The Therapy Sessions
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The attack of Eurogoogle
WE MUST take the offensive and muster a massive effort, said Jacques Chirac, the president of France, who went on to warn of the dangers of losing the battle for the power of tomorrow in a speech made last April.
What is Jacques Chirac worried about?
Is worried that Europeans should do more to explore space or science? Is he contemplating the possibilty of an Iranian nuclear weapon? Is he fretting that French Muslim immigrants are reproducing at a rate three times higher than the native French?
Nope: he is worried about Google.
Before Google, he - and much of France - was worried about Microsoft. Or then it was Yahoo. Or Hollywood. Yes, France plowed tons of government money into a failed effort to wean the French off foreign (read: American) films. Now Chirac is proposing that the French government spend lots of money to create a search engine that will compete with Google.
Chirac goes on, sounding more omninous:
"We must staunchly defend the world's cultural diversity against the looming threat of uniformity."
Google - like Yahoo - is a search engine. It scours websites all over the world for keywords, hints to what people - from all over the world, from any culture - are writing about. It doesn't give you uniformity; it gives you the opposite - if anything, too much diversity.
What will the French government's approved "culturally diverse" search engine look like? Who decides? At the heart of his argument is the idea that free markets shouldn't dictate the direction that the internet will take.
But if free markets shouldn't decide, who should? Governments? Unfree markets?
This reasoning ignores the fact that if it wasn't for free enterprise, the internet would be little more than a few linked government computers (like Minitel - the early "internet" the French government wasted millions on before it was overtaken by the World Wide Web). Almost all internet activity takes places on private websites.
If governments had decided that internet innovation should have been the provence of government bureaucracies in 1992, there wouldn't be an internet today.
But forget France. This could be the government of a large US city. For example, Philadelphia wants to use its legendary management skills to run a city wide WiFi hotspot that would give everyone cheap high speed internet.
Is it a good idea for governments to take on the jobs that are being done by the private sector?
Keep in mind that a government venture like the one Chirac proposes will consume public funds - public funds that might better be spent on education, health, security or transportation.
In contrast, a private company like Google generates government funds by employing people who go on to pay taxes.
And when the government gets involved, it crowds out the little guys with big ideas, who might eventually take on a Google, a Yahoo or a Microsoft.These companies didn't start out as corporate giants. Their ideas took them there, mainly because their ideas gave ideas to millions of Americans, ideas about doing things they once thought impossible.
But my thoughts against government owned business are more heartfelt.
In West Africa, governments "own" all of the agricultural produce in the country. That means that they set the price at which produce will be sold.
Wonderful socialism in practice! But it also means that farmers that refuse to sell at the government price are breaking the law.
Imagine if your boss could have you thrown in jail? Welcome to the life of a West African farmer. Is it any wonder that this is the poorest region on the planet?
My argument against government-business ventures is that they concentrate power.
People who defy the businessman are defying the will of the state, and thus, the people.
This leans toward absolute power. Absolute power corrupts...it is said...absolutely.
So when someone tells me that the government will clean up housing, or car insurance, or that nationalized health care will clean up health care....
I don't see a white horse riding to the rescue.
I see a government concentrating power in its own hands. At first, as a way of giving something to everybody. That sounds nice. But of course, you can't give something to everybody unless you first steal it, or at least compel people to provide it - at your price.
Power is fun. You can steal. Legally.
And eventually, you'll be deciding who will get medicine and who will not. Perhaps old people are onsuming too many resources in futile efforts to keep themselves alive. Maybe rich people are using their money to buy care that is better than what the government provides. At any rate, people close to you - your friends, people who see things your way, your voters - will be well served.
And people who aren't close...well, they might want to figure out a way to change that, shouldn't they?
Absolute power. Doing what it does best.
People who were outraged at the price Google paid for doing business in China - it was forced to reveal information on searches to the Chinese government - should by horried at the prospect at a government running a search engine.