Considering a robot superhighway from Mexico to Canada

If driverless cars are in the near future, why not a superhighway of autonomous trucks linking Mexico and Canada?

The project is currently being considered by members of the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA), and would consist of a robot-only corridor running along Route 83 through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and on into Manitoba.

One of the main reasons for a robot road like this, according to Marlo Anderson of the CNATCA, is that North Dakota produces a lot of oil right now, and doesn’t have a great way to get it all where it needs to go. Sure, there are trains, but there’s not enough space to be had. That, and the jury-rigged cars that carry the oil keep exploding. Trucks can help ease the pressure, especially if they don’t need drivers…

There are plenty of problems to solve before any of this would be possible though, including self-driving car laws in half a dozen US states, some way of having driver-less robo-rigs cross borders into and out of the United States, and security in place to make sure no one tries to exploit that system. But robot roads like this one—if it happens—could pave the way to wider acceptance of self-driving vehicles that really do take care of it all themselves. Even if we’re not ready to have them on the road with us just yet.

Advantages include safer roads, no time restrictions on the trucks, lower labor costs, and presumably cheaper goods and/or more money to be made. Disadvantages include lost trucking jobs, a long period of time to put this all together, and perhaps the biggest hurdle for now: what exactly would such a highway cost to build and maintain? Do we need a fleet of herding vehicles to service the trucks and highway?

I wonder what the final arguments regarding this might look like: perhaps safety on the trucking side (how can you argue with a safer driving experience?) versus the steady erosion of jobs greased by free trade (this time to autonomous vehicles).

Quick Review: The Island at the Center of the World

Russell Shorto argues the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam helped kickstart the American mindset and dream even though the city’s history before the English takeover is often ignored. Shorto bases his claims on research in recent decades that involves translating the old Dutch records and revealing the political and social history of the colony. In the end, Americans might see their origins largely in the English colonies but Shorto suggests “it helped set the whole thing [the American experiment] in motion…They reshuffled the categories by which people had long lived, created a society with more open spaces, in which the rungs of the ladder were reachable by nearly everyone.” (317)

Here is what the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam gifted to the United States:

1. Emphasis on trade. Even in its early decades, the city was a hub for shipping in the New World. The English colonies in New England and Virginia both worked through the Dutch port. The protected harbor was important as was its connections to the interior.

2. Giving rights to all the citizens. While the English colonies only had a limited number of freedmen, the Dutch had much broader citizenship rights and this social standing allowed people of all backgrounds to rise up the social ladder. This also involved quite the fight for control over the colony; Shorto describes the efforts of the lawyer Adriaen van der Donck to fight for citizen control rather than the autocratic rule of the Dutch West India Company and their charge Peter Stuyvesant. This did have an interesting side effect in the end. When the English ended up moving in from their colonies in Connecticut, the people of New Amsterdam wanted to be handed over peacefully to the English in order to continue the life of their city and the English largely granted them the continuation of their lives.

3. Religious tolerance. The Netherlands was open to people of different faiths – mainly different Christians – and this continued in their colony. Thus, a number of immigrants ended up in New Amsterdam rather than the much more restrictive English colonies. Other fun fact: those same Puritans who founded Plymouth and its more narrow restrictions had arrived from the Netherlands where the Dutch had offered them religious freedom.

4. Openness to immigrants. With the emphasis on trade, rights, and religious tolerance, New Amsterdam from the beginning was home to people of many backgrounds.

Another large factor in shaping New Amsterdam: the larger political and military conflicts between England and the Netherlands over this period. The two countries fought three wars and the colony’s fate was often caught in the middle.

Overall, an interesting summation of recent research on the early decades of New York City. The English weren’t the only Europeans to help found the United States and the Dutch played an important role in this influential global city.

ABA wants free trade in legal services?

The International Business Times is reporting that American Bar Association President Stephen N. Zack is lobbying India to refrain from shutting U.S. lawyers out of the Indian legal market:

Currently, U.S. lawyers are allowed to travel to India on an “in-and-out basis” to advise their clients on non-Indian aspects of law. That “status quo” should be maintained as the [Bar Council of India] considers the broader issue of whether to allow the practice of law by foreign law firms in India, Zack said….”The ABA believes that allowing such activities is critical not only for the mutual benefit of the legal practitioners in both countries,” [Zack’s] letter said, “but also for fostering the vital and already close relationship between India and the United States and to promote the robust growth of trade and investments between our two countries. Allowing such activities is also essential in making India a preferred venue for international arbitration proceedings.”

This is a huge issue, and only going to get bigger in the coming years.  In most countries, including the U.S. and India, the legal profession is highly regulated and heavily skewed toward protectionism (i.e., preserving a pre-globalization status quo).  For example, in order to “practice law” in the U.S., one must generally graduate from college, attend law school for 3 years, and pass a state-specific bar exam.  Other countries have similarly stringent requirements.  Obviously, most people who have been through the trouble (and expense) of this process are vehemently opposed to competition from anyone else–including (and especially) lawyers licensed in other countries.

Which is what makes the ABA president’s statements so interesting.  Supposedly, U.S. lawyers currently provide Indian businesses with “consultancy legal services” (to use the article’s phrase) rather than “practice law” (which is the magic phrase to denote what one cannot do without an official license in a given state/country).  However, such verbal formulations are notoriously vague, and everyone who argues over their precise meanings are lawyers with a vested interest in either (1) expanding their own market for legal services or (2) keeping new competition out.

To date, new competition has mostly been kept out, especially here in the U.S.  It will be interesting to see whether the ABA president’s recent lobbying in India represents a first step moving toward a free trade in legal services between the U.S. and India.