Media and the limits of markets

Jeff Jarvis is all worked up
about Larry Lessig’s and Mark Cooper’s crusade against media
concentration.  Take a deep breath, Jeff.  Cooper’s book
makes a traditional liberal argument that the media business is too
important for democracy to be left to market forces.  As someone
in the media business, Jeff understandably recoils against this
position.  He’s right that there is more than a hint of
paternalism in the argument.  (On the other hand, for all those
years conservatives were supposedly shut out of the mass media, I
didn’t hear them resigning themselves to the market’s verdict.) 

Putting that debate aside, I think Jeff is too quick to lump Lessig and
Cooper together.  They agree on the symptoms, but have different
diagnoses of the causes.  Larry is eminently better than me at
expressing his own views (and most other people’s views as well). 
Let me just try to explain the distinction.  Lessig doesn’t reject
markets; he questions whether markets are in fact operating.  It’s
the same story as in copyright, where instead of getting caught up in
what “the market” could produce under current laws, he questions
whether those laws strike the balance that the Constitution
demands. 

When it comes to media ownership, forget about Rupert Murdoch.  At
the core of broadcast media is control over radio spectrum. 
Spectrum allocation has been subject to absolute government management
since 1927.  Whatever industry emerges on top of that base may
bear more or less indicia of a competitive market, but it’s never going
to be one.  So instead of debating whether government should be
involved in the media business, let’s talk about what shape that
government involvement should take. 

And meanwhile, let’s push for a truly radical change: deregulation of wireless communication
A true market it media content requires a true market in broadcast
platforms, which requires a true market in wireless devices… aka open
spectrum. 

There’s a paper here, which perhaps
I’ll have time to write, on the birth of neomodern economics.  Now
if only I didn’t waste so much $@#%!$# time blogging….