Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Centrally Controlled Jeans

The problem that I have with central planning is that governments are notoriously lacking in imagination.  The centrally planned economy will pick a winner and stick with it, in the meantime the losers get no opportunity to prove their worth.  Take this example.
iPod, meet Levi Strauss. The 133-year-old denim brand announced Tuesday at Macworld in San Francisco that it would be the first to offer consumers "iPod compatible" jeans.
The RedWire DLX line, due out in fall 2006, will be compatible with iPod's plug and play technology. The jeans will also have a joystick in the watch pocket that would allow the wearer to control the audio player without taking it out.
A docking cradle will be built into the jeans, making the "iPod bulge" all but invisible when wearing. Levi's says this is both for the security and safety of the iPod and is removable with the device to allow the user to look at the screen while not having to disconnect.

Does anyone honestly think that you could get a bunch of politicians to agree that dollars should be spent on developing jeans that make your iPod listening experience more enjoyable?  In fact, there would be numerous special interests that actively trying to quash such innovation.  Recording companies would actively try to make MP3 experiences as painful as possible to protect their oligarchy ownership of music.  In fact, in a centrally planned economy neither MP3 nor iPod would ever have come into being in the first place.  Sure, no one is arguing that the clothing industry should be government controlled, and I don’t think that anyone would argue that society NEEDS iPod enabled jeans, but I think that the example is valid.

Don’t buy that argument?  How about this one?

I always like to hear more about fuel cells and Panasonic came out with some good news on this front with its announcement of a new fuel supply method, that would halve the size of current fuel cells—perfect for powering portable devices. Called the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell system, the cell itself is 400cc (24 cubic inches), about the size of a soda can, with an average output of 13 watts, a peak output of 20 watts, and low weight. This bodes well for carrying around and charging things like laptops (which could get up to 20 hours of runtime!). It was demo’d at CES, so let’s cross our fingers that we’ll actually see it sometime soon.

There is a lot of money being sunk into batteries right now.  The innovation is looking into all sorts of factors like environmental friendliness, longer life, lower cost etc.  Imagine for a moment that Congress got to decide that one of these technologies was the “correct” one – in fact, why do we want to spend money on inventing new batteries to begin with?  The batteries that we currently have work well enough.  In fact, batteries are a severe environmental hazard, let’s force everyone to use solar power – it’s clean and free!  What a great idea!  Of course your laptop will only operate on solar power for about 5 minutes, but why do you need to use your laptop on the beach anyway?  

With the makers of Energizer and Duracell anxious to keep competitors out of the marketplace with technology that they don’t have large amounts of money would be spent trying to sway Congress’s decision on the matter.  So not only do we not advance and innovate as a society we are actively spending money to stay that way.  I like free-markets better where money is spent to make life for everyone better as opposed to spending money to keep everyone’s life the same.

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