Maintain Web’s Wild West Spirit

Published June 9, 2010

Those who have seen the HBO TV drama series Deadwood might recall how it presented a microcosm of Adam Smith’s theory of spontaneous order. The town of Deadwood was a free-for-all, 1870s Wild West camp that sprang up around the discovery of gold in the Dakota Territory. Over time it evolves into a town that embraces capitalism, just enough law enforcement, and the classical liberal ideals of allowing each member of the community to pursue their own form of happiness as long as it doesn’t harm others.
Perhaps in another 100 years or so the Internet might inspire a similar dramatic metaphor of the spontaneous order Smith identified—if only governments will allow it to thrive.

Effective Self-Regulation
As in Deadwood’s early days, the Internet is largely self-regulated in the United States. Certainly, law enforcement must come into play when the medium is used to violate existing laws such as those forbidding the distribution of child pornography, but for all practical purposes cyberspace is the new Wild West. For every site boasting carnal pleasures or perverse curiosity, others spring up to discuss great literature, the world’s religions, politics, philosophies, and public policies or even post pictures of cute grandbabies and pets.

The whole spectrum can and should be accommodated.

In other words, the Web is a great example of Smith’s view of what unfettered and unregulated free markets can do.

Government Intrusion
This issue of InfoTech & Telecom News, my first as your managing editor, includes several examples of bureaucrats and politicians attempting to tame today’s Wild West. In some instances the purpose is to raise money for empty government coffers, “protect” minors from advertisements for alcohol or tobacco, or ensure the Internet is managed according to their particular interpretation of egalitarian ideals.

As the stories for this issue were being filed, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report proposing new taxes on electronic reading devices such as the Kindle, Nook, and iPad as well as cell phones—to raise money for an economic bailout for the failing newspaper industry.

In China, government officials impose regulations with the clear intent of censoring content as well as identifying and persecuting dissidents.

Both governments’ policies are like the politicians in Deadwood trying to impose their will on the town by using government force, often with gross violence. The government force being used against the Internet is and will undoubtedly continue to be less bloody than the murderous government thuggery depicted in Deadwood, but it still warrants vigilance from the public. The blood on the hands of today’s regulators, politicians, and bureaucrats may be the irreparable damage they do to one of the nation’s last real outposts of freedom.

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of Infotech and Telecom News.