You would think that when cars were first invented, the public hailed them as modern marvels and everyone was quick to buy one. After all, you could travel 15 miles per hour! The interior was air conditioned, Biggie Smalls was bumping on the Bose surround sound and there were switches to make the cars bounce.
No, actually none of that is right, except the 15-miles-per-hour limitation. People were slow to adopt cars. They broke down constantly and everywhere, and there were no paved roads, traffic lights or gas stations. Worse yet, cars had to share the road with horses, carriages, wagons, ice carts and sundry other old-timey things that don’t exist anymore. There were accidents, fatalities, crashes and breakdowns. In short, the whole car thing was a nightmare. No grandmother was going to use it and you certainly weren’t going to use one to get coffee. (If you don’t see where this is going, there really is no hope).
In the UK cars were much frowned upon by the big-jowled set. The naysayers of the day harrumphed so much about these new pointless, useless death traps that Parliament passed the The Locomotive Act 1865, AKA the Red Flag Act, which required that “self propelled vehicles be led by a pedestrian waving a red flag or carrying a lantern to warn bystanders of the vehicles approach” (Wikipedia). That’s right, cars were so menacing that someone had to run in front of them shouting about their approach as a warning. Wrap your mind around that for a second — and it's ok to Google and come back to this, much as the authors did when first encountering this law.
With the law being passed, the harrumphers were very satisfied with themselves. INDEED: public safety had been restored and the threat abated! You can imagine the grandstanding speeches and point-scoring proclamations. The motorized menace had been curtailed. The good, proper, and decent folk of this great country can once again enjoy the streets in peace (never mind the street urchins, potholes and horse manure, but we digress) . Here here! Jolly good, old chap!
Except that is not what happened. Cars got better, infrastructure improved, and now we have the Ford GT and the Cadillac Escalade, bounce switches and spinning rims optional. The Red Flag Act set the UK car industry back decades. It turns out that tech doesn’t improve if it's prohibited by law. Parliament's time would have been better spent shaping the car industry, rewriting existing rules, paving the way for new infrastructure and accelerating into the GT future.
Surely we have learned a few lessons since then, right? Let’s see: The US Federal Government and Oregon have recently announced that they are contemplating laws to limit new crypto mining rigs (New York already went there); this time on environmental grounds. 100 years later and the luddites are still leaning on the same arguments.
Yes, mining crypto uses energy, like myriad facets of our modern digital world. And energy is constantly produced by power plants, which sometimes produce excess energy that has to be flared (burned off) because of low demand. It takes a lot of knobs and levers to get power going, which means plants don’t often throttle back, resulting in inefficiencies—wasted energy and fuel when low consumer demand renders it unused. Crypto rigs can be, and in some places already are, placed next to power plants to absorb the excess power during down times. The alternative is that the gas is flared, leading to atmospheric pollution; not an ideal outcome. The government doesn't have to incentivize crypto miners, but they certainly shouldn’t write laws that prohibit the activity merely because it uses energy.
While putting crypto rigs next to power plants isn’t a panacea, it’s a next step in the technology's development, and moreover, it solves a real-world problem. New use cases will be developed in the future. We are not predicting a crypto utopia, nor do we know the endpoint of the tech, but we are pretty sure that helping drive it forward is better than the vain hope of harrumphing it into stagnation.
The Red Flag Act was repealed in 1896 and a London-to-Brighton race is still held in November to commemorate the event. Yesterday's death traps transform into tomorrow's indispensable technology.
At CoinList we support rigs, not flags. To learn more about how we can best support your crypto project, reach out to us today »
Co-authored by Sebastian Evans (Senior Product Counsel) and Damien Scott (General Counsel)
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