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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

The Feds’ YouTube Channel

Google reports that the federal government now has its own YouTube channel. There, viewers can watch weekly addresses from President Obama, videos from NASA, the Department of Education, and several other government agencies. The move into cyberspace is part of Barack Obama’s goal to make government more transparent and accessible, although my guess is that outside of political junkies and Obamaphiles, government videos aren’t going to capture much attention. Obama’s first weekly video (released during inauguration week, four months ago) has been viewed about 1.2 million times; the  Slap-Chop Rap has been viewed 2.1 million times in the last month, and this idiot kid  has been viewed 4 million times in the last three weeks (and my faith in humanity has just died a little more).  The view counts for all of BHO’s videos since inauguration week have steadily declined, and last week’s video is sitting at 85 thousand views. But the government videos are there if you want ’em, and that’s probably a step in the right direction.

So, can we do away with those televised presidential addresses now? I don’t watch much television, but it always seems that the SOTU is on the one night I want to watch House, or whatever. 

Also, it looks like all the videos are in the public domain, so have at it, comedic media mash-uppers! (Masher-ups? Up-mashers? What’s the correct word here?)

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Filed under: Internet, Politics, , ,

No thanks, Mr. Martin, I’ll stick with Charter.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin recently scrapped his plan to create an national wi-fi broadband service, one that would have (supposedly) filtered out every piece of pr0n and smut a hormonal 13-year-old would want to get his hairy palms on.

Need I go into all the reasons why a heavily-filtered public internet service would be a terrible, terrible idea? Well, for starters, there’s the first amendment issues surrounding the censorship of public spectrum. Also, don’t overlook the fact that the government sucks at providing most of the services it provides (been to the post office lately?). Then there’s the privacy issues surrounding government regulation and administration of an electronic communication medium. Not to mention the fact that the market has already indicated that there’s no need for the government to spend tax dollars to provide this “public good.” And to be practical, even the “smartest” net filtering programs are dumb as rocks when it comes to natural language processing and typically end up blocking web pages about, for example, breast cancer prevention.

Ryan (yes, the Ryan Radia for all you fans) at TLF has a great post on this story.

Filed under: Information Tech, Internet, Politics, , , , , , , ,

Between-Class Reads

I’ve just started “Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice” (Tullock, Seldon, Brady). I’ve been meaning to read up on public choice economics for some time now, and so far, this book is clear and accessible, with very little math jargon getting in the way. An excerpt from the first chapter:

To sum up, the difference between a public choice student and a nonstudent of this relatively new discipline in policy matters is very largely a difference in attitude that arises from the knowledge of public choice. Much traditional reasoning has turned on totally unrealistic ideas about the efficiency of government. The student of public choice will not think that government is systematically engaged in maximizing the public interest, but will assume its officials are attempting to maximize their own private interests.

Public choice is an extremely valuable branch of economics. Aside from offering the simple and elegant explanation for government failure (as opposed to market failure) printed above, it also presents a common ground on which the economically-minded and the politically-minded can at last communicate. In my own experience, any attempts to explain my position to a non-economics student using concepts like “efficient allocation of scarce resources,” “price as a rationing device,” or even the often-feared “supply and demand” have fallen far short of my goal of using cold, hard logic to quickly convince my audience to immediately adopt more libertarian economic views. (Perhaps I should just stick to three-word slogans: “God Bless America,” “Freedom isn’t Free,” or “Yes, We Can” all seem a bit more inspirational, no?)

I would go on with my reasoning for why public choice is a wonderful tool for explaining the inefficiencies (and oftentimes, ineptness) of government, but I think the legendary Milton Friedman demonstrated this in his ever-so-eloquent manner over twenty years ago: (Come on, click the Play button – it’s only 2:24)

Filed under: Bookz, Economics, Politics, , , , , ,

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