Political Science V: Net Neutrality

“All traffic is equal but some is more equal than others”
The Pigs

Heuristically, there is no such thing as “net neutrality”…there hasn’t been since the 1988 Morris Worm. Without heuristic filtering by the tiered network providers, the public internet1 would be practically unusable. It would certainly be unreliable.

The Administrative State implementation of “net neutrality” presages the end of civilian control of the internet, the fossilization of corporate monopoly over the “last mile” and the formalization of a surveillance regime against “unauthorized traffic” (read: IP). The Administrative State enforcement of a “public network” will invite the same censorship that the government imposes over that other decreed thing: “the public airwaves,” even though that thing doesn’t even really exist anymore.

On the one hand, the cognitive dissonance being displayed by so-called civil libertarians is stupendously mind boggling, after all this is the same Administrative State engaged in unnumbered secret activities to undermine an open, free and secure internet in the name of the geopolitical status quo(what it calls “terrorism”). If this was a FCC composed of three republicans instead of two, and they had voted to “save the internet” on a pretense of “we have to implement before you know what is in it,” then the chants would be “bloody murder” instead of self-congratulated “salvation.” Of course every school boy knows the difference between tyranny and liberty is “two republicans instead of three, three democrats instead of two.”

On the other hand, it is not only unsurprising, but predictable. This is the de Jasay method in full effect. States persist because everyone thinks they can use the State for their own ends, but the only result is the persistence of the thing itself, the only demonstration being how state and society interact to disappoint and render each other miserable.

vive le moment libertaire!

1 The “public network,” that small network(small as in the number of hops between any two nodes) where the default condition is pass, is a emergent de facto phenomenon, not a de jure decreed thing.

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The Cognitive Dissonance of the Cultural Warriors

Well, this post is quoting me as an example, but the same blogger never really bothered to respond to my 2-month old post that addressed the distinction between the libertarian and communitarian versions of liberty.

Our blogger denies the liberal/libertarian definition of liberty, “do as you want, constrained only the harm to others,” on the grounds that we cannot individually define “harm.” Or to be more accurate, “harm” can only carry an agreed upon social definition. This, of course, is the bromide of the communitarian. And our blogger expresses this communitarian version quite clearly:

The voluntary institutions of society (civil society) inculcate and enforce a society’s moral code (1), foster mutual trust and respect (2), and help to preserve cultural similarity (3)

But notice how our blogger suddenly switches gears with this next post, The Intolerant Left, regarding the liberty of Chick-fil-A to sell chicken sandwiches. In this instance, the left-wing communitarians are making the same social argument against the liberty of Chick-fil-A that our blogger employed against the liberal/libertarian definition of liberty in his preceding post. The exact same argument. But to our blogger, the appeal to “Chicago” or “Boston” values is suddenly a cause for a vitriolic spew of viscous hatred regarding the intolerance of the left. It is quite an entertaining rant:

Left-wingers march in lockstep like wind-up toy soldiers. And all it takes to wind them up is to propose a governmental intervention in social or economic affairs — preferably one that flouts a social tradition that is based on decades and centuries of of experience. Why do leftists have so little respect for the wisdom that accrues in social norms? Because leftism is rooted in two psychological tendencies. One of them is adolescent rebellion, which can persist for decades past adolescence. This explains the left’s hatred of conventional authority figures who (usually) represent conservative (civilizing) values (e.g., parents, police officers, military officers, members of the clergy). The other psychological tendency is the urge to dominate others, an urge that leftists project onto conservatives.

But, to repeat, the left-wing communitarian social appeal is the exact social argument that our conservative blogger employed against my libertarian definition earlier. Of course, in one instance, the social argument is perfectly legitimate and is expression of the ultimate meaning of liberty. In the next instance, the social argument is an expression of social dominance rooted in psychological perversion.

Which is the correct interpretation of the social argument? If there is a “correct interpretation” of the social argument among competing social views, then I would dare say that “the harm principle” can likewise be adjudicated outside of the blanketing constraint of any supposed social context.1

The American political dialogue–the culture war– primarily consists of right-wing and left-wing communitarians accusing one another of being liberal2. But, of course, neither group is. The liberal rejects the social argument in favor an epistemological principle of the presumption of liberty. It is a simple principle: claims of harm can be falsifiable and the constraints against liberty have to be demonstrated. Simple. This is the epistemological bulwark against appeals to the authority of the cop, the military and the church. This is the bulwark against the communitarian presumption of social authority asserted by both the communitarian right and left.

1 Any attempt to establish “the more correct” social view among competing theories would have to rely on a scientific method of falsifying the others

2 The right-wing communitarians accuse the left-wing communitarians as “liberal.” The left-wing communitarians accuse the right-wing communitarians as being “libertarian.”

The Enforceable Obligations of IP & Copyright in Political Economy

In a previous post, I applied a consequential analysis of a “pro-life” moral rules regime–with respect to abortion– to infer abortion on demand was the only “defensible” libertarian position(note: a bit of subtlety, but decoration with the libertarian adjective intentionally limited the scope of AoD being the only defensible position within the libertarian sphere. I wouldn’t claim that AoD would be the only defensible moral position if the scope were broadened).

Frankly, it wasn’t that particularly difficult to debunk the “pro-life” libertarian position. You simply start with the examination of the moral claim that “you can’t protect liberty without protecting life.” Well, that’s a bullshit statement because you actually can’t enforce violations against life without first defining your moral constraints against liberty. There are two exceptions to this: pacifism and total violence. But pacifism isn’t enforceable–in the sense that the enforcement of its moral claims would itself be a violation–and total violence produces no enforceable claims(there is nothing to enforce).

Once we accept that there are moral constraints against moral claims of life(an obvious example would be “self-defense”) it is a straight-forward exercise to arrive at AoD as the only enforcement regime that is not burdened by ad-hoc pacifist obligations. If, on the other hand, we make allowances for such things as “the sanctity of life,” then we introduce ad-hoc pacifist obligations into the enforcement regime. With respect to modern Christian moral claims(Christianity is the typical moral foundation for “sanctity of life”), you will likely end up with an enforcement regime that places a burden of murder against any young female who does not carry any pregnancy to term while making an exception the size of a mountain for older women who have advanced beyond optimal childbearing years–in terms of the allowance for spontaneous abortions and “assisted reproduction technologies.”

It should be easy to see the regime consequences of enforcing these ad-hoc pacifist obligations: A Political Economy of Pregnancy Enforcement. This political economy certainly gives rise to “registration,” “inspection,” “direction,” “rule-of-law driven,” “enrollment,” “indoctrination,” “control,” etc….In other words, the enforcement regime has to be collectivized. Collectivization of an enforcement regime breeds an industry of political economy. This is axiomatic.

“Regime Consequences” regarding the enforcement consequences of moral obligations should be a staple of libertarian deconstruction. But this method is often dismissed because it perhaps smacks of “consequentialism,” which is generally a dirty word in libertarian circles. If consequentialism simply means that liberty is derived as the end product of a utilitarian calculation, then I’m in full agreement with hating that word. However, if we begin with a presumption of liberty and understand that reason only applies to means and not ends, then “consequentialism” is the only productive method available. Everything else is just bullshit.

The Regime Consequences of Enforcing the “Moral Obligations” of IP & Copyright

Let us understand why IP and Copyright have become a topic of bitter dispute. Today, a market process applied to the digitization of human ideas turns the latter effectively into a “public good.” By “market process” I simply mean a process of cooperative exchange that originates outside the State Regime of political economy. I mean it very much in the old French Liberal sense of “laissez faire.” By “Public Good,” I mean it literally in the neoclassical sense, that is a good that effectively is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. That Laissez-Faire is driving human knowledge to a status of a “public good” is short-circuiting quite a few moral foundations.

Particularly among the libertarians. A pertinent example would be the recent Stephen Kinsella vs J Neil Schulman debate. Kinsella, who has experience in the legal aspects of the IP/Copyright regime, has recognized that the enforcement obligations of IP/Copyright spells doom for any meaningful sense of liberty. Thus, he has been busy reformulating “Austrian” foundations in terms of an anti-IP slant. Schulman, of course, is not interested in any this. He remains steadfast to the Objectivist moral foundation which places Intellectual Property at the epicenter of property rights and human reason itself.

Schulman will take the moral claims derived from the Objectivist foundation to the logical endpoint: a denial of “identity” itself without the recognition by others of the intellectual product of human reason. To me, this is an example of the logical endpoint of Objectivism managing to bump into the rear-end of Charles Taylor and the communitarians. Taylor’s theory of recognition is noted for denying the possibility of agent identity outside of a group context; and the group can only achieve its own identity via the recognition and acceptance by other groups. The communitarians have always denied liberalism’s category of the State as artificial, insisting instead on the ancient view that regarded “the Polis”(the State) as a natural fabric of civil society. In the liberal era, the struggle against the re-unification of the Polis with civil society is the underlying basis of “libertarian class theory.” The means of this unification, of course, is political economy. The communitarian dream of reunification will be wrought on the back of political economy. And no better foundation for this political economy than Intellectual Property. What Rand deemed the essential component of human identity, the thing she warned “the collectivists” would attack, is actually the thing the collectivists will use to forever reunify the Polis as a natural fabric of human society.

The One Public Good the State Managed to Produce–by Accident–Defines the 21st Century Political Economy Battleground

Our Progressive worshippers of authority are always chirping about the State and “public goods.” Of course, other than “defense,” there are very few actual instances of “public goods,” and most of the progressive chirping is an exercise in conflation between “public works” and “public goods.” But as we well know,the simple exercise of digging a ditch eternally binds one to moral obligation to the regime under the banner cry of “but who will dig the ditches?!!!”

Now our progressive friends are usually quite fond of informing us that the government(usually a specific government, the US Government) “invented” the internet. Now this is silly because there is no such thing as “the internet” as a single entity that was invented by any single agency. But in another sense, it is a half-truth in that the cumulative evolution of the packet-switch, global wide-area network required a ton of standardization up and down the IP stack. This standardization was an intentional, self-conscious, directed process that involved quite of(albeit largely informal) public-private “joint cooperation.” It is actually the one example of Hayek’s “planning for competition.” However, given that Western governments at the time mostly treated Telcos as public utilities, there was simply no other alternative process available. But a clinching factor was the adoption of TCP/IP– tcp/ip being one particular implementation of the OSI model–by the US Military in the early 1980s. TCP/IP has its origins in DARPA, but TCP/IP supplanted other OSI implementations around the world simply because it was adopted by the world’s preeminent global military superpower. Not because it was a superior implementation.

So the accurate statement regarding the internet is not that the Government is responsible for the existence of packet-switched, WAN networking, but rather that it is largely responsible for our particular implementation of it. Specifically, we can certainly give attribution to the US Military for the fact of a global tcp/ip standard.

The end product of this high degree of standardization in our packet-switched, WAN network is more or less an efficient “small network,” meaning the number of segments between any two arbitrary nodes approaches a small number(e.g. the “six degrees of separation” concept). Now the “public good” is not actually the network itself but the low-entropy product it is transporting: namely the digital transcription/copy/representation of human knowledge. Human knowledge effectively has become a public good. To state the three reasons for this:

(1) the efficiency from a high degree of network standardization: the global small network
(2) the low entropy of human language
(3) the relentless progression of Moore’s Law

The State finally plays a role in producing a “public good” other than defense. But the role was restricted to the resolution of coordination problems(an informal but vital role in the coordination of standards) that enabled the provision of the good and did not encompass the actual provision of the good itself. That is, the process of standardization was intentional, but the end product, our public good of consumable digital knowledge(not at all dependent on the State), was not intended.1 As soon as the “public good” became apparent, State actors revved up the political competition in the artificial exclusion to this good. In a real sense, when the State began passing its Digital Copyright Acts to enforce artificial exclusion to this good, it became clear which political critique, libertarian vs progressive, had the more accurate model of the State. Unfortunately, a political economy in the artificial exclusion to a public good of human knowledge is the very thing that can bring all of human economic activity under the political umbrella of State agency. In libertarian class terms, it is total war.

Plutocracy vs Oligarchy

Plutocracy is rule by a political class that for its own ends(usually identified as wealth). But plutocracy is not a condition where the political classes are united. Oligarchy is the condition of plutocratic unity. Generally, the political classes, globally speaking, are not united. What would unite them would be these secretly negotiated trade deals for a uniform “legal” standard in enforcing artificial exclusion to digital copies of human knowledge. It’s just another example of the consequences of “trade” serving “moral ends” and the extent moral ends can expropriated by agency. The extent of the expropriation can be seen by comparing Bastiat’s statement concerning trade and peace with that of the WTO. “Peace through Trade” can have a doublethink meaning. George Orwell provided us with the Oligarchical Collectivist interpretation of peace. Peace can also be a product of oligarchical unity.

The final coup d’etat is the militarization of the administration of the network. Currently, the administration of the internet is largely civil. But the US government’s blatant attempts to trigger a militarization of the internet serves the ends of a militarized political economy of network administration. The civil administration of the network is then supplanted by a corrupt, compliance standards regime that will in large part be engaged in the monitoring and blockage of “unauthorized traffic.” And what do you think will compose 99.999999999% of this “unauthorized traffic.” Of course, IP and copyright violations.

In case you haven’t noticed, DHS is significantly involved in the enforcement of IP and Copyright. The synthesis of political competition in the public goods of security and human knowledge that results in an equilibrium outcome of oligarchical unity not only represents the apex of Authoritarian porn but promises to turn a potential instrument of human utopia into a dystopian instrument of the most efficient and awesome spying and control mechanism possibly imaginable.

Methodology Matters

To bring this discussion back to the moral claims of J Neil Schulman, I conclude thusly: I reject Schulman’s moral claim regarding IP and Copyright because my methodology informs me that the regime consequences of the enforcement of his moral claim is oligarchical collectivism. The question of whether or not IP and Copyright require the State for enforcement is irrelevant. The State is going to use the enforcement of artificial exclusion to human knowledge as the means for a totalitarian outcome. If your own personal identity requires others to recognize your IP legal status claim regarding your mental constructions, then you need a new moral foundation.

1 An interesting discussion is to consider if purely organic market processes could likewise evolve something similar to our current internet implementation. Often, the “internet” is mistakenly identified as a type of “decentralized” network. But that’s an incomplete characterization. The “decentralizing” characteristics are emergent properties of a large degree of centralized standardization(=resolution of coordination problems). The more accurate adjectives would be “small network” and “resiliency” in place of “decentralized.”

In any event, the question is interesting but irrelevant. It’s now a matter of “path dependency.” It’s in place; it works; it does not require any type of formal State central body to continue to work. The interesting question now is the extent the State corrupts it by introducing compliance–i.e., standards as a function of “planning against competition”–into the network.

There is No Moral Obligation to Obey the Regime in Liberalism

I recently watched the documentary “The United States vs John Lennon” which chronicled the US government’s attempt to deport John Lennon in the early 1970s. The ostensible reason behind the deportation proceedings was an obscure marijuana charge against Lennon stemming from his London days. The real reason was his involvement with radical elements of the early 1970s anti-war movement.

Lennon would survive the deportation attempt(in retrospect, of course, he would have lived longer if he had been deported) but the government intimidation permanently ended his flirtation with radical politics. As the documentary made clear, this was an escalation of a pattern of harassment and surveillance that finally dissuaded Lennon from any further involvement with the “left-wing fringe.” The objective was never really to deport him. It was to shut him up.

The documentary featured a wide range of talking heads across the political spectrum, but I was particularly struck by the interview with G. Gordon Liddy. To paraphrase Mr. Liddy, it wasn’t the “free speech” aspect per se that troubled the Nixon cabal, it was the fact that Lennon was saying these things despite the fact he was over here enjoying the benefits of wealth and culture the US Government was providing him. Lennon was free to speak his mind but only in Liverpool.

Of course, Liddy’s remarks perked my antennae. Hmmm, I’ve heard this argument–and its many variations–before. I’m hearing them now coming from the mouth of Chuck Schumer. It’s a type of argument that appeals to moral social obligation to justify a action/policy that is repellent to liberalism. In liberalism, institutions are supposed to serve humans and human ends. However, people like Liddy and Schumer(and pretty much everyone who plays the game of partisan politics) invert this: humans serve institutions and institutional ends.

The typical babble defense of the Liddy-Schumer moral obligation begins with the premise of humans as a “social product.” I won’t dispute the premise, but I will challenge the conclusion of the scope of the social obligation. For starters, much of the component of “social product” is social convention. But who exactly is supposed to be the debt collector for social convention? Frankly, the idea of a debt collector for social convention and custom is silly. If we acknowledge this, then we are left with the more artificial components of the “social product,” meaning the roads, the bridges, the electricity grids, the schools, the legal system, property rights, etc.

Anthony de Jasay in his essay, “Your Dog Owns Your House,” addressed the scope of the social obligation the arises from this artificial social product: the obligations terminate at the point of exchange. Otherwise, you can end up with an absurd moral claim that your dog–because it may serve a capacity as a watch dog, “securing” your property–owns your house. de Jasay’s point was that “society” can only function by operating at the point of exchange; it cannot function by means of “social accounting.” However, de Jasay duly noted that, historically, the liberal moral foundations for property have been weak and susceptible to the moralizing of these “social accounting” arguments.

I would add the oft overlooked asymmetrical nature of the social accounting assumption. So we have our dog who protects your house. The dog comes from the kennel. The kennel owner relies on the roads, the electricity grid, the farmer, the dog food manufacturer, etc. Each one of these points of contact are have their own points of contacts creating our geometrically progressive interrelated web of social dependency. No doubt. However, “accounting” consists of credits and debits. So, if our dog fails to protect the house(as advertised in this recent AllState Commercial) does the liability likewise flow down our interrelated web of social dependency? If the dog is successful as a watch dog, then the homeowner “owes” the kennel owner, the road construction worker, the farmer, the dog food plant worker, and so. But if the dog fails, then do these same agents “owe” the homeowner? Do they share the blame in the failure of the dog?

As absurd as the “social accounting” calculation is regarding the dog-owning the house, I think the absurdity of the moral obligation nonetheless is better illustrated on the liability side. If, say, the farmer shares in the “credit” of the dog’s success, then the farmer likewise must surely share the blame for any failures of the dog. Human moral foundations may be susceptible to the credit side of the social accounting argument, but they generally repel against any responsibility on the liability side.1 As the “AllState” commercial (linked above) illustrates, the failure of the dog is motivation for the homeowner to insure against the failure. The responsibility lies with the homeowner and the obligation terminates at the point of exchange. Very few question this, which is why you are seeing the likes of AllState advertising their services.

So, rather than attempt to normatively demonstrate the “credit” side of social accounting terminates at the point exchange via something like the “marginal productivity theory of distribution,” which is what, e.g, Robert Higgs attempts to do here(and thus repeating the same damn mistakes that classical liberal economists/theorists have been repeating for 150 + years: ref: Sean Gabb. NOTE: there exists an entire universe of an academic political class ready to pounce on normative divergences to justify moral ends), it simply suffices to point out that two most prominent promoters today of the Liddy-Schumer Moral Obligation, namely Schumer himself and Elizabeth Warren, both adamantly supported the ObamaCare Individual Mandate to “force” individual health liability to terminate at a point of exchange. They themselves have falsified their own claims. And that is sufficient.

Conclusion: Political Obligation is a Rational Calculation, not a Moral One

Liberal society by and large functions by the convention that obligations terminate at the point of exchange. Moral foundations added on top may attempt to morally collectivize the “credit” side of social accounting while more or less leaving the liability side of the social accounting ledger to convention. This is a natural conflict of liberalism: moral foundations vs convention/custom. In liberalism, there is never a “moral obligation” to obey the regime. Political obligation is a rational calculation, not a moral one. The liberal conflict between moral foundations and convention can survive a rational calculation until the moral foundation is collectivized as the Liddy-Schumer Moral Obligation. Then the moral obligation terminates the rational one.

The Liddy-Schumer Moral Obligation is the moral legitimacy of rent-seeking agents. And you can easily spot it by its arbitrary protectionist consequences. The same rationale to deport is the same rationale to prevent exit. If you “owe” taxes you cannot enter; if you owe taxes, neither can you leave. Chuck Schumer is the ultimate poster boy for State Capitalist Protectionism. He is a primary guardian of the banking oligarchy. The irony is that without the protectionism and the bailouts, there is likely no Facebook IPO. But defections by those who have gained from the State Capitalist Protectionism(the “brain drain” has just begun) will change the boundary constraints for all of us. This is an object lesson from the Total State model.

Oliver Wendell Holme’s famous dictum that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization” has to count as one of the great misnomers in liberal history. Taxes may be the cost of a given regime, but the regime never has been nor ever will be “civilization.”

1 Exception. Hoppe’s “invited-contractual” property rights model attempted to enforce a moral preference for immigration patterns hospitable to a status quo of Western Christian landowners by collectivizing any liabilities from social movement onto the property owners. That is, property owners could be liable for any future actions by anyone who has ever been invited onto their property. A throughly collectivist treatment of property that supposedly passes for libertarian. Anyone who subscribes to this more or less forfeits any real objection to collectivizing the “credit” side of the social accounting ledger.