Shredding the rules

PIONEERING entrepreneurs have often had an uneasy relationship with the law. America’s ruthless 19th-century “robber barons” believed it was easier to go ahead and do something, and seek forgiveness later, than to ask permission first. (It helps if you take the precaution of buying up the politicians who dispense the forgiveness.) The first carmakers had to battle against rules of the road that had been designed for the horse and cart. Britain’s “pirate” radio stations in the 1960s had to retreat to international waters to bring pop music to the masses.

The tension between innovators and regulators has been particularly intense of late. Uber and Lyft have had complaints that their car-hailing services break all sorts of taxi regulations; people renting out rooms on Airbnb have been accused of running unlicensed hotels; Tesla, a maker of electric cars, has suffered legal setbacks in its attempts to sell directly to motorists rather than through independent dealers; and in its early days Prosper Marketplace, a peer-to-peer lending platform, suffered a “cease and desist” order from the Securities and Exchange Commission. It sometimes seems as if the...



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