A La Carte Regulation of Pay TV: Good Intentions vs. Good Economics

In his insightful works on political economy, Professor Thomas Sowell warns of the dangers of lawmakers allowing good intentions to trump good economics when crafting public policy. It is a theme which Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and others articulated before him, of course, but Sowell has more fully developed this cautionary principle in books like A Conflict of Visions and The Vision of the Anointed. Sowell teaches us that noble intentions alone do not necessarily translate into sound public policy, and cautions against the hubris that leads policymakers to believe that they can easily improve on market outcomes. Even the best-intentioned policies can spawn unintended consequences, giving rise to still more regulatory interventions as policymakers seek to rectify past mistakes.

This Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be wise to heed Sowell's advice in the ongoing debate over "a la carte" regulation of cable and satellite television networks and programming. The notion - giving consumers the right to pay for only the cable TV channels they want, without having to purchase a full bundle - is highly appealing on the surface, and well-intended advocates on both sides of the political divide, including the Consumer Federation of America's Mark Cooper and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, are no doubt acting out of the best intentions. But a closer look suggests that a la carte regulation would be a classic case of what we refer to as Sowell's Law of Wishful Thinking. Indeed, it would likely have the exact opposite effects of what its proponents intend, leaving consumers and families worse off than they are today.

A La Carte and Good Intentions (Eisenach-Thierer)

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