Aug 05, 2010, 09:48AM

Big Business vs. Free Markets

Net neutrality as we know it may be on the ropes.

It appears Google is nearing an agreement with Verizon wherein the latter’s broadband network will prioritize the former. Consumer advocates and supporters of net neutrality are crying foul; the recently hamstrung FCC can’t really do anything about it; and the future is ominous, now.

But why shouldn’t Google and Verizon cut their own deal? Free markets need to allow for the unrestricted flow of capital, innovation and all those other wonderful words you hear from economists. I agree with that, boilerplate liberal that I am; what I don’t agree with is hypocrisy justified by wealth and blind ideology.

All things relative, Verizon and Google are rather on-the-level with their intentions and their arguments. Ars Technica has this great summary of a joint statement from the two behemoths that seeks to put down on paper just what the two sides agree and disagree on.

Technology Liberation Front, a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian zine focusing on technology and media, ran this piece yesterday, before the Times article ran:

“The key problem is defining the internet as a private broadband network,” [Daniel Lyons of Boston College Law School] says, “when in nearly every case, the broadband infrastructure involved includes tremendous use of government granted rights of ways and other government subsidies. If the telcos actually had built their network entirely on their own and negotiated privately with land owners for rights of way, they might have a point on this one. But they didn’t and they don’t.”

Putting aside the fact that not all ISPs received subsidies (or are “telcos”), the logical consequences of this line of reasoning are staggering. If you got a subsidy or some other government benefits, the government now owns your network. This will certainly come as a surprise to ISPs, and ISP shareholders, who thought they actually owned their networks. But why stop there?  What of the millions of American’s with mortgages financed by Fannie Mae? Or cars that they drive on government-owned roads?

This is exactly the sort of thing the Fifth Amendment was intended to prevent. Property is not something to be shifted, transferred or parsed based on the whim of policymakers (or bloggers). You can’t just assume away property rights, just because they conflict with your notions of how things should be—or should have been—done.

“Free Markets” are not the same as “Big Business,” and it’s time we stopped conflating the two.

  • Ron Paul, a true libertarian, would agree with you though he uses the term "corporatism." As a libertarian, the difference to me between this example and other subsidies is information. The webs most useful feature is freedom of information. Free markets are built on two assumptions - rational expectations and complete information. Once you tamper with one of those, you must throw free markets out of the window. So long as this deal does not interfere with what information is accessible, I see no problem with it.

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