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

September 13, 2007

Why Ron Paul Faces An Uphill Battle

by Doug Mataconis

It’s hard to win with a campaign based on liberty, when so many Americans don’t seem to really believe in it:

WASHINGTON — Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nation’s founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the “State of the First Amendment 2007” national survey released today by the First Amendment Center.

The survey also found that 71% of Americans would limit the amount a corporation or union could contribute to a political campaign, with 64% favoring such a limit on individual contributions. Sixty-two percent would limit the amount a person could contribute to his or her own campaign. Support for such limits increased from the 2000 survey in all three areas: by nine percentage points in favor of limits on self-funding, by seven points concerning limits on individual contributions to someone else; and by three points on limits on corporations and unions.

The First Amendment Center has conducted the annual survey since 1997. This year’s survey, being released to mark both annual Constitution Day (Sept. 17) activities and the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, also found:

  • Just 56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme — down 16 points from 72% in 2000.
  • 58% of Americans would prevent protests during a funeral procession, even on public streets and sidewalks; and 74% would prevent public school students from wearing a T-shirt with a slogan that might offend others.
  • 34% (lowest since the survey first was done in 1997) think the press “has too much freedom,” but 60% of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report the news without bias, and 62% believe the making up of stories is a widespread problem in the news media — down only slightly from 2006.
  • 25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006.

Depressing, just utterly, utterly depressing.

H/T: Irish Trojan In Tennessee

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  • Chepe Noyon

    I agree that almost all of these data are depressing, but there is one point that I’d like to discuss here: the political rights of corporations. A corporation is not a person. It is treated as a person in civil cases, but not in criminal law — you can’t throw a corporation in jail. Why should a corporation have any political rights? It’s not a citizen. It can’t run for political office. So why should it be able to contribute money to political campaigns? We restrict the ability of non-citizens to contribute to political campaigns — why permit corporations? What’s the difference between a corporation owned by non-citizens and a non-citizen?

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    A corporation is a voluntary association of individuals, so I guess I really don’t see the distinction.

    There are, as I am sure you are aware, several economic arguments in favor of the limited liability protections that corporations offer. Without it, I doubt that the modern economy could function the way that it does.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/2005/11/22/a-bit-about-kevin/ Kevin

    60% of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report the news without bias

    I can buy that. Just look at Fox News and MSNBC.

  • Bob

    How did we get into this mess and how do we correct it? Is it that we lost control of the education system? We can’t blame government for limiting our freedom when that’s what the people want.

  • js290

    I can’t believe Ron Paul’s even having to talk about “legalizing the Constitution.”

  • Chepe Noyon

    Mr. Mataconis, I’m not objecting to the role of corporations in business. My concern is exclusively with their role in politics.

    “A corporation is a voluntary association of individuals, so I guess I really don’t see the distinction.”

    There are a number of secondary points here but the main one, in my thinking, is that a corporation isn’t a citizen. If we want to permit anything or anybody make political contributions, why not allow the governments of Iran or China — or their agents — to contribute to their favorite candidates?

  • Bob

    Unions aren’t citizens either, like corporations they “are a association of individuals” would you also ban unions from making contributions?

  • Thomas

    “60% of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report the news without bias, and 62% believe the making up of stories is a widespread problem in the news media — down only slightly from 2006.
    25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006.”

    Whats wrong with any of the above numbers? Those are, if not good numbers, at least good trends.

    Also I agree that contributions should be limited to individuals and not corporations… I also think candidates should be limited to how much they can contribute to their OWN campaign.

  • Craig

    Not that depressing. The majority is still on the side of freedom on a lot of issues, and Christians should have no problem supporting Ron Paul.

    The real reason Ron Paul faces an uphill battle is because so many people are apathetic and pessimistic. They hear he is at 2 or 3 percent in the polls and figure he can’t win, not stopping to think that the people the poll questioned barely know who the candidates are, let alone what they stand for.

    When people hear Ron Paul’s message, and realize that he has the consistency and integrity to back it up, they become avid supporters. Even the people who think he goes a bit too far in the libertarian direction have been waiting their entire lives for an honest, principled, and intelligent candidate, one who won’t sell them out to the highest donor.

    We just need to keep spreading the word, showing our support online and off, donating money, and getting as many people as we can registered and voting in the primaries (including ourselves.) Low primary turnout and voter apathy are our secret weapon — the other candidates don’t generate much enthusiasm, but Ron Paul sure does.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Good point, Bob; but I think that union members could still make the same contributions that the union can. The difference here is that the union can make contributions that reflect the wishes of only the majority of the members, while individual contributions reflect the precise will of each of the individuals. Hence, I would ban union contributions along with corporate contributions.

    Thomas, I don’t think it would work to limit individuals’ contributions to their own campaigns. That’s basically saying “You can’t express your opinion publicly as much as you’d like.” I agree that this biases elections towards rich candidates, but I fear that there is no clean alternative.

  • TanGeng

    Doug, I think that it’s trending upwards. People are recognizing the need to protect unpopular speech without and instead refute them with good counterpoints rather than forcibly silencing opponents.

    The disrepute of the media is a good thing. Those centralized news media organizations aren’t a good thing for the cause of freedom. It’s better to have vicious arguments than to have sheep-like consensus.

    I think people are also coming to terms with the fact that their government has been co-opted by special interests and large powerful lobbies. Libertarians have said that this would happen all along. It’s just a matter of pushing the people towards the true solution that strikes at the source of the problem and to convince the people not to enact policy that merely manages the symptoms.

    Personally, I think we are making progress, and that we cannot give in and become despondent. Anyways, keep it up Doug.

  • http://www.ronpaulforums.com Kevin Houston

    Yes, it’s depressing news for Libertarians.

    But – in related good news for liberty – Ron Paul isn’t running as a Libertarian. Ron Paul is running as a Republican. Dr. Paul has also written articles that put him solidly on the side of the majority on the “Christian nation” issue. (much to the delight of Democrats, and the chagrin of Libertarians.)

    His view of a “Christian Nation” should be distinguished from the idea of a “Christian Government” but few in the drive-by press will bother to make the distinction so he will be mis-characterized as agreeing with the majority. Hurrah – an unintended consequnce of the short-attention span of the average voter.

    The founders appear to have wanted a nation that was Christian (i.e. religious) enough to restrain itself, so that they would not need government force to do it for them. Clearly the founders did not wish to endorse any particular religion over any other, nor did they wish to exclude it all together (not even from government itself.)

    Both unions and corporations are legal entities, and should be treated the same for terms of campaign activities.

    Doug, the main distinction I see between corporations (or unions) and the individuals who comprise them is two-fold:

    1) Tax differences. I don’t think it’s fair to allow a corporation to count lobbying and related political donations as expenses (pre-tax) when your average citizen cannot.

    2) Legal responsibility difference. Since corporations can be used to shelter the individuals from legal responsibility, it opens the door to people using corporations to lauch knowingly harmful and untrue (i.e. legally libelous) attacks on a politician, and then use the corporate veil to avoid prosecution.

    As for the other issues, they are of such vague wording, or so socially obnoxious (protesting at a funeral) that Ron Paul can easily say “I’m against (or for, depending on how the issue is worded) that.” If it’s truely sticky, he will default to the “State’s Right” argument. That is what I would say about corporations and political donations – let the States decide.

    Nothing in this survey worries me about Ron Paul. Most people are *so* miseducated about freedom, that they don’t recognize it when it is right in front of them. Even if they do see it, they confuse it for libertine-ism (and react accordingly.) They do not understand what it really means to be free. They do not understand that it also means they must be responsible.

    In that sense, I think Ron Paul is a “stealth” liberty candidate. Not that he is decietful but rather that the political masses do not know what liberty is.

    Later.

  • Bob

    More good news for the Paul campaign; there’s a poll out that has Paul at 5% in New Hampshire! That’s above the poll’s margin of error. Its the 1st time, (to my knowledge) that he’s polled above the MOE.

  • effodee

    I saw that this morning and thought it was wonderful news. I’m in Georgia and after talking to my neighbors and friends for the past few months, I’ve noticed the biggest factor working against Dr Paul is simply a lack of name recognition. Once people hear a little about what he stands for and have a chance to look for him in the news to see what he has to offer, he’s going to gain even more support. Let’s just hope it continues to snowball with word of mouth and more exposure on the MSM as I don’t know of anyone who honestly likes the choices that are now considered 1st tier.

  • Tannim

    Saw that poll too, and it is disappointing to say the least that so many people are that bleeping stupid.

    >>Just 56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme — down 16 points from 72% in 2000.

    That decline is depressing, since the Frist Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause is pretty clear on the issue.

    >>58% of Americans would prevent protests during a funeral procession, even on public streets and sidewalks; and 74% would prevent public school students from wearing a T-shirt with a slogan that might offend others.

    The funeral protest is a backlash from the Phelps idiots, but given the reasonable expectation of privacy, even in a public place, for the exception of a funeral, is not unreasonable. The purist would bemoan the censorship of free speech here, but pasrt of that free speech is the right to not speak, and with a captive audience like at a burial, free speech takes a backseat to the right to be left alone. It’s one of those interesting areas where two constitutional rights come into conlfict with each other and is still being figured out.

    The T-shirt issue is similar, and with the recent Bong Hits SOCTUS screwup is not likely to change soon. The problem here is who decides what is offensive, and there is no PC exception for the First Amendment, and it’s sad that people think there should be.

    >>34% (lowest since the survey first was done in 1997) think the press “has too much freedom,” but 60% of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report the news without bias, and 62% believe the making up of stories is a widespread problem in the news media — down only slightly from 2006.

    Not too much freedom, just not enough responsibility to go with that freedom, which is why people also think there is bias and made-up stuff in the media. There certainly is irresponsible and incorrect and spun reporting every day, not to mention censoring of the news. Those are the real problems…

    >>25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006.

    Still bad numbers, and a complete ignorance of how the First Amendment plays into the foundation of this nation. Again, it goes back to the biggest flaw in the Bill of Rights, which is the lack of an Amendment that explicitly dictates that people are completely responsible for their own actions and reactions.

    As for the whole “Christian nation” BS, we are a nation whose majority are Christians, but we have a secular government (which drives the powermongering religious right fools nuts, so they just make this calim instead!), which is not the same. The Founders, some Christians, some Deists, all recognized from the control that Canterbury had over George III and that Rome had over Louis XIV-XVI in France that it was best to keep religion out of the government’s laws. That does not mean that the individuals who work in government need to abandon their religion and the morals and ethics that come with it at the government door. It does mean that they accept that the rules government has in play are how they do their job, and if they have moral or religious objections to it then they should seek employment elsewhere. They can certainly live their religion at work in their own actions so long as they don;t break the rules, but when they try to force their beliefs on others either by evangelizing or incorporating it into public policy then there’s a big problem. Faith is a private thing and there is no room for public government in there at all. The same is true in the opposite direction. That is the moral and ethical reason why we have separation of church and state, after all.

  • rob

    I don’t think Ron Paul’s message of freedom won’t sell. It’s the messenger, not the message. Unfortunately, Ron Paul is running an ideological campaign rather than a political one. People don’t want to hear a candidate’s underlying philosophy of government because they just don’t think that way. They want to hear practical answers to practical questions. That’s why, even on Iraq, RP’s answers aren’t quite persuasive. “Just get out.” isn’t perceived as a practical response and it really isn’t. There are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with even in withdrawing.

    I’m glad to see that RP is above the MOE in New Hampshire, but 5% isn’t going to cause any waves in D.C. If RP is going to win NH he’s going to have to go there! He isn’t campaigning there nearly as much as the other candidates. But even NH Republicans are opposed to the war in Iraq so he should be able to garner a significant minority of the those on that issue alone. But he needs to be there and he needs to have practical answer to how we get out. Including how we get out with “honor.”

    I think RP has a good chance to win NH and maybe even Iowa, but I see little chance of it happening because he presents his msg in too ideological a form and because he won’t focus his campaign on Iowa and NH where Republican voters are already anti-war and looking for a viable alternative to the front-running clones.

  • Buckwheat

    Yes Doug, we’re all aware of how much this depresses you. Which is to say, not at all.

    Ron Paul is going to become president. That’s what really keeps you up at night, CT.

  • http://belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Buckwheat,

    Once again, you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about

  • Bob

    Chepe,
    “I don’t think it would work to limit individuals’ contributions to their own campaigns. That’s basically saying “You can’t express your opinion publicly as much as you’d like.”

    Why is OK to tell me I can’t express my opinion publicly as much as I’d like but its not OK to tell a candidate that? In other words if I can’t buy TV time to promote a candidate why can the candidate spend his money to do the same thing?

  • Bob

    I’m not advocating a more restrictive system. I think everyone (not just candidates) should give whatever they’d like. But there should be full disclosure of who gave what. Maybe have it in the newspapers and on TV instead just on the web.

  • Norm Nelson

    What you are saying when you want to limit campaingn contirbutions is that the electorate is to stupid to ignore the BS of campaings. That money has the ability to sway the electorate and that to create a level playing field we must control political money by law.

    Rather than restrict the free flow of political money that sways stupid voters I’d rather not let stupid people vote.

  • http://belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Kevin,

    Ron Paul isn’t running as a Libertarian. Ron Paul is running as a Republican. Dr. Paul has also written articles that put him solidly on the side of the majority on the “Christian nation” issue. (much to the delight of Democrats, and the chagrin of Libertarians.

    How is this good news at all ? If Ron Paul believes the “Christian Nation” nonsense, then that makes me think less of him.

    Nothing in this survey worries me about Ron Paul. Most people are *so* miseducated about freedom, that they don’t recognize it when it is right in front of them. Even if they do see it, they confuse it for libertine-ism (and react accordingly.) They do not understand what it really means to be free. They do not understand that it also means they must be responsible.

    And that’s the point. Given the attitude of most Americans on these issues, what real prospect does a candidate who talks about freedom really have ?

  • Thomas

    Chepe,

    I’ll tell you how it would work. There would be a cap on candidate spending on their own campaign… just like there’s a cap on individual contributions of $2300 on other campains today, only the cap would be higher say $25 million. Any spending beyond that would be from the individual donations a candidate received. This would INCREASE the amount of democracy in our society to apply more to the election process whereas now the only real democracy we have is on election day.

  • Thomas

    Norm,

    Don’t be ridiculous.

  • Chepe Noyon

    I agree that all attempts to restrict spending on political campaigns violate the First Amendment. So in truth I’d rather not have any limits on campaign donations — other than limiting such donations to actual citizens.

    I also acknowledge that this creates the likelihood of money dominating elections even more than they do now; that’s not healthy for our democracy, but neither is restricting free speech.

    Perhaps a better approach would be to partially decouple money from publicity by expanding the notion of “public service” use of the air waves. Require each television station, as part of its licensing requirements, to set aside a substantial amount of time during the elections for unpaid political announcements. Being a centralized mandate rather than a decentralized market decision, such a system would be fraught with legal hairiness and bureaucracy — but it *IS* important that people be able to find out about the candidates. Wouldn’t it be nice if, on at least venue, Ron Paul got just as much air time as Rudy Giuliani?

  • Norm Nelson

    To say that money allows the electorate to “find out” about candidates is crap. Money allows the candidate to sell crap(himself)to the electorate. Anyone that wants to be informed can be.

    My most un-favorite is “Rock the Vote” where we encourage FM music junkies to take a wild guess in the ballot booth.

    Our insistence that people have an responsibility to vote overshadows whether they are informed or not. This is the segment of voters that are most susceptible to political adds. Political adds almost never inform, they mostly appeal to emotion through half-truths and pseudo-economics. But that is no excuse to limit freedom.

    I’d rather that we discourage the uninformed from voting on those particular items they find themselves clueless. I know that I do. Thats why half my ballot is blank.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    Perhaps a better approach would be to partially decouple money from publicity by expanding the notion of “public service” use of the air waves.

    I like the idea. Free publicity in chunks large enough to mean something, but small enough to be tolerable for someone who doesn’t typically spend free time researching candidates.

    As you mentioned though, there are devils in the details.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    Get rid of the income tax code and its morass of deductions and etc., and I suspect campaign contributions from corporations–creatures of the state and not the federales–cease.

    Chepe, if a group of people voluntarily associate together, unincorporated, and choose to pool their money to affect a candidate directly, would you limit their contributions by law?

    Also Chepe, with respect to the internet vis-a-vis the “traditional” polls, I would submit to you all that this is the untapped marketing tool. In my business, I have to immediately switch from the yellow pages to internet marketing. It’s not because I have a national market but precisely because I have a local market. So I don’t see why we need to be forced to allocate anything or require business to do anything like “public service.”

    To answer your question, it would of course be nice to see Ron Paul have more air time than Rudi. (It would also be nice to have a million dollars handed to me.) But that would require all of us to sacrifice our principles and our Constitution. In other words, what part of “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging” is so hard to understand. The word ‘abridge’ means to reduce by any degree–even a penny.

    Apart from the Constitution, however, it seems self-evident that you can’t compel others to use their property (here money, time, skill, assets) to allow the contrary opinions they do not agree with. Mr. Jefferson did speak to this:

    “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”

  • http://libertyslegacy.blogspot.com Libertyslegacy

    From http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1661290,00.html

    “The Web does reveal how involved U.S. Internet users are with a candidate’s Web 2.0 presence, and again Ron Paul comes out on top. If we look at the traffic flowing from websites like MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, the candidate with the most visits from those sites is Ron Paul, followed by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But if Ron Paul tops all of the Web metrics for popularity, like searches and traffic from social networks, then how can he be so far down in the Gallup Poll?

    The answer may be in the difference between the people who answer a pollster’s phone call and the people who don’t. Younger adults are abandoning their landline phones for cell phones, so including this demographic in phone-based polls seems unlikely. And visitors to Ron Paul’s official website ronpaul2008.com are likely to be male (74%) and between 25 and 34 years old (25%). On the other hand, a significant portion of visitors to the websites of both the Republican and Democratic frontrunners are 55 or older. Of those two demographics, which is most likely to participate in a phone poll on their favorite candidate?”

    When TIME starts getting the picture right, we may yet see the turning of the tide on all these controlled polls. Saddle up! The revolution IS coming.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Chepe, if a group of people voluntarily associate together, unincorporated, and choose to pool their money to affect a candidate directly, would you limit their contributions by law?

    There is no difference whatsoever between a group of people contributing individually and a group of people contributing to a pool and contributing the pool. Four individual contributions of $5 are the same as one group contribution of $20. So keep the accounting simple and require individuals to contribute.

    it seems self-evident that you can’t compel others to use their property (here money, time, skill, assets) to allow the contrary opinions they do not agree with.

    If they’re using public property, then the public has every right to dictate the conditions of that use. The airwaves are public property.

  • smarten

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7SwOT29gbc

    Anyone got a answer for this??????? am confussed.

  • Robert Standard

    It’s not the message of liberty that Americans are rejecting, it’s the supposed messenger.

    Ron Paul comes across horribly on television. He slouches. He talks about history instead of asking direct questions about current politics. He doesn’t even know the meaning of soundbite.

    Ron Paul needs to exist stage left. He’s a horrible messenger for liberty. And he’s probably done more damage to libertarians than he has helped.

  • tarran

    Mr smarten,

    On that day, there were media reports of car bombs detonating in Cleveland and Washington DC. There were media reports that flight 93 was being tracked on a collision course with the Sears tower in Chicago. There were reports of an aircraft with hijackers and a bomb aboard having landed in Cleveland.

    Not one of those reports were true. They were all based on some reporter misunderstanding a fragmentary report and feeding it into the broadcast stream.

    Prior to WTC-7 collapsing, the fire department evacuated the building because they recognized that the structural damage from having airplane parts followed by chunks of a 100 story building crashing down upon it had fatally weakened the structure. My guess would be that the BBC reporters heard this report and misunderstood it.

    The makers of the video are trying to imply that the BBC, which is no friend of the Bush administration, had been given a script by the conspirators who planned the controlled demolition of WTC-7 and that the BBC screwed up playing its part in the conspiracy by reporting things ahead of schedule. This is, of course, absurd. If I were conspiring to bring down a building and blame it on someone else, the last thing I would be doing would be telling my plans to someone in the media .

  • http://dangerouslyidealistic.blogspot.com/ UCrawford

    Tarran,

    Don’t waste your time trying to give logical explanations to the “truthers”. They don’t care. I’ve checked out the sites they link to and not one of them has offered anything in the way of proof to indicate the government had any involvement. That Debunk 9/11 site I keep giving them has addressed and debunked everyone of their claims. The truthers just create unsubstantiated hypotheses and cherry-pick facts to support them (while ignoring those that dispute them) to fit their pre-conceived ideas that the government is all-powerful and all-knowing. You can’t reason with someone who doesn’t care about objectively analyzing the evidence.

  • Norm Nelson

    Robert, I too believe like John Stossle that Ron Paul is not media savey. My personal choice would be Alan Keyes sans all the religious rethoric.

  • Bob

    I agree that Paul is unelectable. Here are some reasons: many people are scared by freedom, Paul has no sense of political timing, when he’s not speaking Paul often looks like a tired old man, he often fouls off softball questions and swings for the fences on the hardballs. But, no one else speaks the truth about liberty as well as Paul. Another words he’s far from perfect but he’s BY FAR the best we have.

  • FullyAlive

    There is seriously no reason in the near future to call the RP candidacy on the basis of recent events. His cards are laid out fully, have been since he began. His cards dont change their ink either, unlike everyone else.

    The only missing item to his success or lack thereof is reality and the future itself, and the American peoples’ willingness to embrace their own future and personal responsibility. RP himself has already done all the work he needs to do.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    CHEPE,

    Who told you that “the airwaves are public property”?

    Airwaves weren’t created by the government, they were created much the same way that paper is used for press and digital signals are used for the internet—by individuals applying their time, skill, and talent.

    Most importantly, nothing in the Constitution delegates airwaves as public property within the sanction and control of the federal or state government.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    Norm and Robert,

    I do agree that Ron Paul isn’t the best speaker. He has quirky movements, at times his voice gets high pitched, and he is sorely in disrespect by about 85% of Congress. He appears timid, he’s old, he’s not so quick with folks like Stephanopolous.

    However, put all the bad things you can say about Ron Paul on the scale. Then put the grandfatherly image, the energy and fervor he has created with the youth, and his perceived integrity on the right side of the scale. I submit to you that the scale would not simply lean over on the right, it would smash to the floor.

    He’s on target and you’re not likely to see someone else like him in our lifetime. As an example (and whether you like him or not), you’ll probably not see a speaker president such as Ronald Reagan in your lifetime. Whatever you think of Paul, he has created a base not seen and not existent in any other candidate’s base save for Obama.

    Allan Keyes is a firebrand. However, he has his share of quirky gestures and doesn’t have the experience. Both are principled and both adhere to the Constitution. However, Keyes alienates the non-Christian people and they take it he doesn’t care. Ron Paul does not and everyone from all walks of life, including strippers, wants to see him win. And that is a fact.

    I agree with Mataconis that the poll may be what poses a challenge to Paul. However, I’d temper this with saying that these folks haven’t heard the message of self-evident truth. They’ve not been given the opportunity to ponder truth. But even more unnoticed in these polls are the power of words to persuade and declare. (For instance, before impeachment, the polls indicated that the public was against it. Clinton’s numbers went up. After impeachment, polls were in conflict but they showed a definite trend against Clinton. Recall that Gore tried to distance himself because insiders thought he would have a net loss of -6% nationwide if he supported Clinton.) This shows, I argue, that people respond and change their minds with declaratory actions of what is right and wrong.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org Doug Mataconis

    Chris,

    Airwaves weren’t created by the government, they were created much the same way that paper is used for press and digital signals are used for the internet—by individuals applying their time, skill, and talent.

    More importantly, the “airwaves” are really just the application of human ingenuity to a new medium. The “public” does not own the electromagnetic spectrum anymore than the “public” owns the silicon that makes the microchips that power my computer.

    The electromagnetic spectrum, such as it was before humanity came along, has existed for billions of years. It’s not the spectrum that makes communication possible, it’s the technology that individuals have created that have made that possible.

    Yes, I know I’m preached to the choir for the most part, but it needs to be said.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Um, guys, if the public doesn’t own the airwaves, who does? The guy who sends out thugs to beat up anybody else? Mr. Marconi? After all, he was the first to transmit and receive radio signals. How about Mr. Maxwell? After all, he was the one who discovered the basic physics. But they’re both dead — so who owns the airwaves? Their heirs?

  • http://www.belowthebeltway.com Doug Mataconis

    Chepe,

    How about this concept.

    The “airwaves” in the sense of the electromagnetic spectrum, aren’t owned by anyone with the possible exception of God himself, who probably doesn’t care about ownership rights assuming that he exists.

    That said, what matters isn’t the “airwaves” but the technology that exists to turn those airwaves into something useful.

    Surely, you don’t believe that the “public” owns that technology do you ?

  • Chris Kachouroff

    Chepe

    I asked you the question. You’re the one who claimed it was “public” property, not me. I’m glad to answer that but you at least ought to fairly address the question: Who told you?

    Doug,

    Is the electromagnetic spectrum capable of supporting an infinite number of airwaves or stations or whatever?

  • Chepe Noyon

    Of course the public doesn’t own the technology. But if there are two guys who own radio transmitters who want to broadcast on the same frequency, do they resolve their differences with guns?

  • Chepe Noyon

    OK, Chris, you asked me who told me who owned the airwaves. I can’t recall who first told me that. I instead rely on simple logic to deduce that the public is the obvious owner of the airwaves, because there is no person who can claim any special rights to them.

    Is the electromagnetic spectrum capable of supporting an infinite number of airwaves or stations or whatever?

    This, I suspect, reveals the nature of your confusion on this point. No, the electromagnetic spectrum cannot support an infinite number of transmitters. The spectrum is broken up into bands, and each band is broken up into channels. Each channel has a certain amount of bandwidth (yes, it’s confusing nomenclature). The amount of bandwidth determines how much information can be transmitted on the channel. If two transmitters transmit on the same channel, their signals interfere with each other and neither signal gets through reliably.

    Each transmitter transmits with a certain amount of power; that power determines the range at which the signal can be received. The FCC assigns to each transmitter a frequency, a bandwidth, a power level, and a location, insuring that no two transmitters interfere with each other.

    But of course, if the public doesn’t own the airwaves, none of this would be possible, and nobody would be able to use the airwaves except the biggest, meanest SOB in the airwaves.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    Chepe

    First, it wasn’t Marconi—it was Tesla.

    Second, your “deductive” logic proof is flawed. You said,

    I can’t recall who first told me that. I instead rely on simple logic to deduce that the public is the obvious owner of the airwaves, because there is no person who can claim any special rights to them.

    Major Premise: No person can claim any special rights to the airwaves.

    Minor Premise: The “public” is not a person.

    Your Conclusion: Therefore, the public is the obvious owner of the airwaves.

    This conclusion is false even assuming the major premise as a postulate. The major premise not only fails to tell us what’s obvious but rather fails to demonstrate that the public can be an owner much less the obvious owner. The following is the only true conclusion you can draw:

    True Conclusion: Therefore, the public can claim a special right to the airwaves.

    Whether the public can claim is different that the conclusion that they must be the owner.

    ELECTROMAGNETIC SPECTRUM:

    I’m not confused about the logic. I am confused on the perceived physical limitations on the airwaves. I know how the spectrum is broken down but I don’t know that technology hasn’t addressed that yet and reached its limit. That’s why I asked the question broadly without limiting it to transistors–“or whatever.”

  • Chepe Noyon

    Chris, what you can’t seem to understand is that the public is the only reasonable owner. As I have now asked several times, (and you have not answered) if not the public, then who?

    Marconi was the first to publicly demonstrate radio communications, not Tesla.

    Yes, there are limitations in the spectrum. It’s a limited resource and it must be allocated by some mechanism. Technology does not make those limitations go away. There are lots of tricks you can use to squeeze more use out of any given band but there are fundamental limits and our current system is based on the limits of the technology.

  • http://www.lunchworks.net Jeff Molby

    From a practical perspective, all that really matters is that the spectrum is treated as a public asset and there is no significant sentiment to change that. Given that, I have no moral problem with the government dictating the terms of the leases.

    You raise an interesting theoretical question about the constitutionality of treating the airwaves as a public good. However, if you actually attacked the status quo from this direction, I think you would see an amendment passed lickety-split.

    As for me, I think the ideal approach is to treat it the same as you would unsettled land. So, basically “first come. first served.”

  • Chepe Noyon

    Jeff, the problem with the “first come, first served” approach to bandwidth is that it would have led to inefficient use of the airwaves. There would have been no incentives to squeeze the most information into the smallest bandwidth, and all the bandwidth in the country would be owned by ancient companies. Moreover, there’s a major issue with the arbitrariness of the first-come, first served approach. Isn’t the whole point of the market to maximize the efficiency of utilization of resources? The first-come, first-served approach doesn’t do that.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    This discussion on who owns spectrum is insane.

    The insanity arises from the ignorance of why the government claimed ownership in the first place.

    In fact, in the early days of radio broadcasting the courts were applying common law principles to adjudicate disputes where one guy claimed another guy was interfering with his radio broadcasts. The courts applied a ‘homesteading’ rule. The first person to regularly broadcast on a certain frequency, at a certain time slot, with sufficient power to be received at a certain location got ownership of that spectrum space (frequency,time,location).

    Unfortunately this development knocked the rug out of the big broadcast stations, Chepe’s ‘thugs’. You see, they couldn’t compete with people building small cheap radio transmitters hooked up to record players (the early 20th century’s equivalent of podcasting). So they went running to President Hoover, who was a big fan of economic fascism (you thought he was a laissez-faire free market type? Congratulations, you’ve been snookered by FDR’s propaganda campaign).

    Hoover and his friends in Congress rushed through a plan to nationalize frequency spectrum, and then justified it as being necessary to avoid ‘chaos’. In fact, they were introducing chaos since the courts had worked out a simple, enforceable system of private property in spectrum, and the government had replaced it with leases on spectrum that could be revoked at any time for arbitrary reasons.

    Chris, you use excessive amounts of rhetoric, and seem to eschew facts and historical record in advancing your arguments. This is not to your credit, especially since the facts are on your side and you are completely ignoring them.

    Chepe, I suggest you google for a book titled Propaganda written by a guy named Bernays. The entire text is posted online. Read it. It will help you understand why much of what you “know”, much of what you think is “obvious” is really the product of sophisticated public relations campaigns designed to “engineer consent.” The meme that the FCC is needed to prevent chaos on the airwaves is a classic example of a powerful corporations shaping public opinion in favor of laws that eliminate competition. The reality is exactly the opposite.

  • http://www.lunchworks.net Jeff Molby

    Jeff, the problem with the “first come, first served” approach to bandwidth is that it would have led to inefficient use of the airwaves.

    Remember, I said the allocation of land was my model. Littering on a piece of land does not qualify as homesteading. Likewise, spewing a useless signal gets you nothing.

    Instead, the first person to use that spectrum space gets to the title to it. Now it isn’t likely that that person is making perfectly efficient use of his newfound spectrum, but over time, market forces will improve the efficiency of its use.

  • Chepe Noyon

    tarran, the application of the homesteading law was a desperate attempt to find some law — ANY law — that might cover the problem. If ever there was a situation calling for legislative resolution, this was it. A completely new technology had created, literally out of thin air, a completely new limited resource for which there was absolutely nothing in the way of law. Had we stuck with common law, we would have had monstrous problems further down the road as technology continued to advance. The creation of standards and the optimization of utilization of technological capabilities would have been much restricted.

    Even worse would have been the economic ramifications. A few land-grabbers would have gobbled up as much spectrum as they possibly could, transmitting 60 hz tones in order to establish their claims. Then they would have sat on their spectrum and later auctioned it off to the highest bidder with no legal constraints. Theoretically, the entire spectrum could have been captured by a monopolist who could then use it to control all radio and television communication in the country. There would have been no spectrum allocations for emergency services, military applications, or scientific studies. CB radio and Ham operators would have never have happened.

    It’s possible that the market could have prevented such developments. If the marketplace had quickly recognized the economic potential of the spectrum, it’s conceivable that auctions could have resulted in a greater heterogeneity of actors and healthy competition. Even then, however, there’d be all sorts of horrific problems. Consider, for example, what happens when a broadcaster attempts to set up, say, a television station in a particular area. He buys up spectrum rights from all the little guys but there’s one jerk out there who refuses to sell his little 200 acre, 100 milliwatt patch of spectrum. It creates a hole right in the middle of the television station’s viewing area. Because you can’t control where the EM radiation goes, the television station can’t broadcast anything anywhere in the area it owns, because it would interfere with the little guy’s spectrum. So whose property rights are being violated: the TV station’s or the little guy’s?

    Without public control of the airwaves, you get a complete mess and technological innovation would have been severely hampered.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Likewise, spewing a useless signal gets you nothing.

    And who’s to determine what constitutes a useless signal? Would you care to argue that issue in a court of law? The only people who would benefit from such a legal approach would be the lawyers.

  • http://www.lunchworks.net Jeff Molby

    Theoretically, the entire spectrum could have been captured by a monopolist who could then use it to control all radio and television communication in the country.

    (Isn’t that what we have now?)

    Sure, but it’s unlikely, and in fact, I don’t believe it was happening. I can’t imagine how you ended up on this site if you really think the govt should be fixing problems preemptively.

    Because you can’t control where the EM radiation goes

    Yes, you can. You simply block waves that would travel in the direction of the “one jerk”. If you’d like you can set up two smaller transmitters to cover the nearside and the farside of the “hole”

    And who’s to determine what constitutes a useless signal? Would you care to argue that issue in a court of law?

    The courts would have end up setting some sort of standard. If that became overly burdensome on the courts, we could always have the govt set the bar.

  • tarran

    Even worse would have been the economic ramifications. A few land-grabbers would have gobbled up as much spectrum as they possibly could, transmitting 60 hz tones in order to establish their claims.

    OK, this is funny. Chepe, can you imagine how much money these “radio-squatters” would have to spend to grab a significant chunk of spectrum space? Were talking tens of milllions of 1920’s dollars here to pull it off. This is like someone claiming that people shouldn’t be able to homestead unowned land because some guy could show up and claim a whole continent. People have tried that, but never really succeeded at it.

    But let’s say your laughable doomsday scenario occurs, and someone has claimed all the spectrum space on the whole Earth for their own. They spent millions of dollars and now it is theirs. Well, now they have to start making economic use from it. They’re going to want to make money off of it. So what do they do? They start either providing services, or renting the space to people who do. And they have to do this pretty thoroughly because keeping their claims on spectrum-space requires a lot of money. You can’t just establish a claim on (100 MHz, San Fransisco, 9AM-5PM), and then abandon it for months at a time. So to hang on to their claims and not bankrupt themselves, they’re going to be desperate to earn money from their frequency space grab. If they succeed, great! They have managed to bring new wealth into existence. Far more likely, their attempt to grab control of this new resource will result in bankruptcy and balkanization.

    Oh, I guess balkanization is bad too. :)

    Even then, however, there’d be all sorts of horrific problems. Consider, for example, what happens when a broadcaster attempts to set up, say, a television station in a particular area. He buys up spectrum rights from all the little guys but there’s one jerk out there who refuses to sell his little 200 acre, 100 milliwatt patch of spectrum. It creates a hole right in the middle of the television station’s viewing area. Because you can’t control where the EM radiation goes, the television station can’t broadcast anything anywhere in the area it owns, because it would interfere with the little guy’s spectrum.

    Uhm no, this is a bad analysis. The guy owns his little patch off (freq f, time t, area a). The television owns a patch of ( f, t, A) where A is a donut completely enclosing a. The intersection of A and a, however is a null set. There is no overlap between a and A. The TV station, being Johnny come latelies must find a way not to trespass on the little guys patch of frequency space.

    Contrary to your assertion, you can control where the energy you radiate goes. The theory and engineering behind manufacturing directional antennae are quite well understood. In fact some satellites have antennae that radiate their signals onto patches of ground that closely follow political boundaries or shorelines.

    Incidentally, your fear that somehow a system of private property would have resulted in poorer services is quite laughable in that through control of government regulations, the big broadcast companies killed FM and television for decades to protect their investment in AM radio. Under a private property regime, you would have seen a much faster pace of innovation and the provision of far more valuable services.

    the application of the homesteading law was a desperate attempt to find some law — ANY law — that might cover the problem

    Read the decision: you won’t find a hint of desperation.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Jeff and tarran, let me explain some of the technological issues. First and easiest is the notion of controlling the area of coverage of an antenna. Both of you claim that this is easily done. In fact, the specific problem I describe is theoretically impossible to solve. A directional antenna confines the beam to an angular band, but if you draw a picture of the geometry you’ll see that being able to confine a beam to an angular band doesn’t allow you to provide coverage to an area with a hole in it. Moreover, you never, ever get a hard line between what is covered and what is not covered — the wave nature of EM insures that there’s always a grey zone of partial coverage. The lower the frequency of the waves, the larger the grey zone. Guess what? All the early radio transmitters were at very low frequencies.

    Next there’s the matter of bandwidth grabbing. Both of you think it improbable. But in fact all the economic incentives would have been in favor of bandwidth grabbing rather than opposed to it. Let’s imagine two 1920s broadcasters. One wants to get the widest coverage he can, while the other has an unfortunate sense of community spirit. The first broadcaster sets up his equipment for maximum power, which requires him (for the same amount of expenditure) to use lower quality parts. His capacitors have 50% tolerances, and his vacuum tubes are huge bulbs with sloppily formed internal parts. His transmitter is tuned for, say, 50 KHz, but its central frequency drifts between 40 KHz and 60 KHz. Let’s not even talk about thermal drift as it heats up.

    Meanwhile, across town, our civic-minded guy doesn’t want to be a bandwidth hog, so he spends his money not on high-power equipment but on high-quality equipment. He’s got 10% capacitors (I believe that was the best that money could buy back then). His tubes aren’t very powerful, but they’re good. He’s broadcasting at 63 KHz, but his system holds the central frequency within 1 KHz.

    So when the law comes to evaluate property rights based on the homesteading concept, Mr. Bandwidth Hog ends up owning all the bandwidth between 40 KHZ and 60 KHz over a large area. Mr. Community Spirit owns only the bandwidth between 62 KHz and 64 KHz over a small area. The law rewards Mr. BH and punishes Mr. CS.

    You call this justice?

    And so it would not have cost huge amounts of money to grab up huge chunks of the spectrum. The way to save money was to grab up larger chunks of the spectrum, not smaller chunks.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    Uhm, Chepe you left out the most critical bit of information in your scenario; who started broadcasting first?

    That’sthe guy who owns the space. Yes, that may mean the ‘inefficent’ guy might cheaply occupy a large band of frequencies for a given location. However, I would expect that crappy broadcasting equipment wouldgive rise to a crappy signal and waste power. The same power put into a higher quality transmitter would cover more ground-meaning more customers… Also a crappy transmitter would probably have the core frequency wandering around, meaning that the listener has to keep adjusting their dial. The guy with the high tolerance transmitter simply finds some unused frequency, buys some billboards, and presto he’s attracting listeners who are tired of chasing the other guy’s signal. Since interference is a loss for all parties, and there are large swaths of frequency that can be put to good use, there is little incentive for the perverse behavior you are describing.

    It seem to me that you are struggling to come up with a scheme that maximizes ‘social utility’ or something. This is an impossible task since different people have different things they want that often contradict.

    The simplest scheme is the homesteading one: the first guy who starts to use a heretofore unused piece of property owns it. Someone who comes along later can’t take it away without permission. You don’t have to worry about social utility. The owners will use the property however suits them, and almost universally that will result in benefits for non-owners too. That’s justice, not some shibolleth concerning who uses the property in a nicer way.

    All of your scenarios are based on people acting in economically illogical ways: throwing away good money, walking away from profits jet to keep other people from making money too. Yes, it is possible that these perverse situations could occasionally arise. I don’t think they would arise very often, and even if they did the system that was being worked out would have handled them quite well. In fact, I think that your doomsday scenario’s are about as likely to happen as all the oxygen molecules in the room I am in migrating to one corner of the room, causing me to die from anoxia in the pure nitrogen atmosphere near my desk.

    The common theme in your posts is that somehow some big bad mo-fo could splash down and take what he wanted and screw over everyone else, squelching innovation and interfering with civic minded people who try to provide desirable services.

    However, your proposed solution, is precisely to create a monopoly which does just that. The FCC is a monopoly that owns the airwaves. It need not make any money, since it is paid via taxes. It has in the past acted capriciously to shut down radio stations whose broadcasts id deemed contrary to the “public interest”. It has hogged prime bits of frequency for its cronies while pushing newer technologies to bad patches of spectrum: ever wonder why older televisions have two tuning dials for two different bands?

    Whatever the weaknesses of the common-law homesteading approach, creating a monopoly that is funded through involuntary contributions and can act capriciously is not a solution. Calling the monopoly a caretaker of ‘public property’ does not change the nature of the beast.

  • Chepe Noyon

    tarran, I’m getting a little frustrated because it’s obvious that you just don’t understand the technological factors that control the situation. Your argument that a drifting transmitter would be hard to track is just plain wrong — all you need is a high-bandwidth receiver, which in fact is the cheapest kind of receiver. In other words, consumers could purchase cheap receivers with broad tuning bands and pick up the high-bandwidth signal with less trouble than they could pick up the narrow-bandwidth signal. Because Mr. Bandwidth Hog is hogging lots of spectrum, he’s able to do his bit more cheaply. Your approach rewards people who gobble up lots of bandwidth by wasting it.

  • http://www.thelibertypapers.org/author/tarran/ tarran

    Chepe, you ignored my question. Who was on the air first?

    To address your side-point: a high bandwith receiver produces crappy sound quality since it is snarfing up not only the signal that a person wants but the unwanted signals at adjacent frequencies. There’s a reason why FM so quickly supplanted AM despite being relegated to less economical bits of spectrum. Many people preferred the benefits of less noise and clearer signals and were willing to pay a premium for it. I don’t think the bandwidth hog would do very well limiting himself to only the population buying the crappiest receivers.

    Your approach rewards people who gobble up lots of bandwidth by wasting it.

    There’s that social efficiency crap again. God, you remind me of me ten years ago when I was calling for Microsoft to be broken up.

  • Chepe Noyon

    tarran, I’m happy to stipulate the Mr. Bandwidth Hog was on the air first. You believe that this gives him legal claim to the bandwidth he hogs. If so, then, as I have pointed out, your approach rewards those who waste the resource and punishes those who try to use it efficiently.

    You write “a high bandwith receiver produces crappy sound quality since it is snarfing up not only the signal that a person wants but the unwanted signals at adjacent frequencies.”

    But if the high-bandwidth transmitter has snarfed up all those adjacent frequencies, then there aren’t any other signals at adjacent frequencies. That’s the whole idea — gobble up all the spectrum with your cheap transmitter and you’ve eliminated all the competition.

    You may regard social utility as crap but I don’t. Moreover, your objection to social utility is spitting into the wind. Law is a social function, decided by society. Society determines law on its notions of social utility.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    I understand you’re concern, chepe, but I think we’re all missing the simple solution.

    The Homestead Act of 1862 let anyone stake claims 160 acres at time. Similarly, you could choose an appropriate range plus and minus the primary signal.

    That way, Mr. BH and Mr. CS both get the same asset and Mr. CS will be rewarded if he’s able to use his more efficiently.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Yes, Jeff, that would have worked back in the 1920s. We could have let anybody stake a claim to a bandwidth of, say, 5 KHz at any chosen frequency, declared location, at any desired power. But there still would have been some problems:

    We would have had to have a government inspector confirm the power of the transmitter. Without that inspection, anybody could claim that their 1 watt transmitter was 100 watts, thereby grabbing up lots of spectrum without the accompanying investment.

    There would have been some serious standardization problems caused by new technology. For example, consider the transition from AM to FM. FM operates at lower powers than AM and uses completely different circuitry. But if we have AM transmitters scattered all over the spectrum, then the FM transmitters have to be configured to access a broad range of frequencies, which would have made it difficult to standardize receivers. The current system sets up bands that are dedicated to different technologies. Without that system, it might have been economically impossible to get FM off the ground. Same thing goes for TV. TV transmitters are particularly tricky, with a complex signal that can tolerate no interference. Yet if some old geezer has grabbed up spectrum overlapping what you need for your TV signal, you’re screwed. Sure, you could negotiate with the geezer to buy him out, but the nature of the problem permits the geezer to charge extremely high rates for a tiny slice of spectrum — ruining the economics of the proposition.

    Let’s use the homesteading concept to sort this out. Imagine a 1920 Spectrum Homesteading Law that gives anybody the right to set up a transmitter at any frequency, with a bandwidth of 5 KHz , and all the territory within, say, 10 miles is his territory in that channel. Problem: what happens when receivers get more sensitive and somebody on the boundary between two transmitters is getting horrible interference? In fact, this problem applies not just to the boundary: as the sensitivity of the receivers increases, the interference zone expands into each transmitter’s territory. Yes, there will still be a zone in which the resident transmitter will be dominant, but there’s still a lot of territory that can’t receive any usable signal.

    Or what happens when more powerful transmitters become available? Sorry, there’s no market for them, because they’re bound to spill into somebody else’s territory. Sure, you could buy out the neighbors, but you have to buy out ALL the neighbors — if even one neighbor refuses to sell, you’re screwed. Looks like we’ll all be stuck with little 100 watt transmitters for the rest of time…

    I can think up lots more nasty scenarios. The FCC spends a lot of time hammering out some very tricky problems arising from technological change. You ought to read some of their deliberations some time — it’s terribly boring stuff as they work through all sorts of crazy contingencies.

    A homesteading approach to allocation of spectrum would have greatly inhibited the progress of communications technology.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    We would have had to have a government inspector confirm the power of the transmitter. Without that inspection, anybody could claim that their 1 watt transmitter was 100 watts, thereby grabbing up lots of spectrum without the accompanying investment.

    Yes, reasonable efforts would have to be taken to eliminate fraud. Homesteading had the same problem and everything turned out ok.

    Sure, you could negotiate with the geezer to buy him out, but the nature of the problem permits the geezer to charge extremely high rates for a tiny slice of spectrum — ruining the economics of the proposition.

    Or what happens when more powerful transmitters become available? Sorry, there’s no market for them, because they’re bound to spill into somebody else’s territory.

    Chepe, I totally have your back when it comes to using the govt to set some basic ground rules, but I’m gonna have to start calling you a collectivist if you can’t trust the free market to handle most of these issues.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    But really all of that is academic. You certainly couldn’t just toss the whole spectrum into the public domain now. Now that technology has progressed, it’s so valuable that it would be cost-effective to set up a dummy signal just to large secure portions of the spectrum.

    What could we do now? My vote would be to stop leasing the spectrum and just sell it. It would probably be purchased by the same people who are leasing it currently and then it would be up to the free market from there on in. If you’re concerned about monopolies, you could dictate that each firm could only buy a certain percent of the spectrum.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Go ahead and call me whatever you want. If you understood the technological issues, I think you’d understand why spectrum has to be allocated in government auctions. Nobody — NOBODY — who is close to the problem even contemplates anything else. There are more than a hundred nations in the International Telecommunications Union that participate in spectrum-allocation issues and, so far as I know, not one country has ever adopted the homesteading approach for its internal spectrum allocation.

    By the way, I suppose that you guys would also support a homesteading approach to geosynchronous satellites. Boy would THAT cause trouble! Shootout at the OK Orbit! ;-)

  • Chepe Noyon

    Jeff, the problem with outright sales instead of leases is that sales don’t permit regular updating of the licensing terms. With a leasing system, you set up everybody with a lease that is set to expire after some period of time chosen to balance the need to insure adequate economic returns with the need to update the standards to handle new technological developments. A good example of this is the whole spread-spectrum system. Had the FCC not been able to start from scratch with a chunk of spectrum and re-define its use, we simply could not have implemented spread-spectrum technology. All it takes is one holdout who refuses to make the transition to the new system to torpedo the whole idea.

  • http://www.orderhotlunch.com Jeff Molby

    If you understood the technological issues, I think you’d understand why spectrum has to be allocated in government auctions.

    I don’t claim to be an expert, so I won’t deny that you could be correct, but you haven’t yet raised an issue that I didn’t already account for.

    Nobody — NOBODY — who is close to the problem even contemplates anything else. There are more than a hundred nations…

    States will take as much power as the citizens allow them to. If you could point to a state that has tried a homestead approach and failed miserably, that would be convincing. Pointing out that no one has made a serious effort, however, is all but meaningless.

    By the way, I suppose that you guys would also support a homesteading approach to geosynchronous satellites.

    I haven’t considered it long enough to be confident in my instinct, but yes, I would lean towards a homesteading approach unless and until you convinced me otherwise.

    Jeff, the problem with outright sales instead of leases is that sales don’t permit regular updating of the licensing terms.

    Sure they do, just not in a top-down manner. When the economics change, the various owners will all have economic incentives to reallocate the assets appropriately.

  • Chris Kachouroff

    CHEPE,

    The owner of the airwaves is simply no one. It’s like the air, the water, fire, the universe…..no one owns them but all use them.

    TARRAN,

    You said, “Chris, you use excessive amounts of rhetoric, and seem to eschew facts and historical record in advancing your arguments.”

    What was excessive in showing a flaw in Chepe’s logic?

    What facts did I eschew?

  • Chepe Noyon

    Jeff, I did overlook two issues you raised:

    You simply block waves that would travel in the direction of the “one jerk”.

    This is not possible. To block the waves, you’d need to set up a conductive hemisphere around the blocked zone. (Since the earth is a conductor, you wouldn’t need the lower half of the sphere.) So imagine a geodesic dome surfaced with chicken wire enclosing the blocked zone. If the blocked zone is a mile in diameter, you’re talking about a structure bigger than any geodesic sphere that has ever been built. That’s what you’d need to build to block the radio waves.

    If you’d like you can set up two smaller transmitters to cover the nearside and the farside of the “hole”

    This is absurd. First off, it wouldn’t cover the accessible area properly. To do a good job covering the accessible area properly, you’d need lots of little subtransmitters. But since they’re all transmitting the same signal, the sum of their signals in the blocked zone would be just as strong as anywhere in the accessible zone.

    You keep coming up with these crazy schemes that violate the laws of physics.

    Would you please cite any other arguments you have made that I haven’t addressed? I have gone back through the exchange and can’t find any.

    Pointing out that no one has made a serious effort, however, is all but meaningless.

    Yes, and I have no proof that hitting yourself on the head with a hammer hurts, because nobody has ever tried it, but the lack of evidence arises because nobody has ever been stupid enough to try it. If there were any merit whatsoever in your proposal, somebody somewhere would have tried it — but nobody ever has. Doesn’t that tell you something?

    When the economics change, the various owners will all have economic incentives to reallocate the assets appropriately.

    Let’s walk through that scenario. We start with a total hodgepodge of homesteaded spectrum claims, with people using all sorts of different frequencies for all sorts of different things in different areas. In Cleveland, 100 KHz is used for FM radio, but in Houston it’s used for police and in Lubbock it’s used for baby monitors and in Denver it’s used for cordless phones and in Sacramento it’s used for cell phones. Of course, all of these technologies are far more expensive because manufacturers can’t enjoy economies of scale in building devices for a single frequency. Instead, when you buy a cell phone, you also buy a crystal for the frequency in your area, and every time you move to a different area, you change crystals (you have to have crystals for all the different areas you travel through).

    “But no!” you say. “The industry would itself set standards for frequencies, and the market would sort it out!” Sure, that works when you’re selling apples or newspapers, but with complicated technology like this, you have to get a hundred details to match up, and every single owner of every single detail can scotch the deal by refusing to go along. If the industry settles on 100 KHz for cellphones, then it has to buy out the guy in Cleveland who’s using 100 KHz for his FM station, the guys in Houston, the guys in Lubbock, and so on. Each one of these guys has a big investment in the frequency he owns — you basically have to buy out his entire business to get his spectrum. Thus, setting up a standard would require the replacement of a lot of existing infrastructure. It’s as if zoning laws required you to purchase and demolish a dozen buildings in order to build one. The economics just don’t work.

    You say that you would prefer a homesteading approach to allocation of space for geosynchronous satellites. Had that been done, the US and the USSR, being the only two entities capable of launching satellites in the early 60s, would have stuffed all the orbits full of broadband transmitters with wide angle antenna arrays so that they would own as much of the resource as possible. You would have been handing a monopoly to the governments of the two superpowers, and nothing to anybody else. That’s what you call an open market?

  • Chepe Noyon

    The owner of the airwaves is simply no one. It’s like the air, the water, fire, the universe…..no one owns them but all use them.

    Chris, your analogy is wrong. Air is everybody’s because there’s lots more of it than anybody needs to use. That’s not the case with spectrum.

    And your comment about water suggests that you don’t live in the West, where the saying is, “Whiskey is fer drinkin’ and water is fer fightin’.” Water is a limited resource and people have been fighting over it since the first settlers. The “first-come, first-served” rule was the initial approach, but it didn’t work well, as battles (legal as well as physical) were never-ending. The solution was to provide more water from a gigantic dam-building effort, and then provide people with, guess what, licenses to the water. The government did with water something rather similar to what it does with spectrum — except that spectrum is a much more complicated resource.

    What facts did I eschew?

    Oh, just the laws of physics, that’s all. ;-)

  • http://www.lunchworks.net Jeff Molby

    You simply block waves that would travel in the direction of the “one jerk”.

    This is not possible. To block the waves, you’d need to set up a conductive hemisphere around the blocked zone. (Since the earth is a conductor, you wouldn’t need the lower half of the sphere.) So imagine a geodesic dome surfaced with chicken wire enclosing the blocked zone. If the blocked zone is a mile in diameter

    Umm, can’t you just block it close to the source of the transmission, where you would only need a nominal amount of chicken wire?

    If you’d like you can set up two smaller transmitters to cover the nearside and the farside of the “hole”

    This is absurd. First off, it wouldn’t cover the accessible area properly. To do a good job covering the accessible area properly, you’d need lots of little subtransmitters.

    “Properly”? What does that mean? If getting 100% coverage is important to the transmitter, he will set up the necessary subtransmitters to do it. If not, he’ll set up as many or as few as he believes cost-effective. This may not be what Chepe Noyon believes is “proper”, but seriously… how can you consider yourself anything but a collectivist if you don’t think the free market can handle such minor issues as how a particular market can be served most efficiently?

    Yes, and I have no proof that hitting yourself on the head with a hammer hurts, because nobody has ever tried it,

    I’m sure there are more than a few coroners that can attest to the damage of a hammer hitting a skull.

    Aside from that, I’m more than willing, as you should have recognized by now, to discuss the issue from a theoretical perspective. My point is that you haven’t convinced me and tacking on “nobody is doing it!” is not persuasive because when you consider human nature, you realize there are other plausible reasons that it hasn’t happened yet.

    If there were any merit whatsoever in your proposal, somebody somewhere would have tried it — but nobody ever has. Doesn’t that tell you something?

    I reject that notion entirely. The greatest praises of history go to those who have successfully debunked the common wisdom of their time.

    “But no!” you say. “The industry would itself set standards for frequencies, and the market would sort it out!” Sure, that works when you’re selling apples or newspapers, but with complicated technology like this, you have to get a hundred details to match up

    Interoperability is a very valuable thing. As such, there would tremendous amount of capital trying to figure out how to accomplish it.

    It is irony of monstrous proportions for you to suggest on the internet that interoperability is impossible in a high-tech free market.

    Had that been done, the US and the USSR, being the only two entities capable of launching satellites in the early 60s

    You’re right that the government had already bastardized the market. It may be possible to place enough controls on the government to make it workable, but one theoretical discuss is enough for today.

    Let’s talk a bit more about radio and call it a night.

  • Chepe Noyon

    Umm, can’t you just block it close to the source of the transmission, where you would only need a nominal amount of chicken wire?

    No, you can’t. They’re waves; they refract around corners.

    “Properly”? What does that mean?

    It means getting adequate power densities over the entire target area while keeping the power densities in the blocked area well below the minimum power density for reception.

    how can you consider yourself anything but a collectivist if you don’t think the free market can handle such minor issues as how a particular market can be served most efficiently?

    I have enormous faith in the market — but I don’t believe that the market can violate the laws of physics. There are no loaves and fishes here to perform miracles with. There are fundamental technological constraints that all the market wisdom in the world can’t make go away. This is the fundamental issue we’ve been arguing over. You have blind faith that the market can whip up loaves and fishes out of thin air, and I believe that the laws of physics can’t be violated.

    I reject that notion entirely. The greatest praises of history go to those who have successfully debunked the common wisdom of their time.

    Then go ahead and debunk this one yourself. Go out there are design an antenna that will solve the problem of the donut hole. If there isn’t a Nobel Prize in it for you, there’s probably at least a few million dollars in patent royalties.

    As such, there would tremendous amount of capital trying to figure out how to accomplish it.

    Sure, if there’s enough capital trying to figure out how to make gold out of base metals, why, it should be no problem! ;-)

    It is irony of monstrous proportions for you to suggest on the internet that interoperability is impossible in a high-tech free market.

    Um, perhaps you’re not aware of this, but the Internet was started as a {shudder} government project that financed by {horrors!} tax dollars. To this day, the US government retains final control over the Internet protocols. It is most definitely NOT a creature of the market. You chose a very bad example to make your point.

    Let’s talk a bit more about radio and call it a night.

    Agreed — this has dragged out too much. Let me summarize my case. You argue without any evidence that the market should be able to come up with magical solutions to technological problems that you don’t understand but consider unimportant. I believe that the laws of physics continue to work even when you really, really don’t want them to work.

    Communications by means of radio waves requires a huge and very complicated technology. Coordinating the system so that manufacturers and service providers (who have very different economic situations) is difficult enough; making it convenient and inexpensive for consumers makes it REALLY complicated. Gad, if you only knew the complexities involved in the whole 3G technology rollout! Now, markets exist solely to coordinate the economic activities of the members of society, and we know that markets coordinate those activities better than any other scheme. But there are some situations that are so horribly complicated, that involve so much coordination in advance of any expenditure of capital, that government can perform a huge service by laying out the basic ground rules under which the market will operate. That’s what the FCC does, and the allocation of spectrum is one of its most important functions. This function has been studied at length by economists in an attempt to understand the best procedures for allocating spectrum in the most efficient manner possible. There remain lots of nasty little gotchas that the FCC cannot solve and probably will never solve. But the alternative — allocating spectrum without any structuring of the spectrum by the government — would surely lead to less effective utilization of this valuable resource.

  • rob

    My previous post seems to have prompted a lot of people to start bad-mouthing Ron Paul as a candidate. I think I have been misunderstood. I don’t think RP’s age or posture are a particular problem. None of the candidates in this race are particularly good speakers, and Ron Paul does as well, off-the-cuff as the next guy.

    My objection is that RP approaches nearly all the issues from an ideological point of view rather than a practical one. Now, an ideology that isn’t practical isn’t worth much as an ideology. It isn’t the ideology that I’m objecting to. It’s the presentation.

    The public isn’t ideological, they are practical. So it is of little value to tell the public that you are going to abolish the Federal Reserve when the public has got the slightest idea why you would want to. So you either don’t talk about that issue or you have to be prepared to sell the public on it. The problem is, RP has way to many such ideas that he has to sell the public on. So he needs to focus his campaign on just a few issues and he needs to show the practical benefits of what he wants to do. And that includes the war in Iraq.

    Instead of saying, “just get out.” He needs to say something like, “We need to set a date for when we get out and let the Iraqis use that time to come to a reconciliation. If they can’t do that, they bear the responsibility for any future conflict. Our troops cannot force Iraqis to cooperate with each other no matter how long we stay, and our responsibility from that point onward is only to try to limit foreign intervention.”

    Such a response illustrates the futility of our current efforts while recognizing that even withdrawal has consequences that must be addressed.

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