Very good piece by Ryan Avent at the Economist:
Consider the tacocopter. The tacocopter is a not-quite-real-not-quite-a-joke business idea that became a brief internet sensation back in March. The concept is stunningly simple: order tacos on your iPhone and a quadracopter drone will deliver them to your doorstep. As you can read here, the plan would face technical and (especially) regulatory hurdles if implemented today. Yet the potential, for this or similar experiments, is obvious. Cheap, agile drone technology is available now. Building apps is trivially easy. Mapping and location technology and data are getting better all the time. If not drone copters, perhaps 3D printers or autonomous vehicles. It’s a short leap from the ridiculous to the transformative. And the ideas needed to transfer these technologies to everyday life are increasingly the domain of entrepreneurs rather than academics. One doesn’t need 20 years of study to spot profit opportunities.
…I’m most inclined to think that its the pace of societal evolution that is most binding: growth proceeds at the fastest pace that legal and social institutions can tolerate.
Think of the challenges that would face the would-be tacocopter entrepreneurs. Consider that issues surrounding liability and law, rather than technology, now appear to be the biggest obstacle to autonomous vehicles. Look at the legal struggles faced by innovative services like Uber and Airbnb. Disruptive innovations are bumping against a broad array of regulatory hurdles that built up during a very different era of economic growth.
As I argued in Launching our regulatory system has gotten so large and complex that its main effects are now unintended. In short, the product of the regulatory system is a result of human action but not of human design.