the tragedy of repair-free cars
See also: what if we had free energy (and appropriate policies to deal with its pollution)?
The Tragedy of Repair-Free Cars
For individuals and the economy, the costs of this improvement are obvious. Producers of auto parts and engine fluids would go bankrupt, with job losses and investment failures. Service providers of oil changes and timing belts would be out of work. This would be difficult for these folks, especially if they could not easily move into a job field that used their skills. With industries disappearing, towns and even regions would face tough times if they depend on these industries.
How do we decide how to weigh these costs and benefits? The first question is ethical: When do we have the right to prevent advances in technology? (Rarely.) The second question is practical: What are the effects of the advance in technology-- or in contrast, efforts to restrict it using government?
In his book, Fair Play, Steve Landsburg relates a parable developed by another professor. An entrepreneur developed a new way of making low-cost, high-quality cars. He built a facility on the West Coast, kept his process secret, and started to turn grain into cars. Consumers were thrilled with the improvements. Farmers were ecstatic at the increased demand for their grain, even when used as an input for cars. Things were tough for our auto industry, but most people recognized that technological progress, always accompanied by growing pains, is a good thing on net.
Eventually, an investigative reporter figured out the entrepreneur's secret. The factory is an empty building with the back door leading to a shipping dock. Grain came in the front door; it went out the back door; and it was sent to foreign countries in exchange for cars. Well, as you might imagine, the revelation turned the popular perception of the entrepreneur from hero to villain.
As Landsburg puts it: "The moral, of course, is that inexpensive cars are a good thing, and equally a good thing whether we acquire them with technology or by trade. Cutting off trade is exactly like closing the most efficient factories."
The parable can be extended to other areas. Imagine if people suddenly had perfect health until they died. No more health care! Tough on health care providers; great for consumers; and overall, good for the economy. Imagine if all people suddenly knew economics well. Tough on economics professors; great for people; and overall, good for the economy.