Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sake and storage

People love to harp on about what they think governments should provide. From libraries to education to computers to just about anything you can think of. If someone needs it, then the state should step in and vaporize it from thin air for them.

There are many reasons that this is just plain wrong (think 'theft' and you'd be on the right track), but one of the reasons that captures the imagination most is this - when a government provides something it has absolutely no incentive to make it innovative, interesting, beautiful...heck, even economical. I mean, what are the state serfs who dole out alms going to get if they give a better service? Less foul-tasting coffee? A discount on Dilbert calendars? Special vests with knife-foiling-plating on the back? Nope - in the end, unless they're oily, butt-kissing little turds, they're going to get sweet, sweet nada for doing a better job.

It's the market - full of nutjobs like entrepreneurs - that provides innovation and flavour to our everyday lives. Companies, in a bid to attract customers (you see, when you DON'T have a government monopoly, you have to do something pretty exciting to get people to use your service), will create wild things. Colourful computers with shitty little round one-button mice. Toasters in a variety of migraine-inducing colours. Vacuum cleaners that don't use dustbags. Sushi specs. Sushi USB flash memory units.

Yup. Sushi USBs. Via Gastroblog (it's food, ok, symbolised food):

Can you see the Creative Service Steering Committee of the Department Of Very Small Storage Devices *ever* coming up with something like this?

No, neither do I.

In fact, if USB storage devices were only supplied by government departments, I'd be willing to bet that you'd need a wheelbarrow to cart one around and a PhD to figure out how to work the bloody thing as well as a fully registered Connections Operator to help you plug it into your computer.

It's because the government *cannot*, by it's very nature, distribute (let's not taint the word 'sell') anything bar bog-standard products that have basic, tested, functionality. They have to cater to the broadest set of people possible - cutting swathes across generations, genders, races, socioeconomic levels and tastes.

They can't take risks (and shouldn't) so they don't. That's why anything provided by the government is grey, boxy, barely-functional and about as exciting as a date with a trainspotter.

And consider this - if the government's product is shite, there is very little responsibility taken. Someone may be fired, some reshuffling of titles may happen. In the end, it's not like they'll go out of business, not with millions of people being forced to pay them irrespective of the kind of service they provide. They fail, money keeps rolling in.

A business, on the other hand, that takes a risk and fails miserably goes *out* of business pretty quickly. Money only comes in if they provide something of value at the right price. This is why they are willing to take a risk on something a little off-the-wall - what if it works? What if they can quickly create and control a completely new section of the market?

I have no idea if those little sushi USB thingies will make it. I hope they do - it'll make the world a more colourful place.



Update: Note to self - Read Perry Metzger's blog more often. He'll probably have written what you want to write in a lovely, concise, lucid form, ie:

"When examining a proposed government action, we must be especially skeptical, since there is no mechanism that will act as a check on poor performance. In the free market, companies that fail to meet their customer's needs go bankrupt, but governments are funded by taxation and have no such limitation."

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