These are evil times. The US economy is in critical condition. The consensus is that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship and Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Confidence in Congress has hit a record low of 11 percent, and thanks to Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters it will probably sink even lower.
Many years ago, I had a revelation. It’s simple, obvious, and common sense. People have made fortunes just by repackaging it. Most important, it works.
The revelation may have been said best by Walt Kelly in his Pogo comic strip: “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”
The problem for most of us is not our lack of opportunities, it’s our inability to spot and seize them. And the most frustrating part is that the solution requires just 1% talent and 99% attitude.
Life presents most people with a constant stream of opportunities. But it takes a positive attitude to see and exploit them. Maintaining a positive attitude day in and day out requires a great deal of mental energy. To paraphrase one of the guys who made a fortune selling this bit of common sense, people create videos in their minds of blown opportunities that they keep replaying. The trick is to ignore or stop playing those video memories.
Admittedly, life presents some people with more opportunities than others. And a severe disability can put opportunities out of reach. But I’m convinced that most people get enough opportunities; it’s their attitude that is the biggest obstacle.
Michael Faraday – Whenever anyone suggests that we are cheating our children by not spending enough on education, I think of Michael Faraday. The son of a blacksmith plagued by poor health, Faraday received only the most rudimentary education. As an apprentice bookbinder, he educated himself by reading the books in his spare time. Faraday was also the victim of discrimination: rarely in that era did anyone rise above the class into which they were born.
(The education complaint also reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons. Bill Gates is standing at a podium delivering a speech. A guy in the audience whispers to a colleague "Imagine how far he could have gone had he not dropped out of Harvard.")
Faraday landed a job at the Royal Institution by sending Humphry Davy a bound copy of notes from his public lectures. Still, Davy’s wife treated Faraday like a servant. Michael Faraday didn’t let lack of formal education, lack of money, or lack of social status deter him from becoming one of the greatest experimentalists in the history of science.
Paul Galvin – Paul Galvin established Motorola as a major force in the wireless industry and he did it during the Great Depression. His original ambition was simply to become a successful small businessman. He learned along the way that a business needs to keep growing just to survive. After a string of failed businesses, Galvin succeeded by manufacturing and selling a luxury accessory (car radios) for a luxury item (automobiles). Though Motorola enjoyed its greatest growth under his son Robert, Paul Galvin proved it is possible to grow a business even in a stagnant economy.
John Gibbon – John Gibbon invented the heart-lung bypass machine, enabling surgeons to stop the human heart and operate on and even inside it. When he started his research (also during the Great Depression), almost no one believed it was possible to build a machine to temporarily carry out the functions of the heart and lungs. Plus, it took nearly 20 years of research before Gibbon performed the first successful “open heart” surgery. Gibbon is a shining example of how faith and perseverance can make the seemingly impossible possible.
Svyatoslav Fyodorov – Born in the Soviet Union, Fyodorov’s father was imprisoned during Stalin’s purges, and then the young Fyodorov lost a leg in an accident. He managed to become an eye surgeon and discovered that it is possible to correct vision by carefully cutting the cornea. More spectacular, Fyodorov cut through the USSR's bureaucracy and red tape to establish a nationwide system of clinics and even acquired personal wealth. Where there is a will, there is a way. Fyodorov’s technique, which relied on microscopes and an assembly line approach to surgery, was eventually eclipsed by laser surgery.
In a presentation to the annual meeting of the Property and Freedom Society, UK biochemist Dr. Terence Kealey asserted that government science is wasteful. He based that conclusion on data showing that private R&D contributes more to economic growth and his theory that science is not a "public good." He attempts to prove the latter by showing that most scientific research is inaccessible to those who don't have the appropriate specialized knowledge. (As if its value to the public hinges on the public's ability to understand it.)
I agree that government science is generally inefficient and, when it becomes too big, crowds out private research. However, there are historical examples of government and government-funded research yielding big returns. Plus, the argument I hear most often isn't that science is a public good--a rather abstract notion--but that most "pure research" would never get private funding. The problem with that claim is that there are also many historical examples of companies and private universities funding successful pure research.
It turns out that Kealey and Stephan Kinsella (who posted the video at the Ludwig von Mises Institute website) don't believe in intellectual property. They apparently feel that trademarks, copyrights, and patents serve mainly as an excuse for state intervention in the free market. To me, this makes about as much sense as anarchism, and at the end of the day there's little difference between this view and the Marxist dream of abolishing all private property. Presumably, Kealey and Kinsella accept state intervention to protect material private property. The real problem, I suspect, is that they are philosophical materialists who can't conceive of anything other than physical items being property.
A more common sense view is that government science is not always a bad thing, but government science and government in general should be carefully limited. If we stuck to that view it would prevent government from crowding out private research. In fact, the people would be better served if government focused more on encouraging private research and protecting intellectual property.
Colleges and universities are supposed to be centers for the free exchange of ideas. In the U.S., many have become centers for sorting ideas into two bins. The approved ideas are inculcated; the disapproved ideas are censored.
There’s no indication that Howell did anything other than express an opinion. According to the Facebook page Save Dr. Ken, “His teaching what the Catholic Church teaches in a course on Catholicism was deemed to violate University rules of inclusivity…”
I can't say whether I agree or disagree with Howell, because it's not something I've given much thought. But I don't know how a university can have "rules of inclusivity" concerning opinions. (Actually, I do know how: by applying them selectively.)
It turns out that Howell is popular among students—and not just Catholic students. Even the student group Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers has rallied to his side. (I think it’s a safe bet that they aren’t defending his opinion—just his right to express it.) Howell apparently has a reputation for promoting open, honest, and civil debate. And that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s supposed to take place at universities.
Esther Dyson always brings a unique and nuanced perspective to issues. Speaking at the Health 2.0 Goes to DC conference, Esther proposed that the health ecosystem consists of three markets: Health Care 1.0, Bad Health, and Health Care 2.0. I'm glad she emphasized some of the challenges faced by the nascent Health 2.0 market. But lumping drug abuse, processed foods, and lack of exercise together and calling it the "Market for Bad Health" is a bad idea.
Whether she intended it or not, Esther implies that to varying extents the tobacco, processed foods, automobile, alcoholic beverage, and television industries all make at least some of their money by damaging people's health. I don't think that's true. For example, some processed foods contain added vitamins; others remove natural ingredients that are harmful to people with specific allergies or medical conditions. There is also a legitimate place for foods offering benefits such as convenience or long shelf life.
You could certainly argue that the tobacco industry makes money by damaging people's health--though some smokers live long lives. But there is nothing inherently wrong with food processing (or automobiles and even alcoholic beverages). Some processed foods contain potentially harmful ingredients, just as some natural foods may be improperly handled or stored. For most people, it's probably fine to eat foods containing additives or preservatives once or twice a week. Can the same be said about eating contaminated natural foods?
But what worries me most is that calling a range of products and services the "Market for Bad Health" is an invitation for excessive government intervention and perhaps even social regimentation. We have to accept that some people will choose unhealthy lifestyles regardless of how many educational programs and regulations are created. Plus, many government programs and regulations have unintended consequences. Some things are harmful in ways that are obvious, but beneficial in ways that are not well recognized.
Because if we want to empower individuals to manage their own health and health care--and that to me is the primary virtue of Health Care 2.0--we need to let them make real choices.