Technology, Not Politics, Leading the Way
For decades, American presidents urged the American people to reduce our reliance on foreign oil imports by conserving energy. Nothing worked.
In defiance of the prevailing political wisdom, individual Americans insisted that the answer was not cutting back on the use of energy but finding new sources of energy. When politicians tried to force people into smaller and more fuel-efficient cars, the gas-hogging SUV emerged as a vehicle of choice for millions.
The private sector responded to public demands. Fracking technology made it possible to unleash massive oil reserves. Private companies then invested over $200 billion a year, making the United States the world’s largest oil producer. We now produce far more oil than we import, and the price of gas has come tumbling down.
The American people didn’t really care whether it was the government or private companies that led to this happy result. They just wanted it to happen. The industry responded, and the government did not.
More high-tech versions of the same story line abounded in 2014. Perhaps the most dramatic has been the escalating Uber wars.
Uber is a ride-sharing app that is disrupting the taxi industry. When someone needs a ride, Uber responds faster than most taxi companies and has the payment system built right into your smartphone.
While Uber is shaking up the taxi industry, it’s government regulators who are really upset with the tech company. Generally speaking, Uber begins offering its service in an area without first getting permission from political types. That lack of deference offends many officials who believe nothing should be allowed without official permission. What really galls the regulators, though, is that by providing a better service, Uber exposes the political process as protectors of the taxi industry rather than consumers.
As a result, many cities, states and countries have deemed Uber services illegal, and the court battles are just beginning. But analysts and investors have apparently decided that satisfied consumers matter more than angry regulators. As the legal challenges mounted, the value of Uber doubled in just six months.
Governments may eventually shut Uber down in some parts of the world. But no government will be able to shut down the consumer demand for a technology-based ride-sharing app. Too many people in the 21st century would prefer to order a car from their smartphone rather than standing on the curb trying to hail a cab. If Uber disappears, another app will arise. There is nothing the regulators can (or should) do to stop it.
These examples show technology and private sector resources overcoming government obstruction to improve our quality of life. The key to their success is that the companies focus on meeting consumer needs. The government regulators focus on maintaining power.
As we look ahead at the start of 2015, we can expect many similar stories in the coming year. For example, new technologies are promising potentially huge quality-of-life gains in the fields of health care and education. The challenges from regulators defending the status quo in those fields will be enormous.
But the regulators will not be able to stop progress.
Consumers will not let them. They will reward companies that persevere to make us healthier and smarter. Those companies will lead our nation forward by following the American people.