More on cell phones in planes

My blog Friday was meant to contrast two attitudes toward the desired role of government—regulating our behavior for our own good (Big Brother), or regulating our behavior when necessary for the protection of third parties.  But the more I thought about the cell phones in airplanes issue, the more convoluted it seemed.

There is no evidence, despite lots of testing, of any danger from cell phones, iPads, PCs, etc. for the operations of airplanes. See the article by a WSJ staff reporter: The Big Brother argument that it protects those of us preferring quite from the conversations of other passengers is also bogus. Not only are people free to carry on conversations with other (willing) passengers, but we have been able to talk to people on the ground from phones in our arm rests for well over two decades. So what is going on? Without denying that many well-meaning, public-spirited people go into government service, the answer seems to lie in the usual place. Government regulations very often come to protect the interests of the incumbent members of the industry being regulation. Most monopoly power of private companies is bestowed by government. Please save me from Big Brother.

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

2 thoughts on “More on cell phones in planes”

  1. I am not a fan of Big Brother. From my reading of history – which I find less time for than I would like – there is always a powerful force that is eager to step up as Big Brother. Some times the power is private industry at others public institutions. In my mind a small amount of benevolent Big Brother is needed to keep the less benevolent ones at bay.

    You could argue that keeping less benevolent Big Brothers as bay is really regulation to protect third parties. I would argue that a touch of protecting potential Big Brothers from themselves is more efficient than waiting for them to advance to a point where third parties need protection. It is a fine grey line – but I believe that the ROI from intervention can be far greater than the ROI from reactive protection.

  2. Warren, To me it’s not so much a matter of Big Brother’s insufferable bossiness, and evidently not one concerning safety of the aircraft. It is rather, that the preening amour-propre of most mobile/cell phone conversations drives me to distraction. From my experience, only a tiny percentage of such transmissions are necessary or useful. Most of them fall into the category narcissistic audio selfies — purely idle chatter at best. Moreover, in my experience, compulsive use of a cell phone to fill the time is a reasonably accurate marker for intellectual vacuity. I certainly hope that large “quiet zones” can be established in the event the ban is ultimately removed. Tom.

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