"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Tuesday, December 21, 2004
  Quotations from the Chairman
I just finished reading over a revealing interview with FCC Chairman Michael Powell by the folks at Reason (hat tip: Instapundit). The following are some of the more interesting portions of the exchange:

The Chairman on the "Sovereignty" of the People
The indecency laws, first of all, are statutes. The people of the United States, through legislation, have made indecent speech between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. over only one medium, broadcasting, unlawful. They have invested in this commission authority to enforce that law. The commission does it in response to the complaints from the public. Many people have tried to argue that we should be like the FBI on indecency and be affirmative, that we should go out and listen to television and radio. We don’t do that. We wait for the American people to complain, and then we act on complaints. What has happened in the period you’ve identified is indecency complaints have skyrocketed.
The Chairman on the Status of the Airwaves
Reason: Do you think it’s appropriate that radio broadcasters have to meet a different standard than, say, a filmmaker when it comes to indecency or profanity?

Powell: This goes back to, do I think that the First Amendment should be less protective of broadcasting than it should be of cable? I don’t particularly.

I can make an argument that radio is free. I can make the argument the Supreme Court has made: It’s the one medium that uses a public asset and resource, as opposed to being purely private. The airwaves belong to the United States government and you license use. They’re the public’s airwaves.

Reason: Should the airwaves belong to the United States government?

Powell: That battle was over in 1920. You could’ve argued that there should have been a private property model of spectrum, and many people have written brilliant articles about how you could have done that. Ronald Coase won the Nobel Prize for arguing that. But I can’t live in every century. Nearly 100 years ago, Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce decided the airwaves belong to the public.
The Chairman on Laissez-Faire and Antitrust
Reason: If Clear Channel suddenly owns six, seven, or, under a different regime, a dozen radio stations within the same market, is that something people should worry about?

Powell: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something the commission worried about. It’s rarely reported, but we tightened the radio rules. I hate when people describe my views as laissez faire, because I don’t think there’s any such thing. Capitalism would not work without the rule of law, and it would not work without certain understandings about rules and limitations.

I’m an antitrust lawyer. I completely accept that concentration at some measurable level becomes anti-competitive and harmful to the American consumer.

Reason: Can you give an example of that?

Powell: There’s Standard Oil.

Reason: Most of the revisionist histories of Standard Oil show that by the time it had its maximum market penetration, it was actually charging less for oil.

Powell: You may know more about the specifics of Standard Oil than I. But I do believe in the cases and the theories that show that at a certain level of monopolistic control people can extract monopoly rents and affect output in a way that harms the American consumer.

I think the United States, more than any other nation in the world, has got antitrust right. The presumption is business is OK. The presumption is mergers are not in and of themselves bad. People forget that monopoly isn’t even illegal. The only thing we’re looking for is whether the monopoly actually causes anti-competitive effects that are measurable on consumers. I’ve worked at the antitrust division. I’ve seen cases where we believed unequivocally that it did. You can find them. You could find the price increases, you can find the data that would demonstrate that and that you needed to do something about it.

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