Mobile Apps Bringing a Taste of the Free Market to China

When Uber launched in Beijing, my first thought was that they were going to have a really hard time in China. However, this was not because I expected there to be protests from taxi drivers like in London or threats of jail time from city governments like in San Francisco, but because there is already so much existing competition from mobile taxi booking apps in the country. While in Shanghai this past March, I was introduced to the latest of these apps, DiDi Dache, which is built in to the popular messaging service WeChat. With DiDi Dache, you simply list where you are and where you want to go, leave a voice message for prospective drivers, and in my experience, within 5 minutes you have a taxi. Even more impressive than the speed with which your taxi appears, is the speed with which the technology has spread throughout the country. Within just a few months of the app being launched, nearly every cab in Shanghai now has it set up in their vehicles and is using it as their primary means of finding customers, which has greatly reducing the amount of time they must drive around searching for riders. Even my 70 year old great aunt was using it so frequently and naturally, it seemed as if she’d been using it for years. DiDi Dache, promoted itself initially with massive rebates and incentives for both riders and drivers, some have reported that they were able to take rides for just 2 yuan, approximately 33 cents. This is possible due to the company’s revenue model, where revenue comes not from taxi fares themselves, but instead from “location-based advertising,” which uses geo-tagging to target riders with advertisements related to their location. A unique feature of the app is that people seeking taxis …

Everything a Libertarian needs, all in one place online!

I think facebook just doesn’t like libertarians.  Every time I post something about liberty, it just dies.  I might get one like, and then it just withers away, never to be seen again.  Meanwhile, my friend posts something like, “I’m hungry,” and it gets hundreds of likes. So I started a blog, thinking it would generate more traffic for my writings.  Wrong!  I’ve had my own blog now for years, and only a few people have ever visited it.  Usually they stumble out of the site, just as quickly as they stumbled in.  I feel like I’m a good writer, but how can I be sure if no one ever reads it? That’s where Liberty.me comes in handy.   It’s kind of like facebook, but for libertarians.  Imagine an entire community of libertarians all in one place, liking, posting, chatting . . . working together towards a freer society.  Like an online version of “Galt’s Gulch” from Atlas Shrugged. When I first signed up for Liberty.me, I was instantly greeted with a chat window with about 60 other people. “Hi everyone.  Um, where am I?  This is my first time here . . . I’m Joe.” “Welcome to your new home, Joe!” “Hi JOE!” “Hey everyone, it’s Joe!” “Where are you from?” I have to say – as a lonely libertarian, it was the most welcoming experience I’d ever gotten just from visiting a website! The site is jam packed with articles, liberty guides, free books, classes, videos, blogs, and discussion groups; all in an extremely beautiful web page. The colors, the fonts, and placement – everything has been thought about with beauty and style in mind. The blog creation tool is pretty spectacular. If you’ve ever tried to create a blog before, you know that it can be pretty …

Austrian Economics and Social Media in China

In many places around the world we hear about the use of social media and mobile apps to help people communicate with each other in opposition to the state or against mainstream standards. From Egypt to Venezuela, social media has played an instrumental role in the organisation of protests. Fearing the same, the Chinese government has long sought to block the use of social media sites, thus Facebook and Twitter have a very minor presence in the country. Nonetheless, here in Shanghai I’ve learned about some of the innovative ways that local mobile apps are being used to spread ideas of liberty. While it is risky to talk about politics or to openly criticize the government in China, the field of economics provides somewhat safe ground to discuss ideas of liberty. Even then, one still must be mindful of one’s wording, because the terms ‘free-market’ or ‘capitalism’ are still blacklisted, whereas the phrase ‘market economy’ is perfectly acceptable. This past month a group of professors of Austrian Economics (a number of whom spoke at our 2012 Shanghai Austrian Economic Summit) got together and decided to create an online course entirely based on Hayek’s works. What’s exceptional about their approach is that the whole course is hosted on Weixin (known as WeChat for English users), which is like a Chinese version of Whatsapp. The lectures are given live, enabling students to tune in and respond in real time, while those who can’t make it at the time can still catch up later. The professor gives his lecture by leaving voice messages for the group. Each clip is limited by the app to being just a minute long, though they can be played consecutively. All the while, students can type in their questions, to which the professor can reply instantly. This style …