Innovation, Like It or Not

Embracing rebellious entrepreneurs

March/​April 2020 • Policy Report

Innovation is the fuel that makes a better world possible. Thanks to entrepreneurs seeking out new and better ways to satisfy human needs and desires, the modern world and all its wonders have enriched the lives of every person on the planet.

But society doesn’t always make it easy for these innovators. Often, the push for creative new solutions runs up against legal and social norms that seek to stymie change and preserve the status quo. Those who rebel against this “permission society” are the subject of Adam Thierer’s latest book for Cato, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments. A senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, Thierer continues to explore many of the themes in his 2016 book, Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom, expanding beyond the digital realm and highlighting many real‐​world examples.

The list of disruptive technologies keeps getting longer, and the opportunities for technology‐​driven civil disobedience are growing accordingly. Smartphones, ubiquitous computers, and the global information revolution have brought about radical new methods of bypassing established mechanisms of control. Gatekeeping has never been harder. Threedimensional printing presents new challenges to government efforts to control and prohibit certain physical goods, most notably and immediately firearms. Blockchain technology and end‐​to‐​end encryption make government efforts to control the flow of information and money increasingly futile.

As Thierer explains, “we should tolerate — and even embrace — a certain amount of evasive entrepreneurialism and even a fair amount of technological civil disobedience.” Thus, we should defend not only individual instances after the fact, but also the process that leads to these innovations. For instance, who could have foreseen that software companies using smartphones would disrupt the ossified taxi cartels and render obsolete decades of protectionist licensing schemes?

Entrepreneurs take risks — and often not just financial ones. Shattering norms and pushing the boundaries of the law can come at a steep price. But when they pay off, we all benefit and should be grateful for the rebels who make it happen.

Purchase print or ebook copies of Evasive Entrepreneus at retail and online booksellers and at Cato​.org/​books.

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