Economy & Budget

Innovation or stagnation

Innovation or stagnation

Invent something and the first thing that goes through some people’s minds — especially politicians’ minds — is what might go wrong.

3D printers now allow you to mold objects right in your living room, using patterns you find online. It’s a revolutionary invention that will save time, reduce shipping costs and be kind to the earth.

But what critics see is: guns! People will print guns at home! Well, sure.

On TV, Rachel Maddow sneered about “a well-armed anarchist utopia, where everybody fends for themselves with stupid-looking plastic guns. … It’s a political effort to try to do away with government.”

Do away with government? If only we could do away with some! Big-government politicians and their cheerleaders in the media focus on threats posed by innovation because they fear loss of control. They move to ban things.

In Texas, Cody Wilson used a 3D printer to make a plastic gun. He called it “the Liberator” and posted its specs on the Internet. The State Department then ordered him to take the specs down. He did. But by then, 100,000 people had downloaded it.

Wilson takes pride in pointing out how his gun shows that gun “control” is an illusion. Being able to print a gun in your own home will render laws against purchasing guns unenforceable and irrelevant.

“I’m your full-service provocateur,” Wilson told Kennedy, my TV show’s correspondent. “Here’s the printed gun. I’m not here to make you feel better about it. I’m here to say, ‘Look, this space is occupied. Deal with it.’”

The “Liberator” didn’t work well. It broke before Kennedy could fire a shot. However, printed guns will improve over time. Wilson’s point: “prohibiting this is no longer effective.”

Technological innovation constantly threatens centralized authorities.

Now we take the Internet for granted, but when it first became popular, people worried that it would mainly be used by terrorists, child molesters and money-launderers.

“Smash the Internet!” said a cover story in the conservative magazine Weekly Standard, illustrated with a sledgehammer smashing a computer screen.

Even today, after Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, eBay, Yelp, Craigslist, WebMD, YouTube and more have clearly made our lives better, Luddites in the media fret about problems.

“The Internet Is Making Kids Stupid” says PC Magazine. CBS’s Bob Schieffer whines that in the absence of supervising editors, “ignorance travels as rapidly as great ideas.”

There’s some truth behind these complaints. The Internet does make some people isolated. It does allow ignorant ideas to spread. But so what? It also creates new forms of human interaction and allows the crowd of users to correct ignorant mistakes.

Schieffer is prematurely old, but even hip novelists like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen worry about the Net. Eggers’ latest novel suggests it creates “unnaturally extreme” needs, and a Franzen essay attacks “technoconsumerism.” Comedian Louis CK gets laughs by worrying that cell phones just keep us distracted — but not really happy or sad — until we die. He’d prefer his kids didn’t have them.

They are right that any activity can become a time-waster, but to all the fearmongers I say, stop whining! Overwhelmingly, innovation brings us good things. It’s even changed the way Americans find love. A University of Chicago study says 35 percent of new marriages now start online.

We don’t think twice about miracles like computer dating or email or the fact that, today, most everyone in the world has access to all the world’s knowledge on a little phone. We take it for granted that we can put a piece of plastic into a wall and cash will come out — and the count is always accurate. Government couldn’t do that. Government can’t even count votes accurately.

In a free market, a symphony of desires comes together, and they’re met by people who constantly rack their brains to provide better services and invent solutions to our desires.

It’s not a few people desiring guns that I fear. It’s government getting in the way of all those new possibilities.

John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network, and the author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.” 

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  • abc2xyz

    “Smash the Internet!” said a cover story in the conservative magazine
    Weekly Standard, illustrated with a sledgehammer smashing a computer
    Oh, Bill Kristol . That’s genuinely brilliant . Braaaaavo !



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  • Concerned4America

    You don’t have to go the the internet to find stupid ideas, you can find them on TV or newspapers or magazines. Perhaps Bob Schieffer just does not want the competition.

  • Concerned4America

    Are they microwaves (Extremely High Frequencies) or Extremely Low Frequencies?

  • RenegadeScholar

    Big government Conservatives are almost as bad as statists…

  • Dustoff

    OMG….. O-dumber built this.
    Yes the list is LONG… sorry

    2009 to 2010

    Bankrupt, closed, acquired

    Solar (emitter wrap-through Si) acquired by Applied Materials

    Solar (solar roofing) acquired by Quercus Trust

    (a-Si on a grand scale) closed

    Solar (PV installation) acquired by SunEdison

    (nano-coaxial solar) closed

    Solar (low-concentration PV) closed

    (depositing silane onto free-form metallurgical-grade Si substrates) closed

    Signet Solar (a-Si) bankrupt

    (a-Si) bankrupt

    (GaAs) closed


    Bankrupt, closed

    Solar (a-Si) bankrupt

    (drawn Si) bankrupt

    (CIGS) bankrupt

    (c-Si) bankrupt

    Energy Systems (dish engine) bankrupt

    Acquisition, sale

    Solar (CIGS) acquired by TFG Radiant

    Calyxo (CdTe) acquired by Solar Fields from Q.cells

    (CIGS) acquired
    by Korea’s SK Innovation

    Semiconductor Solar Magic (panel optimizers) exited systems business

    (silicon on flexible substrate) acquired by Solar Semiconductor

    (CPV) acquired by Emcore


    Bankrupt, closed

    Solar (CdTe) bankrupt

    (CIGS) closed

    (thin silicon) closed

    Arise Technology (PV modules) bankrupt

    (microinverters) closed

    BP (c-Si panels) exits solar business

    (PV manufacturing equipment) bankrupt

    (c-Si on glass) closed by Suntech

    Energy (cell interconnects) delisted from TSX exchange

    (a-Si) bankrupt

    Innovations (CPV) bankrupt

    Flexcell (a-Si
    roll-roll BIPV) closed

    (solar) closed

    (CPV) closed

    Solar Energy (CIGS) closed

    (DSCs) bankrupt in 2012, re-emerged as G24i Power with new investors

    (polysilicon) shut down its Idaho polysilicon production facility

    (a-Si) bankrupt

    (OSCs) bankrupt

    (CIGS) bankrupt

    Pramac (a-Si panels
    built with equipment from Oerlikon)

    Pairan (Germany inverters) insolvent

    Ralos (developer) bankrupt

    REC Wafer (c-Si) bankrupt

    (BoS) bankrupt

    Schott (c-Si) exits c-Si business

    Schuco (a-Si) shutting down its a-Si business

    Sencera (a-Si) closed

    Siliken (c-Si modules) closed

    Solar (LCPV) closed

    Siemens (CSP, inverters, BOS) divestment from solar

    Millennium (developer) insolvent

    Solarhybrid (developer) insolvent

    (Q.cells, Evergreen, REC JV) bankrupt

    (c-Si modules) insolvent

    Solar Power Industries (PV modules) bankrupt

    (CIGS BIPV) bankrupt

    Sun Concept (developer) bankrupt

    Acquisition, fire sale, restructuring

    Oelmaier (Germany inverters) insolvent, bought by agricultural
    supplier Lehner Agrar

    (c-Si) insolvent, acquired by South
    Korea’s Hanwha

    Sharp (a-Si) backing away from a-Si, retiring 160 of its 320
    megawatts in Japan

    (CIGS) Q-Cells unit acquired by China’s

    (c-Si) acquired by UAE’s Microsol

    Solar (BIPV) bankrupt, then acquired by Aikosolar

    (CPV) layoffs, restructuring for sale

    Sunways (c-Si,
    inverters) bought by LDK, restructuring to focus on BIPV and storage


    Bankrupt, closed

    Bosch (c-Si PV module) exits module business

    Concentrator Optics (CPV) bankrupt

    Wuxi (c-Si) bankrupt

    Acquisition, sale, restructuring

    Diehl (Germany inverters) inverter division sold to PE firm
    mutares AG

    (CIGS) moving into “microsolar”

    (CIGS) acquired by China’s

    (CIGS) restructuring for sale

    (CIGS) acquired by Dow

    Creeks (kerfless Si) acquired by GT Advanced Technology

    Wuerth Solar (installer) business turned over to

  • reddarin

    ““The Internet Is Making Kids Stupid” says PC Magazine.”

    Um. lol. It isn’t the Internet that makes kids stupid. As if the Fed and Public Schools haven’t done a good enough job doing that, there’s Common Core.

  • reddarin

    “we can put a piece of plastic into a wall and cash will come out”

    As our esteemed President told us all a few years ago, these evil machines rob hapless workers of their jobs.

    I wonder why President Obama didn’t also point out that those coin operated air machines were a no-no for his big plan to increase gas mileage by airing up your tires.

    Or the job killing gas pumps that allow a consumer to pump their own gas. How many pump jockeys were put out of work with that invention???

    Oh the humanity!

  • reddarin

    “Big government Conservatives”

    Hmmm. Who is a big government conservative? It is a contradiction in terms. But I am open to hear your opinion RS.

    Assuming, of course, you leave out the ones that pay lip service to conservatism and hide behind procedural gimmicks to allow big government boondoggles to go unchecked.

  • reddarin

    Excellent point.

    And where is the scary story about grocery store tabloids? Or gossipy people?

    If only we had elite people to tell us what to think and what not to think. Then we’d all be liberals.

  • HWGood

    Forget the printers for making guns. The CNC milling machines are fully capable of doing it now.
    As usual, the left is “off target”.

  • eewell

    Don’t forget hydro fracking.In spite of Obama’s best efforts to curb domestic energy protection,we are on our way to being a net exporter of natural gas and to be the world’s leading oil producer by 2017.