January 15, 2012

Ayn Rand - The Property Status of Airwaves

We recently re-read an essay by Ayn Rand called, "The Property Status of Airwaves" which she originally published in April of 1964.  It also appeared in Ayn Rand's book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.  It is a thought provoking piece and worth hunting down a copy of the book to read.

In her essay, Rand argues that the radio spectrum are not "public" property as it is treated today but rather property that should be returned to private ownership as with any other scarce resource (mineral deposits, oil fields, ...).  Property rights form the basis of all other rights.

Ayn Rand
Rand points out that the government incorrectly claimed ownership of the airwaves at the dawn of radio thereby nationalizing the resource and simultaneously introducing several problems.  Among these are the distortionary effects of wielding power in the undefinable "public interest". 

Public interest is inevitably used to justify government actions including censorship in conflict with the 1st amendment of the constitution.  Additionally, government bureaucrats are imperfect people and subject to influence and corruption.  Public interest therefore becomes discretionary power which people and corporations seek to influence in order to gain special favors (e.g. protect against more capable competitors).

Rand offers a solution to these problems:
  • Return government to its role of enforcing private property rights and get out of the business of ownership, regulation, and dictating "public interest" with respect to the radio spectrum.
  • Return the radio spectrum to private ownership by auction off the spectrum to the highest bidder (i.e. ownership not licenses).
  • Allow the free market to maximize the utility of the radio spectrum. 
Our copy of "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" was first published in 1967 and includes many interesting essays by Ayn Rand and other authors like Alan Greenspan.  Winter is our favorite time of the year for indoor activities like amateur radio, building electronics, and reading.  If you enjoy ideas that challenge your own thinking then definately give this book a read.