Wednesday, October 28, 2009


My seventeen year old has been taking part in online political discussions lately.  Maybe because he was raised by me, he lives in my world--the world in which one cannot spin straw into gold.

My son is amazed by the ability of people to deny and denigrate arguments that come from basic assumptions that one cannot live without.

One bugaboo that these folks are worried about is "net neutrality," which, in his community seems to have no concrete definition.  There is some agreement that if a law were passed guaranteeing net neutrality, your internet service provider could not limit massive downloads that take up lots of bandwidth--such as downloading movies.

But, it turns out, that if you force your ISP to accommodate the big downloaders, you also force them to inconvenience moderate users.  So which is best?

The invisible hand smacks everyone around in this way.  The ISP wants to maximize its profit by creating a service that people are willing to pay for.  The ISP has no incentive to hurt a user for the sake of causing hurt.  The ISP likes happy users.  And when some users make others unhappy, the ISP is out to provide the most overall value for users, whomever they are, since the ISP is rewarded more for providing more value--and this works whether the ISP is a monopolist or a competitor.

We can let ISPs and individuals both have freedom.  Or we can have government decide which users are angels and which are devils and set up rules by which some are hurt while others are helped. 

But government does not have skin in the game.  The ISP loses money if they have more unsatisfied customers.  The government does not.

In addition, who knows which unintended consequences the government will create when it tries to solve peoples' problems?

When my son is overcome by the strange view that comes form the other world, he has to unburden himself. 

And that is the sound of thinking.

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