Metcalfe's column: What if I-commerce was restricted on weekends?

With the help of the Internet, markets are taking over from governments.

Allowing freedom of choice among competing alternatives has proven better than centralised planning, even by democracies.

But those who would govern the Internet are not about to slink off. As John Perry Barlow warns, we are locked in a closet with a dying reptile.

Anticipating reptilian death throes, I've been asking around about laws that might someday restrict Internet business hours, which until now have been 24 hours per day, 7 days per week (24x7).

Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, writes, "It's the first I've heard of it. What a horrible idea. Revolutions started over less."

Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna writes, "The eight-hour day was a phenomenon of the industrial revolution, where we separated our lives into neatly arranged blocks. ... But it ain't gonna happen."

And let's hope that Infoseek founder Steve Kirsch is right that such laws "would be so impossible to enforce. I doubt anyone would try."

The Cato Institute's Solveig Singleton asks "whether real-world and electronic businesses should play by the same rules, and if so, does that mean regulate both or deregulate both? It's going to be a big issue in Europe. My landlady's German friends were in disbelief that we could go shopping in Virginia on Sundays and after 5:00."

The Reading Corner, in Rockland, Maine, opens on Sundays from noon to 5:00, but it can't match's 24x7. Having just learned that has been forced to drop Hitler's Mein Kampf in Germany, I'm worried about this possibility: "Welcome to If you are not Bob Metcalfe, click here. If you are, sorry, we're closed at this time in your location in accordance with applicable international, national, state, and/or local laws. welcomes you again tomorrow at 0900 your local time."

Who might want to limit Internet business hours? First are those from whom "holidays" got their name. It's not enough for Sabbatarians to believe they shouldn't work on their holy days. They believe you shouldn't work either.

Internet entrepreneur Yossi Vardi reports from Israel that, by law, Friday is the resting day for Muslims, Saturday for Jews, and Sunday for Christians. It is illegal to employ a Jew on Saturday.

Then there's Labor. It asks governments to restrict competition among workers, especially those willing to work weekends and holidays.

So, for example, United States Code mandates 10 federal holidays. The code is eloquent about honoring our war dead, presidents and Christmas, but when holidays fall on weekends, they are rescheduled to be sure that all that honoring displaces actual straight-time work.

Which other federal laws might be extended to restrict the hours of Internet businesses? How about the Occupational Safety & Health Administration Act, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, or perhaps some future American Limited Online Hours Act?

There are city, county, state, and international laws such as the European Commission's Working Time Directive. Any might be extended to regulate Internet business hours.

Internet businesses currently exploit workers and customers by putting them in commerce at odd hours. Such commerce competes unfairly with the real businesses that manage properly during normal working hours to honor those who discovered, defended, and deslaved our favorite jurisdictions. And, just in case, this is sarcasm.

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