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Free to Try: Education, Computers & Markets

Imagine that it is the year 1900 and you are tasked with solving the following problems:

  • To build and maintain roads adequate for use of conveyances, their operators, and passengers.
  • To increase the average span of life by 30 years.
  • To convey instantly the sound of a voice speaking at one place to any other point or any number of points around the world.
  • To convey instantly the visual replica of an action, such as a presidential inauguration, to men and women in their living rooms all over America.
  • To develop a medical preventive against death from pneumonia.
  • To transport physically a person from Los Angeles to New York in less than four hours.
  • To build a horseless carriage of the qualities and capabilities described in the latest advertising folder of any automobile manufacturer.

This thought experiment was proposed in 1954 — the year I was born — by an entrepreneur named John C. Sparks in a short essay entitled “If Men Were Free to Try.” Sparks noted that of these seven problems, the first one would have been the easiest to solve, since there were already roads on which to improve, while the other six would have seemed like the wildest of science fiction. (continue reading…)

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Rational Atheism

An open letter to Messrs. Dawkins,
Dennett, Harris and Hitchens
magazine cover

Since the turn of the millennium, a new militancy has arisen among religious skeptics in response to three threats to science and freedom: (1) attacks against evolution education and stem cell research; (2) breaks in the barrier separating church and state leading to political preferences for some faiths over others; and (3) fundamentalist terrorism here and abroad. Among many metrics available to track this skeptical movement is the ascension of four books (continue reading…)

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Long Love Affairs with Libertarianism

The 20th century philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand, author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, famously called herself a “radical for capitalism.” The libertarian writer and journalist Brian Doherty has borrowed the epithet for his remarkably engaging and encyclopedic history of the movement in “Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement” (Public Affairs, 768 pages, $35). (continue reading…)

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