Three very friendly-sounding words: affordable, fairness, and neutrality. To me these words convey a kind of soothing mildness of circumstance or of intent. Affordable is good. It’s certainly preferable to unaffordable. Fairness is good. Who could be opposed to fairness? Neutrality? That’s the absence of bias, isn’t it?
But these friendly-sounding words have been used in public policy to deceive.
The Affordable Care Act was deceptive. It promised to make health insurance more accessible and more affordable for everyone. It did neither. There are still tens of millions of people with no health insurance, premiums have risen dramatically, high deductibles have made the coverage virtually unusable for many people, and plan options have been strictly limited.
But one thing the Affordable Car Act did very well: it drew healthcare in America closer to total government control than ever before.
The Fairness Doctrine was deceptive. Adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1949, it promised to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of public importance.” But with the government policing the airwaves looking for “fairness,” they being the sole arbiters of what defined fairness, and with broadcast licenses ultimately hanging in the balance, the doctrine proved to have a chilling effect on broadcast speech. Two U.S. Administrations, one Democrat, one Republican, employed as a regular feature of political strategy the use of the FCC and the threat of the Fairness Doctrine to limit the speech of their political opposition.
The Fairness Doctrine did not, it could not, guarantee free speech. But what it did do was place broadcast speech under government control. The Fairness Doctrine is no more, thankfully. It was done away with by an enlightened FCC.
Net Neutrality is deceptive. Net Neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine applied to the internet. It is the Affordable Care Act applied to the internet. The heretofore largely unregulated internet has been a model of rapid and stunning innovation and it is its own prima facie evidence of the moral and practical superiority of a free market. But since the implementation of Net Neutrality rules in 2015, overall investment in the internet has begun to decline. When investment declines, innovation slows. The very first issue addressed by the FCC under the 2015 rules was to limit creative business models which gave some customers free data. This because such business models, though they were a boon to customers, violate net neutrality rules.
Affordable. Fairness. Neutrality. Nice words. Friendly words, to be sure. But deceptive, in my view, because they are used to obscure the fact that the underlying policies associated with those nice words take choice from the American citizen and turn it over to government bureaucrats. Yes, government should regulate some things: anti-competitive or deceptive business practices, for example. But government should not be regulating and limiting the choices we have in the area of healthcare, speech, or internet service. We, the American citizens, can and will regulate those services by virtue of the choices we make in a free, open, and competitive marketplace.