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November 19th, 2017

Insight

It happens every time

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Nov. 18, 2014

Here's the most predictable news bulletin of the day and maybe the year. It came from Reuters the day after the president and lame-duck-in-chief of the United States threw still another of his monkey wrenches into the economy, particularly investment in it:

REUTERS -- AT&T will pause investments to bring fiber connections to 100 cities until U.S. regulators iron out rules to regulate how Internet service providers manage their Web traffic, the company's chief executive told investors Wednesday. "We can't go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed," CEO Randall Stephenson said.

Well, sure. Nothing undermines investors' confidence in their investment like having a pall of uncertainty thrown over it. And that's just what our president has done by his latest disservice to the American economy. As if he were buoyed by his party's dramatic defeat in the midterms, the current occupant of the White House announced plans to move the regulation of the country's internet, which has thrived largely because of no regulation at all, back to 1930s -- if not before.

As if nostalgic for the Great Depression, or at least the Great Recession only a few years ago, Barack Obama proposes to regulate the Internet the way any public utility might have been policed almost a century ago, requiring it to have government approval for any and all rate changes, service fees and, well, you know the fulsome rest. What we have here is the perfect model for stifling competition and innovation. To sum up Barack Obama's message to the American economy: Whoa!

What, you didn't know your little old personal computer, or maybe your iPhone these days, was a public utility? Neither did all those outfits using it to offer you, via the Internet, a long list of new services, an ocean of information, conveniences in general, and who knows what all in the future. (Have you tried the app to get Uber or Lyft to pick you up lately?)

But our president, as out of it as ever, knows better. Or at least believes the all-knowing Federal Communications Commission does. No wonder outfits like AT&T are putting the brakes on their investment -- and the jobs and general economic growth that follow investment.

Suddenly, all that investment has been clouded by a president innocent of any experience in business, or maybe the most basic lessons of Economics 101. Which may be why he consistently proposes anything but freedom for an economy straining against the chains he's put on it. The man is an expert -- at bringing a recovering economy to a screeching halt. Beginning with investors' confidence.

But stay strong and hold on to this thought: Only two more years to go! And then the country may have a new beginning. The way it did when a president who believed in freedom -- his name was Reagan -- took the reins from a failed one whose major contribution to the American economy was a whole new vocabulary of defeatism, from malaise to stagflation. Remember all that? Please, let's not go there again. And if we must put still more chains on the American economy during what's left of this president's tenure, then remember that what's done can be undone.

No, the country doesn't have to live forever with a sixth of the economy -- the whole massive government-industrial health-care complex -- subject to the latest whim, waiver, and sudden diktat of a theorist in the White House. This week he proposed bringing back an economic model that was antiquated even in the 1930s. Think of the NRA, the Blue Eagle, "We Do Our Part!" and all that bureaucratic mess. You'd think by now that Americans had learned better. The latest election returns indicate that we have. But our president hasn't.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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