CEI: Blumenthal the Baptist, MySpace the bootlegger

John O'Brien Mar. 13, 2007, 4:04pm


HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal wants more regulations on social-networking Internet sites.

So too, strangely enough, might MySpace.com, the leader of such sites.

"This is a common theme in regulatory policy that was first espoused by Bruce Yandle of Clemson University," said Cord Blomquist, the assistant to Competitive Enterprise Institute President Fred Smith Jr. The CEI is non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government

"He referred to this phenomenon as 'Baptists and Bootleggers.' That's because blue laws that forbid the sale of alcohol on Sundays were pushed by both Baptists and bootleggers. Baptists, of course, did this for strictly moral reasons.

"Meanwhile, bootleggers made a killing selling booze on Sundays as they had no competition from legally run liquor stores. This allowed politicians who supported such laws to maintain an upright appearance while taking contributions from bootleggers."

Don't misunderstand, though. Blomquist certainly isn't making any suggestions of bribery or that MySpace needs to bootleg its product -- in fact, MySpace has spoken against the regulatory legislation Blumenthal has proposed to his state that would require more stringent age-verification techniques on social-networking sites in an effort to thwart sexual predators.

The point Blomquist makes is that only the bigger companies, like MySpace and Xanga, will have the financial wherewithal to survive the regulations. When smaller companies have to disband, those customers will flock to the MySpaces of the world.

"A recent case of this can be found in the (Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement)," Blomquist said. "(The Food and Drug Administration) wants to regulate tobacco, and, oddly enough, big tobacco is in favor of this. Why?

"Because large tobacco firms can afford the costs of regulation, while small tobacco firms cannot. This means that small tobacco companies will be regulated out of existence, leaving more consumers for the large tobacco firms."

But just because everybody wins (except those small businesses that go bankrupt), don't think Blomquist, also the editor-in-chief of philosophyofliberty.org, is happy with what Blumenthal is trying to do.

The legislation violates the right to free speech and the right to assembly, he said.

"Just as we'd find it unacceptable to have to register to meet with our friends in a public square or a private restaurant, we should find it equally worrisome that (Blumenthal) and his supporters would like us to register for the virtual equivalents," he said.

"Assembly should not be limited to politics, just like speech should not be."

Blumenthal is leading a coalition of 44 attorneys general that is hoping to make it tougher for underage girls and boys to register. Civil penalties will be assessed to the site if an underage user who did not either have his or her age checked or obtain permission from a parent is found.

By including so many attorneys general, Blomquist said Blumenthal is working around the problem of disparate regulations from state to state.

"Connecticut alone cannot force social-networking sites to collect age information, but a coalition of states can," he said.

If Blumenthal wants sexual abuse to slow down, Blomquist thinks he should focus on the laws already on the books.

"In this case, Mr. Blumenthal is criminalizing a non-violent act with no victim," he said. "That is, he's making blogging without a license illegal. He should be focused on the executive function of his job, namely crime-prevention activities and enforcing the existing laws against sexual predators.

"These laws are already harsh, and rightfully so. However, I don't think that simply saying that a law is anti-pedophile gives a legislator a blank check to institute sweeping changes in an entire sector of the economy and to trample civil rights."

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