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Industry and Government's Solutions and Challenges

Moderator: Jeffrey A. Eisenach
President, The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Remarks at the 2000 Global Internet Summit
George Mason University
March 14, 2000

It is an honor for me to be here.

Isn’t this fabulous. Jim Poisant, Brad Brown, Mark Grady, Alan Merten, Don Upson, Tom Bliley, Jim Gilmore. (Applause)

Yesterday was largely about the role of the private sector. Today, this morning, we begin with a discussion that will by its nature focus more on the role of government. As a libertarian, I want to speak for just a minute in defense of that role.

It is especially appropriate to do so here at this great institution named after the man who was in many ways the greatest of America’s founding fathers: George Mason – father of the bill of rights, who opposed the Constitution because it did not, as originally adopted, contain those essential first ten amendments.

Mason was no fan of government. "There never was a government over a very extensive country," he once said, "without [it] destroying the liberties of the people."

In Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, the precursor to the Bill of Rights, Mason wrote that

"all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which. . . they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

But Mason also wrote that "government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community."

Adopted unanimously June 12, 1776
Virginia Convention of Delegates
drafted by Mr. George Mason

In so doing, he presaged the words of our Constitution: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

For 200 years, Americans have met the challenge of taking those words and those concepts and making them work – across a Civil War, an Industrial Revolution, two world wars and the great challenge of collectivism known as Communism.

Now we face a new set of challenges, and indeed, we meet here today as part of a great effort – a global effort now – to once again endow the timeless principles of our founding with the living breath of law and practice for our time and for our lives.

The challenge we face is not to rail foolishly against government, to imagine that somehow "cyberspace will make all government irrelevant," as I have heard some say. That is not a goal we could have, nor one we would want if we could. "If all men were angels," Madison wrote in the Federalists, "no government would be necessary." But of course that future remains unfulfilled, doesn’t it.

In 1994, The Progress & Freedom Foundation published a document audaciously entitled a "Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age." Co- authored by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, Alvin Toffler and by our Chairman, Jay Keyworth, the Magna Carta is still available on our Web site, where it remains the most frequently downloaded document there.

"Government," we said then, "should be as strong and as big as it needs to be to accomplish its central functions effectively and efficiently. The reality is that a Third Wave government will be vastly smaller (perhaps by 50 percent or more) than the current one -- this is an inevitable implication of the transition from the centralized power structures of the industrial age to the dispersed, decentralized institutions of the Third. But smaller government does not imply weak government; nor does arguing for smaller government require being "against" government for narrowly ideological reasons. Indeed, the transition from the Second Wave to the Third Wave will require a level of government activity not seen since the New Deal."

And we included an interesting quotation: "It is the proper task of government to protect individual rights and, as part of it, formulate the laws by which these rights are to be implemented and adjudicated. It is the government's responsibility to define the application of individual rights to a given sphere of activity -- to define (i.e. to identify), not create, invent, donate, or expropriate. The question of defining the application of property rights has arisen frequently, in the wake of oil rights, vertical space rights, etc. In most cases, the American government has been guided by the proper principle: It sought to protect all the individual rights involved, not to abrogate them." That quotation, you may be surprised to learn, is from the icon, the paragon of libertarian throught, Ayn Rand.

Now, this morning, we hear from five leaders who are actively engaged in deciding what all this means for these new times – not in theory, not in some futurist’s tome or some legal philosopher’s textbook, but in the hard choices of legislation and execution – in the real and messy world of dealing with real issues in real time in the real world.

In reverse order, they are: Bob Goodlatte, Rick Boucher, Steven Cole, Michael Vatis, Orson Swindle.



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