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The Critical Path #163: You Say You Want a Revolution

Horace discusses politics and disruption with Michael Tofias. Is disruption of government possible? Michael pursues the study of American political institutions, elections, Congress, and computational political economy to reveal how disruption might play out within governments.

Source: 5by5 | The Critical Path #163: You Say You Want a Revolution

  • WFA67

    What sticks with me most from this interesting talk was Michael’s framing of the disruption of the taxi business by Uber: Uber spends unlimited piles of money to get cities to break a committment, i.e. to the property right promised to the taxi companies in the form of taxi medallions. However useful, even irresistible, an Uber kind of service might be, if the effect of it is an erosion of what Michael called the fundamental value of property rights, then might big tech unconsciously and over time erode one of the critical strengths of our economic system?

    There is a fascinating book on disasters called “Drift Into Failure.” Using the examples of air crashes, the author shows how ‘failure’ can happen with no obvious bad intentions or incompetence. As with Christensen’s disruption, failure comes out of left field.

  • Bruce_Mc

    I really enjoyed this episode. It left me with a lot of new things to think about regarding government, innovation, disruption, and technology.

    Last week I finished reading a book that touches on some of these things. It’s kind of a prequel to “The Big Roads,” which I read on your recommendation. The book is, “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt,” by T. J. Stiles. As a warning, there is a lot of personal material in the book that doesn’t directly bear on the themes discussed in the podcast. However there is also plenty of material that does. For example there is a lot of information about the adoption of steam power in the United States on the sea and on land. Vanderbilt played a big role in both steamships and railroads in the US.

    One point the author makes repeatedly is that one of the biggest innovations of the 19th Century was the limited liability corporation. Vanderbilt was in on the beginning of this, and became one of the richest people in the world by using the corporate structure more effectively than his competitors. The book talks a lot about the initial growth of corporations, the changing role they played in society, and the change in government regulations concerning them. The author says the the corporation was necessary for the rapid adoption of steam transport in the 1800’s, as well as the technologies which replaced steam in the early 20th century. By that time the corporate structure was taken for granted.

    In the podcast you discussed the role of government of handing out property rights and enforcing them. The book made me realize the role of government in regulating how businesses can, and cannot, organize themselves is also very important in promoting or discouraging all economic activity, including the spread of innovation and/or disruption.

  • Mark

    The American Civil War wasn’t about industrialism vs agrarianism. It was about differing visions of the best society. As odd at it seems to us now, the agitators in the South in fact did fully intend to modernize and thought they were. They just thought a slave society was the best one. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And the international aspects were huge. But the fact it wasn’t “the South” that agitated for the war, and not just because as pointed out in the interview there were Northern copperheads and Southern Unionists. No, it was a few outliers (South Carolina & Georgia) that led the rest off the cliff. After the fighting started everyone knew there would be a closing of ranks. Oh and guess what? Free railroad travel in the 1860s for those wishing to go to a secession convention! LOL. Some things never change.

    Here are a few books to broaden the perspective:

    -Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War
    -The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861 by Robert E. May
    -Denmark Vesey’s Revolt: The Slave Plot That Lit a Fuse to Fort Sumter by John Lofton