of us can do – start a business, invent a technology, remodel our house, become a barber, go to the beach – that doesn’t come with a long set of rules enforced by myriad branches of government.
Check out the “prohibited” sign at the entrance of any park you visit on Independence Day. And that “become a barber” thing isn’t a joke. If you want to cut hair for a living, you better check with the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, which governs everything down to the proper display of a “barber pole.” This is true for almost every trade and profession.
Members of both major parties are equally zealous over what rules they want to promulgate and enforce. The only difference between both sides these days is which particular rules they like and which particular ones they don’t like.
The fundamental concept of our nation – the one we’ll be celebrating with fireworks and barbecues – is that each of us gets to freely chart our own path. There are some ground rules, but the government isn’t supposed to micromanage what we do.
Thanks to the internet revolution, we’re also at the cusp of an economic transformation. New technologies are popping up everywhere. Old, poorly performing industries are being challenged by new ones (the sharing economy, etc.). It’s what happens when people are free to innovate.
Yet every time a new idea takes root, old-guard companies that feel threatened, and politicians and regulators who like to control things, put the kibosh on the upstarts. They don’t always succeed. But how much time and effort do companies such as Uber and Lyft – those ride-sharing services that have done more to battle DUIs than any checkpoint – have to spend battling new regulations rather than investing in their companies?
I still tool around in a 1988 Lincoln Town Car with an analog clock and in a little Volkswagon with a stick shift. The idea of self-driving cars is unimaginable. Yet I am astounded by how close that concept is to becoming reality. One could go to a bar, pass out in the back seat and arrive safely at home. People who don’t drive would have unheard-of mobility.
The Department of Motor Vehicles’ immediate reaction was to create rules that severely clamp down on the technology. How could any of us know how to properly regulate an industry that is just getting its legs? Free societies work best because no central planner can match the wisdom of millions of independently acting consumers.
The same theory holds for drones. Maybe UPS will airdrop your latest order from Amazon. Who knows? Can’t we just set some ground rules and give the industry a chance to develop as consumer demand drives it? Because these unmanned vehicles share the skies with manned aircraft, there’s a need for a consistent set of rules, of course. But it’s wrong to impose draconian and patchwork rules that crush the industry in its infancy.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the most ominous regulations – a bill that would have required drone operators to get property owners’ permission for flying drones lower than 350 feet. This year, another measure would impose myriad restrictions on drones. Various business and technology groups argued in a letter that such an approach would “create a patchwork of regulation … chilling development and forestalling exciting new technologies.” It failed in committee, but it could come back, and other bills raise similar concerns.
Meanwhile, the Orange County Grand Jury is ramping up fear about these new devices. Its report last month stoked overwrought fears to public safety and worried about “the potential use of drones to smuggle contraband into detention facilities” (as if people who do that would follow new laws). The report called for every city to adopt a recreational drone ordinance similar to the one passed by Los Angeles. Just what the industry needs – dozens of new regulations to navigate.
There are plenty of existing laws that punish people who act irresponsibly. Instead of passing new ones, why not give this – and other emerging industries – the chance to evolve? It’s a radical thought these days, but radical thinking is what July 4 is all about.