CHAPTER FIVE •
tate public policy. In the end, it is indispensable to preserve free markets against those pressures. But if citizens are attempting to promote their own aspirations, they might well be able to make those markets work better; and it is certainly important to listen to what they have to say.
Unanimity and Majority Rule
Arguments based on citizens' collective desires are irresistible if the measure at issue is adopted unanimously-if all citizens are for it. But more serious difficulties are produced if (as is usual) the law imposes on a minority what it regards as a burden rather than a benefit. Suppose, for example, that a majority wants to require free television time for candidates or to have three hours of educational programming for children each week-but that a minority objects, contending that it is indifferent to speech by candidates, and that it does not care if there is more educational programming for children. It might be thought that those who perceive a need to bind themselves to some obligation, or to a course of action of some kind, should not be permitted to do so if the consequence is to bind others who perceive no such need.
Any interference with the preferences of the minority is indeed unfortunate, and in the end it might be a decisive objection. But we need to investigate the context. In general, it is difficult to see what argument there might be for an across-the-board rule against modest democratic efforts to improve the communications market. If the majority is prohibited from promoting its aspirations or vindicating its considered judgments through legislation, people will be less able to engage in democratic self-government. The choice is between the considered judgments of the majority and the
preferences of the minority. I am not suggesting, of course, that the minority should be foreclosed where its rights are genuinely at risk.
Unhappy Sovereigns: The Consumption Treadmill
Throughout the discussion I have assumed that insofar as people are indeed acting as consumers, new communications technologies are an unambiguous boon. This is a widespread assumption, and it is easy to see why. If you want to buy anything at all, it has become much easier to do so. If you'd like a Toyota Camry, a Honda Accord, or a sports utility vehicle, many sites are available for the purpose; wallets, watches, and wristbands are easily found online; shirts and sweaters can be purchased in seconds. Nor is convenience the only point. As a result of the Internet, ordinary people have a much greater range of choices, and competitive pressures are, in a sense, far more intense for producers. lust to take one example, priceline.com allows you to "Name Your Own Price" for airline tickets, hotel rooms, groceries, new cars, mortgages, rental cars, sporting goods, strollers, swings, televisions, exercise equipment, and much more. Recall Anderson's celebration of "the long tail"; people with unusual tastes are now able to find what they want, overcoming the barriers of space that limit the options in bookstores, movie theaters, and much more.
Indeed the growth of options for consumers has been a prime engine behind the growth of the Internet. Consider a little history. In the early years, the list of the most popular sites was dominated by .edu domains. As late as 1996, no .com sites ranked among the top 15! By 1999-only three years later-the picture had fundamentally changed, to the point that the top-ranked .edu site (the University of Michigan)