Lawrence Summers was so funny and so clever (and so effective at needling a normally unflappable Mayor Bloomberg) on C-SPAN recently, that I was sure to catch a Monday night C-SPAN broadcast of Summers delivering a speech about the President's spectrum policies to support the growth of mobile broadband.
I'm glad I did, particularly because Summers varied from the concluding section of his published speech, and made instead the following extemporaneous remarks:
"We will as a country only prosper in the years ahead if we have a strong private sector that is flourishing in the most important economic sectors.
"That is why the broad project of renewal in which President Obama is engaged is so profoundly important. It has many aspects: education, health care, energy, financial reform. It also has a crucial aspect around fundamental infrastructure investment.
"Each generation in the United States has bequeathed to the next something fundamental, something that was new and almost unimaginable when it was launched, but was taken for granted thirty years later. A one week crossing time from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A waterway connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific. A pervasive availability of electricity. The ability to drive rapidly and without traffic congestion or traffic lights between major American cities. The ability to communicate with a device you held in your hand. It is a continuing American project. And our generation has its part to play.
"That is why we are committed to doing what governments have always done, using that property, of which it is a steward, to drive the American economy forward. We’ve done it before. We’ll do it again, with spectrum auctions."
The point of spectrum auctions, Summers said, is not to raise revenues for government, or not that principally. The main function of auctions is to ensure that the spectrum is deployed to the highest valued uses, as determined, not by government, but by private markets.
At the same time, Summers wasn't loathe to suggest that the government would pursue objectives in the policies it would set. He spoke of the need to provide unlicensed spectrum to startups and end users to spur new innovation. And the President's policy includes plans to seek legislation to allow the FCC to conduct "incentive auctions," to redeploy spectrum from existing spectrum holders who agree to participate and who would share in the proceeds.
As a citizen, I find the current rancor over healthcare, financial regulatory reform and tax fairness to be deflating. It seems like so much of our populace wants to regress or escape to a fantasy of America that would be better off without government. But it's very encouraging, to me, to see a smart executive invoke our history and express a sense of destiny in reaching for vigorous government policies that project American innovation into the future.