When Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) proposed and passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act forty years ago, he almost certainly believed that the law would fix the problems he cited in introducing it. It hasn’t. The bulk of the difficulties he saw in credit reporting still exist today, at least to hear consumer advocates tell it.
Advocates of sweeping privacy legislation and other regulation of the information economy would do well to heed the lessons offered by the FCRA. Top-down federal regulation isn’t up to the task of designing the information society. That’s the upshot of my new Policy Analysis, “Reputation under Regulation: The Fair Credit Reporting Act at 40 and Lessons for the Internet Privacy Debate.” In it, I compare Senator Proxmire’s goals for the credit reporting industry when he introduced the FCRA in 1969 against the results of the law today. Most of the problems that existed then persist today. Some problems with credit reporting have abated and some new problems have emerged.
Credit reporting is a complicated information business. Challenges come from identity issues, judgments about biography, and the many nuances of fairness. But credit reporting is simple compared to today’s expanding and shifting information environment.
“Experience with the Fair Credit Reporting Act counsels caution with respect to regulating information businesses,” I write in the paper. “The federal legislators, regulators, and consumer advocates who echo Senator Proxmire’s earnest desire to help do not necessarily know how to solve these problems any better than he did.”
Management of the information economy should be left to the people who are together building it and using it, not to government authorities. This is not because information collection, processing, and use are free of problems, but because regulation is ill-equipped to solve them.
John Samples wrote about equality and political speech, particularly attempts to increase the former by restricting the latter. “Tax financing of campaigns is a lot like establishing a religion: citizens are forced to act contrary to their deepest convictions in service to some alleged greater good,” Samples wrote. “I assume that such compulsion has no place in a liberal society.”
Jason Kuznicki blogged about NPR’s recent story on Ayn Rand, writing, “If you don’t like what you hear about Ayn Rand in this story, you probably won’t like her, either. If you do like what you hear, or if you just find it intriguing, then you should definitely read further.”
Over at PolicyMic, Cato scholar Daniel J. Mitchell debates Demos co-founder David Callahan on whether massive government bailouts saved us from a second Great Depression, or plunged the economy into a prolonged recession that hurt taxpayers and undermined the self-corrective mechanisms of the market. Mitchell argues:
The Bush-Obama policies of bailouts and regulation have been bad for taxpayers, but they’ve also been bad for the economy.
David Friedman, the author of Hidden Order, Law’s Order, and Future Imperfect, will speak at the Cato Institute on Tuesday, November 29, at noon. His topic will be “The Market for Law.”
Is there a market for good law? Without the state providing law, could it be offered by multiple, private, and competing agencies? David Friedman, professor of law at Santa Clara University, explored this idea in his classic 1973 book, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism. But in the years since, he’s revised and strengthened some of his theories. In this talk, he will offer these new ideas from the last 30 years of thinking about the market for law.
David Friedman is always interesting and provocative. Register now! And note: because of our ongoing expansion project, this event will be held one block east of Cato at the Undercroft Auditorium, 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
If you haven’t already visited our new website, Libertarianism.org, you should check it out. And if you have already visited, note that there’s new material going up all the time. One of the most interesting parts of the site for long-time libertarians will be a continuing stream of never-before-seen videos of talks by F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Joan Kennedy Taylor, and more. In his 1983 lecture, Hayek talks about the evolution of morality. In a 1990 talk to the International Society for Individual Liberty, Friedman chides Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises for what he considers dogmatism and an absence of humility. I was at that speech, and I remember it generated a lot of discussion afterward.
But there’s more! Weekly columns on the history of libertarian ideas by George H. Smith. Classic essays from Robert Nozick, Julian Simon, and Milton Friedman – not to mention Herbert Spencer, Alexis de Tocqueville, Adam Smith, and Mary Wollstonecraft – on various aspects of liberty. Recommended reading lists on introductory books, libertarian theory, history, and the most incisive critics of libertarianism. And of course I can’t resist recommending my own 20-minute talk, exclusive to Libertarianism.org, “An Introduction to Libertarian Thought,” in our video series Exploring Liberty.
More “Exploring Liberty” videos will be coming soon. Editor Aaron Ross Powell has written an introductory blog post with highlights – but I encourage you to just click over and look around. And over the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we’ll be adding much more to Libertarianism.org, including new videos, books, and essays. If you’d like to stay up to date, we’re on Facebook and Twitter.