Gov't interference stifles creativity

Before we start, think about the notable technological innovations of the past 125 years: trains, planes, automobiles, television, radio, cell phones and so on. We'll come back to this.

Around our Christmas dinner table there's still debate on the wisdom of an odd, homespun innovation of mine. But in my practiced opinion, wearing heavy duty machine shop ear protection in a minivan stuffed with smallish, underfed opera singers all screaming "she's touching me!" all of the time, was better than the alternative.

Before the headset, I had to put my right hand over my right ear, keeping my left hand on the steering wheel. Contorting my head severely westward, and lifting my left shoulder up, as if trapping a phone there. But instead of a phone, I squeezed a scrunched-up Tickle Me Elmo against my left ear. This driving maneuver flimsily kept a bit of noise out of my left ear, while my right hand performed a more tradition defense along the highway.

After a while I got used to the little red freak muttering, "Oh boy!" in my left ear, but one can only drive so far with a strained neck, right eye directly above the left, and a Prozac-infested Muppet whispering sweet nothings to him. I must have looked frozen, mid-Hokey-Pokey - (which is just one of the dances not to do while driving).

Bath time was only a small improvement as far as noise pollution went. A steamy, soapy biffy smells better than a heated minivan full of used diapers, but it's still a tiny space, overcrowded with precious little banshees, each of whom could break glass at half-volume.

So one Saturday night when the Canucks were set to be on the TV, and my wife was out, I was the de facto bath boss. Six kids and a Sunday-best mandate could easily ruin my personal time with Don Cherry, so I improvised again. Donning my industrial ear muffs, I encouraged the four littlest monkeys into the tub all at once, with what should now be regarded as prescient gender neutrality.

Next, with Henry Ford efficiency I hosed them all off together with the shower wand, then squeezed the shampoo on to all four heads in one swoop. (Note: The apparently loud noises coming from Satan's adorable little choir were muffled by my resourceful preparations in the ear area earlier. Also note: shampoo is really very much like soap, so that's handy.)

With loving proficiency I lathered their hair, quickly hosed them off, and then wrangled them, single file, through a warm toweling station at the door. It was all over in about six minutes. Band-Aid ripped off. Don Cherry and me, and a plate full of nachos.

All of which, of course, dovetails nicely with the Purchase Manager's Index (or PMI), Stalin and Orville Wright. I'll explain.

A purchase manager (PM) determines how much inventory to buy and when. When I was in my 20's, my girlfriend's mother was a PM for a spice supplier in Vancouver. Another PM might manage the on-hand supply of lithium for a distributor. Since lithium is used in drug manufacturing, as well as batteries, its demand wiggles in weird ways.

The PM makes complex decisions, partly driven by something as simple as how high the stuff is already stacked in the warehouse, and how much dust has been settling on it. When we aggregate the data from PM's across the developed world in the PMI, or in any of its economic regions, we get a very useful measure of expected short-to-mid term business conditions.

Regarding Orville Wright and his innovative ilk, the human spirit and invention are inextricably connected. Although Steve Jobs was reportedly an unyielding task master, nobody can deny that he had something approaching clairvoyance when it came to product development, creating one of the most valuable corporations in the history of the world out of a start-up in his garage.

Everyone wishes they had a weather vane that would tell them which way the money is blowing. Is this a good time to subdivide my edge-of-city acreage and develop a new neighbourhood, naming the streets after my cats?

And of the above innovations, which ones grew out of a socialist regime? Zipity-stinking-duda. And none of them were spawned by a government grant.

All came from fiercely independent minds. Brilliant trendsetters, living in a domain where bold experimentation was tolerated, even celebrated, in messy, capitalist societies.

And consider the skillful agility of those purchase managers of the free world compared to the Central Planning Committees of the great Marxist experiments of the past century.

The PM's adeptly listened to market signals. The central planners clumsily tried to dictate them, and imposed brutal famine, and substandard manufactured products on a defeated underclass.

Their willful blindness was, in the end, the end of the socialist experiment.

And here's the thing. There are innovators everywhere, constantly testing, probing, experimenting, speculating, disrupting, failing and occasionally thriving.

Governments should be cautious about over-managing, or being bent on programs, funded by tax-payers, and clumsily managed by bureaucrats who haven't the faintest clue about market forces. This nearly always stifles the very creativity and entrepreneurial spirit they hope to harness.

Mark Ryan is an investment advisor with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. (Member-Canadian Investor Protection Fund), and these are Mark's views, and not those of RBC Dominion Securities. This article is for information purposes only. Please consult with a professional advisor before taking any action based on information in this article. See Mark's website at:http://dir.rbcinvestments.com/mark.ryan.