(Video) The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin: Q&A with Filmmakers Nicholas and Dan Mross

“In the past, we’ve had the need for authority to make sure people stayed in the lines,” says Dan Mross, a subject in the new documentary The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin. “Bitcoin kind of encodes that into the software itself. So there’s not much to say against something that’s a cheap, proven, honest, transparent money system.”

Reason TV correspondent Naomi Brockwell caught up with Dan and his brother, Nicholas Mross, the movie’s director, at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. They discuss the challenges of making a film about an anonymous, online currency, the personalities behind bitcoin, the identity (or identities) of bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, and the prospects for bitcoin’s future as money.

(Video) From Guns to Pastries: How 3D Printing Will Change the Way We Make Practically Everything

On April 4, 2014, Reason TV attended the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo, a three-day event held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.

There we caught up with:

Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Cornell University, who compared the excitement swirling around the 3D printing industry to what it felt like to work in the computer industry in the 1970s.

Brian Quan, the president of X-Object, who predicted that 3D printing will transform everything from toys to screwdrivers by making possible a “new organic creation process.”

Aleph Objects’ Harris Kenny (a former Reason Foundation policy analyst), who discussed the power of open source design and how 3D printing is allowing scientists to create cheap prosthetics and lab equipment.

Liz von Hasseln, the creative director of food products at 3D Systems, who demonstrated the new Chef Jet, which is the first 3D printer for pastry chefs.

Scott McGowan of Solid Concepts, which created the first 3D-printed metal gun.

For more on how 3D printing will change the economy, read Greg Beato’s column from the April 2014 issue of Reason magazine.

(Video) New York to Regulate Bitcoin: Is the Cryptocurrency Biz Like “the Wild West?”

Yesterday, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) concluded a two-day fact-finding hearing on how to regulate Bitcoin and other virtual cryptocurrencies. The purpose of the hearing was to consider whether or not Empire State regulators should have a direct role in overseeing the use of virtual cryptocurrencies, or if existing federal regulations suffice.

In his opening remarks, New York State Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin M. Lawsky made it clear that the question wasn’t so much if New York should regulate cryptocurrencies, but how. “Right now, the regulation of the virtual currency industry is still akin to the Wild West,” said Lawsky. “That lack of regulation is simply not tenable for the long-term.” Lawsky also expressed a desire not to “clip the wings” of a promising new technology, and acknowledged the potential of cryptocurrencies to revolutionize the money transmission industry.

The first panel consisted of some of the leading investors and venture capitalists in the world of Bitcoin, including Barry Silbert of SecondMarket and the Bitcoin Investment Trust, Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, and Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss of Winkelvoss Capital Management. All five participants urged the DFS to take a light touch to avoid quashing innovation or driving the industry abroad.

When one panelist suggested that small upstarts could outsource their regulatory compliance duties to other firms, Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures told the panel, “That sounds like a terrible idea.” He continued:

You’re talking about introducing all of the costs into the system that we’re trying to take out of the system. Let’s just understand what we’re trying to do with Bitcoin. We’re trying to create a world where transactions can move globally for free. And making these companies hire some outsource compliance firm is a bad idea.

Members of the DFS voiced concern that Bitcoin could be used to facilitate narcotrafficking and other illegal activities, as it did in the case of Silk Road, an online drug bizarre that was shut down by the government in October. On Monday, the day before the hearings began, Charlie Shrem, the founder and CEO of BitInstant and a major figure in the Bitcoin community, was arrested on charges of using cryptocurrency to launder money. The Winkelvoss brothers, who participated in the hearing, were major investors in Shrem’s firm.

Jeremy Liew of Lightspeed Venture Partners told the panel that these cases demonstrate that additional laws and regulations to protect against money laundering aren’t necessary. “Law enforcement did a fantastic job using existing regulations,” said Liew. “It appears to have been controlled.” At a later session, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the district attorney of New York County, and Richard B. Zabel, the deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, argued that these recent prosecutions pointed to the need for more oversight. “There were hundreds of people engaged in criminal conduct dealing with these entities and dealing in virtual currencies and they haven’t all been arrested,” said Zabel.

But what sorts of rules are needed to help combat money laundering that don’t already exist on the federal level? The participants offered few specifics. Bitcoin investors expressed hope that any new regulations will be written broadly enough that they don’t halt innovation or drive the industry abroad. “Regulators are going to have to come up with a way to treat Bitcoin that is balanced and thoughtful,” said Barry Silbert, “but also recognize that this is a global phenomenon.”

“Bitcoin challenges the duopolistic incumbents,” said Tyler Winklevoss, “and I think that’s very healthy and I think that’s very American and it’s what we should all be striving for.”

(Video) Wall Street’s Cryptocurrency Headquarters: Inside Bitcoin Center NYC

“I was in college, and now instead of going to college I’m doing Bitcoin,” says Louis Parker, an entrepreneur who has set up shop at the Bitcoin Center NYC, a cavernous storefront in lower Manhattan’s financial district that’s become a central gathering spot for New York City’s cryptocurrency traders, programmers, and enthusiasts. “There’s no college class on Bitcoin, except in Cyprus, and I wasn’t ready to move there,” he says.

Every Monday night, the Bitcoin community holds a meet up called Satoshi Square, named in honor of Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of Bitcoin, in which traders exchange virtual currencies for U.S. dollars. Before Satoshi Square relocated to the Bitcoin Center NYC a couple weeks ago, it was held in the shopping aisles of a Whole Foods grocery store on the Lower East Side.

Why convert Bitcoins to dollars in person when it’s simple to do so on the web? For one thing, online trades require a bank account, which some Bitcoin users lack. Trading in person also reduces transaction fees and enables haggling. “There’s a lot of benefits to coming together on an exchange,” says Scott Tuddenham, who helps manage the order book during Satoshi Square. “Commerce has been conducted in city centers since the beginning of time,” he says.

The cofounder of the Bitcoin Center NYC is Nick Spanos, a tech entrepreneur and the owner of the New York City real estate brokerage firm Bapple. He says his interest in Bitcoin and other virtual currencies is partly driven by concern that over printing of money by the U.S. government could lead to runaway inflation.

“Maybe people just by learning about Bitcoin will slowdown the dollars being printed as an educational function of its existence,” says Spanos.

(Video) What We Saw at NYC's Fast Food Strike

Yesterday, Naomi Brockwell and I attended a demonstration demanding that fast-food restaurants boost their minimum wage to $15 per hour, or a little more than double the current federal minimum wage. The strike, which was led by a group called Fast Food Forward that's affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was one of more than a 100 similar demonstrations held in cities across the country.

The New York demonstration had about 150 people, but the number of actual fast food employees participating in the strike was small. It was business as usual at every restaurant we dropped by yesterday morning and, at a McDonald's restaurant on 23rd Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan, employees behind the counter said they had heard nothing about a strike.

We caught up with the protesters in front of a Wendy's in downtown Brooklyn, where the crowd consisted of union organizers, fast-food workers, and their sympathizers. An estimated one-third of the demonstrators were fast-food employees, meaning that less than one-tenth of 1 percent of New York City's 57,000 fast-food workforce participated in the strike.

The group was traveling from one fast-food restaurant to another, before winding up at Foley Square in Manhattan around 1pm.

Multiple strikers told us they had received compensation through a union strike fund to appear, but declined to say the amount they were paid.

Artificially doubling wages to $15 an hour would change many things in the fast food industry, including the easy path it provides for low-skilled employees to break into the labor market. Substantially higher wages would mean that existing employees would be less apt to look for other positions, and senior staffers would be more inclined to hog shift hours. Franchisees would likely move more aggressively to replace human service workers with automated cash registers, which is already happening in European McDonald's. Evidence of how artificially boosting wages destroys opportunities for entry level workers was best documented in a 2006 study by economists David Neumark and William Wascher, which was updated in 2013.

In interviews, several striking workers described how it had been relatively easy for them to get a job in fast-food service. Shenita Simon, who works as a shift supervisor at KFC, told us that she doesn't know where else she would have been able to find a position, because fast food is the only industry that "will allow you to have minimum education." Isaac Wallace, a Burger King employee, described how he was able to get his job immediately after moving to New York from Jamaica by simply walking into a Burger King in Brooklyn and approaching the manager.

Once the strike moved to Foley Square, organizers from Fast Food Forward began obstructing our efforts to talk with protesters.

(Video) The Feds vs. Craig Zucker: Q&A with the Creator of Buckyballs

Four years ago, serial-entrepreneur Craig Zucker had a hit product on his hands: Buckyballs, desk toys comprised of supercharged mini magnets, which were flying off the shelves and into the shopping carts of fidgety-handed customers. Zucker's company, Maxfield & Oberton, had sales of $10 million in 2009.

Zucker's troubles began last year, when the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) filed an administrative complaint that sought to ban and recall the product on the grounds that it was dangerous for children. It's true that if swallowed, these powerful tiny balls can cause internal bleeding because they seek to find other magnets when lodged in a person's bowels or intestinal tract. But banning the product was "statistically ridiculous," as a report in the Huffington Post explained. There were 22 reported incidents of ingested Buckeyballs from 2009 to October 2011, or one for every 100,000 sets sold. That means the product is orders of magnitude less risky than dogs, tennis, skateboarding, and poisonous household chemicals. And the product was clearly marked, "Keep Away from All Children."

Finding himself in the cross hairs of federal regulators, Craig Zucker did the opposite of pull back. He went on a publicity rampage to save Buckyballs. Zucker's company even created a poster encouraging supporters to give CPSC Chairwoman Inez Tennenbaum a ring on her "psychic hotline," a reference to how the CPSC claims to have reviewed Maxfield & Oberton's Corrective Action Plan for Buckyballs less than 24 hours after it was submitted, which the company called "plain spooky."

Within a few months, Zucker had conceded defeat. Many stores stopped carrying Buckyballs, sales plummeted, legal fees mounted, and Maxfield & Oberton was dissolved. Then in February 2013, the Consumer Product Safety Commission added Craig Zucker to its complaint, holding him personally liable for the cost of recalling Buckyballs, which the agency claims will come to about $57 million. The case has drawn widespread attention in legal circles because it's the first time the Commission has attempted to hold a former officer personally responsible for the actions of a defunct corporation. The National Association of Manufacturers, the National Retail Federation, and the Retail Industry Leaders Association have filed a joint brief on Zucker's behalf.

Is the Consumer Product Safety Commission carrying out a personal vendetta against Craig Zucker? Reason TV Contributor Naomi Brockwell sat down with him to discuss the lawsuit and Liberty Balls, a new product that's being sold to help raise money to cover Zucker's legal fees.

Watch Reason TV's September 2012 interview with Craig Zucker, back when Buckyballs were still on the market and Maxfield & Oberton was fighting for its survival.
 

(Video) Airbnb and Its Enemies: Who’s Afraid of a $10-a-Night Sofa?

Lauren and Rob, who moved to New York City to make it in showbiz, rent a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that costs $2,250 per month. Lacking a regular paycheck, the two performers make ends meet by hawking short-term stays on their living-room couch for $65 a night. Travelers find them through Airbnb, a popular online service that connects residents who want to pick up some extra cash from out-of-towners who are looking for a cheaper alternative to a traditional hotel.

“On average, we cover half our rent,” says Lauren, who asked that we not reveal her last name because of the legal issues surrounding Airbnb rentals. “And so it takes away the worry.”

Airbnb, the most popular short-term rental site, is exploding in popularity, with a reported five-fold increase in its bookings in one year. The site has 200,000 listings available in 192 countries. Customers can stay in an igloo in Greenland, a Tipi in Denmark, or a tree house above San Francisco Bay. In New York City, where the average hotel room runs $350 per night, tourists can pay as little as $10 to stay on a worn couch.

Despite its rapid growth, this sort of peer-to-peer accommodation network still makes up a fraction of the U.S. lodging industry. There are 45,000 Airbnb domestic listings, which is less than 1 percent of the size of the U.S. hotel business, with its 4.9 million guest rooms.

But Airbnb and similar services have made enough of an impact to draw powerful enemies. These range from city officials trying to maximize lucrative hotel taxes to a hospitality industry fearful of competition to tenants-rights advocates who think the short-termers diss traditional renters.

(Video) The Feds vs. the Chinatown Bus: The Glorious Rebirth of Bus Travel & Why the Gov’t May Ruin it Again

The long-distance busing industry was originally dominated by small scrappy companies competing fiercely to win over customers, only to become a government-protected cartel with declining ridership and all the competitive spirit of Ma Bell. A half-century later, busing returned to its glorious origins, but today it’s in danger becoming a ward of the state once more.

In the 1910s, the very first American bus companies started picking up passengers on main streets all across America. There were few barriers to entry; entrepreneurs without much capital could buy or lease a motorcoach and then start doing regular pick-ups in front of a hotel or on a street corner.

Within a few years, local governments intervened to protect established companies from new competition. By 1925, most states required that bus companies apply for permission to service particular routes. The Motor Carrier Act of 1935 put the federal Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in charge of regulating bus travel. The ICC did everything from set ticket prices to grant established companies the exclusive right to operate between certain cities.

Protected from competition, bus companies grew indifferent to the changing tastes of their customers. Americans relocated to the suburbs, while car and air travel exploded in popularity. As inner-city depots became dangerous and decrepit, bus companies failed to alter their business models. After World War II, U.S. bus travel fell by half in just a decade and then it kept declining.

The industry languished for the next half century. In 1982, President Reagan deregulated intercity bus travel, which cleared the way for new companies to get into the business and start fighting to win back passengers, but for the next decade and a half not much changed. Then in the late 1990s, a group of immigrants from Fujian Province, China reinvented the bus industry in New York City’s Chinatown. These entrepreneurs brought busing back to its roots of picking up passengers right off the street instead of from a traditional station. (The Chinatown bus companies became known as curbside carriers.) Once again, pretty much all you needed to start a bus company was a bus.

The Chinatown operators also figured out a way to win over customers that had eluded the established carriers for decades: charge really low prices. In short order, companies like Greyhound, Peter Pan, and Coach USA started opening their own curbside services, and today intercity busing is the fastest growing form of intercity transit in the U.S.

Today, history is repeating itself. An onslaught of new safety rules are forcing many small bus operations out of business, allowing the corporate carriers to grab more market share. On May 31, 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shutdown 26 bus companies in a single day, and since then it has forced an additional 15 closures.

For a case study of the government’s incompetence at regulating motorcoach travel, read “Why the Government Was Wrong to Shutdown Fung Wah Bus Company:”
http://reason.com/archives/2013/07/16…

Over-regulating bus lines actually makes passengers quite a bit less safe. Since all the shutdowns, ticket prices have spiked considerably. This means fewer people will be enticed to take the bus and leave their cars at home. Because buses are orders of magnitude safer than cars, travelers are far more likely to die on the highway.