Clinton administration, applying its theory that all good things
should be subsidized with tax dollars, proposes new spending to
upgrade the Internet. But it's not the government that has turned
this medium into the most promising venue for free-market exchange
in our time. It's the astounding power of market commerce itself.
a few years ago, Internet traffic was controlled by a small clique
of academics. Then communication high-techies, the kind that used
to operate ham radios, got involved. Suddenly, in the course of
only a few years, email has become an essential means of global
communication information retrieval.
key to the change was the power of free enterprise. In the early
days, the "culture of the Internet" warred strongly against any
hint of enterprise, the dreaded "commercialization." Advertisements
were attacked as contrary to the on-line global commonwealth. But
then the advent of the world wide web formed what was a vehicle
for mere information display into the most commercial-friendly setting
since the advent of trade fairs.
dawn of Internet commerce has dramatically reduced the costs of
starting up a business, after a century of the government's raising
them. The entire sector has become fertile ground for job creation
and professional advancement, and one that is not cartelized by
unions or controlled by licensure.
And what potential there is. Revenues for book sales on the web
are approaching a billion per year. Companies involved in music
and wine are doubling, tripling, and quadrupling sales every year.
Egghead Software is closing all its physical retail outlets, and
moving entirely to the web. As car lots report thinning profit margins
and stagnating sales, web-based auto dealers where there
is no haggling and prices are easily compared are in a boom
total retail business on the web is expected to exceed $200 billion
per year. So much for protecting this medium from the corruptions
of capitalism. But why should anyone want to? Commercial relations
are the essential source of economic and social vibrancy. These
relations mark the difference between living and growing civilizations,
and decaying ones.
rise of the net economy should also give us pause to think about
economic principles. The most basic one is that free markets create
order from seeming chaos. There is no central authority on the Internet
making or enforcing rules. There is no master plan detailing what
kinds of businesses should and should not attempt to market their
product through this medium.
these decisions are made by producers and distributors responding
to the needs of consumers. They do so using entrepreneurial talent,
and no one can foresee the success or failure of their enterprises
before they are actually tried out. The result is an orderly and
consurner-friendly setting that is accessible to anyone inclined
to try it out.
consumer is the king in all markets free of government control,
but web commerce crystalizes this reality like never before. Websites
cannot retain the loyalty of a consumer who's had even one bad experience
in delivery or price. There is no such thing as "market power."
Any fly-by-night operation can immediately supplant the most famous
site by offering better delivery and prices.
the least of the products made accessible is information about politicians.
In decades past, the kept media kept the truth about the parasitic
state away from our tender ears and eyes. But at last, the competitive
pressure generated on the web has launched a new era of openness
that is causing the old myths about government to melt away. Now
the state wants to sink its claws into this medium, to tax it, redistribute
it, censor it, and regulate it through antitrust laws. But there's
a problem. The web has created a generation of users acutely aware
of the possibilities for social cooperation absent government coercion.
The "anarchists" of the web culture, as they are derisively called,
resist government intrusion.
the history is written of how the leviathan state was brought to
its knees, an important chapter will be reserved for the Internet,
and the commercial class that has made it an essential tool for
the working out of human freedom.