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A fun new game – Pick a product

July 6, 2011

I have a fun mental exercise for people to play when they have nothing better to do, its called Pick a Product and its pretty simple to play.

The first step is to pick a common everyday product you use in your life.  Anything would work, but consumer electronics work the best.  So let’s go with a flat-panel LCD television.

The next step takes a little knowledge, so if you don’t posses it you need to do a quick google on the category your product comes from, in our case televisions.  What you are looking for is very specific, when the product was made, and by what company.  Most likely the results will not be cut and dry, as they are not in our television case.  In America, multiple inventions were out at about the same time that can all be called “televisions” – there was the ideas developed by the Farnsworth Television & Radio Corporation as well as those of RCA.  The time was the mid-1930’s.

Regardless, that is enough information for us to continue.  Now comes the fun part.  Imagine that the government decided this technology was too important to society to leave to the “capitalists” and chose to nationalize the television production industry.

Do you think you could purchase a flat-panel LCD today if that was the case?  If so, you need to explain to yourself how.  What motivation does the government have to make televisions first larger, remember they started small then got bigger, then smaller in form factor over the last 80 years?  Is the government trying to make a profit?  Possibly, but they can charge whatever they want for the television because they have no competition.  Unlike a free-market system, the government can arbitrarily set the price to whatever they desire, thus price does not provide the information a company needs to determine a product is falling out of favor.  It’s quite possible the government would pay for all types of surveys and ask people what they want in a television, but would that truly provide the information the producer needs to make the product a consumer wants?

Before the concept of HD television came out, were you clamoring for “more resolution”?  Some people (like myself) who are familiar with the technology were, but not enough to force a change in the marketplace.  Incidentally, HD TV and more specifically “digital television” was mandated by the government, but it was a complete by-product of a scheme to free up the “public” analog airwaves so that they could resell them to cellular companies, it was not an attempt to advance television technology.  In fact, the limits of the government regulated and mandated analog broadcast system is the sole reason why Hi-Def televisions were not available on the market prior to the “switch” to digital, they were available in other countries for years, not to mention on your desktop in the form of a computer monitor whose resolution was often at least double that of your television in the next room.

Were you arguing for flat-panel televisions before you read an article that someone was working on one?  Think about it.  Did you look at the big box in your living room and say to yourself, “man, I wish this was only 2″ thick”, or were you like most people who accepted that TVs were big ass boxes?

What about such features like picture-in-picture, or multiple inputs, or stereo sound, or built-in cable boxes.  Or to go current, what about internet connectivity (Al Gore would probably demand this of his government made tv), built-in dvd players, surround sound, or hell, just plain old picture quality?

Amazingly, most people can’t see the difference between HiDef and regular television, so is it safe to assume that most people can’t truly see the difference between a high-quality television set and a low-quality set?  The difference between a Sony and Sanyo?  And if they can’t, what motivates the government to make anything but the least expensive model?

For sure other countries would be making televisions, and they would be so off the charts better than ours that some of that technology would eventually wake-up the Government Television Company of what is possible – but what motivation would they have to change in any timely manner?  So what if Japan has 60″ flat-panel televisions with 4 times the resolution and internet connectivity, because of the monopoly our government has on the industry in America, none of those TVs are allowed in the US, so your 17″ gigantor tube television is all you are gonna get.  Though you can bet some of those Japanese televisions will make their way into the homes of the central-planners.

To continue with the game.  Because of LCD technology we now have TVs in our cars (for watching and for GPS), TVs on our refrigerators, TVs on your cell phones, laptops, IPODS, hell on practically everything.  Do you think the planners of our television fates could have predicted let alone directed the creation of all the products made possible from advancement of television technology?

Not to mention, LED Televisions are becoming a very popular (though more expensive) option as well.  Would Government TV have made that invention?  If so, why?

Even in the realm of military technology, televisions play a huge component.  MFD’s (multi-function displays) are standard on practically all our aircraft, not to mention radar screens, sonar screens, laptops (civilian made I might add), monitors to fly UAVs and anything else you can imagine.  Would our military have all this TV tech if the government was the sole maker of televisions in the United States?

Obviously the repercussions of a government taking over an industry in its infancy can be so numerous as to make them impossible to count.  But it would work for more mature industries as well.  What if the government took over the cell phone industry right now – oh, oh, for security purposes?  Now, try to imagine the differences in technology available 80 years from now between a government-run cell-phone industry and a free-market one.  I can’t begin think what would be available, can you?  Probably phone implants and all kinds of cool stuff, but that is the point, most people can’t imagine.

The greatest inventions come from a very small group of people, sometimes just one, who has an itch he can’t scratch.  He keeps working on it and working on it till he gets it right.  Could our government have invented the light-bulb?  The telephone?  It is the spontaneous inventions of individuals that lead to the greatest change in our technologies.  But sometimes it doesn’t even have to be some inspired motivation, sometimes it is someone who has vision deciding to create something to fill a need.

Have you ever heard of Wawa or Sheetz?  They are all over Virginia.  Nothing really special, just plain old gas-stations with a typical convenience store, except for one big difference.  A row of touch-screen monitors that allow you to custom design sandwiches, hogies, pizza, fries, hotdogs and all sorts of food that are made within minutes by a dedicated “deli” staff.  Someone recognized a need.  Due to low margins at the pump, almost all gas stations sell some sort of food, usually pre-packaged items like chips and candy, but they also have pre-packaged sandwiches which can be an adventure in food-poisoning if the vendor doesn’t keep on the dates.  What was missing was freshly prepared items made why you fill up.  Items that can be sold at a much higher margin than any of the pre-packaged items.  These companies tapped into that need – they didn’t invent a new technology, just a new process in a very typical retail transaction.

Notice I gave two companies in the last paragraph?  Wawa and Sheetz.  To the betterment of the consumer, one or the other of these two companies saw the opportunity presented by the creation of “Made to Order” food at the gas station and decided to copy it.  Now there is a price war going on for market share.  I can go to either one of the establishments and be given a bevy of choices at ridiculous prices, all because these two companies are fighting for my business.  You ever see the “5 dollar foot-long” commercials from Subway?  You can thank Wawa and Sheetz, cause they have eaten into Subway’s business big time.  The cheapest foot-long at Subway used to be 7-8 bucks, now you can get maxed out everything on it foot-longs for a 5-spot.  That is the true value of competition.

Pick a product is a fun game because it helps you to see how often government intervention leads to horrible results for the consumer.  It works for anything, try it on food sometime (which is practically government-run already), or even something innocuous like a spatula.  The key is to let your imagination go and to think of all the repercussions if a product was not allowed competition in the market-place, you know, like education, the mail-service or the New York Taxi industry.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. JustFacts permalink
    July 6, 2011 5:23 pm

    Great post. You mean those bad old Big Business people actually listen to the consumer and produce items that expand the market and make money for the shareholders (who might happen to be regular everyday Joes who have a 401K at work). Do we think that any company will continue to fund an R&D department to produce products that the consumer wants, if there is no profit motive involved? What am I saying – Profit Motive? Of course, the government has a real profit motive to give us what we want, Right? Just like we can be sure that once Obamacare is in place, we will see all kinds of new medical technology hit the streets, and our life spans will be extended and cures will be found for the world’s ills. Just like the quality of the Post Office, TSA, Medicare, and Social Security has improved since implemented by the Feds. I challenge anyone to name just one thing that the government does, that is better now than when it was introduced. Monopolies do not promote innovation or frugality.

  2. July 6, 2011 6:41 pm

    Great post, Fleece. I was just thinking similar thoughts yesterday. If all industry was nationalized, we’d soon be back in the Dark Ages. What technological advances were ever brought to us courtesy of the Soviet Union, Red China, or Castro’s Cuba? The socialists must be removed from power here, there, and everywhere.

    • July 7, 2011 8:43 am

      Some would say Sputnik and the first man in space, but in practically every respect, those were military technologies which have a very limited retail appeal.

  3. July 6, 2011 7:14 pm

    Great post!

    I’m thinking about wireless. From point-to-point communication to broadcast; to battery-powered and signaling of the sinking of the Titanic and the formation of the U.S. Army Signal Corps; to car radios; to RADAR and modern aviation, national defense, and speeding tickets; to transistorized radios and Beach Blanket Bingo and Elvis, to radio astronomy and Carl Sagan; to space communications, satellites, and Star Trek communicators; to cell phones, to wireless computers and Skype, to androids, etc., etc., etc.

    Had development of this technology been left to the government, we’d still be communicating via signal fires and colored flags.

    • July 7, 2011 8:50 am

      Well, I could’ve lived without Beach Blanket Bingo, but excellent list! To add to it – stud-finders, digital ignition systems, XBOX 360 controllers, internet connected Blu-ray players, that darn IPOD again, X10 home control products, EZ-Pass automatic toll collection, the Red-Box, digital billboards, and a ton more.

      We’d probably be stuck with basic CB radios, since wireless has a very tangible military benefit, but none of the retail products would ever have been made.

  4. July 6, 2011 8:44 pm

    Great post, the free market creates competition and competition leads to lower prices and better product. When the government eliminates the free market the opposite is true.

    “Incidentally, HD TV and more specifically “digital television” was mandated by the government, but it was a complete by-product of a scheme to free up the “public” analog airwaves so that they could resell them to cellular companies, it was not an attempt to advance television technology.”

    I had no idea, thanks for enlightening me!

    • July 7, 2011 8:54 am

      Yeah, the HDTV story is pretty interesting (I sold TVs during the transition, that was FUN =P). People wonder why the government was so hardcore about switching over, setting dates to end the analog signal, getting pissed when they had to change the dates (another example of why central-planning is uber-Fail [you can’t just make something happen cause you want it to]), and finally just saying screw the market and deciding to end the analog broadcast before the market was ready (hence the $50 government subsidy for people to buy a digital-to-analog converter box) – it was all so they could resell the analog bandwidth to the cellular companies. Sadly, the money we supposedly reaped from this windfall that took almost 10 years to complete was less than the Obama Stimulus package. How’s that for central planning?

  5. July 6, 2011 10:31 pm

    yeah, seriously, I’m with Stevie D. that was informative.

  6. July 7, 2011 9:13 am

    Could our government have invented the light-bulb? The telephone? It is the spontaneous inventions of individuals that lead to the greatest change in our technologies.

    Excellent point!

    Indeed, this entire post is excellent.

  7. July 7, 2011 9:56 am

    Excellent article Colin. I had no idea about the reasons for switching from analog TV to digital.

    Mike G.

    • July 7, 2011 6:13 pm

      Yep. One of the few government schemes where the secondary result was a benefit to the consumer.

  8. Otis P. Driftwood permalink
    July 7, 2011 5:05 pm

    When private industry makes a product something better it is called an upgrade. When gub’mint does that it is called “fixing” it. Neither was “broken”.


  1. Lets Play A Game – Pick a product (via Fleece Me) « That Mr. G Guy's Blog

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