Government regulation usually ruins everything it touches, and the internet is no exception. Whether it is the outdated anti-hacking laws in the United States such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or the woefully misguided anti-human trafficking laws that are SESTA/FOSTA, governments have repeatedly failed to regulate the internet without unintended consequences. The latest instance of this is the EU Copyright Directive and within it, Article 13.
By FritzCast | United States
Over the course of the past two weeks (and if we want to get technical, even longer than that), two major subjects have taken the national spotlight, both of which are heavily involved in the marketplace.
One was a Supreme Court Decision in a case of one man and his bakery refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple for their wedding; the other was regarding the end of Net Neutrality regulations of the President Obama era.
It was odd, to me, that both subjects take on such heated, passionate debate. Many were upset over the Supreme Court’s narrow 7-2 decision in favor of Masterpiece Cakeshop; some will even argue that the court essentially voted that it is ok to discriminate against the LGBTQIA community, but there are ways I humbly disagree with such a sentiment.
First, and foremost, it should be noted that this case, in particular, went to the Supreme Court in a battle against not the same-sex couple, but the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips felt as though that Commission was inappropriately hostile toward him, his first amendment freedom of expression and his freedom of religious practice; including statements from a representative of the commission who stated that freedom of religion was often used as a basis for discrimination and also directly stated “it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” (See this good Op-Ed considering Justice Kennedy on the matter).
Regardless of the statements and the situation as a whole, I always wondered what was wrong with the free market approach to the problem. In this case, let me present my argument:
I do not believe Jack Phillips or Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminated against a same-sex couple solely on the basis of them being a same-sex couple; on the contrary, as I argued in my latest FritzCast Podcast episode “Survey Says,” that the same-sex couple could probably frequent the cake shop on a regular basis buying deserts all the time, like delicious blueberry muffins, for example. Masterpiece Cakeshop only refused the service when the same-sex couple requested a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony (meaning that if a straight person had wanted to come in and solicit Masterpiece Cakeshop to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage ceremony, they too would have been declined).
That being said, that does not mean I agree with Mr. Phillips reasoning, nor would I be willing to support his business with my dollars. I merely mean to say I would not, at Government Gunpoint more or less, make him bake a cake for a ceremony that he did not wish to participate in. I imagine the same-sex couple, even if they had frequented Mr. Phillips shop and bought delicious desserts every day, probably would wish to no longer support him either (there is, however, a distinct possibility that same-sex couple may just love the blueberry muffins so much, they keep going for them). Mr. Phillips then faces the market force, and if you want a highlight of that, just Google Masterpiece Cakeshop…their overall rating has plummeted from consumer response, some of which are strictly reviews from people who have never even been to the shop and experienced the product. And that is fine.
I would probably feel differently, for example, if Mr. Phillips refused to serve any LGBTQIA people solely on the basis that they are LGBTQIA people, however the same concept applies: A private establishment can make a set of rules it states it will follow, and the market force, in turn, can respond to whether or not they support that establishment. I once heard Austin Petersen, former Libertarian Presidential Candidate and current Missouri Senate Candidate, say in the Libertarian Debate “let the bigots out themselves. Who wants to buy a cake from someone who hates them?”
Now, for Net Neutrality, first we must look at the fact that the subject itself is not a simplistic topic. Net Neutrality, though first initially spoken of and declared in 2005, is heavily an Obama-Era regulation of the internet (our most prized commodity), which generally seemed to argue that there needs to be some amount of Government Regulation to ensure the Internet remains open, and that all data be treated the same so that a service provider (such as Comcast, or Verizon) couldn’t block, filter, or “throttle” internet speeds and services.
On the surface, the intentions seem vital and noble, and arguably they are. We all love the internet, most all of us even have mobile devices that remain linked to the World Wide Web. Is access really that equal though? Geographically speaking, some of us are stuck with a sole provider, one-speed options, while others may have multiple companies they could solicit. Back when I lived in my Apartment circa 2012, I had Verizon FiOS, a nice bundled package with really fast upload/download speed on a fiber optic network.
The neighborhood where I bought my house? Verizon isn’t there. No, there is only one internet provider outside of satellite service from DISH, and that is Comcast. Even the higher data plan that I have purchased doesn’t really scratch at what I used to have with Verizon, and the price definitely is skewed, paying a lot more for less than I had with Verizon.
By free market standards, as there is no legitimate other option, the only thing I can do (and often do), is solicit Verizon and those in my neighborhood to make the endeavor worthwhile for Verizon to speed up their process, set up the hardware in my neighborhood and buy services from them.
We can take it a step further, however. Let us say Verizon was in my neighborhood, and they could directly compete with Comcast. Maybe Verizon packages a “streamers internet deal” for people who stream video games, use Netflix and Hulu, and that was some bundle thrown together for $30/mo. So they broke down some of the internet services…maybe that is all I want? Maybe they have an “all-inclusive” package that encompasses every last bit of internet access. Is it THAT horrible an idea?
I’m not suggesting it is the best idea, but I am suggesting that the free market and competition can often bring desired results, and the consumer in both of these cases yield a lot more power than the masses seem willing to admit. In the 21st century, it isn’t the consumer that buckles to “big business,” it’s big business that has to justify to the consumer why its the best product or best provider.
That is the free market: it’s a lot less of a gamble than you think it is.
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By Mason Mohon | OREGON
The world is ending, or at least it is in Oregon. Since 1951, Oregon law has mandated that all gas stations have attendants working there to fill up gas on behalf of drivers.
The intent of this law was to boost employment. Ever since it was made known that rural towns within Oregon would no longer have to abide by this law, all hell broke loose. Oregonians are afraid, and this “fear” shows an all too real issue in American society today: People have become attached to the state, so much so that they cannot bear to see life without it.
First, the situation within Oregon must be analyzed. As NPR reports, “As of Jan. 1, gas stations in counties with a population of less than 40,000 are permitted to offer self-service. While the change in the law is expected to affect a small number of people, Oregonians took to social media to express their discontent.” This discontent was great indeed and echoed what I would see in a post from The Onion. NPR went on to say “The responses to a now-viral Facebook post by a local TV station ranged from concerns about smelling like gasoline to being attacked by drifters lurking around stations. Some said they didn’t even know how to pump gas.”
Yes, these Oregonians are this scared and are this fearful of gas. As somebody who lives in Texas and pumps his own gas, I can confirm that pumping gas does not make you smell like anything.
This hysteria has raised a dangerous issue – once the government intervenes, people cannot even imagine life without it. A classic thought experiment free-market economics professors like to do is telling the student to imagine if the state were to nationalize t-shirt or sneaker productions. Most likely we wouldn’t be able to imagine life without it. The ones who do, though, are what Bastiat called the “good economists,” who were those that saw what was unseeable to the layman.
Oregonians were dependent on this regulation, and they are so scared of life without it that it has turned them into a national joke. This government dependent attitude is not new, though. Recently, taxes were cut, Obamacare was nearly destroyed, and net neutrality was repealed. People got so afraid of every single one of these actions in every end of the political spectrum. People couldn’t imagine the internet functioning without government regulation, nor could they imagine the rich paying fewer dollars in taxes or even being responsible for your own health.
This is a dangerous psychological threat to people everywhere. We cannot sit by and expect the state to do everything for us, because what if something goes wrong one day? What if the state collapses, shuts down, or misallocates resources? You’ve been so dependent on it that you will be helpless without it. People become dependent on the state, so they give it more power. The people in charge live off the dependent backs of the masses, and nobody will ever question. This is the danger of a lack of personal responsibility – when you become dependent on a person or organization, they can now control you.
Thankfully, Oregonians may discover a nice law of the free market. Chances are, they are going to discover that the market serves demand. Although there may not be much competition in rural areas, the stations that have servicemen filling up your car for you will probably have a competitive edge on other stations. Either way, though, this will probably cause Oregonians who do not see a continuation in served gas will both learn how to do a very easy task that they will have to do anytime out of the state and save a few dollars.
We must be incredibly wary when advocating for government involvement in any market, ever, for its damages can be detrimental to masses of individuals and society as a whole. The term “sheep” tends to be a bit of a cliche, but when it comes to being dependent, it definitely applies. Men are responsible. Sheep are dependent.
By Ashton Barwick | USA
It’s official; on Thursday, December 13th, the FCC finally repealed net neutrality.
The internet has been set ablaze by hysteria over net neutrality. One question that everyone has asked is: What will become of the internet once it’s gone? The internet has always been a beacon of liberty because of its ability to advance faster than the government can legislate. However, in February of 2015, the Federal Communications Commision passed net neutrality in response to Comcast throttling access to illegal websites. Comcast, one of the largest internet service providers, is protected by a myriad of regulations designed to protect them from competition. The market is in a constant state of competition between suppliers. Businesses have to face two types of competition: potential and actual. Potential competition is just as threatening as actual competition because it forces the producer to keep prices low and quality high. Competition filters out the inept and the malicious.
How did the market for internet service become so volatile?
Internet service providers usually do a perfunctory job of ensuring quality internet access, but who’s to blame? Capitalism is often the scapegoat for most because it is easier than combing through pages of regulation. A government can completely destroy a market, and people will still blame capitalism and beg for even more regulation. This phenomenon is exactly why internet service leaves much to be desired. Local governments require ISPs to pay exorbitant costs and navigate through oceans of red tape. They also have to enter contracts with public utilities so they can rent space for wire connections to publicly owned electricity poles. This results in one ISP being granted monopoly privilege over a certain jurisdiction. Consequently, the supply curve shifts left, but government prevents potential suppliers from taking advantage of the augmented supply curve.
Despite all of the corporatism, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Trump has recently reignited the debate over whether online transactions should be taxed beyond their current levels. Currently, only sales taxes can be collected on transactions on the state level. However, in 2014, Congress passed the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (H. R. 3086; 113th Congress) which bans state and local taxation of internet access. This was a big win for free speech because the government now cannot legally impede your access to the internet. The internet has been in the sights of the government since its inception. In a Firing Line debate, with William F. Buckley, they debated whether sales on the internet should subject to taxation by the Federal government. Christopher Hitchens spoke in favor of the legislation citing that it would equalize the playing field. The only problem is: you could use that line of reasoning to justify just about any tax increases. William F. Buckley and his team brought up many great points, but one did stand out. Many businesses that pay taxes also sell things over the internet so the many businesses would be demolished because they would be taxed twice. Businesses rely on the internet to make a profit because it is one of the few tax havens left. Amazingly, the internet has survived relatively unscathed, and it will continue to be the backbone of American commerce for the foreseeable future.
Szoka, Berin. “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition” Wired. July 2013.
Hillebrand, Mary. “Buckley Bows Out With Internet Tax Debate” Ecommerce Times. December 1999.
Selyukh, Alina. “FCC Repeals ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules For Internet Providers” NPR. December 2017.
Jagoda, Naomi. “Trump reopens fight on internet sales tax” The Hill. July 2017.
By Owen Heimsoth | USA
On Thursday afternoon, the Federal Communications Commission officially repealed net neutrality. It was a 3-2 party line vote in favor of a repeal.
Net Neutrality was instated in 2015 during President Barack Obama’s tenure. It’s repeal comes under heavy criticism from many internet users.
Net Neutrality was intended to give equal rights to all websites when it comes to speed and also to prevent ISPs from raising prices on the use of certain websites.
To watch a video of the repeal, click here.