Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Somewhat more than Al Gore

How much did the government contribute to developing the internet?  Urban legend has it that the internet was a government project that ended up spurring an economic bonanza.  This legend was recently and famously repeated by President Obama when he made his case that everyone owes everything to the government.  The reality is quite different from this legend, however, and it is more accurate to say that the internet exists only because the government got out of the way and private businesses took advantage of the technology that the government had been sitting on.  Here's Gordon Crovitz in the Wall Street Journal:
As for the government's role, the Internet was fully privatized in 1995, when a remaining piece of the network run by the National Science Foundation was closed—just as the commercial Web began to boom. Blogger Brian Carnell wrote in 1999: "The Internet, in fact, reaffirms the basic free market critique of large government. Here for 30 years the government had an immensely useful protocol for transferring information, TCP/IP, but it languished. . . . In less than a decade, private concerns have taken that protocol and created one of the most important technological revolutions of the millennia."