The Founding Principle of the Sixth International: Private where private belongs, public where it is needed, and circumstances alter cases.
David Warsh patiently explains how thick description and careful analysis trump ideology as tools for understanding how things really are:
Economic Principals » Blog Archive » Who /Really/ Invented the Internet?: “It’s an urban legend that the government launched the Internet.” That was former Wall Street Journal publisher L. Gordon Crovitz…. In fact, he wrote, it was Xerox Corp. that came up with the idea of linking different computer networks together. Crovitz buttressed his opinion with a quotation from
economist Tyler Cowen, of George Mason UniversityBrian Carnell:
The Internet… reaffirms the basic free market critique of big government. Here for thirty years the government has 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 decade.”
That brought a strong letter of dissent from Vinton Cerf and Stephen Wolff, each of whom made key contributions, while working for the US Defense Department in the early 1970s, to the architecture of the astonishing new technology….
The Internet’s development had been a model of collaboration among government agencies, universities and the private sector…. Focusing on one element to the exclusion or disparagement of other elements is simplistic, misleading and wrong.
Crovitz chose to read that as a rebuke to the president. But Cerf and Wolf made it clear that the open architecture they devised was the government’s idea. Many private sector corporations vigorously resisted the open TCP/IP protocols, preferring instead to support their own proprietary approaches. Without open protocols, the private sector could not have possibly moved so quickly to commercialize and deploy networks on such a large scale. It was US government policy that TCP/IP would be an open protocol. But even after a second Crovitz column… his readers had no better idea of how the Internet actually happened….
[T]he organization that, more than any other, deserves credit for swiftly bringing the technological possibilities to commercial fruition, permitting millions of jobs to be created around the world (and others to be extinguished!), is the Internet Engineering Task Force, the planning body that developed various standards for the Internet as it evolved. The ITEF hasn’t gotten the ink that it deserves. Its website is a trove of information for technical readers, and proper narratives probably are on the way. But the only straightforward account I know in the lingua franca of book publishing is Scott Bradner’s essay in Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution…. The IETF is remarkable for its bottom-up nature…. From weights and measures to legal contracts and software protocols to the customs and expectations that form the ethical infrastructure of human communities, standards are “a means of partially ordering people and things so as to produce outcomes desired by someone else”…. Some standards are better-constructed than others. The standards that brought the Internet into existence were exemplary….
There are certain tasks so inherently risky that only government can be expected to undertake them. Getting the computer industry started was one: governments built the first computers during World War II; and, in the early days of the Cold War, the US Air Force financed IBM Corp.’s entry into the business. Next came the first ventures in time-sharing and packet-switching – the technologies on which the Internet is based. Meanwhile the National Institutes of Health were financing several different revolutions in health care: molecular biology, imaging techniques, genomics. Today government is funding research in gas, solar and wind technologies that will be necessary in order to cope with climate change. That’s why it’s so important to understand the beginnings of the Internet. Mighty oaks from little government acorns sometimes grow…