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Stop Wasting Your Time Reporting. Start Doing!

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Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Using lots of ink to argue that the Internet wastes lots of energy, James Glanz manages only to demonstrate confusion over the difference between “use” and “waste” (“Power, Pollution and the Internet [2],” Sept. 23).  Intense amounts of the former do not imply the existence of the latter.

Consider, for example, Mr. Glanz’s claim that “Online companies typically run their facilities at maximum capacity around the clock, whatever the demand….  The inefficient use of power is largely driven by a symbiotic relationship between users who demand an instantaneous response to the click of a mouse and companies that put their business at risk if they fail to meet that expectation.”

True.  But if enough consumers “demand an instantaneous response to the click of mouse,” energy used by online companies to keep servers running at peak capacity isn’t wasted; it is, instead, used to satisfy consumers’ demand for 24/7/365 fast Internet service – demand that is high yet unpredictable from minute-to-minute.

Anyone who still feels that online companies waste energy can make a mint by launching his or her own online company that uses electricity far more sparingly than do existing companies.  If Mr. Glanz’s presumption is correct, consumers will eagerly buy slower and less-reliable Internet service if it is sold at lower prices that reflect its less-wasteful use of energy.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

A further point: Should we conclude that the ink and wood pulp used by the NYT to print this long report for its many subscribers who don’t read this report were “wasted”?  Is it the case that a non-wasteful NYT would print and deliver this report only to those subscribers that it knows will read it?  Should we discover (as we undoubtedly would) that tens of thousands of copies of today’s NYT were printed, delivered, and sold to subscribers who never read Glanz’s report, do we conclude that the NYT needs a new and less-wasteful business model?