Is “Open Source” Socialist?

The following is an article originally published at Freedom Democrats.

Kevin Kelly’s article in Wired, The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online, has sparked some debate in the libertarian community. Kelly’s Thesis: The open-source software model is socialist in nature, and the success of this model online will lead to the revival of Socialism in the political sphere. Kelly’s thesis is tinged with the “irony” that it’s largely libertarianism that is driving this “neo-socialist” paradigm.

Bill Gates once derided open source advocates with the worst epithet a capitalist can muster. These folks, he said, were a “new modern-day sort of communists,” a malevolent force bent on destroying the monopolistic incentive that helps support the American dream. Gates was wrong: Open source zealots are more likely to be libertarians than commie pinkos. Yet there is some truth to his allegation. The frantic global rush to connect everyone to everyone, all the time, is quietly giving rise to a revised version of socialism.
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When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it’s not unreasonable to call that socialism.
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We underestimate the power of our tools to reshape our minds. Did we really believe we could collaboratively build and inhabit virtual worlds all day, every day, and not have it affect our perspective? The force of online socialism is growing. Its dynamic is spreading beyond electrons—perhaps into elections.

Arnold Kling, who sees a correlation between “neo-socialism” and civil societarianism, worries about State power being viewed as the natural progression of such cooperation. Larry Lessig, however, rips into Kelly’s thesis, arguing that Kelly is misrepresenting both socialism and libertarianism/capitalism. Lessig argues that the essence of “socialism” is coercion, whereas the essence of what Kelly is describing is “liberty.” Lessig then devotes a few paragraphs to argue that libertarianism/capitalism is wrongly conflated with a dog-eat-dog type of non-cooperative social theory, in the process invoking Adam Smith, Hayek and “emergent” public goods(sounding quite a bit like Kling’s civil societarianism).

In reality, “neo-socialism” sounds like libertarian socialism, or the old 19th century anarcho-socialism, where the means of production are part of the commons, meaning free and equal access for all. Of course, the 20th century meaning of the term “socialism” changed to signify “the means of production” being collectively owned by the State. This is quite a bit different than the former meaning. Collectivism imposes coercive obligations, duties, requirements on agent participation within the group or social order as a precondition for whatever “positive liberties” the social order offers. Kelly’s use of the term “collectivist” to describe “neo-socialism” conflates “the Collective” with “the Commons,” a not uncommon error(note: social institutions, collective action models built around managing “the commons” is not collectivism). Collectivism implies a coercive social order and in this sense, Lessig’s critique of Kelly’s thesis is correct.

However, even if we revert to the original meaning of the term “socialism,” it’s fairly apparent that “Open Source” itself is not exactly a “socialist order.” Richard Stallman, who thinks all software should be part of the commons(other than that, you should be “free” of any other collective obligations in the use of software, which is the meaning of “free” in free software. Free means freedom/liberty not “price.” After all, you are free to charge money for distributing “free software.”) devised the GNU “copyleft” license that requires derivative works be made available under the same “copyleft” license and that any such improvements can’t link to code under a non-copyleft license or that a non-copyleft software application can’t build from linking to copyleft code/libraries. Nonetheless, by last count, there are roughly 50 alternative “free software licensing” schemes(e.g. BSD, MIT), many of which that do not require derivative works to remain part of the commons.

In terms of social networking–“the frantic global rush to connect everyone to everyone, all the time”– Kelly seems unaware of the most of popular social networking sites/platforms are closed, proprietary systems, although most typically expose developer APIs to 3rd parties. There is a coordination effort by the major players to develop a standard (“OpenSocial”) that will allow interoperability between the social networking platforms, but this type of cooperation hardly exemplifies any definition of socialism.

Kelly’s thesis suffers from the simple fact that the knowledge economy isn’t socialist either in the collectivist or anarcho sense. The idea that the popularity of wikipedia, Facebook and Flickr is going to translate into increased popular support for collectivist, State Socialism is nonsense. Indeed, the real danger to the knowledge economy is the collectivist, Statist enforcement of IP law, which taken to it’s logical conclusion would outlaw reading itself. The undeniable fact is that a knowledge economy requires a robust “commons” to actually work, and Open Source accomplishes this; but it’s also fairly apparent that an open source knowledge economy would have to support a healthy “private means of production” as well.

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Political Economy 101

Rachel Maddow recently devoted a lengthy segment on her show chirping about how the GM IPO demonstrated the “success” of the GM bailout. She invited, Ron Bloom who directs Obama’s Task Force on the Automotive Industry, to pop the champaign bottle with her as they gloated over GOP politicos failed predictions of GM’s fate. Hallelujah, political bailouts work. The IPO proves it. Of course, I would expect Maddow, in order to be consistent, to likewise invite Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner on her show to celebrate the great success of TARP and the improved stock prices of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America. In fact, the TARP bailouts have been such a magnificent and glorious success, the beneficiary firms have figured out how to consistently beat the market with zero risk and no losses. Really, how can any fool, unless he/she wants to be a reality denier, argue with the obvious, empirical benefits of political intervention?

Since I don’t I want to be a reality denier, I would certainly concur that those on the receiving end of favorable political intervention benefit. And we can find plenty of empirical evidence to prove this. I would expect photo-ops at the NYSE, higher stock prices, human interest media stories about the plant worker whose job was saved. I would never predict that a Goldman Sachs or a GM couldn’t benefit from political intervention. Simply, if political intervention was impotent vis a vis creating advantages, then there would be no politics; there would be no rent-seeking. However, because I’m particularly sensitive to this reality denial business, I must scientifically point out that while political intervention or rent-seeking benefits the beneficiaries, it, nonetheless, has negative overall welfare consequences. It reduces overall welfare.

Articles like, say, Selling our GM Stock miss the bigger point. Simply analyzing the necessary “break-even” price for GM stock assumes that rent-seeking political intervention is just a mere wealth transfer, a re-shuffling of wealth. No it’s not. Public Choice scholarship(which,in a sense, is just a rediscovery of the old French Laissez-Faire analysis that had been buried by 20th century Neoclassical Welfare economics) demonstrates in peer-reviewed scientific fashion that political interventions can have significant deleterious impact on overall welfare.

Here’s a easy thought experiment. Imagine firms A,B,C,D,E,F,… in market competition. Now imagine the State enacts punitive tariffs on every firm except C. It gives C a great advantage. It could certainly, in addition, invest “public money” in C and get back a nice rate of return. This “profit” to the taxpayers could be trumpeted as empirical proof of the success of the political intervention.But this doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, particularly in the public choice literature that has examined the welfare effects of such things as trade tariffs. A few benefit, but there are significant welfare costs imposed for the monopoly special privilege enjoyed by such a few.

Another easy example is copyright enforcement in the digital age. You essentially have to erect a police state to enforce it. So you end up with a steady stream of rent-seeking legislation to do just that. And what you end up with is one “political entrepreneurial group” seeking special privileges, another group that wastes much of it’s productive time trying to figure out ways to evade the rules imposed by special privilege, and an enforcement police arm, subject to it’s own rules of public choice, that ends up seeking it’s own special privileges and continued growth of itself just for the sake of itself. Now do you see how incredibly wasteful this is? And technology, which should be a liberating thing, ends up becoming a prison. Trust me, the last thing you want is a technology society underlain by an insider/outsider political rent-seeking economy.

Regarding Rachel Maddow, it’s apparent that Oxford doesn’t teach political economy. And I wouldn’t put much stock in her political punditry. Progressives the last two years have been arguing that the bailouts(crises) would engender some grand new political realignment built on the back of “Stimulus Spending” that would serve as a new baseline for a Social democratic State. Libertarians such as myself have argued that these bailouts would portend an insider/outsider economy that would create a backlash and lead to a re-emergence of “class conflict” into the political lexicon. Who has been the better prognosticator? You know, I click on the Washington Post these days and I’m not seeing editorials celebrating the coronation of Barack Obama as FDR 2.0. Rather, I’m seeing editorials by formerly staunch Democrats bitching and moaning about the Public Choice Rent-seeking Political Economy and the need for an “Entrepreneurs Party.”

Brush up on your French…

Obama Admin and TSA: Fuck You

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
H. L. Mencken

I left my throne a million miles away
I drink from your tit
I sing your blues every day
Now give me the strength
To split the world in two, yeah
I ate all the rest and now I’ve gotta eat you

Space Lord

The Obama Admin’s response to the growing criticism of TSA’s new security procedures: Double Down with a big Fuck You. If you buy an airline ticket and show up at the airport, you must submit and obey. Once you enter the airport security, you must subject yourself to the body scanners or the invasive search. If you decline to fly and try to leave, you are subject to possible arrest and a 11,000 fine. Further, in terms of Direct Action protests, it looks the TSA is enlisting the aid of local police departments to aid in the possible arrests.

This isn’t “proto” Police State stuff. This is a Police State. Note, I haven’t flown since the TSA was created and will not fly. At this point, if I had the money, I would seriously consider leaving this country(the only and last time I would fly within the US). No one should have to put up with this shit. And it’s only going to get worse. If you can’t see what permanent war, “War on Terror” leads to, you are fucking blind…

The Strange Silence of the Political Left over TSA

Libertarians, of course, have been fierce critics of TSA since it’s bureaucratic inception in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. Nonetheless, at the time, there weren’t many listening to the libertarian critique, and a docile American public seemed more than willing to tolerate this new addition to the National Security State apparatus. Things now, however, have a changed a bit. The introduction of backscatter X-ray imaging technology that performs full body scans, and the recent introduction of a new screening policy that requires an invasive, full body pat down, including a probing of the genital areas, for those who opt out of the full body imaging scan, and, in some case, in addition to the imaging scans, has lit a fire under a previously docile public. The Pilot and Flight Attendant Unions are in almost open revolt. Internet videos of probings of small children and the elderly have gone viral; a computer programmer, who I believe has libertarian leanings, recorded a Kafkaesque conversation with the TSA on his iPhone that has introduced the phrase “Don’t Touch my Junk” into the socio-political lexicon. At the grassroots, “Direct Action” organizations such as wewontfly.com have sprouted up. There is a National Opt Out Day on Nov. 24th. Hell, even the political right press and commentators, and GOP politicos have jumped on board the bandwagon.

However, there is nothing but cricket chirping coming from the political left. Well, there are a few exceptions. FireDogLake, which is no longer beholden to the Dem Party establishment, has been covering this issue. Media Matters, which is very much beholden to the Dem Establishment, has been covering it, albeit from a slightly different perspective: It’s all a right-wing plot to privatize Airport security. The Dem Party Politicos have begun to trickle a few apparatchiks over to MSNBC to defend the TSA. Sen. Claire McCaskill described the invasive, full body pat down as “love pats.” Bedrock Authoritarian Joe Biden pronounced them “intrusive, but necessary.” John Pistole went on Hardball to defend the procedures as vital to a “risk-based” security protocol. But for the majority of the political left ecosphere, it’s been pretty much silence.

So, i would chalk this up as another data point empirically demonstrating that American politics, for the most part, is not about left vs right, or even liberal vs conservative for that matter. It is a cultural war…

George Soros Jumps the Shark

Two years ago at Freedom Democrats, I praised George Soros in post that nonetheless had a qualification at the end. I noted that for all the money he had pumped into progressive political infrastructure in the US, he still had not in any fundamental way changed Dem Policy. I suggested at the time that he needed to get out of the game lest he suffer a credibility implosion.

Now fast forward to the present. Yesterday, Soros, in an acceptance speech for a “Globalist of the Year” award from the Canadian International Council, intimated that the failure of Dem Political Re-alignment in the United States was essentially ceding the world stage to China. From Foreign Policy:

“There is a really remarkable, rapid shift of power and influence from the United States to China,” Mr. Soros said, likening the U.S.’s decline to that of the U.K. after the Second World War.

Because global economic power is shifting, Mr. Soros said China needs to change its focus. “China has risen very rapidly by looking out for its own interests,” he said. “They have now got to accept responsibility for world order and the interests of other people as well.”

Mr. Soros even went so far as to say that at times China wields more power than the U.S. because of the political gridlock in Washington. “Today China has not only a more vigorous economy, but actually a better functioning government than the United States,” he said, a hard statement for him to make because he spent much of his life donating to anti-communist groups in Eastern Europe.

What Soros is saying that the Financial crises is a serious challenge to the “Washington Consensus.” But given that Washington is in gridlock, the effect globally is that the Washington consensus is now finished. With nothing to replace it with, “the world order as we know it is turning into disorder.” Soros is now effectively endorsing China to step into the power vacuum, with all the qualifications, of course, that “they accept responsibility for this world order and the interests of other people as well.” Indeed, this is a reversal for Soros, who had spent previous decades funding democratic institutions in opposition to communism.

Soros, like all Social Democrats, has a dilemma. They thought the financial crises would spur a new consensus. But it has not. There is no new political realignment in the US(the midterms served to “de-align” the Dem realignment). Social Democrats in the US, if we go by Krugman, are in serious disharmony with their European counterparts(over such things as the Stimulus and QE). And these political creatures, when the chips are down, will always go authoritarian. So, for the likes of Soros, it’s not unexpected, but it is, nonetheless, disheartening.

Now Soros is correct about the Washington Consensus being dead. I’ve writing about this for two years. The problem, for the political class, is that there is no intellectual framework to replace it with. A Political Economy, stuck in a regime that has lost resiliency, will exhibit increasing intervention to enforce an artificially stable equilibrium. This is a viscous cycle. A problem for the political class is that the class conflict in such a regime becomes pretty naked and obvious. And contra Soros, “the “Bejing Consensus” is no replacement. It wouldn’t last 5 seconds. The Chinese economy is a bubble economy to begin with and the consensus of communist bureaucrats cannot run the new world 21st century capitalist order.

Unlike Soros, I have a different interpretation politically of the ramifications of “broken government.” In an older post at Freedom Democrats, Broken Government: A Return of Radical Politics, I argued, from a historical perspective, that “broken government” today would once again raise the specter of radical politics in America. Radicalism in American politics is a weed that sprouts up from time to time. It’s due to sprout up again. The one pesticide that could kill it or contain it is the culture war, which is the communitarian conflict that was born out of the last bout of radicalism in America, namely during the 60s(which also, of course, spawned the modern american libertarian movement). This is why I’ve been critical of the likes of Angelo Codevilla, who is trying to recast the burgeoning class conflict narrative into the old communitarian or culture war categories. Despite that, I think a return of radicalism in American politics is inevitable. However, I make no prediction of what the final product of this will be, although I would tend toward the pessimistic side. But it should be clear that the 21st century is the twilight of liberal political institutionalism. The only real political debate anymore is authoritarianism vs. libertarianism.

Keith Olbermann’s Journalistic Faux Pas

Keith Olbermann, upon his return from his suspension from MSNBC, graced the world with a Special Comment directed against Ted Koppel’s Washington Post piece which decried partisanship in Cable News. Koppel had claimed equivalency between Fox and MSNBC. Olbermann would have none of that and in his self-important, My-Expansive-Cranium-Is-The Historical-Inheritor-Of-Edward. R. Murrow sermonized a history “news” serenade primarily around CBS News icon Walter Cronkite. The point was that Cronkite was a “liberal” and his liberal worldview allowed him to him to objectively construct the facts to speak to truth to power, particularly in regard to Vietnam and Watergate.

Olbermann’s ulterior argument here was obvious: to exonerate him vis a vis his political contributions. And that such contributions had no bearing on his objectivity regarding his mission to speak truth to power. But this is laugh the fuck out loud comedy.

Olbermann’s claim to speak truth to power is simply belied by the fact that he anchored the only News Organization “special coverage” of Obama’s staged final combat troop withdrawal from Iraq. No other news organization bought that bullshit, and the AP went out of their to call it bullshit. Olbermann covered it like it was the Japanese Armistice. Mission Accomplished. This from the guy who had made his reputation on “Countdown” by daily signing off with a mocking of “Bush’s Mission Accomplished.” Regarding Obama’s “Mission Accomplished,” Olbermann didn’t quite evoke memories of Cronkite or Murrow, but rather Soviet Pravda Journalism.

By Olbermann’s own standards, this is the obvious Faux Pas. Libertarians could give a rat’s ass about the political contributions, although I will note that Olbermann donated money to Jack Conway. From a libertarian perspective, there is much to criticize about Rand Paul, but we should note that Dems attacked Paul as if he were a radical liberal. They attacked him for being a closet atheist, for mocking Christianity, for being anti-war, for being in favor of drug legalization, for being soft on Crime. This is the candidate/campaign Keith Olbermann donated to. You donate to Jack Conway, you simply are not a liberal; or whatever liberal principles you claim to adhere to, such are subservient to partisan concerns.

Olbermann is no heir to CBS’s Edward. R. Murrow. Rather he’s an heir to CBS’s Less Nessmann of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” WKRP was entertainment. You are supposed to get the joke. With Olbermann, I don’t his partisan tard audience quite gets the joke…

Update:
Added a multimedia touch to this post.

Found a link to Mr. Edward Murrow/Walter Cronkite, circa August 18th, 2010. View Video.

Paul Krugman: Death Panels and Sales Taxes will Save Us

Paul Krugman, a month or two ago, suggested that sometimes you need “a Hitler or a Hirohito” to end depressions. To some, this was interpreted as Krugman advocating the occasional need for war. Krugman’s defenders, most notably Brad Delong, came to his defense, mocking the inconsiderable, unsophisticated minds who could construe such a thing. Krugman clarified his remarks in this post Economics Is not a Morality Play.

The point is that it would have been much better if the Depression had been ended with massive spending on useful things, on roads and railroads and schools and parks. But the political consensus for spending on a sufficient scale never materialized; we needed Hitler and Hirohito instead.

Translation: We only need war if the political consensus fails to match my policy preferences.

The totally batshit insane Neanderthals obviously stand corrected.

Krugman continues to lend his considerable, nuanced expertise on other compelling issues, such as the debt. In this post, Default Is In Our Stars, Krugman argues that the effective outcome of the current private debt is “significant default.” The “clean” way is through inflation. The “ugly” way is through bankruptcy. However, to those of simple minds, after wading through the fallacy of composition regarding the paradox of thrift, another paradox may be afoot here. This is the paradox of “People aren’t as Fucking Stupid as Paul Krugman thinks they are.” This paradox manifests itself by the astonishing fact that a monetary policy dedicated toward effective default of private debt via inflation leads to a lack of lending/investment into a deadbeat economy; instead resources are diverted into inflation hedges. In economic jargon, we call this the “Paradox of Stagflation.”

Of course, the “Paradox of Stagflation” is only held by the “totally batshit insane.” Krugman, one of the chief progenitors of American partisan politics being a struggle between the forces of scientific reality vs mindless ideology, easily foils the apparent empirical reality of the “paradox of stagflation” by typically throwing up some 1930’s economic charts and blaming current empirical reality on the lack of political consensus around his interpretation of said charts. Oh, the insanity…

On the issue of public debt, Krugman used ABC’s “This Week” to argue that the problem can only be solved by “Death Panels” and VAT taxes. This is a provocative statement in that he seems to be validating the Palin critique. Krugman used this blog post, Death Panels and Sales Taxes, to clarify what he meant. Of course, by “Death Panels,” he only meant Medicare rationing end-of-life medical care. Whew, without that clarification, one may have gotten the impression he was actually referring to Palin’s “Death Panels,” which were Efficiency Boards rationing end-of-life medical care for dear ole Grandma. It’s nuance like this that makes you appreciate the distinction between “scientific reality vs mindless ideology.”

Let us sum up Mr. Social Democrat, Paul Krugman’s political prescriptions: Inflation, Death, and Taxes. Now that’s a winner. Of course, if we fail to see it Krugman’s way, if we fail to form a political consensus around Krugman’s preferences, well, then, there is always “a Hitler or a Hirohito.”