Various friends on Facebook have been venting, quite justifiably, about the Federal Communications Commission's vote to regulate the Internet as a public utility. Some of the more extreme venters have claimed that it will slow down communication and reverse much of the incredible progress the Internet has created.
One friend, though, Steve Fritzinger, pointed out a much more likely scenario, one that Frederic Bastiat, were he alive today, would probably predict. That scenario is that we continue to see progress with the Internet and that, say 5 years from now, things will be better than they are now. Many people, seeing this, will say, "See? Regulation didn't harm anything. We're still progressing."
But, said this Facebook friend, regulation will have slowed the rate of progress. So it's Bastiat's "unseen" at work. We won't know for sure that regulation slowed progress because we will still see progress. But we will be right to suspect that regulation has been harmful. There will probably be empirical ways to test for the effect. But very few people will read those studies and, 5 years from now, not 1 person in 20 will believe that regulation slowed progress. That's better than the "one man in a million" that John Maynard Keynes said would be able to diagnose the debauching of the currency. But it's the same principle. It's the unseen.