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Monday, July 23, 2012

Government didn't create the internet

Despite what Al Gore and Barack Obama would have you believe, the internet wasn't created by the government:
It's an urban legend that the government launched the Internet. The myth is that the Pentagon created the Internet to keep its communications lines up even in a nuclear strike. The truth is a more interesting story about how innovation happens—and about how hard it is to build successful technology companies even once the government gets out of the way. ...

... 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."
So who really invented the internet? Check out the story in the Wall Street Journal.


Anonymous said...

Scientific American read it, too. They're calling BS. Read the rebuttal at

Lee Shelton said...

However it "got started," the internet as we know it is not something government would create because government cannot control it.

achmafooma said...

The article is the worst-researched and most inaccurate thing I have ever read in the Wall Street Journal.

First, he consistently mis-uses terms. 'Ethernet,' 'Internet,' 'World Wide Web,' and 'Hyperlinks' are not interchangeable synonyms...and almost every time he uses any of them, he uses them incorrectly to refer to one of the other ones.

And second, the thesis is incorrect. Look, we all know that the Internet became an economic juggernaut only after it was almost entirely privatized. That isn't in dispute. The government made the Internet great mostly by getting out of the way.

But that doesn't change the fact that the government created it, or at least funded the companies, universities, and non-profits that did. They tested the theories, worked out the kinks, and made possible everything that came after.

I'm a free-market, limited-government, strict constructionist through and through...but I'm also a web developer by trade and a historian by hobby. Denying that the government created the Internet, and had the good sense to privatize it later after the underlying technology was working well, is just whitewashing history. We can debate ad-infinitum whether the government SHOULD have been playing that role (I tend to think they shouldn't have), but that doesn't change the fact that they did.

The sad thing about the article is that the point the author is trying to make -- that economic growth comes not from government, but from private industry -- is completely true. But that point needs to be made in an article that is well-researched and accurate. Instead of saying 'government didn't invent the Internet,' it should have said 'government invented the Internet, and deserves much credit for it, but the Internet didn't become a source of economic growth, personal freedom, and creativity until they turned it over to the free market and the people.'

Because the article is so bad, statists can more easily dismiss it as meaningless tripe, and more easily claim that we free-market types don't understand reality. Bad articles like this undermine our case much more than they help it.

Lee Shelton said...

Achmafooma, looking back, I would have to agree with you.

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