Put a Cork in It, Clinton!

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Let’s say you didn’t do something. Can you take credit for it? Clinton thinks so, because he (not Gore) is now taking credit for the web. (Pause first to gag, and then to cheer: only 48 more hours until this bird is gone!)

In a 105-page report by the Office of Electronic Commerce (apparently a division of the Commerce Department), "researched" and printed with your hard-earned money, uploaded on bandwidth you bought, and featuring pathetic pictures of Clinton and Gore actually using computers (!), this guy now says that his decision not to tax and regulate the internet allowed web commerce to blossom.

"We decided to offer America a vision," the central planner says, of "seamless web of communication networks, computers, databases and consumer electronics that would put vast amounts of information and new tools at users fingertips."

And how did this god-like figure do it? He decided to permit "private investment," "competition," "open access," and "flexible regulatory frameworks." True, says the report, the private sector deserves some credit, but "We helped create an environment in which these forces could flourish."

In other words, he permitted private enterprise to do what it would otherwise do so long as the government didn’t prevent it. It’s hard to believe anyone could actually write such nonsense. But if you doubt it, please consult the other hundred or so government reports this publication cites.

What chutzpah! Maybe we should give credit to the criminals who didn’t rob our homes last year, for it is thanks to them that we still have our stuff. We should also credit kidnappers for leaving our families in peace. And don’t forget to give a bouquet to the terrorists who didn’t hijack the planes we fly in.

All hail the looters, grafters, pickpockets, and petty thieves, who haven’t scammed us nearly as much as they might have. When you thank God for peace and tranquility, don’t leave out this stellar bunch, to whom we owe just as much!

Clinton would have taxed and regulated the net in about 2 seconds if he could have gotten away with it. In fact, he would have started by shutting down all websites that criticize him (recall Hilary’s attack on the gatekeeperless web?). The problem was public opinion. He faced the reality that 100 million people were dead-set against the idea.

The feds were also hobbled by the reality that they didn’t know a blasted thing about the web. This terrified them. They can’t stand it when it’s obvious that the private sector is responsible for all innovation, and they are reduced to digging out their credit cards to pay for new software. By the way, has Janet Reno learned to use a computer yet?

A good example is the electronic signature bill signed by Clinton. The government prevented private contracts from using them. United, every Chamber of Commerce in the country screamed to repeal the regs. Congress passed a bill, and then Clinton signed it. For this, we are supposed to praise him.

To the extent that the Clinton administration has done anything, it has redistributed property rights. The first means has been through antitrust. We can’t thank the Clinton administration for NOT breaking up the greatest software company of them all, because the government did its darndest to smash it to bits. Good thing they failed.

As for the final thing the Clinton regime takes credit for, universal access, this was brought about through capitalism, which made computers and software available to all through low prices and a huge variety of retail opportunities. Here again, Clinton tried to restrict this by attempting to dictate the terms of contract between hardware and software makers.

Perhaps the report intends to credit the computers strewn throughout every low-income community center and public school in the country. Well, for starters, they aren’t used. And it’s probably a good thing, because kids aren’t going to gain much wisdom by surfing the net. In real education, there is no substitute for a book. Second, who’s going to replace these things when they are out of date, as most already are?

The greatest economic innovation of the 1990s was the web. How was a dusty old government contraption, used by government bomb makers, turned into one of the most dazzling creations in the history of man? Glorious capitalism did it, not Clinton’s absurd Office of Electronic Commerce, which hasn’t done anything but put up a clumsy website with slow-loading .pdfs. Oh yes, the report takes credit for that too!

What’s not in the report is that Clinton’s energy policies are partially responsible for the California energy disaster. What a legacy: shutting down chip-making, computer manufacturing, and the internet in Silicon Valley!

In any case, what the Clinton administration did do, did harm. What it didn’t do, the private sector had a right to do anyway. If Clinton hopes his much-sought-after legacy is somehow bolstered by this government report claiming credit for e-commerce, the last laugh is truly on him.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits a daily news site, LewRockwell.com.

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