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Banning Ourselves into Oblivion

Written By: Phil Davis

As the U.S. Administration and their neo-progressive benefactors – or the Prohibitionists as I like to see them – continue their quest of infusing steroids into our already massively hulking federal government, the side effects are starting to kick in. That is, the shrinking of innovation by overreaching regulations or the outright bans of new ideas and products. Prohibition does not work, which we have experienced ample proof of over the last 100 years, but it does seem to be the modus operandi of neo-progressive policies as they ban us into oblivion.

As many of the neo-progressives see it, we should be embracing many of the European models of governance by strictly regulating everything in our lives, from health care services to creating regulatory roadblocks in starting new innovative businesses. To give a real life example of what I am talking about, consider the recent story of Raphael Pirker as describe in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story and interview with a Mr. Pirker,The Drone That Shot Down the Feds.

Mr. Pirker is a 29 year old Austrian and a radio control drone hobbyist and entrepreneur, got himself into a bit of trouble flying his five pound Styrofoam drone around the University of Virginia, videoing the campus for a promotional campaign in 2010. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handed him a $10,000 fine for being reckless and operating without a proper license. In defending his position he noted that - and an administrative judge agreed -  "there was no enforceable FAA rule" in regulating drones or even paper airplanes, for that matter, and threw the fine out along with the federal ban on commercial drones. To be clear, I am talking about airspace that is between the ground and a high flying kite – a few hundred feet - not the space that rightly needs vigorous regulation for safe air travel and which the FAA has done an outstanding job doing.

One would think the FAA would be interested in giving some "real" progressive direction and regulation, thereby promoting the drone industry, helping it soar as some trade groups – mentioned in the article – who estimate the creation of 100,000 new jobs and $80 billion of new business over the next 10 years. But Mr. Pirker calls this optimism - in his words – "bullshit" and noting why in this quote from the WSJ interview:

"The FAA's current policy 'road map,' he notes, envisions as strict a licensing system for operators of small remote-controlled drones as for pilots of private passenger planes.

The worry is that when (not if) the FAA makes new rules, they will make them so onerous that it will kill any new drone ventures, whether commercial or those for private use. Whereas, other countries have okayed light-weight drones for both private and commercial uses, by "smartly regulating" the drone industry instead of over-regulating it, by intelligently separating large drones, which need some regulation between the smaller lighter models hobbyists use.

But this is not the end of the story. Mr. Pirker’s goal using drones in various commercial projects, such as the filming of the University of Virginia or making quick trips to the grocery store, was thwarted from the very beginning. The unknown U.S. regulatory atmosphere for drones made starting his venture in the U.S. very risky, if not impossible, so he opted to open it in Switzerland. But the labor costs and extreme regulatory environment made that impossible as well, which he quickly learned after imported cameras that arrived without the required EU certification stickers, and were all destroyed by custom officials.

His next stop was his native Austria, where he applied to become incorporated, only to find out about the up-front taxation fee for new business, $300,000 (US) in new taxes to be exact, even before the venture made one Euro. I saw this myself in Italy, where if you want to open a small cafe’ the fees range between $100,000 and $150,000 (US), before you even pour that first cup of espresso. As in Switzerland, the business environment for new venture was impossible to manage, along with the apparent threat that the EU was looking to fine him for flying small drones just as the FAA did.

His next, and last stop, was Hong Kong and the beginnings of TBS Avionics, where Mr. Pirker now manufactures small drones weighing about 3.5 pounds and are sold in 79 countries around the world. I am determined to buy one and be the first in my neighborhood to see it from a new and different point of view, which is perfectly legal to do as a hobbyist.

The moral of this story is quite clear, and those of us who are watching it are frightened by the implications of missing out on a great new industry and market; now just multiply that story by a factor of all other new markets trying to get off the ground and you begin to see our concern. Do we really want to go the way of Europe and its indifferent approach to new ventures? Is the United States so blind to the fact that newness comes with great speed in our twenty-first century and any delays will mean we will miss it entirely? Do we see what the implications are as we head for a more bureaucratic style of government as the EU?

The internet went through a somewhat similar experience when our government was determined not to let us have it. What a disaster that would have been, and we came close to losing it. We were lucky then. The fear is that we are not going to be so lucky this time and new markets will just develop away from us, along with the opportunity of directing those new innovations for their maximum benefit to the citizens of the United States.

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