Stop Me Before I Regulate Again!


In the latest issue of Wired, always-interesting Lawrence Lessig admits he was wrong about Microsoft:

I was one of those reluctant regulators. As the evidence of Microsoft's practices became clear, I remember well thinking, "Of course the government needs to do something." And I remember very well the universal impatience with the notion that the market would solve the problem. How could it, when any other company was likely to behave just as Microsoft did?

We pro-regulators were making an assumption that history has shown to be completely false: That something as complex as an OS has to be built by a commercial entity. Only crazies imagined that volunteers outside the control of a corporation could successfully create a system over which no one had exclusive command. We knew those crazies. They worked on something called Linux.

I wanted to believe that Linux would prevail. But I'm a lawyer, and lawyers aren't programmed to see how profitable innovation might happen without commercial control. I didn't like the idea of regulation; I just didn't see any alternative. The suits would always beat the rebels. Isn't that why they were so rich?

The success of Linux and Firefox's bite into IE's market share shows how even a seemingly invincible Godzilla like Microsoft is susceptible to competition if it lets its market dominance breed cockiness and complacency.

Lessig applies this lesson to the "net neutrality" debate, but only to admit he has failed to learn it. He calls himself a "reluctant regulator" on neutrality, though he concedes that he may be making the same mistake there that he made with Microsoft.

Jesse Walker interviewed Lessig for reason in June 2002.  And Joseph Bast and Dave Kopel blasted the Microsoft antitrust case in November 2001.