By Jim Waters
What do Mimi Pickering, Pope Francis and big-government politicians fervently committed to ideas proven unworkable have in common? They claim: We tried private, free enterprise and it didn’t work.
The pope unleashes fire and brimstone toward those who “continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”
Then, he says such belief “has never been confirmed by the facts.”
Of course, such sermons ignore the tremendous impact of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman’s monetary policies on Chile, all of Latin America and other nations in the latter 20th century which not only resulted in more economic freedom but also helped turn dictatorships into democracies.
Perhaps His Holiness should stick to reminding everyone about that first Christmas – when some gold “trickled down” from the Wise Men to Mary and Joseph, allowing them to make the long, costly trip to Egypt to escape King Herod’s tyranny.
With today’s technology, Joseph could have dialed “911” and the cops on their camels would have arrived before you could say “there’s an unstable, murderous king on the loose.”
And just like the pope is right in calling Christians to be more charitable, Pickering, a Whitesburg filmmaker, correctly observed in a recent Lexington Herald-Leader op-ed that the people of Appalachia would receive more accessible and affordable Internet service if there were additional providers and more competition.
Then, like the pope who blames free markets for poverty and income gaps, she follows up with a totally unsubstantiated claim: “The private sector is not providing the Internet services we need.”
But how else do you get more competition than by getting rid of outdated regulations and out of the private sector’s way?
This filmmaker’s lens is blocked as she ignores the resources invested by telecommunications giants in Kentucky during recent years.
AT&T invested more than $600 million in Kentucky between 2009 and 2011 alone to improve Internet accessibility and coverage. The company activated 45 new cell phone towers, fastened connection speeds and added capacity to their networks.
And that doesn’t include the investments made by other telecom giants like Verizon and Cincinnati Bell.
These investments were not made by government. Yet where would Kentuckians be without them?
Just since 2000, Kentuckians have gone from having cell phones limited to verbal conversations and slow, dial-up Internet connections – with no connection at all in many parts of the commonwealth – to cell phones that transmit emails and photographs and provide live streaming videos.
Such progress occurred in spite of a being in a state where government regulations, taxes and bureaucracies stifle the very innovation needed to improve wireless services and bring down prices.
Still, Pickering proposes creating a whole new costly bureaucracy in Frankfort to “organize its efforts to improve broadband investments, infrastructure, and deployment.”
She also wants the state to provide handouts to businesses “that invest in broadband and deployment as well as families who need help paying for broadband services.”
But look at all of the progress that has been made in getting every part of Kentucky onto the information superhighway without Pickering’s big-government approach.
Other states’ experiences suggest governments are incapable of running their own wireless networks while excluding private enterprise. At least two municipal systems in Utah and Connecticut were sold for $1 after taxpayers invested $36 million into them.
What’s actually needed is fewer regulations and elimination of outdated policies hampering the marketplace by, for example, forcing private telecom companies to invest in outdated copper landlines.
Pickering, not surprisingly, resists such ideas. The pope might, too. But I bet the Wise Men would agree.
Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read previously published columns at www.bipps.org.