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Cell Tracking

December 5, 2011

It would have been nice if I had this as a consolation thought after getting my phone stolen: it is possible for carriers to refuse service to any cell phone with a serial number that has been reportedly stolen, and they do that in Australia all the time.

When American carriers are asked why they don’t do the same, there is a lot of huffing and puffing and hand waving, but none of it is very convincing. Frankly, the carriers don’t gain anything from putting in this service, and actually add customers if someone signs up a stolen phone with them. As for the phone companies, every stolen phone is a potential new sale.

This kind of retooling of incentives totally undermines the motivation to steal a phone in the first place.  Such a system is a recognition of the dynamics of supply and demand, and is a recognition of the most efficient way to dampen the market for stolen goods.  However, this sort of thing would never happen in America: it imposes a marginal cost on carriers, and why should a carrier allow the regulators it paid for to impose new costs?  The even sadder thing is that economic analysis can misguidedly come to the “broken windows” conclusion; paying to fix what has been broken or stolen is a net increase in consumption and therefore GDP. Such mishaps therefore may be desirable to fulfill the goal of perpetual growth.  But what of happiness?

Ask someone who has been punched and had his smart phone taken how happy he is.

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