The Corner

Tiny Free Lunches Made from Spam

Maybe it’s already been done, but this story via Drudge makes me wonder if any economist has done anything interesting on email spam. The costs of sending spam are not zero, but they’re pretty darn close all things considered. That’s why:

Unsolicited e-mails continue to plague Europeans and account for between 50 and 80 percent of all messages sent to mail inboxes, the European Commission said Monday.

EU Media Commissioner Viviane Reding called on EU governments to step up their fight against spam, spyware and other illegal online activities and implement EU rules to improve Internet safety.

An EU report found that only two EU nations _ the Netherlands and Finland _ were making inroads in enforcing the 2002 law to crack down on spam.

“Spam is still … making up to between 50 and 80 percent of the mails that we are receiving in Europe and two-thirds of that is coming from outside the European Union,” said EU spokesman Martin Selmayr.

Selmayr said Dutch authorities were able to reduce spam by 85 percent by using fines to get businesses to fall in line with the EU rule.

Me: It seems to me that there is a good cautionary tale here with all of the free market axioms — about free-riders, unintended consequences, tragedies of the commons and, of course, that null-set we call “free lunches” — applying with a certain elegance. I don’t favor an overly statist solution to the problem of spam, but I think it’s reassuring that even in the virtual world you can’t make anything free without paying for it.

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