I had this thought a couple days ago, and recent events have cemented it firmly in my mind.
A few years ago, the Motorola RAZR was the “it” cell phone. Everyone had to have one, or have one of the many imitators. Then, just as rapidly, it vanished from the scene. Everyone had to have an iPhone (which is now on its 4th generation). Of course, both of these phones are “3G” phones which apply to a generation of standards adopted in the early 2000’s. Now, we have Android phones taking over the world, and some of these like my own HTC EVO are “4G” phones. And Microsoft just released their “Windows Phone 7” (WP7) series on Monday to much fanfare.
Of course, the iPhone, Android and WP7 phones are all “smartphones” that can be thought of as “pocket computers”. There’s also a seemingly endless variety of non-smartphones (sometimes called “feature phones”. No matter what you want in a cell phone, it’s probably available. And they are relatively cheap! New phones appear on the market nearly every day, and new generations of communication technologies appear every 7-10 years.
Even the service is cheap, compared to what people were paying for their phone service in the 60s and 70s. Think. When was the last time you paid for a long distance call? Or waited until “after 7 pm” to make one?
Take a look around you. I bet that just about everyone you know has a cell phone, and they’re almost all different.
This is free enterprise in action. We have near continuous improvement, lots of choices, and inexpensive products.
Now, let’s look at the Space Shuttle.
I remember visiting Cape Canaveral as a child. The year was 1976, and I remember that because of all of the red white and blue stars that were the logo of the Bicentennial. I first saw a model and a movie on the Space Shuttle during the tour. Work on it had begun in 1968. Operational flight began in 1982 and the Space Shuttle Program will be officially retired in 2011.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Space Shuttle is a technological marvel. But the reason it’s being retired is that it’s too expensive to run (average cost per flight around $1.5 billion) and is seriously showing it’s age. The onboard computers use tape drives. For several years, mission specialists and even the pilots have been bringing laptop computers on board because it’s easier and faster to do all of their computations that way and then just input the results into the Space Shuttle’s computers and navigation systems. Today they could probably accomplish the same things with their smartphones.
In the 30 years since the the first Space Shuttle launch in April, 1981, only small incremental improvements have been made to the overall design. The concept is essentially the same as what was originally drawn up on chalkboards in the 1960s.
This is government enterprise in action. We have nearly no improvement, no choices, and high costs.
Now ask yourself this.
Now that we have ObamaCare, is the future of health care in the United States more likely to be like cell phones? Or the Space Shuttle?
Decide quickly. In 19 days you can make your decision known.