Didn’t Government Create the Internet?

A hostile DrHurd.com reader recently objected to my statement, “Remember that the Internet as we know it did not come about because of a government directive or a National Technology Board who decided it would be so.”

The  reader went on to say: “That’s a rather dubious statement considering that the fundamental technology underpinning the Internet was developed by the Department of Defense, and the original protocols of the World Wide Web were developed by the government consortium CERN.”

Dr. Hurd’s reply: Wow. It never occurred to me that someone intelligent enough to string a sentence together would argue something like this. This reader is actually claiming that the government created the Internet. This isn’t that much different from Al Gore asserting that he created the Internet, back when he ran for President.

People who worship at the altar of government think that government does things it actually never did. For example, consider victory in World War II. Didn’t government achieve this? Well, the war was a function of government organization, particularly by the military. But the government depended heavily on the private sector for its ammunition and weaponry. If America, even after the battering of the Great Depression in the prior decade, didn’t have the robust private sector it did, there would have been no war, much less a victory.

Wars are won by economic powers, not by third world countries. The United States, even while floundering during the prolonged Great Depression, was no third world country and consequently stood a chance against  the Germans and the Japanese. It was also a free and open country, allowing the best and brightest to apply their brains to the cause of victory. Self-interest corresponded with patriotism in the U.S. more than anywhere else. Not surprisingly, the U.S. won.

In fact, many economists now argue that the Great Depression finally ended precisely because President Franklin D. Roosevelt lifted controls on business in order to win the war. Even a socialist like Roosevelt understood that business cannot function unless government gets out of the way—and Roosevelt’s government really wanted to win that war. After hampering capitalism throughout the 1930s, Roosevelt finally stood back in the ‘40s to let business produce in a way that could allow the war to be won. Unlike the preachy “selflessness” advocated by the New Deal (no different from Obama’s socialism today), the necessity to defeat Hilter and Japan threw self-interest into the mix. It required the productive power of profit, efficiency and the private sector. Roosevelt, unlike Obama and others like him today, at least had the wisdom to understand this much.

Great things happen in technology, science, and even a war, because of the workings of the rational, thinking human mind. Brainpower is what gives rise to manpower, wealth, and everything else desirable that most of us take for granted. The mind cannot function under the threat of force and coercion. For this reason, government must stay out of the way and perform its only truly valid function: To keep violent criminals from encroaching on individuals who are trying to innovate, produce and be self-responsible. The human mind needs enough government to keep the violent and the meddlesome out of their way—but not so much that government itself becomes part of the problem.

Franklin Roosevelt, the champion of Big Government (not unlike our own much less illustrious Barack Obama), understood that there would be no technological and industrial strength without limiting the power of Big Government. I find it interesting when people still claim, “Well, thanks to World War II, America got out of the Great Depression.” This half-truth is the worst sort of lie, because it’s meant to imply that only the spending of government can relieve economic downturns. The same argument was used in the early 1930s to justify the massive expansion of the federal government. And what happened? A prolonged depression followed by a second recession in 1936 and 1937. Roosevelt and his Cabinet were struggling with all this when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. World War II did not end the Depression. It merely rescued FDR and his officials from a decade of bad economic policies.

Fast forward to today. Advocates of Obama’s record spending made reference to the New Deal of the 1930s as justification for expanding the cost and scope of government following a nasty two-year recession (one that similar big spending policies of George W. Bush did nothing to resolve). Their reasoning was typically flawed: Roosevelt ended the Great Depression with huge expansions of government; Obama will end the Great Recession the same way. Obama’s infamous “stimulus” bill, drawing inspiration from Roosevelt’s failed policy, was more of the same—trillions and trillions more. Ditto for Obamacare and everything else the government is doing to borrow, tax and spend other people’s money as a way of fostering economic growth.

That’s what we got, and now six years into this Great Recession (by some measures, it’s not really over) the economy is still not appreciably growing, gas prices have surged, the national debt is beyond comprehension (with no end in sight) and entitlement programs are going broke (with no solutions proposed). We are facing a real risk of hyperinflation (the kind that preceded the rise of Nazi Germany) as the currency, according to a growing number of economists, becomes unhinged. To extend the analogy, Biden and Obama can now only argue that we need the modern equivalent of World War II to save us. World War III in the nuclear, terrorist era? Is that really what we need?

The reader actually calls my statement that the Internet did not come about from a government directive “dubious.” Did a government directive create the success of Amazon.com? Did a government office come up with the phenomenally successful eBay? Or Facebook? And what about Google? Are the billions of dollars in private wealth generated by the private sector the result of a few bureaucrats in the Department of Defense or Commerce coming up with such a thing? This is like saying that microtechnology spawned by the space program makes government responsible for all laptop computers. This kind of thinking is the naive fantasy of a Communist intellectual of the 1930s, not somebody in contact with the objective reality of 2014.

Nothing is valuable unless it’s put to use. Ingenious and productive individuals are the ones who put things to use. Oil is worthless without the use to which it’s put. (I know environmentalits love to hate oil, but it’s still valuable to them whether they hate it or not.) Oil sat in the ground for centuries, of no use to anybody until human beings discovered ways to quite literally make the planet habitable through its use. The same applies to the Internet. It doesn’t matter that somebody drawing a government check might have actually come up with some of the technology. There would be no Internet as we know it today had it not been for the software engineers and entrepreneurs operating in the private sector who took that technology and ran with it. Microsoft, Apple and the other key companies responsible for the Internet as we know it were driven by profit, not government proclamations and executive orders.

No government agency ever created an entire economy, and none ever will. Just ask those living in totalitarian countries. They grasp what I’m saying, because they have lived it.

I’ll quote another reader of my article who makes the point very well:

“The World Wide Web was originated with a proposal based upon years of previous hypertext systems by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN. The WWW essentially created a way of linking text documents over the international network of the Internet. Berners-Lee left CERN and founded the World Wide Web Consortium, which now governs standardization of WWW technologies.

So while government played a role in the development of some of the technologies that comprise the Internet, they ultimately relied upon the ideas of individuals; the spontaneous order created by individuals collaborating toward a common goal. They built upon the technologies created and pioneered by the free market. And furthermore, the commercialization of the Internet would never have been possible had those technologies been controlled by a centralized state authority. It was precisely the open and non-centralized nature of those technologies that allowed the World Wide Web to develop into anything useful for commerce and industry. It was left alone to develop into the medium for collaboration and trade that we have today.”

Yes, private sector: You did build the Internet.

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