Tag Archives: intervention

We Need Regulators, Not Interveners

The Constitution’s Commerce Clause gives Congress the power to regulate commerce. What does that mean, exactly? Over at the Daily Caller, my colleague Jacque Otto and I explain that regulation is about making commerce regular: no barriers to entry or trade, clear, understandable, and consistent rules, and so on.

Most of what people call regulation doesn’t have anything to with regular commerce. These kinds of rules are more accurately called interventions.

These interventions didn’t appear out of thin air, either:

One important reason regulators intervene is that many businesses want them to — businesses spend considerable effort and resources lobbying Washington to that end. For the most part, American companies compete on quality, price, or other consumer preferences. But on too many occasions, some companies try to use regulatory interventions to dispatch the competition. Sprint’s efforts to squander AT&T’s proposed purchase of T-Mobile are emblematic of this troubling trend.

Lessons abound for antitrust regulators — sorry, interveners.
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Making Broadband Accessible: Innovation, Not Intervention

FCC regulators want to provide wider and cheaper broadband access by subsidizing it, raising taxes, and forcing network owners to share their network infrastructure with competitors.

A few things the FCC should consider:

-Subsidies don’t make broadband access any less expensive. They just change who pays for it. In this case, that would be anybody with a phone. Which probably includes you. The great economist Ludwig von Mises observed that “A government can no more determine prices than a goose can lay hen’s eggs.”*

-The tax would make owning a phone more expensive. And when something becomes more expensive, people consume less of it. With tax-exempt technologies like Skype and Google Voice now available, people can switch away from a taxed phone to something cheaper more easily than ever. The more people who do that, the less revenue the phone tax would generate, defeating its very purpose.

-If a company has to share its network infrastructure with its competitors, it loses the incentive to maintain and improve that network. Why invest millions of dollars if it will help your competition just as much as yourself? Quality suffers. So does innovation. In the long run, it is innovation, not FCC intervention, that will make broadband affordable and accessible for everyone. The long-run view is just as important as the short-run view here.

-Land-based networks are expensive to build in rural areas. The cost per customer is huge compared to denser urban areas. Fortunately, that isn’t as much of a problem for wireless technologies. The FCC seems hellbent on the land-based networks since wireless networks aren’t yet advanced enough for mass-market broadband service. But they will be soon enough. And every dollar spent on old-fashioned wired networks is a dollar unavailable for improving wireless service. An unintended consequence of FCC intervention would be slower innovation.

*Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, 4th ed., (Irvington-on-Hudson New York: Foundation for Economic Education, 1996 [1949], p. 397.