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.