Roasting the Pig to Burn Down the House: A Modest Proposal
Stuart Minor Benjamin
Duke University School of Law; Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
May 28, 2009
Journal on Telecommunications & High Technology Law, Vol. 7, 2009
Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Paper No. 251
This essay addresses the question whether one should support regulatory proposals that one believes are, standing alone, bad public policy in the hope that they will do such harm that they will ultimately produce (likely unintended) good results. For instance, one may regard a set of proposed regulations as foolish and likely to hobble the industry regulated, but perhaps desirable if one believes that we would be better off without that industry. I argue that television broadcasting is such an industry, and thus that we should support new regulations that will make broadcasting unprofitable, to hasten its demise. But it cannot be just any costly regulation: if a regulation would tend to entrench broadcasting's place on the airwaves, then the regulation will not help to free up the spectrum and should be avoided. Ideal regulations for this purpose are probably those that are pure deadweight loss - regulations that cost broadcasters significant amounts of money but have no impact on their behavior.
Am I serious in writing all this? Not entirely, but mostly. I do think that society would benefit if the wireless frequencies currently devoted to broadcast could be used for other services, and the first-best ways of achieving that goal may not be realistic. I am proposing a second-best - a fairly cynical second-best, but a second-best all the same. I would prefer not to go down this path, but if that is the only way to hasten the shriveling of television broadcasting's spectrum usage, then it is probably a path worth taking.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 13
JEL Classification: K23, L51
Date posted: October 14, 2008 ; Last revised: June 2, 2009