2014-02-12

Co.Exist

These Days, Newt Gingrich Sounds Like A Sharing Economy Entrepreneur

In his new book, Gingrich makes some good points about the ways in which today's pioneers are creating a better society. But like the technology entrepreneurs he resembles, Gingrich should remember that innovation can't solve everything.

"The pioneers of the future are creating better answers on almost every front. Bureaucracies are blocking these better outcomes." That's not a quote from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with the typical rules-be-damned attitude; it's one of the first things Newt Gingrich said to me during our phone call about his new book, Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America's Fate.

In Gingrich's view, those prison guards of the past are the people who profit from the old way of doing things—including government officials. "It's lobbyists, bureaucrats, politicians. It's almost as if we had had a big enough government in the 1840s, the stage coach industry would have gotten a lobbyist to limit the speed of a horse on ground to avoid competition," he says.

The perfect example of Gingrich's prison guards is, in fact, born from the Silicon Valley ecosystem. He cites Uber's battles with local taxi commissions as an example of a progress-destroying clash between bureaucrats and innovators (in California, ridesharing is now officially legal, but that's not the case everywhere).

In his book, Gingrich lists the sectors and companies he believes are primed for success, if only bureaucrats would get out of the way. During our call, Gingrich outlined some of his favorites.

Online Learning

Gingrich cites Udacity and Duolingo as two of the pioneers in the space (indeed, we've done the same). He's particularly impressed with Udacity's partnership with Georgia Tech to provide an online master's degree in computer science.

Self-Driving Cars

This is an area where government really kick-started the science—something that Gingrich readily points out. "The initial self-driving cars were all part of a DARPA project," he says. "The government plays a real role in basic research, in helping to facilitate the development of infrastructure, but government is a terrible implementer."

Brain Research

"If we get breakthroughs in brain research—the scale of savings, I always try to explain to fiscal conservatives that you have $20 trillion in Alzheimer's expenses. It would be a scale of [cost] reduction that dwarfs any type of entitlement reform that you can imagine," says Gingrich.

I point out that President Obama recently announced $100 million in funding for brain research, but Gingrich believes much more needs to be done. "It's a baby step in the right direction," he acknowledges.

Even though Gingrich criticizes Obama's health care policies and cites Rick Perry and Scott Walker as champions of innovation, he contends that his book is non-partisan—and so are many of his ideas. Apparently, he has been inspired by a recent book on government innovation written by former San Francisco mayor (and liberal lieutenant governor of California) Gavin Newsom. "Gavin has done some pioneering things. I hope this doesn't ruin his career," he laughs.

As for Gingrich's much-publicized plan during his presidential run to build a permanent moon base? He believes that prizes (i.e. the Lunar X Prize) will lead the way in future spaceflight. He writes in the book:

There is a way forward for America’s space program. Despite the prison guards’ efforts to preserve the status quo, we have begun to see exciting progress outside of NASA. Genuine pioneers are opening space to the private sector, taking risks—both financial and physical—in pursuit of the high frontier. They’ve done it with encouragement not from NASA but from prizes.

Gingrich makes some excellent points. But like the technology entrepreneurs he resembles, Gingrich should remember that innovation can't solve everything. Every once in awhile, regulations exist for a reason—it only takes one big accident to figure out why.

[Image: Newt Gingrich via Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock]

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