I can't think of a single meaningful problem we now face that could be solved by more bandwidth. And yet, I keep reading the words of techno-alarmists who are convinced that this is a significant problem facing the United States.
Thomas Bleha, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, has written an influential article in Foreign Affairs pointing out that America has fallen from 4th to 13th in global broadband usage and arguing that this could have a devastating impact on the nation's competitiveness. “These countries' progress will have serious economic implications,” Mr Bleha writes. “Japan and its neighbours have positioned themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, technological innovation and an improved quality of life.”
Thomas Friedman, author of the new book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, actually argues that our over-investment in bandwidth during the dotcom years is disproportionately benefitting emerging nations that are leveraging cheap fiber optics to level the competitive playing field.
Whatever the case, the obsession with the competitive impact of bandwidth is misplaced. While one hopes the FCC ultimately liberates the old Ma Bell telcos to build out the last big links to the home without having to worry about free riders, it seems to me that the flat-earth, fixed-pie, zero-sum thinking that is now taking hold is unfortunate.
Look, it's hard to disagree with Friedman's view that "entitlement" thinking is undermining America's competitiveness. It's also true, as Friedman argues, that our education system is pathetically behind the demands of the times. But what solutions are we going to be offered?
Will Friedman -- who has an enviable and influential spot on the New York Times editorial page -- endorse educational choice to break up the current, government-controlled monopoly? Will he promote private pensions and healthcare accounts as an alternative to middle-class "entitlements" and thus, entitlement thinking? Don't think so.
The "high-brow" thinkers of our time will go on promoting government intervention in the economy as the solution. They will embrace a centralized, technocratic leadership model just as they did in the late 1980s -- when Japan Inc. was poised to control everything (as it is again, apparently). The SOA model, however, suggests the dynamic and entrepreneurial potential of economies is most vibrant on the periphery -- far away from technocrats.
The earth is not flat. Cute metaphor. Stupid perspective. Time to set sail fearlessly -- just as Columbus once did.