America’s Latest Spectrum Auction

MARKETS don’t simply emerge, but are created by the state, argued Karl Polanyi, an economist, in “The Great Transformation”. This is certainly true for radio spectrum, an intangible natural resource, which governments now regularly sell in auctions. The most intricate ever organised came to an end in America on February 10th, bringing in $19.6bn. When America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) started auctioning spectrum in 1994, it did so because lotteries and “beauty pageants” to allocate the scarce resource seemed otherworldly when billions were at stake.

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