Cyberpunks Talk Libertarian Class Theory
After finishing up my most recent post, “Regulating the Panopticon,” I became aware of this fascinating 3 hour interview discussion featuring Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jeremie Zimmermann on Russia Today. This special 3 hour episode of Assange’s “The World Tomorrow” was dubbed “The Cyberpunks.”
Now if you haven’t already guessed, I am quite sympathetic to the hacker movement. Indeed, I would say I much greater sympathy for that movement than for the general libertarian movement which I find to be largely incoherent, inextricably conservative and obsessed with fighting old turf wars(e.g., Keynes vs Hayek, a topic which has long outlived its general relevance)1. In particular, I am often flummoxed by the contentions of the leading luminaries of this movement that deny the US is a police state. To boot, we are additionally informed that we are living in a time of unprecedented freedom, justified usually by appeals to technological advances.
Now I would suggest that one’s failure of discernment regarding the status of the United States is a good indication of one posing no challenge to the status quo. If one were actually challenging it, one would probably have a different perspective on the matter. The gathered cyberpunks are actually challenging it. So you will find they have a bit of different opinion regarding the police state practices of the United States government. To wit, from my understanding, Jeremie Zimmermann was interrogated by the FBI when he entered the United States after sitting for this interview in London.
Judging by my stats, my previous 2 posts were traffic failures. Well, perhaps I’m just a bad writer, but the underlying message is important. So to save you from having to digest the verbosity, the summary would be: the internet provides the regime change mechanism for a political competition in technology: a rent-seeking game in data analytics. Data analytics is the last remaining frontier where competition is not outlawed. A political economy in data analytics results in the Panopticon.2 I would encourage you to watch the above linked Assange episode. It greatly expands on this theme. So my writing may be boring. But you will not find that episode boring. Trust me.
Some Show Observations
Julian Assange is a doctrinaire liberal/libertarian but the others are not. Nonetheless, all four participants agreed that political reform was impossible and pointless. The consensus among the four was that the only means to combat the problem of the surveillance State is alternative institutions in economics, currency, etc. I find this interesting because it sort of illuminates an ongoing debate regarding the need/value of libertarian education. I would contend that libertarianism doesn’t have an educational problem. Rather, it has an empirical problem of revolution. American libertarianism will likely educate you into incoherence. But those who are actively involved in challenging the status quo, those who have no particularly affinity for the “capitalism” of american libertarianism, can see the problem quite clearly.
Toward the end, a bit of disagreement broke out regarding the ultimate foundation of freedom. Assange took the position that it ultimately rests with Free Trade. The others were not quite in agreement. But I would take Assange’s position. I ascribe to a method of libertarian class theory. Often, I think this method is misrepresented as the productive vs the unproductive or the taxpayers vs the tax eaters. That is the wrong way to think of it. It is simply Free Trade vs Political Economy. The economic life of Laissez Faire vs the economic life under the compliant auspices of the Polis. So I have to go with “free trade.” Free Speech is not the ultimate foundation of freedom in the observable sense of what the State can and cannot tolerate. It can tolerate “free speech.” It cannot tolerate “free trade.”
One particular observation from the cyberpunks might shed a little bit of light on this recent David Gordon criticism of left libertarianism. Gordon states that there is no midpoint between capitalism and socialism. By this he means economics is merely a duel world between capitalism and socialism. Monopoly status or legal monopoly pricing advantage is socialism. Everything else is capitalism. States Gordon:
As Mises again and again insisted, there is no third system intermediate between capitalism and socialism. The fact that a business has gotten to its position through government aid does not by itself change the way it sets prices. Neither is it the case that large firms operate by setting monopolistic or oligopolistic prices rather than competitive ones. (Of course, if government regulations set prices, or give a business the legal power to set prices, that is another matter altogether.) It is also not the case that wage determination rests on bargaining power: as Mises and Rothbard see matters, zones of indeterminacy are mythical.
To me, Gordon’s statement is why I would defect from capitalism as so defined. More specifically, it illuminates the difference Laissez Faire and Capitalism. I would contend that Mises/Gordon position is the wrong duel world. The political economy of prices, whether they are set by the Walrasian auctioneer or by competing firms, is not the illuminating question. The better question is who is the agency that sets the markets, not the prices. That is the Laissez Faire duel world. Gordon’s method really can’t explain why you would even have political competition. Since (1) political competition rarely results in monopoly price setting and (2) political competition without the advantage of monopoly has no bearing on competitive price setting (3) you really can’t explain political competition by the simple socialist-capitalist dualism model regarding a price-setter.
To return to the cyberpunks, it was pointed out that Russia had tried to bargain, but failed, to get Mastercard/Visa to process Russian credit card transactions in Russia. Why? Because all credit card transactions, including all global transactions, processed by Mastercard/Visa are immediately surveilled by the NSA. Within X number of minutes, every credit transaction by Putin and other members of the Russian political class is known and tracked by the US intelligence agencies(thus perhaps explaining why RT is the most libertarian oriented network broadcasting in the United States).
Now is this an example of capitalism or socialism? Mastercard and Visa do not have the monopoly power as price-setters to set transaction fees, but they do have the bargaining power that every single global banking credit card transaction will be interfaced with US Intelligence. This is oligopoly, but it is not the oligopoly of a price-setter. It is the oligopoly of the market setter. But this has to be considered capitalism according to Gordon.I would suggest that the (radical) Public Choice model of the economic governance of the total firm would be a far more predictive model here. But Gordon is still stuck in the Misean historical context of the Socialist calculation debates(which Mises lost,btw. One of Oskar Lange’s criticism of Mises’ tight compartmentalization between capitalism and socialism roughly followed the same line of argument I’m pointing out now).
1 obviously, any coder knows that the technical community has its own cherished pastime of platform turf wars. But at least this debate can played out in some semblance of an empirical arena: the marketplace.
2 A secondary theme perhaps relates a bit to the current "Spontaneous Orders" series being published by Roderick Long. We define a "Spontaneous Order" in a technical sense of complexity theory as emergent regulatory properties of complex systems. A Spontaneous Order then is a resilient order. The Internet could be defined as an efficient Hayekian Hybrid Constructivist Order derived from a principle of “planned competition.” The degree of efficiency of the Hybrid Haykekian Order introduces a scale-free, small network that follows a power law distribution(at least in the asymptotic limit) that is self-regulating. The tension between constructivism and emergent order is that while the network can regulate itself it nonetheless cannot defend itself particularly well against (external)constructivist intervention. The degree of efficiency of our evolved small network can be expropriated by a power consuming constructivist agency. I believe this argument is sort of similar to the published critique of Part III in that series.