Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Standing Up—Layne St. Julien

It probably goes without saying that I really like this letter. And yes, we are related--by marriage.

The point Layne makes is exactly the right one:
David's argument goes wrong at the point where he overlooks the fact that there is no free-market competition for telecom services in Lafayette now. This is exactly why Lafayette was not in line to get fiber until LUS hatched its Fiber For The Future plan. What we have here today, in effect, is two side-by-side monopolies, Cox and BellSouth, who don't have to upgrade their services or lower their prices to keep us as customers because there are no other providers. And they've gone so far as to try to pass laws to keep it that way.
Anyone who thinks the "free market" should provide fiber optic services misses the point that there is no free market in any telecommunications service in Lafayette and that Lafayette won't begin to look like it has a free market—one with the attendent decreases in price and increases in service—until LUS provides the first real competition in both the phone and the cable segments.

Now I know that will just sound crazy to some folks: LUS is government! How can they be participants in the free enterprise system? No Way!

Well, there is a way, but you have to reason about it differently from how the ideologs tend to reason.

There are roughly two sorts of ways to think about things like this: those who reason from first cause and those who reason from consequence. (Sorry for the jargon, stick with me for a minute...I hope the distinction will prove useful.) Those who reason from first cause require the world to be broken up into distinct categories, into black and white, and connected according to rigid rules. If you know the categories and rules, you just deduce whatever it is you want to know. This is the mindset of classical mathematics; philosophers called a related pattern idealism. On the other hand, those who reason from consequence are more likely to notice that you can't usually draw hard and fast lines between categories and that the rules describe rather than prescribe regularities in relationships. They recognize that we actually are most attuned to consequence: we try things and wait to see what happens. Then we decide what to do based on what has actually happened—not our preconceptions as to what should have happened. We make our real decisions based on the consequences we observe. This is the mindset of classical science and philosophers called the related pattern empiricism.

(The point, please? Ok, I'm getting there.) Well, folks who think ideally, who reason from first cause and rigid categories, can't begin to see how we have anything but free enterprise because we have private companies offering goods for sale. That's enough for them to know: it fits the definition. On the other hand, folks who reason from consequence look around and notice that the world isn't so neat and that the consequences of free enterprise, the reasons we actually like it, that competition for our business, is not actually happening. From their point of view (and mine, and Layne's), there is no free enterprise where there are none of the desirable fruits of free enterprise.

From this second point of view LUS would be providing the first signs of an actual free market in telecom—complete with lower prices and better service. LUS will be bringing free enterprise in telecom to Lafayette . . . not in any way "hurting" it.

I'm a proponent of the old adage of "By your fruits shall you know it." And I think it's the right way to reason about our situation. So it's not so crazy to say:

LUS is bringing free enterprise to the Lafayette market. Kudos to Layne for saying it right out loud.


(Sorry, folks, for the foray into philosophy, sometimes there just doesn't seem to be a better way. I'll try and keep it down. :-) )

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