Alan Reynolds

Many Americans believe President Bush pushed the price of gasoline down to help Republicans in the upcoming election. Congress believes it can ban Americans from gambling on the Internet. And the state of California believes it can change the temperature of the globe through government regulation.

What all such beliefs have in common is technological provincialism -- the naive notion that global commerce can easily be compelled to dance to the tune of national or local politicians.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that "three out of 10 Americans think the recent fall in gasoline prices is a result of ... White House and Republican Party efforts to influence the November elections."

To believe this, one would have to accuse the International Energy Agency in Paris of being part of this partisan conspiracy, since the IEA has been slashing its estimates of worldwide oil demand. Because natural gas prices have also been falling, one would also have to believe Republicans control that world market -- in which Russia is the biggest player.

These are global markets -- the whole world. Prices of crude oil, gasoline and natural gas did not fall in the United States alone and stay high everyplace else. To imagine the president or Congress could somehow push world prices down at will is to vastly underestimate the size and power of these markets.

Another excellent example of technological provincialism is the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act," which hopes to deter domestic banks and credit card companies from processing payments to and from Internet gamblers. That would apply only if some particular form of gambling is demonstrably illegal under state or federal law, which would be difficult in theory and impossible in practice.

Imagine some prosecutor trying to prove Miss Jones was playing poker on a particular laptop at some specific time and place. A gambler can easily disguise his location by using a foreign proxy, which then appears as the IP address on the Website's server. The location of a gambling Website can likewise be concealed or frequently moved. There are also numerous foreign and domestic financial intermediaries that can and do conceal the source and/or recipient of fund transfers. It is called the "Worldwide" Web for a reason.

Then there are California's quixotic efforts to affect the world's climate. Whatever you think about the causes, consequences or reality of global warming, it is the height of provincial arrogance to imagine the global climate could be perceptibly changed by a single state.


Alan Reynolds

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