October 18, 2003


Keep government out of spam protection (Alex Singleton, 10/17/03, Adam Smith Blog)

Milton Friedman said that the government solution to a problem is usually worse than the problem. It's certainly true in the area of unsolicited e-mail. There are two government approaches being advocated, neither of which will work.

Mr. Singleton, we think correctly, suggests the free market is the more apprpopriate way to deal with the problem of spam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2003 6:11 AM

Sure, sure, good classical thinking and pragmatic to boot, but I find it offensive that I must continually fork out money for technological gadgets to protect me and my family from other technological gadgets. Isn't pest control a traditional, legitimate function of the state?

The argument that enforcement would be difficult and inefficient can only take you so far. It can be used to defend repealing copyright laws, legalizing drug and arms importation and giving up on kiddie porn. The issue is how offensive really is spam (or telemarketing), and if the answer is "Very", then the state should act. I'm not convinced they are (yet) quite the intolerable invasions many hold.

Posted by: Peter B at October 18, 2003 6:38 AM

If you get termites does the government purge them?

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2003 6:41 AM

The free market approach to spam is... To let it flourish. As spam is free to send, at the margins, a response rate of one in a million can be sufficient to make it worth the spammer's while. At the same time, it costs one million people a collective $10,000 worth of productivity to deal with ONE message.
Which suggests that the most expedient way to deal with spammers is to hire Ninjas to track them down and execute them.

All I've read about the spam problem says that there are a very few people sending out over 90% of the messages, so putting a ten million dollar bounty on each of their heads would actually be quite a bargain.
The free market rules again.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2003 8:15 AM


Blacklisting? You really are coming to the Dark Side.

Posted by: oj at October 18, 2003 8:25 AM

What is the problem with spam? Is it such a massive effort to push the delete key? Are people getting carpal tunnel syndrome from deleting all of their unwanted mail?

This is just a case of politicians in search of a campaign issue.

Posted by: Robert D at October 18, 2003 1:47 PM

Peter B;

Either you're an idiot or overall, despite the extra money you spend on protective electronic devices, you consider it worth the money. You could drop off the internet and stop read e-mail entirely and you'd never get another electronic spam. That fact that you're still here means that despite the spam deluge you think you're still ahead of the game.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at October 18, 2003 8:18 PM


I don't disagree in principle with that (except for the part about being an idiot). But how realsitic or inclusive an answer is it to keep telling ordinary folk to "turn off the computer/TV/telephone, etc." when spam/tasteless shows/telemarketers, etc. start becoming repetitive or extremely annoying? I don't think inviting someone to join the Amish should be the final word.

The question should be: "Does the majority feel these are oppressive enough to be banned and/or regulated and is it really prepared to pay for that action?" No need to bring in the constitution or Hobbes and Smith. Personally I do not feel particularly oppressed by either spam or telemarketing, and would vote no, but I can easily envisage circumstances under which I would change my mind.


Termites in my house, no. Rats throughout the community, yes.

Posted by: Peter B at October 19, 2003 5:16 AM