Gary North on current economic affairs and investment marketsGary North -- Specific Answers
HomeContact MeTell a FriendText SizeSearchMember Area
Gain immediate access to all of our current articles, the question-and-answer forums, dozens of free books, and article archives. Click here for details on how to join.

About This Site
Academic Gaps
Capitalism and the Bible
Christian Economics
Clichés of Protectionism
College Finances
Debt Management
Ellen Brown: Critique
Federal Reserve Charts
Gary North's Free Books
Get Published Here!
Gold Price & My Report
Keynes Project
One Lesson
Price Index (U.S.A.)
Questions for Jim Wallis
Remnant Review
Social Security/Medicare
Sustained Revival
Tea Party Economist
U.S. Debt Clock
Yield Curve
Your YouTube Channel
Gary North's Miscellany
Budgeting for Wealth
Business Start-Up
Career Advancement
Digital Tools
Education That Works
Evernote: Free Notes
Federal Reserve Policy
Fireproof Your Job
Goal-Setting for Success
Great Default
Inheritance Strategies
International Investing
Investment Basics
Job and Calling
Keynesian Economics
Marketing Case Studies
Precious Metals
Real Estate
Safe Places
State of the Economy
Stocks and Bonds
Study Habits
Video Channel Profits
Members' Free Manuals
Our Products
Contact Me
Tell a Friend
Text Size
Your Account
My 100% Guarantee
Privacy Policy
Terms of Use

This site powered by MemberGate
home | Tea Party Economist | Happy Birthday, Web

Happy Birthday, Web

Gary North - March 12, 2014
Printer-Friendly Format

Today is the 25th anniversary of the most important invention that any individual ever came up with: the World Wide Web. Not even Gutenberg matched it. Korea had moveable type two centuries before he invented it.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web, all by himself, on March 12, 1989. Then he implemented it over the next two years.

He did not patent the idea. He gave it away. He changed the world, mostly for the better.

He converted an invention of the United States government's DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- into a decentralized, international institution that represents the greatest threat to political centralization in man's history.

The Web is the incarnation of what F. A. Hayek called the spontaneous order. Out of a decentralized system of communication comes a series of mini-orders created by individuals. There is no central planning committee. The Web is the antithesis of a planning committee. Yet there is order at our fingertips.

The Web gives the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency enormous power to spy on the world. It also gave one man, Edward Snowden, the power to expose the spies as no one ever had before. Never before in the history of the spooks has there been this much bad publicity. One man did it.

Today, the lead story on Google News was this: Feinstein shifts tone in calling out CIA search. Senator Feinstein had been the Senate's leading cheerleader in its use of the Web for snooping. Then she found out that she and her colleagues in Congress have been the targets. She is now on a rampage against the CIA. The story is all over the Web.

The head of the CIA insists that the CIA never spied on Congress. No one believes him, especially no one in Congress.

The Web has changed our world, and it will change it far more. That is because no one owns it as a whole. No one controls it. But its parts are privately owned. It is customer-centric. The users are in control.


In an article in Britain's Left-wing Guardian, the author bewails these aspects of the Web. They are the reasons I cheer it. These are the reasons it has changed our lives for the better. They all boil down to this fact: The state does not control it.

His first observation is true, and he applauds it.

1 The importance of "permissionless innovation"

The thing that is most extraordinary about the internet is the way it enables permissionless innovation. This stems from two epoch-making design decisions made by its creators in the early 1970s: that there would be no central ownership or control; and that the network would not be optimised for any particular application: all it would do is take in data-packets from an application at one end, and do its best to deliver those packets to their destination.

It was entirely agnostic about the contents of those packets. If you had an idea for an application that could be realised using data-packets (and were smart enough to write the necessary software) then the network would do it for you with no questions asked. This had the effect of dramatically lowering the bar for innovation, and it resulted in an explosion of creativity.

What the designers of the internet created, in effect, was a global machine for springing surprises. The web was the first really big surprise and it came from an individual -- Tim Berners-Lee -- who, with a small group of helpers, wrote the necessary software and designed the protocols needed to implement the idea. And then he launched it on the world by putting it on the Cern internet server in 1991, without having to ask anybody's permission.

In short, it is the product of one man's creativity -- not a committee.

This bothers him: free men are using a government-invented system to make profits. The horror!

3 The importance of having a network that is free and open

The internet was created by government and runs on open source software. Nobody "owns" it. Yet on this "free" foundation, colossal enterprises and fortunes have been built -- a fact that the neoliberal fanatics who run internet companies often seem to forget. Berners-Lee could have been as rich as Croesus if he had viewed the web as a commercial opportunity.

I am such a fanatic. Whenever individuals can appropriate a government-funded project, profiting from it by removing it from government control, I'm in favor of it.

A free man gave something away. He took a government-funded operation, which was designed to overcome the threat of a nuclear bomb on a centralized military communications system -- and made it productive. In short, he made tax money productive. In doing so, he reduced government power. This horrifies our critic.

4 Many of the things that are built on the web are neither free nor open

Mark Zuckerberg was able to build Facebook because the web was free and open. But he hasn't returned the compliment: his creation is not a platform from which young innovators can freely spring the next set of surprises. The same holds for most of the others who have built fortunes from exploiting the facilities offered by the web. The only real exception is Wikipedia.

This has placed private ownership at the top of the benefits of the Web. Private ownership unleashed has enormous creativity. It has mobilized the spontaneous order, merely by making opportunities available to all comers.

7 Power laws rule

In many areas of life, the law of averages applies -- most things are statistically distributed in a pattern that looks like a bell. This pattern is called the "normal distribution". Take human height. Most people are of average height and there are relatively small number of very tall and very short people. But very few -- if any -- online phenomena follow a normal distribution. Instead they follow what statisticians call a power law distribution, which is why a very small number of the billions of websites in the world attract the overwhelming bulk of the traffic while the long tail of other websites has very little.

Pareto's 20-80 law governs the Web. Surprise, surprise! It dominates many things. It is an order that emerges out of an unplanned environment. Why should anyone complain? But this horrifies our critic. Why? Because of this:

8 The web is now dominated by corporations

Despite the fact that anybody can launch a website, the vast majority of the top 100 websites are run by corporations. The only real exception is Wikipedia.

Private enterprise has make the customer king of the Web, and therefore king of the Internet. This has passed control to individuals. The corporations must serve individuals. Individuals decide what they want the Web to do for them. The government does not.

This is the heart of liberty:

9 Web dominance gives companies awesome (and unregulated) powers

Take Google, the dominant search engine. If a Google search doesn't find your site, then in effect you don't exist. And this will get worse as more of the world's business moves online. Every so often, Google tweaks its search algorithms in order to thwart those who are trying to "game" them in what's called search engine optimisation. Every time Google rolls out the new tweaks, however, entrepreneurs and organisations find that their online business or service suffers or disappears altogether. And there's no real comeback for them.

The public likes to use Google. Google makes money because it serves customers. Producers try to game the system; then Google takes away their advantage. This is exactly what I want as a consumer.

10 The web has become a memory prosthesis for the world

Have you noticed how you no longer try to remember some things because you know that if you need to retrieve them you can do so just by Googling?

Plato made the same argument against writing. I remember this, because I read it somewhere. I don't know where. But I can find out on the Web. So can you. I won't bother. If you do not believe me, you can follow Casey Stengel's dictum. You can look it up.

Because of the profit-seeking nature of the decentralized Web, this is true:

12 The web has unleashed a wave of human creativity

Before the web, "ordinary" people could publish their ideas and creations only if they could persuade media gatekeepers (editors, publishers, broadcasters) to give them prominence. But the web has given people a global publishing platform for their writing (Blogger, Wordpress, Typepad, Tumblr), photographs (Flickr, Picasa, Facebook), audio and video (YouTube, Vimeo); and people have leapt at the opportunity.

There are causes. There are effects. Our critic does not like the causes, but he likes the effect. That is, he is a Leftist. They have been the free market's free riders for over two centuries. They have been blessed by liberty, and they have used this liberty to attack the economic institution that gave them liberty: the free market.

He worries about the environment. He says no one knows what the Web is doing to the environment, but he is worried. That is because he is a Leftist. He worries about the environment, even though he does not understand cause and effect.

20 The web has an impact on the environment. We just don't know how big it is

The web is largely powered by huge server farms located all over the world that need large quantities of electricity for computers and cooling. (Not to mention the carbon footprint and natural resource costs of the construction of these installations.) Nobody really knows what the overall environmental impact of the web is, but it's definitely non-trivial. A couple of years ago, Google claimed that its carbon footprint was on a par with that of Laos or the United Nations. The company now claims that each of its users is responsible for about eight grams of carbon dioxide emissions every day. Facebook claims that, despite its users' more intensive engagement with the service, it has a significantly lower carbon footprint than Google.

Keep those servers absorbing electricity! Keep those carbon footprints growing! As long as companies are keeping customers happy, the spontaneous order will continue to displace the governments' central planners. The free market's decentralized invisible hand will continue to place ever-tighter limits on the government's centralized visible hand. If this takes a little extra carbon -- or extra nuclear power -- so be it. It is a small price to pay.


The Web is overcoming the Left. It is delivering information to customers and their servants, profit-seeking corporations. It is making it difficult for the government's bureaucrats to hide. Even Diane Feinstein is slowly catching on.

The mainstream media are fading in importance. They are being pushed out into the "long tail." Matt Drudge has more leverage than any television network -- surely more than CNN and MSNBC combined. The public has spoken.

It will continue to speak.

Happy Birthday, Web. May you have many more!

Printer-Friendly Format

 Tip of the Week
Sign up for my free
Tip of the Week
Verification Characters:    Type     G  G  X  R  9     here   

Tip of the week archives
On what this icon
means, and how it
can help you,
click here
 Q & A Forums
General Q&A Forum
Advertising and Resumés
American History Topics
Backyard Food Gardening
Banking and Politics
Blog Sites and Web Sites
Books Worth Reading
Bumper Sticker Slogans
Business Forum
Buying Smart
Christian Service Forum
College -- The Cheap Way
Education Alternatives
Food Storage
For Women Only
GNC Benefits
GNC Testimonials
Gold and Silver
Great Default Forum
Health and Diet
Health Insurance
Investments Forum
Iran War
Job, Calling, and Career
Leadership Development
Legacy Building
Less Dependent Living
Local Political Action
Non-Retirement Forum
One Good Idea
Police State
Public Speaking
Real Estate Forum
Remnant Review Forum
Safe Places Forum
Taxation Policy
Typographical Errors
Video Production Basics

Reality Check
 Discussion Forum
Search Discussion

Recent Forum Posts
• Cashing in 401k??
• Rare Coins vs. Gold
• ETrade Dumping Global Trading
• The New World Order Just Got a Wake-Up Call
• Are rates rising or falling ?
• The Next Market Crash article
• Gary, what IS your long term investment outlook?
• Trailer parks as a sound investment
• Prices for US treasuries headed south?
• Copper
• Negative interest rates
• Looking for educational material
• Safe currencies to hold
• Benjamin Graham?
• A Motif masochist investor asks
• Buy or Rent for a Young Family
• Raising Rent
• Financing vehicles
• Sell or Rent with Recession on the Horizon
• VA Home Loan
• House flippers are back with Wall St help
• Is there a large brokerage you recommend.
• Ever hear of Exit Realty?
• What commission do you think a broker should get?
• Capital gains
• Developing a mobile home park
• Word press plug in
• Rent controls in mass inflation:where to go?
• How to calculate ROI for a rental property?
• How should I sell a house?
• Let's not make a deal!
• US Pop update: 78% pop decline by 2025 !
• Price Book- End of America
• Time to leave America while you still can ?
• Impact Fees for New Florida Residents
• New Hampshire and Florida
• Ecuador and PR
• Survivor library
• Missle Silo converted to Condos
• Does the South suck?
• Moving TO the US?
• No City for Old People
• Will you die getting to your bug out location?
• teaching English overseas - some questions
• The state with the most Liberty
• Kurzweil on Financial Times
• Why is this fantasy world stuff?
• One change could help saving for retirement
• Forced retirement - lump sum - legal work
• Moving Retirement Funds
• Sudden Wealth Advice
• Sudden Wealth Advice
• Question on Traditional Pensions
• advice on how do I interact with my older parents?
• Do You Sincerely Want to Be Rich? Why?
• Req. For No 401(k)/Other Pensions via Relocatio
• Cashing out 401K to pay student debt?
• SS @ 62 and still working
• Desolation or Prosperity?
• I take it Retirement Armageddon is not available
• Fine for refusing to bake a cake for gay couple
• TPP trade bill whats the senate bill number?
• Free Screening: The Greenhouse of the Future
• Learning to program
• A Way to Brew Morphine Raises Concerns Over Regula
• New McDonald’s In Phoenix Run Entirely By Robots
• Video: Trumpet-Like Sounds, Worldwide
• This just in ...
• No kidding?
• Osama and me article
• Cartel busting by Uber
• Top universities want you to homeschool
• Someone argues that God sustains without job
• State deficits
• Bank pays you for Mortgage
• Loyalty
• Small business loans
• Metrics for growth of online education?
• How to best build email list of High Net Worths
• Competing where no one wants to
• A Low-Cost Weekend Business to Retire Into
• Questions for small business owners
• Leasing Question
• New Motor Technbology
• MBA programs that get you where you want to go
• a different marketing - using academia
• Video Interview Equipment
• Beginner Business Structure
• Apply 80/20
• Good Recruiting wins Championships = $$$