But some facts in this morning's post by my highly respected Washington, D.C.-centric colleague Declan McCullagh entitled Ron Paul: The Internet's Favorite Candidate" made me realize there are some lessons that still need to be taught to all you Libertarian-leaning fans of the Republican Presidential candidate.
First, some background on Ron Paul and that big gaggle of Web-based supporters he can claim.
Paul, 71, enjoys about 160,000 mentions on Digg.com, more than the next four most popular candidates combined. Alexa.com's statistics show Paul's Web site with a narrow lead over all the Democratic candidates and a sizable one over his fellow Republicans. Similarly, a report by Hitwise puts Paul's Web site ahead of other GOP candidates in terms of popularity.
The libertarian-minded Republican enjoys a hefty lead in two unscientific online polls: 56.3 percent in one hosted by the conservative group FreedomWorks.com, and 56 percent a poll created by GOPstrawpolls.com, with undeclared candidate Fred Thompson coming in second at 18.7 percent. Paul is Technorati's most searched-for term, in front of stalwart contenders such as "iPhone" and "Paris Hilton," and recently reclaimed the spot after briefly falling behind a Puerto Rican singer with the undeniable advantage of having a sex tape on the loose. He's a close second to Barack Obama (and far outpaces Hillary Clinton) on Eventful.com's list of in-demand politicians, and, as a New York Timesnotes, is the most "friended" Republican on MySpace.
So what's my problem with Ron Paul, and why are we discussing it here?
I'll take the second question first. It is irresponsible to write about the technology landscape without drawing references to technology policy. And as their common root syllable attests, policy and politics are related.
An overarching fact here: we live in an economy where the financially powerful are the politically powerful. We live in a world where the financially powerful- driven by institutional investors, large private equity funds and analysts, want these companies to become even more financially powerful.
CEOs and chairfolks at these companies heed the call. That extra "fee" or monthly subscription cost bump on your VoIP, ISP or cable bill didn't get there by accident. Somehow, somewhere, a bean counter came up with it, and the CEO- knowing no laws were in place to block it- greenlighted the thing.
See where I am going with this? The free market has no conscience, and in many cases offers no practical alternative to greedy practices. The only force that can countervene private-sector abuses in the technology realm is government.
Of course, government reaches too far. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is noxious and overreaches. I salute Rep. Paul for voting against it.
But what about private sector practices where regulatory oversight is the only counterweight against us getting screwed? Practices such as:
*Net neutrality, which Internet players and forces support but the carriers do not;
*Escalating cable subscription fees, which lack of firm regulation ease through. Keep in mind that the Democrat passed-and-signed1992 Cable Act slowed down the rise in cable fees, yet when Congress changed hands in 1994, the cable industry could not contain its glee;
*Guaranteed access to wireless spectrum, which can only be decided upon and enforced via a strong, pro-consumer FCC acting in service of forthright laws;
*Regulations and laws to keep VoIP-offering ISPs from blocking your Skype or Vonage?;
*What about privacy laws to keep, say, your online commerce records from being intercepted and sold?
Want another example?
Hate Microsoft? Think they are monopolistic?
People such as Ron Paul wouldn't have the choke collar at the ready for the latest MSFT overreach. But an Attorney General- especially one named by a pro-consumer President- would.
Adding this all up is my feeling that many Ron Paul supporters don't seem to understand the real teachable techable moment here:
A key purpose of laws and regulation should be to keep the powerful out of your pockets.
There are plenty of bad laws, and bad regulations. But enlightened laws and enlightened regulations protect society, protect the consumer, protect you.
I have to believe some of you Ron Paul fans understand this. But I also believe that some of you have a reflexive distaste and disdain for politics and politicians. Not to say that feeling isn't justified from time to time, but let's live in the real world here. A world where the strong prey on the voiceless, rendering alternative choices for the voiceless as less bad, not good.
But if you want to pretend that none of these forces exist, then go right ahead.
If you just want to drink Rockstar, rock the Wii, write great code, believe that the free market is ultimately just, then fine. And if you back Ron Paul because politics and government are clueless and his policies will leave you alone, then fine.
Just don't howl too loudly when your packets are deprioritized, your wireless provider screws you, and your cable rates go up. These decisions are not made by the market, but by companies who are eager to please their investors, their VCs, but not you.
Sorry, but a President Paul won't protect you. By inaction, he'd let the greedmeisters win.
In light of my expanded argumentation, I thought I would revive this poll: