All Commentary
Friday, October 1, 1999

Ever Striving

Entrepreneurs Constantly Strive to Make Our Lives Better

It is not “mere theory” to say that entrepreneurs, lured by the prospect of pure profit, constantly strive to make our lives better. It happens somewhere every moment of the day, usually out of sight. It is so ubiquitous we take it for granted.

One of the most fascinating lectures I ever heard was about how the Coca-Cola Company works assiduously to make cans and bottles with fewer materials and less energy. A few decades ago, only an arrogant he-man could crush a can against his head. Today, a 90-pound weakling can do it. As a result of Coca-Cola’s efforts, we have lighter containers and more resources for other things that enhance our lives. (Why environmentalists think business has an interest in using more resources than necessary continues to mystify me. Are businessmen “greedy” or not?)

Now comes news that Hewlett-Packard is developing computer parts the size of—hold on—molecules. According to researchers, we could someday have computers 100 billion (that’s not a typo) times faster than the best personal computers available today. (Prediction: We’ll still be impatient.) Not only that, these computers will be cheap. John Markoff of the New York Times writes that the researchers “envision a world in which supercomputing power is so pervasive and inexpensive that it literally becomes an integral part of every man-made object.”

Markoff explains that today’s computer technology is limited by the wavelength of light, which is used to create integrated circuits on silicon chips. But the research team “has found a way to build circuits using chemical processes rather than light, making the switches as small as a molecule,” Markoff writes. “As a result, the researchers believe that they can make components for future computers several orders of magnitude tinier than today’s smallest transistors.”

The smaller integrated circuits will work much faster and use less electricity. The marginal cost of production will approach zero. Researchers say such tiny computers will permit vast increases in the storage of data. But it gets more exciting than that. Markoff reports that they “could create a new class of ‘Fantastic Voyage’-style machines, like sensors traveling within a person’s bloodstream, issuing alerts if health problems are encountered.” Who can predict what other valuable services they will render?

Scientific problems remain to be solved, and it will be several years before the tiny computers become consumer products, but we’ll be hearing more about this. Watch for the term “moletronics” (molecular electronics).

Isn’t capitalism wonderful?

* * *

It seemed liked a good idea. At a small, isolated private college, students were invited to use any of 20 collectively owned bicycles to get around campus. What could go wrong? Plenty, write Daniel Alban and E. Frank Stephenson in their story of the relationship between private property and responsibility.

The Clinton administration wants to make sure it can unscramble your encrypted e-mail and computer files. That requires controls on security programs that the government can’t crack. Claude Morgan has a status report on this latest power grab.

The “war on drugs” has eroded property rights and a host of what are called civil liberties. Now it even jeopardizes freedom of the press. Paul Armentano demonstrates that in the name of keeping young people from using drugs, the federal government is undermining the integrity of the news media.

Wilhelm Röpke, an important German classical liberal during the darkest days of the twentieth century, would have been 100 years old this month. Richard Ebeling’s appreciation of Röpke’s life and work brings to our attention one of the intellectual heroes of our time.

At the center of capitalism is the entrepreneur. While big entrepreneurs like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wendy’s Dave Thomas get lots of attention, little ones, like the barber on the corner, are usually taken for granted. Joseph Fulda pays proper tribute.

Did the Federal Reserve expand or restrain the supply of money in the fateful 1920s before the stock market crash and Great Depression? In recent months, Richard Timberlake argued in these pages that the Fed practiced restraint to a fault. In a rebuttal this month, Joseph Salerno argues that the Fed was the engine of inflation that wrecked the American economy and paved the way for the New Deal.

Understanding the Fed and the depression requires an understanding of the nature of money. Bettina Bien Greaves offers a primer in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises.

In our columns this month Donald Boudreaux discusses government, markets, and the real source of “inefficient lock-in”; Lawrence Reed asks where the omelets are; Doug Bandow documents the Medicare nightmare; Dwight Lee takes up the law of comparative advantage; Mark Skousen aims at gun control; and Walter Williams identifies a conflict of visions. Thomas DiLorenzo, contemplating the alleged need for the government to give away other people’s money, declares: “It Just Ain’t So!”

In the book section, reviewers evaluate works on philanthropic foundations gone astray, George Soros’s lament about global capitalism, Nixon’s economic record, criminal justice, the conduct of states, attempts to impede scientific progress, and the literature of the decline of Western civilization.

—Sheldon Richman

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.