Humility Should Be Chief Virtue of FCC & FTC Commissioners, Urges Coalition Letter

Today, the International Center for Law & Economics joined a coalition of think tanks, academics and commentators on technology policy in a letter urging the President, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats to “look foremost for humility as both a guiding principle and a personal characteristic of the candidates” considered for the new Democratic Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Republican FCC Commissioner and Democratic Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission. The full text of the letter follows below:

To: The President, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats

Date: April 23, 2013

As you consider whom to appoint and confirm to lead the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission ”two of the principal agencies that regulate the Internet, telecommunications and emerging digital technologies ” we urge you to look foremost for humility as both a guiding principle and a personal characteristic of the candidates you consider.Many of those who follow Internet policy assume simply that we need more tech-savvy regulators ” in other words, better technocrats. Tech-savvy is important, but not as important as appreciating that even the smartest among us don’t know what the future will look like or how to get there ” as if “there” were a single place. Beware those who talk about “steering” technological change, “comprehensive” approaches, or “pulling policy levers.” These technocratic buzzwords reveal a fundamental misconception: that a better future can be engineered from the top down. Instead, the first rule for policymakers should be:

First, do no harm. We need regulators who can resist the frequent urge to “do something” about problems that are rapidly mooted by technological change anyway. Often, government’s best response is to do nothing. Competition, innovation and criticism from civil society tend to resolve problems better, and faster, than government can and the best kind of law evolves from the bottom up ” through the messy “multi-stakeholder” interaction among civil society groups, media watchdogs, companies and consumers themselves.

Holding companies to the promises that emerge from that ongoing process should be government’s primary role.