Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Government Created the Internet, And That's Okay

In the continued wake of President Obama's ill-phrased, but largely correct assertion that "you didn't build that" referring to society and the government's hand in the success of businesses comes an article from Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal completely rewriting the history of the genesis of the internet. Over at Slate, Farhad Manjoo does the requite takedown of Crovitz's falsehoods, but I'm struck by two things.

One, only now could the idea that ARPA created the internet be contentious. There's a strong Jacobin current among the right-wing of the U.S. body politik that can not fathom the government doing anything positive or having any positive hand in business.  They get apoplectic when you suggest that maybe the internet or the roads, created by or built by the government have a positive impact on business and that we should perhaps acknowledge what was previously an innocuous fact. 

Two, why is there a sizable minority of people in this country who can't seem to reconcile that A) the government created this great commercial platform and B) the private sector, disinterested in the basic science that was necessary to create, was able to make the internet a great commercial platform? I give all credit to Jim Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and all those other great American entrepreneurs that took the risk, but they were only able to do so by standing of the shoulders of the U.S. government.

This isn't an unequivocal endorsement of centrally planned industrial policy or limitless government funding for basic science. For sure government has failed, as have many entrepreneurs, but can't we all agree that sometimes in this modern commercial ecosystem that government, universities, and private industries are all responsible for many of the great technological advances that allow some random guy like myself to post random thoughts on a blog that's available around the world?

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