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Virginia Postrel is an author and speaker whose work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture, commerce, and technology. Postrel[…]

We must think of new efficient regulations.

Virginia Postrel: Well I think the real challenge, and this is a challenge whether you’re thinking about technological innovation and business where we do this very well, or if you’re thinking about combating terrorism where we do it much less well. The challenge is how do you tap the dispersed knowledge, and the dispersed creativity of the large population, as opposed to the sort of early 20th century model which came out of certain advances in the industry at that time, which was you plan for the top. And you make it efficient. And you figure out what your goals are. And you make your plan. And you go there and you regulate it, and you direct, and you figure out how you are going to identify in one place what the threads are, or what the opportunities are. The business world, and the economic world, and the creative industries, and all sorts of . . . the social world . . . has evolved very rapidly away from that model. But if you look at, for example, sort of the way we do national security. It doesn’t take advantage of that. It’s hard because it’s based on sort of having a centralized direction. We spent the latter part of the 20th century sort of our technocrats versus the Soviet technocrats. And our technocrats were more sort of dynamic, and innovative, and informed by the society where there was a lot of decentralized knowledge and innovation then theirs were. Also it was very beneficial. Now we’re in a world where we’re dealing with decentralized, innovative, in some come well-funded people who mean us ill. And what do we do with that? How do we take the strengths of our society and bring them into these sort of bureaucracies and into government planning? I don’t have an answer for that. I just think it’s the big question. And if you look at for example the immediate response to 9/11, how was lower Manhattan evacuated? It was not by somebody having a plan, because nobody planed to have to do that. It was by little guys with boats coming and picking people up. And people innovating on the fly of how to get people out. And it was not panic, and it was not riots in the streets and all the things that people think of in a disaster. In fact it was a great deal of cooperation. And the question is how can you take all those social impulses that are there in our society and in a non-crisis situation like before the crisis happens . . . how do you tap into that? And that’s an interesting question. And I think there is a great deal of strength out there in this sort of dynamic culture that we have.

Recorded on: 7/4/07