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.

Political Science IV: Hacked Knowledge Problem

If I was the NSA, I would target the same thing – all the crypto keys. I do the same on pentests, so why not? One target, huge ROI.

Kevin Mitnick

Again, as a reminder, The Hayek Knowledge Problem has been hacked. “The Use of Knowledge in Society” has different implications in 2015 compared to 1945. Economic science, like all sciences, is not written in the staid stone of theological scripture. But live on it will–in the classical liberal turf wars…

The Rule of Law

Of course, anyone with a modicum of computer science/IT skill knew the the FBI hacked the Silk Road Box at the application layer to obtain its IP layer address. And anyone with a modicum of political science knowledge would have easily been able to predict that these methods–which are in stark violation of the heuristic operability of the internet–would be gerrymandered into permissible legal status. The science of the rule of law is its rational pattern…

The State is its Own Agency

That the NSA has now commenced with overt pressure campaigns to countermand any legislative effort to curtail its vast surveillance enterprise cements an obvious liberal dilemma regarding the agency of the State. Make no mistake, totalitarian spying exemplifies an agency whose ends are in competition with the ends of its own citizens. This is a fatal violation of the liberal paradigm out in the open, staring you right in the face.

The germane question which moves to the fore of consideration hence pertains to the extent of government surveillance. Is it indeed totalitarian? If we were to constrain the scope of consideration strictly to the NSA itself, then the answer would probably be no. It’s modus operandi does not follow the traditional taxonomy of the textbook totalitarian spymaster. However, thanks to the documentation leaked by Edward Snowden, what we have now is confirmation of the cypherpunk dystopian model, which in a real sense, is much worse, for it portends a sustainable template of planetary social control. The NSA in and of itself is one thing. However, in the larger context of its coerced “strategic partnerships” with the top US internet & software companies–as means to facilitate/execute the data collection requirements–what we end up with is quite another: the equivalent of a libcap library on every one of your network devices persistently cataloging your “matrix” in the well-connected social graph, built and maintained under the “legal auspices” of a three-hop dragnet.

In light of the Snowden revelations, the NSA has embarked on the aforementioned pressure and information campaign to countermand the PR damage. Just yesterday, the NSA released two documents that purport to dispel the notion of it being an agency of totalitarian collection. Having just read them , I can say that the 1.6% statistic of “touched traffic” and 0.025% statistic of “reviewed traffic”, on a daily basis, are highly misleading. The first hoodwink is to point out that out of the exabyte daily traffic volume, roughly 60%-70% is ip video traffic1, which shrinks our “basketball court” down to the size of a racquetball court. The second hoodwink is to infer the sampling follows a pattern of independent random trials–in the classic stats model, proving or disproving a hypothesis drawn from such a random sample–instead of what it actually is: the accumulation of a graph-based document store enabling a traversable, retrospective query system. The whole thing is just plain subterfuge.

By now, it should be apparent that I consider the cypherpunks to be the most relevant social scientists of our day. In no small part because they are at the forefront of the battle-lines of 21st century political economy. Assange, for one, has been singularly confirmed on a number of points. In particular, the US reaction of “Insider Threat” has to count as spectacular confirmation of his thesis of “conspiracy and networks.” The kernel of differentiated political and economic jurisdiction that always lurked beneath the rationale of wikileaks now seems obvious in light of what is required for secure and autonomous cloud computing platforms going forward2. Assange’s contention that legal and regulatory entities were engaging in data-laundering–that is, ex post manufacturing legal reconstructions of “evidence” gathered from the NSA dragnet spying enterprise–has since been confirmed by Reuters with respect to two agencies: the DEA and the IRS.

In contrast, the “liberal” political and academic establishment are dinosaurs. No better example of this than this piece at “Bleeding Heart Libertarians,” The United States is not a Police State. The entire piece is a confirmation of my (quite prescient, as it turns out) old post, Free Market Fairness: A bridge to nowhere. Fernando Teson’s entire argument boils down to the position that truth should never stand in the way of mainstream recognition. Of course, as I pointed out in that earlier post, the “respectable libertarian formulation,” in the form of the chicago school, had held sway for thirty years in the domain of finance and “regulatory reform” leading to nothing but banking oligarchy and a permanent severance of political freedom from capitalism. As I pointed out at the end, all it would take would be a minority dissident faction to blow that entire thesis to smithereens and force the “bleeding hearts” to side with what everyone and their brother–outside of polite academic company–knew to be tyranny and oppression. I’m not surprised “Edward Snowden” doesn’t appear in any post on that site, outside one inclusion in an obscure link.

Frankly, the boogeyman of North Korea is tiresome as the singleton measuring stick of totalitarianism. For starters, the inquisitive person might ask just how long North Korea would last if not for China and the US directly and indirectly propping it up(which should trigger a deeper discussion of the taxonomy to begin with when considering States that prop up even worse monsters). However, the better question might be why the persistent singleton casting of 21st century totalitarianism in the mold of mid-20th century soviet model when that model–in terms of having any sphere of international influence–died out two decades ago?

In the recent book, “Cypherpunks: Freedom & The Future Of The Internet,” Andy Muller-Maguhn specifically outlines the stated intent of our 21st century spooks: the use of secrecy as a means to gain control of social processes. This presents a countervailing agency problem more along the lines of a “squishy totalitarianism,” but this is more than sufficient to eviscerate the liberal paradigm. In fact, it acquires a particular sinister aura because it appears quite apparent that most are quite comfortable persisting the liberal mythology within its confines. The industries of “social justice” and “the invisible hand of market social coordination” will continue to spit out oblivious drivel because after all, they are “industries.”

As I have noted on previous occasions, the planned order or surveillance introduces a potentially glaring incentive-incompatibility agency problem into market exchange. One that makes mincemeat of any position that uses the existence of markets as an immediate counterfactual to any claim of systems of social control. If we cast “spontaneous order” as a type of “social graph” and then analytically run it against the “planned order of surveillance” that exists to anatomize it, we obtain a “second-order dynamic” between the social graph and its surveillance that illuminates the distinction between laissez-faire and capitalism in a far greater clarity than the dinosaur methods of 20th century classical liberalism still mired in the roots of the socialist calculation debates.

Frankly, to avoid serious methodological error, one should start from the assumption of “the State as its own Agency.” Everything else flows from there…

1 As I pointed out in this old post, Technology is not Freedom, ip video has its own extensive surveillance regime.

2 Ideological preferences aside, the cloud, in any rent-seeking context, is where the internet goes because it is simply a much more efficient computing platform.

Desperately Rent Seeking Servitude

A recurring theme of this blog is that politics can be rationally modeled. This view leads one to dispense with the oft repeated exasperations regarding irrational policies. A prime example would be the drug war. No the drug war is not insane. Nor irrational. Instead we treat it as something that can be rationally predicted. In the context of social and political science this means we attempt to ascribe a consistent rational method or choice to agency action to derive predictable patterns of behavior. Rationality in this context does not mean “a” should be preferred to “b” or “b” preferred to “a.” That is, rationality is not assigned to preferences. Instead it is assigned to the pattern. So what would be irrational is a pattern that, say, gives us “a” > “b” AND “b” > “a.”

The application of Rational Choice to the patterns of politics and government is usually credited to the Chicago and Virginia schools associated with classical liberalism. Both schools apply the model of methodological individualism to political and state actors that is similar in treatment to actors in the economic arena. In this sense, Rational Choice gives us no such thing as the State itself. A minor hetereodoxy is Bryan Caplan’s “Rational Irrationality” that shifts the agency responsible for patterns of government to the individual voter. Caplan’s motivation in part was to explain the failure of the standard treatment to reliably produce a rational pattern. But to accept Caplan’s method would be equivalent to saying there is no such thing as the politician or the bureaucrat.

Frankly, Rational Choice would offer an unreliable model of government if not for the possibility of a third alternative. This alternative says, by golly, there is such a thing as the State. If we assume the State1, then how then could we expect this thing to rationally behave(in the sense outlined above)? Anthony de Jasay should be credited as a pioneer in this third alternative. He gives a ready rational pattern of this thing, the State: a Firm that maximizes discretionary power.

It can’t be over-emphasized how much our third alternative is a radical departure from the standard treatment. We are dispensing with the methodological individualism of individual actors(like politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists) usually assumed to be maximizing their own utility by a method entailing calculating the benefits against costs. Instead, the fundamental unit actor is The Firm. And our maximand quantity–the power to be used at one’s discretion–defies the usual neoclassical treatment of profit or Von Neumann utility.

If you are familiar with mathematical or computer science concepts, the third alternative more or less forces you to adopt an entirely different schema(meta constructs) to model(or make sense of) the patterns in the world. Hence, you avoid referring to such things as the banning of pressure cookers as irrational or stupid. No doubt, it would be stupid under the standard schema of neoclassical economics. But not under our alternative schema. Under this, it follows a rational and predictable pattern.

In de Jasay’s model, the discretionary power eventually dissipates into the “security of maintenance,” which means the use of power to simply stay in power. Writes de Jasay:

“Like the firm in the perfectly competitive industry that makes no profit, the state ultimately achieves only its own survival, and no one is satisfied by this relatively pointless result.”

I have dubbed this type of model by the shorthand name, “The Firm.” The extent of the departure of the political economy of The Firm from standard, neoclassical treatment requires an alternative vocabulary to adequately convey the schema at play. Things like “regulation” do not mean in The Firm what they mean in the neoclassical model. Public Choice concepts like “regulatory capture” are almost nonsensical when translated over to the model of The Firm. To see this, consider the neoclassical meaning of regulation: to internalize negative externalities so as to promote a regular functioning market. The public choice meaning of regulatory capture is to produce regulations that capture artificial rents by creating barriers of entry to competition. But the more appropos term when translating over to The Firm would be something like “docility,” which means something more along the lines of “yielding to submission.” Indeed, we can propose the following model translation:

regulation ————> docility
regulatory agencies —-> docility agencies
regulators ————> docilitators(we’re inventing a noun)

Under this language, the nonsensical nature of regulatory capture, translated to “docility capture,” becomes more readily apparent. It makes little sense. It seems to imply rent-seeking not as a power act but rather as an act of subservience. But nonetheless there is a rational pattern being hypothesized: any power accrued from rent-seeking docility rules will be dissipated via the “security of maintenance.” And there appears to be a bitter irony at play first noted by Orwell in his tract, “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.” Oligarchical Collectivism produces a de facto peace. Following de Jasay, it may also produce a similar de facto end to the rent-seeking State.

Perhaps it would be instructive if we play a little language game with our model translation and apply it to this recent Reason article on Bitcoin authored by Jerry Brito, a senior fellow specializing in technology policy at Mercatus. Brito provides us with the classical rational choice defense for Bitcoin regulation. Ostensibly, he is treating the rationality of regulator in the standard way. This apparently leads him to formulate a dual struggle between an intransigent old guard of early adopters vs a dynamic new guard entrepreneurial class willing to bargain with regulators in order to launch a next gen Bitcoin application platform.

Writes Brito:

If the message wan’t clear enough, the Bitcoin Foundation—which helps organize Bitcoin’s development on the same model as the Linux Foundation—announced that it would be hiring a full time lawyer in Washington to represent the community’s interests. The thinking is that Bitcoin businesses and users are going to be regulated even if the protocol itself can’t be, so it’s time to engage the regulators and policy makers before they make any hasty moves.

This willingness to lobby and work with regulators, however, was not well received by many of the old guard. As one exasperated Foundation member tweeted, “I got into Bitcoin to improve this miserable planet and ESCAPE the iron grip of privileged moneyed interests, not JOIN THEM!”

But the fact is that Bitcoin is growing up. Its revolutionary potential is greater than most have yet understood. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are seeking to professionalize and legitimizing the network, and to do that regulators will have to understand and accept it.

It’s true that Bitcoin could continue to operate even if it was outlawed outright, but then it would only serve as an underworld currency, and its development would not doubt be hampered. The more subversive path may well be to let regulators create their rules for what at base is an uncontrollable system.

Translated into the model language of the Firm:

If the message wan’t clear enough, the Bitcoin Foundation—which originally organized Bitcoin’s development on the same model as the Linux Foundation—announced that it would now forego that model in favor of one predicated on hiring a full time lawyer in Washington to represent the Bitcoin Foundation’s interests. The thinking is that Bitcoin businesses and users are going to be docilely compliant even if the protocol itself can’t be, so it’s time to engage the docilitators before they make any hasty moves.

This willingness to be subservient to docilitators, however, was not well received by those who reject docile compliance. As one exasperated Foundation member tweeted, “I got into Bitcoin to improve this miserable planet and ESCAPE the iron grip of privileged moneyed interests, not JOIN THEM!”

But the fact is that Bitcoin needs to outgrow any revolutionary potential before it becomes widely understood. Thus Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are seeking to create a professionally compliant network that can be easily understood and accepted by the docilitators.

It’s true that Bitcoin could continue to operate even if it was outlawed outright, but then it would only serve as an underworld currency, and its subservience would not doubt be hampered. The more subversive path, in contrast to the subservient one, may well be to let docilitators create their rules for what at base is an uncontrollable system.

Of course, the likes of Brito would read my translated version as satire. Fair enough. But I read his version as satire. The indisputable facts that even Brito would have to concede is that Bitcoin “regulation” has nothing at all to do with “regulation” and everything to do with compliance to an existing power authority. So what we have is a bargaining game between an open rent-seeking agency and an agency representing the maintenance and continuance of a power authority. But this type of bargaining is not actually in the standard rational choice/public choice literature. Remember, the standard treatment assume methodological individualism on the part of our regulators. There is no agency or agency representation of power on their end. Otherwise, we would be admitting the State or its agency thereof.

Interestingly, it would be well to point out that an agency like a “Bitcoin Community” is voided in the standard public choice literature, too. There are individual players, each competing for rents. Any coalition, at best, is temporary(straight from the bible of Public Choice, “The Calculus of Consent”). “Sticky” coalitions, to remain within the explanatory model of standard theory, can only persist by resorting to drastic inefficiencies/opaqueness in the rent-seeking technology(straight from the Encyclopedia of Public Choice)2. But this thing with Bitcoin is far too transparent. Rent-seeking coalitions do not host open forums as an evangelist platform. For someone like Gordon Tullock, this would be the monkey wrench of all monkey wrenches.

So, to be clear, what I am pointing out is that Jerry Brito’s commentary at Reason regarding Bitcoin has no substantiating theory of political economy. It is purely a language game relying on buzz words to convey a rational argument. Words like “new guard,” “old guard,” “dynamic entrepreneurial class,” and “revolutionary application platform” don’t mean a damn thing in and of themselves. If pressed, Brito will almost certainly reduce his argument to something like it is rational to be subservient in order to have a legal market for a potentially revolutionary platform. But that’s just a premise begging for a rational method to justify the conclusion. And Brito has no method. Instead the very premise plays into de Jasay’s rational method of the State as a firm. The conclusion from this method is simply the maintenance and continuation of State power.

Finally, I would be remiss not to point out the pessimistic implications de Jasay’s method for the prospects of anarchism. Unlike classical liberalism, anarchism/libertarianism typically does not dispense with the agency of the State as some sort of fiction. However, the “standard class model” usually views the raison d’être of this agency as means to procurement of artificial rents. The State is the means and the “rents,” and the power resulting thereof, are the ends. So if we have a political economy, in this case a digital economy, where the marginal cost of digital goods approaches zero, the State is viewed as some inevitable dying order because its enforcement agency is doomed to obsolescence.

However, if we have a rational method that seems inclined toward the State as both means and ends, and our maximand quantity of this thing turns out to be simply discretionary power, then the thing that is supposed to kill it poses the possibility of being its eternal fountain of youth. The obvious weakness of “the internet as liberator” is that it is not a “decentralized network.” Rather it is a small network that follows a power law distribution. The very property that allows it to be a distribution channel approaching a zero marginal cost of digital goods3 also allows it to be a perpetual channel for social control. Rather than undermining the State, revolutionary ideas in digital economy, to the extent that a rational method entails them to rent seek subservience, is the very thing that persists the modern liberal state. Revolutionary opportunities follow a rent-seeking pattern that dissipate into a security of maintenance.

We should be reminded that in Orwell’s version of things, Big Brother wins. de Jasay’s rational method of political economy gives us the equally sorry prospect of the Entrepreneur as Emmanuel Goldstein.

1 IMHO, the State as a Firm can actually be micro-economically derived by introducing frictional waste into rent-seeking.

2 The industry of rent-seeking does not refer to the industry itself, that is, to the actual production of the widget or service, but rather to the industry of seeking special privileges for the production of the widget or service. So inefficient rent-seeking technology does not mean the production of the widget or service is deliberately made inefficient; rather, it means the process by which special privileges can be obtained is deliberately made inefficient. This then can explain the barrier of entry to others competing for the special privileges. Remember, the constraint or boundary condition of the Standard Theory is that outlays >= rents.

3 The efficiency of the internet is a product of a great deal of centralized coordination of standards(manufacturing and protocol) up and down the stack. It is not a spontaneous order. The more accurate description would be an efficient Hayekian Hybrid Constructivist Order as a sort of unintentional consequence of “planned competition.” The neoclassical consequence is a major unbalancing of the equation between marginal cost and marginal labor. Zero marginal cost should imply an end to wage labor. But it is an entirely unjustified assumption to think that the n degrees of standardized informal compliance, and in some cases, formal compliance, would persist if everyone became their own firm. If not, there goes your small network and with it, this zero marginal cost manufacturing base. If you think interoperability between windows and mac, or even different versions of windows is a drain of your modern life, you might want to rethink the degree of connectedness you would have if we had an unplanned shift that equilibrated marginal cost to the marginal product of labor. The point being made here is that you can’t assume the small network in anarchist pronouncements of technological triumphalism. If we are to assume the persistence of the small network, a more rational conclusion might be the expropriation of this “Hayekian Constructionist Order” for a more dystopian end than typically envisioned.