Fans of tax-funded investment often cite the Internet as an example of the good that government can do. Sure, they say, the Net now has uncountable millions of components, from Web sites to computer networks large and small. But if it hadn’t been for those first critical investments by the government, we wouldn’t have the Internet today. Politicians from Vice President Al Gore to Speaker Newt Gingrich now call for more such investments by the government—and the taxes to fund them. We must find and identify promising new technologies and invest in them to build tomorrow’s information infrastructure, they tell us, a task too important to be left to private enterprise.
The actual history of the Internet suggests that this is far from accurate. The Internet today bears little resemblance either to what the government wanted to build or to what it actually built.. If anything, therefore, the Internet represents the success of spontaneous ordering over central planning, not the successful design of a new technology by the state.