A recent discussion regarding freedom of speech on the internet (links below) has raised in my mind a relationship to the financial crisis of a few years ago, the healthcare debate, and the ongoing question of regulation vs. non-regulation.

As a reminder, the principle of freedom of speech as set forth in the Bill of Rights applies to government suppression of speech. It does not apply to private companies, and private companies control the internet with very little oversight from any government. In seeking to assure that its citizens retained the right of free speech, the framers of the constitution made the now-quaint assumption that the government would remain the most powerful body in the land, and that if the government could not unilaterally and through use of force suppress unpopular ideas, no one could.

Private companies that control the internet are now, in practice, able to do just that because the internet is not regulated to enforce free speech by any government. In the same way, the economy of this country, and indeed the world, has fallen under the control of private institutions that have become, as we have seen, “too big to fail” or, more accurately, too big to be allowed to fail without taking the entire world economic system with them. This in turn has led to income inequality so absurdly large that a single bus could fit within it enough billionaires to represent more combined wealth than the poorest half of the world. Both these situations have come to pass because of lack of regulation.

This raises the question, what is the role of government in promoting and preserving the well-being of its citizens? If Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting policies were still in place, neither of these situations would ever have arisen. (The question of whether the internet itself could have come into existence under those circumstances is a separate debate.) The point is, the question of to regulate or not to regulate is relevant to both these issues, as well as to the current debate over health care.

The idea that government regulation is subject to government abuse is obvious. What is not so obvious is it that lack of regulation is subject to abuse by powerful people who are unrestrained even by fear of losing an election. (Whether the fear of losing an election may also be a foreign concept to certain members of Congress is, again, a separate debate.) Capitalism works only when there is competition. Competition ends when someone wins. The notion that Goliath must always be in fear of the next David does not apply to corporations, because only people are guaranteed to grow old and infirm. This does not apply to corporations and dynasties.

I submit that, through lack of regulation, the US government has abdicated its role as the protector of the right of free expression, and of the economic well-being of the majority of its citizens, just as it now seeks to do the same to recent and hard-won affordable health care. I submit further that it is the duty of government in a capitalist system to protect the citizens by ensuring that competition never ceases. And I submit that we are in danger of losing those protections when the government is controlled by those same corporations, as it now appears to be.