Saturday, April 21, 2012

Technology and Government Programs

Jay Leno told the following joke on the Tonight Show (paraphrasing):  Encyclopedia Britannica is no longer going to be publishing a print edition.  I read that on Wikipedia.

A lot of times, we find humor in things that are true.  In the above joke, it is a business that has failed to keep up with technology that is going to be replaced.  But I often like to examine the effects that technology has on government.  It is said by some that no new government program ever dies.  But I think technology is changing that.

The Post Office is a good example.  It is one of the few government programs that is permitted by the Constitution.  But this doesn't mean that government is efficient at running a mail service anymore than it is good at running anything else.  The Post Office is running massive losses each year.  They have a government-granted monopoly on first-class mail.  When I say that the Post Office has competition, most people automatically think Federal Express or UPS.

But it is really technology that is the biggest competition for the Post Office.  Its monopoly is not doing it much good.  It can't even raise prices substantially without incurring more losses.  People are using email, Skype, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook, cell phones, Facetime, and other ways to communicate.  It doesn't have to be through cards and letters.  This will also take down the phone services that gain monopolies in local areas to provide landline services.  They face too much competition from cell phones and other technologies.

The Post Office is also facing competition from websites like Amazon.  If you want to mail a birthday gift to someone, instead of buying it and sending it through the mail, you can buy it on Amazon and have it shipped through Amazon.  Amazon can even gift wrap it for you.  It will probably get to a point where Amazon has its own delivery service because so many packages are being sent.  It would not surprise me to start seeing Amazon planes and delivery trucks.

While the Post Office is still taking our tax money, it is quickly becoming irrelevant.  There will come a day when it comes apart completely.  It is a slow dying government program.

My hope is that we start to see more technological breakthroughs in healthcare.  It is difficult because of all of the government regulations in healthcare.  But if technology can increase in healthcare at just 10% of the speed as it is increasing in the computer industry, then we will see great progress.  We may get to a point where all of this healthcare regulation is virtually meaningless.  If you can just take a vitamin to cure yourself of diseases or if you can just step into a machine for a minute to relieve pain without side effects, then eventually health insurance will become meaningless.  You won't need insurance if everything is cheap and available.

Technology is increasing in the computer and communication industries faster than most realize.  Processing speed is getting faster exponentially.  Chip sizes are getting smaller and storage space is becoming exponentially cheaper.  Where 3 or 4 percent growth in an economy is considered decent, the computer industry is growing at probably 50% per year, with compounding growth.

It is impossible to know what this world will look like in 20 years.  It is a race between big government and technology.  While big government will make life hard in the short term, I think technology will eventually win the race.  Government will slowly become irrelevant and most of it will die off.

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