Thursday, March 9, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Why Did Jimmy Carter Care About Deregulation?

One of the puzzles of the Carter administration was its avowed success in deregulating industries, led by the incomparable Alfred Kahn at the Civil Aeronatics Board. I say it is a puzzle because Carter's administration is widely remembered for being generally feckless, and you generally don't associate Democratic presidents with having a dergulatory passion.

There are a few theories that can be speculated upon. One is that Carter himself, with experience as a peanut farmer, knew first hand how trucking regulations harmed consumers, namely him. Another is the "great man" theory that Carter had the good fortune or insight to appoint Kahn. Kahn, in turn, brought other deregulatory pioneers like Darius Gaskins to the CAB, and he then took the religion to the ICC.

Andy Crain, an attorney for Qwest, offers a slightly different thesis to my question (which I posited at the Silicon Flatirons Conference a few weeks ago). Andy's answer: intellectual consensus. He writes:

One of the primary reasons Ford and Carter cared was that they were getting uniform advice from the adademic community. They weren't bombarded with differing opinions that caused them to throw up their hands and appoint political hacks.

So the lesson for you and all your friends is don't forget the areas where you agree. I know it is fun and interesting to have panels to explore the issues where you disagree. But if you want to get things done, find the areas where you agree and push those as well.

Agreement???!!! Hmmm....seems bad for business.

Seriously, there is much to this idea, and there is actually more agreement than meets the eye on some of these issues between what can broadly be called the "consumer left" and "market right." (Indeed, at David Isenberg's Freedom to Connect conference in a few weeks, this will be the theme of our discussion.) This is not to paper over significant disagreements.

But, fundamentally, there is agreement that the current communications framework is broken; that spectrum reform is imperative; that rule of law regulation is better than legislative regulation; that rentseeking in communications is rampant and not good. That said, the normative legal standards for a new communicatons framework are hotly contested, and worth discussing, and fighting about.

In the end, though, intellectual consensus is important.

An historical difference between the Carter-era "deregulatory moment" and now is arguably that the current regulatory system is not quite so decrepit (though decrepit it is). Just as important, though, is the intellectual leadership to create that consensus. Right now, we are all pygmies compared the the intellectual giants like Kahn and Breyer.

posted by Ray Gifford @ 3:24 PM | Communications