Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

January 4, 2007

A Regulator Admits That Regulation Is Unnecessary

by Doug Mataconis

Lawrence Lessig, who was at the forefront of the anti-Microsoft movement in the 1990s and an advocate of government action to breakup the company’s alleged monopoly power, admits that he was wrong:

I was one of those reluctant regulators. As the evidence of Microsoft’s practices became clear, I remember well thinking, “Of course the government needs to do something.” And I remember very well the universal impatience with the notion that the market would solve the problem. How could it, when any other company was likely to behave just as Microsoft did?

We pro-regulators were making an assumption that history has shown to be completely false: That something as complex as an OS has to be built by a commercial entity. Only crazies imagined that volunteers outside the control of a corporation could successfully create a system over which no one had exclusive command. We knew those crazies. They worked on something called Linux.

I wanted to believe that Linux would prevail. But I’m a lawyer, and lawyers aren’t programmed to see how profitable innovation might happen without commercial control. I didn’t like the idea of regulation; I just didn’t see any alternative. The suits would always beat the rebels. Isn’t that why they were so rich?

Lessig acknowledges, though, that the rise of Linux as an alternative to Windows and Firefox as an alternative to Internet Explorer, all of which came about without government intervention, shows that the instinct to regulate is often wrong.

Unfortunately, it looks as though Lessig doesn’t apply what he learned to the net neutrality debates, where he once again favors government intervention.

H/T: Hit & Run

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