Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Soviet Xerox Regulation

One of the nails in the Soviets' coffin was the Xerox machine.

They feared ideas and those ideas were the Soviets' undoing. One of the ways they discouraged the spread of ideas was to restrict the use of Xerox machine. They added watermark info so that when they found a copy with something subversive on it, they could track down which Xerox machine it came from.

This put a societal speed-bump on the USSR. Think about how you use Xerox machines. It takes longer to type or retype a page than it does to copy it. Suppose you have an interesting article in a magazine, or in a book. You just warm up the copier and a few seconds later you've got as many copies as you'd like.

The Xerox machine came into common use in the States in the 1960s. By limiting its use the Russians voluntarily set back the clock by decades. More than a societal speed-bump, it was like an anchor on Russian productivity.

There are good reasons why Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and that we're not speaking Russian right now. Centralized planning does not work and tyrannies collapse under their own weight. The problem is information. Only God has the information necessary to know what's going on at the level needed to make this happen. And tyrannies are not run by angels, but by greedy men who'll put their own interests ahead of the Party.

A free market outperforms a government-controlled market. It needn't be by more than a few percentage points per year, because that tiny percentage difference compounds over many years. This is how prosperous countries become also-rans, not by actually declining, but by stagnating as more-vibrant countries outpace them.

One of the more exciting technologies that is coming online is 3D printing. It enables people to print plastic parts in almost any shape they can imagine. And in a multitude of shapes no human can imagine, but that software can generate algorithmically.

Think of how many times you've had to discard an appliance because a tiny plastic part broke. For instance, I had a perfectly serviceable Amazon Kindle DX whose switch broke. Instead of sending me a new part, Amazon sold me a new replacement Kindle DX Graphite. With 3D printing, I could scan the old part, then print a replacement for a few cents' worth of plastic.

The reason why I mention this is that someone who loves Liberty more than the Federal Government has figured out how to print a gun out of ABS plastic on a 3D printer. And this guy has posted the plans on the Internet.

The Federales are not amused. No less than Senator Charles Schumer has said, "Now anyone..." (He then enumerates several boogie men.) ...can essentially open a gun factory in their garage. It must be stopped."

This is heartbreakingly stupid. For one thing, a 3D printed gun will never perform anywhere near as well as a conventionally manufactured gun. If anything, such a weapon will have only a novelty value. However, it does disrupt the legislative means the Feds have adopted to subvert the 2nd Amendment.

Yet the worst part of this is the precedent of the Xerox machine. I can readily envision the crowd running Washington (both GOP and Democrats) legislating restrictions on 3D printers. And like DMCA before it, the legislation will serve as a societal speed-bump that'll jack up the price of 3D printers, make them harder to get, and/or restrict what they can print.

How well will those laws work? Ask a Soviet Xerox repairman.

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