Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Universities must be free

Here is one concrete example of what I fear from the dependency that the Democratic Party fosters. In this case, universities are to begin censoring bits, lest all of their students lose the support they have come to depend upon. I fear for the very institution.

Democrats: Colleges must police copyright or else

by Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh
CNET News.com
Nov 9, 2007

I speak from experience. In the 80s, I saw at Stanford a culture where you could be asked to work on a military project with the understanding that "Those who say, 'No', don't get very far." This was my first dose of the reality of where dependency leads.

There were efforts then to try to restrict the free flow of information on research. Stanford at that time, through its relative independence, could insist that it not do classified research in contrast to another Bay Area university, which I shall leave unnamed, at least to my understanding then. Stanford Research Institute would do such classified research, separate from the University, if memory serves.

Universities must be free. The world of ideas must be free. The Enlightenment depends on it.

I'm glad to see that the president of Stanford University, John Hennessy, signed a letter in protest to such draconiana.

According to Aanchal Kapoor of Pomona's The Student Life, the bill in question, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, was approved by a House committee, and,

The U.S. Senate approved its version of the bill in August. If the House version is approved in a vote next month, the two bills will move towards reconciliation.

Update (Mar 20, 2008): This week Ben DuBose wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times on the bill - Privacy provision aims at universities.

Thanks to OpenCongress.org you can follow the progress of the bills in the House HR 4137 and in the Senate S 1642.

Update (Aug 2, 2008):
The Senate passed HR 4137 on July 29. It now awaits the President's signature.

Hat tip: Mashable twitter.

See also:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Outlaw kids

Great presentation at TED by Larry Lessig (though I disagree with Lessig's not taking his own ideas to their logical denouement). His last point is most salient. I remember bringing this point up with my young nephew a couple of years ago. If we don't address the issue of intellectual monopoly, the new generation will experience together a deep contempt for the law, stemming from their natural activity being forced underground.

Update (Nov 29, 2007): John Tehranian has written a paper on the norm/law gap amongst normal citizens, taking as an example one day in the life of a professor, Infringement Nation: Copyright Reform and the Law/Norm Gap. Here's a summary of that paper. How many times do you casually reply to email in one day? 20 casual replies, if copyright law were enforced, would cost this professor some $3 million, if he were to slip up and unwittingly quote his senders' messages. For shame!

Hat tip: Just an Online Minute

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Liberty can bring us together: letter to a Democratic Party voter

I come from a staunch Democratic background, with quite a bit of education in my pocket that refined my liberalism, while retaining the spirit of it all. After having worked for McGovern, having voted for Carter, and having voted for Mondale, I voted for Ron Paul in 1988 after I read Hayek's Road to Serfdom. For some ineffable reason, I have more hope in the long run for Democratic Party voters coming around to liberty than I do for Republican Party types. I see no hope in the Democratic Party itself, given that it learned nothing from its defeat in 1994 over its attempts at health care government domination.

What is the problem with the Democrats? They themselves create much of the mess they fight against, particularly with regard to unjust concentrations of wealth.

Complex, arbitrary laws create barriers to entry that foment cartels and monopolies. Witting and unwitting Democrats create major unintended consequences in their flood of legislation. The witting Democrats profit from a lack of competition and the rise of dependency.

Meanwhile, the law drowns in its own flood. How does the little guy feel when facing this quagmire that has become our legal system? The little guys group into herds for protection.

And I don't feel consoled when Democrats argue to remedy this mess by creating a company-town writ-large. It all smacks of Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which I don't think anyone really wants.

(The Republicans have their own sad demons they foment. As they fight the drug war in Afghanistan, are they not creating a significant material root that nourishes the growth of jihadism? Could the rise of terrorism be akin to the rise of organized crime during Prohibition? It's sad when you fight a beast you nurse. Anyway, back to the subject at hand...)

What's one to do? The parties seem to be pretty much locked in.

Unfortunately, as anyone knows who has tried to go the third-party route, there are artificial political barriers to entry. This leaves our political system vulnerable to stagnation and to the rise of unrestrained factions. Suppose, for argument's sake, all parties but two were illegal. What would be the difference between such a two-party state and a one-party state?

I think the real question is - Are liberals really welcome in either the Democratic or Republican parties?

A liberal is first and foremost someone who believes in rights.

Where can a liberal find his'r'r home?

Anyway it's all very sad, but for some reason I think liberty can bring us together again somehow.

I would recommend your reading Nobel laureate economist's James Buchanan's recent book which is a call for "the ethics of liberalism" and a response to Hayek.

Update (Nov 29, 2007): A hopeful sign. One man amidst "the left" sees the company-town writ-large which John Edwards threatens us with. Matt Stoller writes,
So at the end of the day, if you don't have health care, your wages will be garnished or your credit will be damaged because a collection agency will see to it that you buy your insurance. You might even go bankrupt! And since it's called a mandate, we'll need a new IRS-like bureaucracy to handle all of this, but it won't be the IRS since a mandate is not a tax, it's just a required fee you pay to a private company.
It's a funny thing how incongruities can finally catch up with you.

Stoller also attacks Hillary Clinton, whose central plan would "require a massive Orwellian nightmare to enforce the purchase of private insurance by those least able to afford it."

Speaking myself from the classical liberal diaspora, it's perhaps a first ray of hope, that the warmth of the enlightenment might actually return to freethinking types.

Matt Stoller describes the approach of his website OpenLeft,
It's time to get over the idea that 'the left', liberals, progressives, or anyone who believes that power should be distributed and not concentrated in the hands of a few is a scary hippy. And that's why we called the site 'OpenLeft'; we see our ideas as a mark of pride, not shame. We think that businesses - like Google - have built highly profitable organizations based on principles of sharing information and distributing power. The genuine radical threat at this moment in history is coming from elites who believe that concentrating power, information, and wealth in their hands should be America's priority.

Stoller does defend Barack Obama, recommending that Obama say,
"How is Senator Clinton going to force everyone to sign up for health care insurance? She's mentioned forcing citizens to have a health care insurance card in order to get a job, which is a crazy intrusive idea that is not acceptable."

Why the blind spot on Obama? Conservative HotAir's Bryan Preston points out how Obama, too, flirts with totalitarian doublethink, quoting ABC,
Obama says he would enforce his mandate for health care for all children by fining parents if they refused to allow health care coverage for their children.

"I am happy to be very clear how we enforce mandates for children, and the reason is because children don't have an option."

How kind of Obama to baptise our children into the Democratic Party's way of doing things, parents be damned, despite vague protestations about a "Constantinian Fall" or some such nonsense.

I've worried about our Road to Serfdom for 20 years, which explains my parting company with the Democratic Party. Now, with the cries of Naomi Wolf, it mystifies me how Democrats of good will could call for government control if our form of government is lapsing.

Milton Friedman said our freedom was a rare thing [17:39]. Are we to lose it to the chaos of the ages again? Or shall we stand for liberty?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

New York, New Hampshire, and Williamsburg - deadline October 12 for douche-free election

If you live in New York or New Hampshire, or Williamsburg, and you don't want to have to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich next November, all you have to do is follow this wise woman's advice, but you don't have much time. Be sure to let your friends know how clutch it was for them to get this done before the deadline on Friday!!! I did my part when I was 20-something, now it's up to you to move the ball up the field. Hold your nose so you don't have to hold your nose.

Ron Paul Girl - Register Now! - video powered by Metacafe

Source: Liv Films

South Park - Turd Sandwich vs. Giant Douche

Add to My Profile | More Videos

Here's a bonus song for New Yorkers.

Update (Oct 7, 2007):
Attention New Yorkers and Burgers. Apparently Ron Paul is not a "nationally known" candidate and so will not even appear on the Republican primary ballot in February. If you do register, please sign a petition or two to have his name appear on the ballot. And I thought this was only a problem for third-party candidates. Currently his chances (6½%) for the GOP nomination place him in 4th place ahead of McCain according to the prediction market contract prices at intrade.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Change cometh

Internet Killed the TV Star

The folks over at theBurg.tv have a message for you... "Only Losers Watch Television" (2:08). There are only 4 TVish shows I can think of that I watch now (phew!): the Online Newshour at pbs.org, SouthPark on iTunes, Colbert Report on iTunes, and the Burg at theburg.tv.

Today I watched the newest episode of the Burg, Secret 2. At 3:23 o'video, when Courtney is taking down a herpetic phone number (long story), Hipster Tip #29 appears "Never use a pen to take someone's phone number. True or False?" When I clicked to test my hipster acumen, I entered a new world. In this world, advertising ties in to entertainment on the one hand and fashion on the other. The advertisement becomes worth my while to watch lest I be left behind, and the product, Motorola's MotoRIZR, is folded in. How did I fare? I'm so ironically there.

Note - the Burg uses a Creative Commons license.

Aside: Speaking of the Burg, I had the pleasure of paying homage to Williamsburg a couple of weeks ago when I was out that way for my Princeton reunion. Best coffee? Oslo Coffee Co. Best place to hang out? Roebling Tea Room. I can vouch for their Smoked Salmon w/ Creme Fraiche & Beet Relish.

Update (Aug 22, 2007): According to Times Online, Google has announced a comparable method of advertising that it's incorporating today into its YouTube videos, where a transparent advertisement will appear at the bottom of each video for 15 seconds. The advertisement tries to be unobtrusive. The viewer can close it or open it or ignore it. Of course, each ad won't be folded into the video's storyline as is done with the Burg, but I imagine Google will try to match ads on the basis of a video's tags. (Sep 10, 2007) Here's an example. Hat tip: NewTeeVee

Update (Sep 9, 2007): More from Williamsburg on TV. I love this video Seen It On TV from The Violets. They sing,

You can stop feeling so careful, 'cause no one's going to notice you when you fall. It's going to be alright, be OK. I seen it on TV.
There's a craving for media that's more true to life. I think this will hold true not only for the content of video but also for the advertising folded in. Any hint of being unreal, and the audience will flee.

random thought - Last week I saw the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. There's a feeling there that I sense more widely that the kids and adults in the younger generation need to take on the task themselves of educating themselves to equip themselves, sequestered from unreal bureaucracy, tuning into the wisdom of previous generations as best as they can. Whereas this calling was more sporadic in my generation, perhaps it's more widespread now given the power of the open media. Get real, video.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Why is Wikia Politics organized around big-P Parties?

After reading Fast Company's article on Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, I ventured into his new venture, Wikia, and wrote this critique of its Wikia Politics magazine.

Why is Wikia Politics organized around big-P Parties?

Why do I see a menu on Wikia Politics with a list of big-P Parties? Monolithic one-stop-shopping Parties are so last century. Instead parties in the future will come in bits and pieces.... (more)

Wales is a hero. Here he discusses the inner workings of Wikipedia at a TED Global Conference in 2005. Among the many interesting topics he touches on, Wales discusses how Wikipedia successfully serves as a meeting place of ideas thanks to its overarching "neutral point of view" policy.

I fully expect Wikia to out-compete Google Web Search.

I'm excited to find a structure there for an open-source constitution, an idea I have had in mind for many years. I submitted an entry to a competition The Economist magazine held in the early '90s for a European constitution. Later in the '90s when the open-content license appeared, it seemed a natural for such an effort, particularly if it were to be a Hayekian one. I also envision that this effort be component-based. In the late '90s, after learning Java and the idea of polymorphism, component-based-law struck me as a way out of the spaghetti legal code our world is plagued with. Indeed I believe Europe rejected its proposed constitution (thankfully!) because it contained was bureaucratic spaghetti.

Version 1.1 (Apr 24, 2007)

Update: Here's another illuminating video of Jimmy Wales.

Update (Nov 19 , 2007):
Sadly Wikia Politics has ended up quite moribund.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Separation of State and Internet

Bruce Schneier warns, "Dept of Homeland Security Wants DNSSEC keys. This is a big deal." It sounds like these are the keys to the holy of holies.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The difference in being a liberal

The only difference between me and the liberals is that I'm a liberal.[1]

What defines a liberal?


Any liberalism that ignores rights is no liberalism. Rights make up the very core of liberalism. Randy Barnett's phrase "the presumption of liberty" nicely captures the spirit of these rights and how we may fold them into the real world of law.[2]

The Ninth Amendment, the enumerated rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution and our Declaration already recognize these boundaries. What a wonder it is to be born into an age where such documents already exist as a foundation for our laws, defining the ends and limits to government power.

"What?", you ask. "These boundaries on liberal government are already recognized in the Ninth Amendment? And the Fourteenth Amendment?" The socialist squirms, the conservative balks, the anarchist says, "Yeah, whatever..."

If a party calls itself liberal and begins trampling on rights with impunity, and so becomes a faction, it is no longer liberty-minded. It is no longer liberal. It is one thing to tax and spend in a measured, constitutional manner. It is quite another to "criminalize" innocent behavior.

I remember how shocked I was in the '80s when I first learned that the federal government had a half-century earlier criminalized monetary gold. Somehow in my fine education, this important piece of history had escaped me. I identified myself then as a liberal, in the same spirit as I do now but less discerningly. Even then I felt strongly that the bounds of liberalism clearly had been overstepped.


I despair deeply now when I hear that some states, such as Massachusetts, are making it a "crime" for an independent citizen to choose not to have state-defined "health insurance"[3]. The argument on behalf of the state goes something like this.
Since the state is your rescuer, even when you say, "No," the state gets angry. After all, it's paying the bill. It insists.
You know the type. The guy who actually gets angry when you insist on paying your own tab. The state, in this case, is that guy.

It's a pose. This is a classic, dysfunctional victim's-triangle writ large, where the state dances between playing the roles of rescuer, victim, and perpetrator, all in the blink of an eye. We stand guilty in our innocence.

The most important right we have is the right to say no, to strive to live peacefully, to strive to live without the use of force.

Moreover, in my view a liberal ought to encourage and celebrate such independence. To tempt a citizen into dependence is a warning sign, a design to corrupt; to mandate such dependence, evidence of a design to control.

Yes, not everyone has the strength to remain independent, but liberal parties must at an absolute minimum leave open the door.

Version 1.2 (Apr 19, 2007)

  1. With apologies to Salvador Dali, whose reputed quip was, "The only difference between me and the surrealists is that I'm a surrealist." Source.

  2. See: Randy Barnett (2004) Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty.

  3. Or, more accurately, health insulation, as described by Arnold Kling (2006) Crisis of Abundance.

Update: For more on RomneyCare, see Romney lets loose a Rhinoceros in Massachusetts.

Update: (Apr 18, 2007) An editorial at the Investor's Business Daily, Living Off of Others, dated Apr 16, speaks to the issue of tax dependency, describing where we are and its dangers. "Today, more than half of our country is dependent on Washington, continuing a trend that should disturb anyone who doesn't consider himself or herself a socialist." The final sentence reads ominously, "A dependent nation is a nation that cannot last long."

The editorial refers to an article written by Mark Trumbull in the Christian Science Monitor, Apr 16, As US tax rates drop, government's reach grows, which in turn refers to a paper by Gary Shilling.

It's my view that government taxation and dependency should be but an exception to the rule, a small fraction of activity compared to the activity of society... in the language of physics, a perturbation off of equilibrium. I find the diagram in Trumbull's article disturbing.

Update: (Apr 19, 2007) Here's a poll asking what you think would be the best, realistic tax rate 10 years from now, if we were to have a flat tax (with a reasonable poverty exemption). What should the total rate be, including all levels, local, state, and federal?

In short, what tax rate should we aim to have in 10 years?

Poll: Flat tax - what should it be in 10 years?

Update: (July 31, 2007) Bulgaria goes to a 10% flat tax.

Update (Nov 15, 2007): They're at it again.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Liberalism, socialism, and conservatism

Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?
     George Orwell (1949) 1984

There is such confusion in the American language, making political discussion increasingly difficult. In this story one word stands out, "liberalism".

Somehow in the United States, this wonderful word has been hijacked, its oldspeak meaning thrown into the memory hole, preventing people from thinking clearly for lack of a better word.

It has become a mere euphemism in this country. This wonderful word, liberalism... a mere euphemism.

How do you explain it when people who call themselves "liberal" advocate socialism ? Conservatives love this since then they can drag the word "liberal" through the mud of socialist disasters.

The end result? Well, Trey Parker and Matt Stone summed it up quite elegantly in the South Park episode Douche and Turd, which aired just before the 2004 election. We are not alone. There are Egyptian and Russian variations on this theme, where people are presented a false choice between two factions.

So what's one to do? How can liberal parties grow in the United States? How can liberals argue for liberalism without a word to hang their hat on, without a word to have their conversations with, without a word to think with?

Back in 1955, Dean Russell from the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) saw a way out. He claimed the "good and honorable word 'libertarian'" for liberals to use ... to avoid confusion. To good advantage... for a while. Notice how Russell clearly defined "libertarian" to mean what the word "liberal" once meant.

So, as you may have noticed, this took off. The word libertarian has entered the lexicon. Everything is fine, right? Everyone understands that libertarians are for both economic and personal freedom, the Nolan chart, yada, yada, yada...

Well, not exactly. If you call yourself a libertarian, you now risk being confused for an anarchist. You're asked, "Don't you believe in government?"

How did this happen? Liberals believe in limited government. Liberty and anarchy are distinct. Liberals argue for the rule of law, not the rule of men.

Russell, himself, distinguished between anarchism and libertarianism in his book Anything That's Peaceful. Brian Doherty, senior editor at Reason magazine, writes in his book on the history of the libertarian movement, "[Dean] Russell ... declared--both in private letters and in a Freeman article--that anarchists were positive enemies of human freedom, whether they knew it or not." (Radicals for Capitalism, p. 320)

The experience of Russia, with its lack of rule of law, speaks volumes. So do fatwas.

Are we to await, yet again without word, for anarchists, now clothing themselves with a liberty word, to drag liberalism through the muck of their tax-free insanity?

I say no.

But what is there to do then?

Fortunately, there is the rest of the world. If you just peer over the borders, you will find that the word liberalism lives on happily in its meaningful sense.


Read the essay, Analysis of Conservative, Socialist and Liberal Paradigms, by Werner Hoyer, in The Liberal Aerogramme, Issue 46, July 2003, pp. 28-32, a publication of the Liberal International. I just discovered this organization last night via Gregory Yavlinkski's website. Their virtual hall of fame of liberal thinkers includes Hayek, Constant, Nozick, Mises, Popper, Bastiat, Rand, Humboldt, Wollstonecraft, and Williams.

Werner writes,
For the liberal, the central value is "freedom for the individual"--which explains why choice, tolerance, rule of law, civil and political rights, property and entrepreneurship are so important for liberals.


[A]ll liberals share a common denominator: they believe in putting freedom and the individual first. Another distinguishing feature of liberalism is that it distrusts decisions made on behalf of collective entities, whether these entities are nations, classes..., castes, religious groups..., or whatever. All such decisions tend towards arbitrariness in that they ignore differences within such an entity, overlook individual needs and create new injustices.

Fortunately the world is a big place, and liberalism lives on.

Update (Mar 7, 2007): Brian Doherty has written an excellent article today Libertarianism: Past and Prospects, which is germane here. The anarchism I oppose is that which is oblivious to the art of a constitution and excuses the rule of men.

Update (Mar 9, 2007): In response to Brian Doherty's article, Brink Lindsey has written an excellent essay Libertarians in an Unlibertarian World, in which he faces reality head on and concludes by calling for a "new political identity", "a genuinely liberal identity". Lindsey writes,
What needs to be developed is a set of ideas that can serve as the basis for a new political identity. Not a strictly libertarian identity – there simply aren’t enough strictly defined libertarians to base a mass political movement on. Rather, a genuinely liberal identity – one that brings together “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” voters from across the current left-right spectrum. One that recognizes a more expansive role for government than committed libertarians would like, but which nonetheless supports both economic and personal liberty. Here, then, is the way forward as I see it: to articulate an appropriately inclusive political vision that puts freedom at the center of its commitments.
This sounds a lot like Werner.

However, if unqualified, this approach is fraught with danger, in particular when you open the flood gates to "a more expansive role for government".

Principled lines must be drawn, where the presumption of liberty is not only supported, but insisted upon.

Update (Apr 9, 2007): Here's an entertaining outreach introduction to liberalism by Daniel Tourre of the Alternative Libérale in France. In it he distinguishes between liberalism, socialism, and conservatism, as I do. I particularly like how he starts it off with this wonderful Magritte painting La condition Humaine.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Amazing Change

You can be an abolitionist now. You can start by signing a petition. A year ago I read the book Understanding Global Slavery by Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves, a partner in this effort.

I can't wait to see the movie Amazing Grace, just released.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Imagery of a Free Pirate

This is a Free Pirate.

It represents a liberal who opposes intellectual monopoly.

It represents a liberal who opposes monopoly grants in general.

It represents a liberal who believes in the Declaration of Independence.

The use of the pirate motif is ironic.

Supporters of intellectual monopoly dismiss liberals' critiques by calling them "pirates", putting a pirate hat on them with all that connotes, a lack of respect for rights, a lack of respect for property, a lack of due process, anarchy, etc. Following the lead of the Swedish Pirate Party, a free pirate takes this term of opprobrium and adopts it. And so there is the juxtaposition of that symbol of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, carrying the Declaration of Independence, with a pirate hat.

So actually... paraphrasing René Magritte,

Ceci n'est pas un pirate libre.
This is not a Free Pirate.

It is a caricature of a liberal, meant to discredit her.

As did the Levellers in 1647[1], a free pirate ingeniously confesses to be a pirate, though the true and real pirates are those who hijack liberalism[2], be they socialists, conservatives, or anarchists, marauding the rule of law, replacing it with the rule of men.

Whoa! Let's back up. Way too serious...

Part of this pirate thing is just meant to be fun. Think Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Let's examine some of the symbols.

First, there's the pirate hat. A free pirate supports natural and constitutional rights passionately, as in the Bill of Rights. Despite her love of life, the grandees throw a pirate hat on her head, painting a caricature for others to see, with a skull and crossbones. What does she do? In a fit of irony, she dons the hat herself. She adopts it. She revels in the disarticulation of their disparagement.

Then there's the hook. It symbolizes the disabilities Lady Liberty suffers these days, as she seemingly effortlessly holds up the torch of The Enlightenment.

Finally and most importantly, there's the sea of rights a free pirate sails. Its color is sea green in honor of the Levellers, who inspired the Declaration of Independence and wrote in 1649,
That we are for Government and against Popular Confusion, we conceive all our actions declare, when rightly considered, our aim having bin all along to reduce it as near as might be to perfection, and certainly we know very well the pravity and corruption of mans heart is such that there could be no living without it; and that though Tyranny is so excessively bad, yet of the two extreames, Confusion is the worst: Tis somewhat a strange consequence to infer that because we have laboured so earnestly for a good Government, therefore we would have none at all, Because we would have the dead and exorbitant Branches pruned, and better sciens grafted, therefore we would pluck the Tree up by the roots.

Yet thus have we been misconceived, and misrepresented to the world, under which we must suffer, till God sees it fitting in his good time to cleer such harsh mistakes, by which many, even good men keep a distance from us.[3]


This artwork was created by chengan800, expressly for this website. I added the sea green.

For more sketches by the artist, please visit the Frenetic Pen Project.

  1. Anonymous (1647) A Whip for the present House of Lords, or the Levellers Levelled, pp. 2-3.

  2. Alain Laurent (2006) Le libéralisme américain : Histoire d'un détournement

  3. John Lilburn, William Walwyn, Thomas Prince, and Richard Overton (1649) A Manifestation. Reprinted by A.L. Morton (1976, editor) Freedom in Arms: A Selection of Leveller Writings, p. 253.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Open-Source Software - article by Boldrin and Levine

Michele Boldrin and David Levine have written an excellent article for The Freeman, entitled Open-Source Software: Who Needs Intellectual Property?. They write,

The market for open-source software—uncopyrighted, freely reproducible computer programs—is not well understood by economists. A central source of surprise is that innovation can thrive in a market without traditional intellectual property (IP). But as we argued in a 2005 unpublished paper, “Perfectly Competitive Innovation,” as a matter of theory there is no reason to believe that monopoly power through IP is needed for innovation. The market for open-source software is the poster child for this perspective.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Hey hipsters, liberty is the new left

It was bound to happen. Libertarian is the new left.

Decentralization defines this new spectrum. Decentralization and liberalization are our best defense against those who would take us down the road to serfdom. Isn't that the great lesson of the 20th century? Yes, yes, in so many ways, but ...

Wait! Just one question.

Looking at this diagram, wouldn't anarchy be on the left?

No, I'd say... it's somewhere on the right.

Constitutional law, grounded in the American Declaration of Independence, with its presumption of liberty, with its limited powers, with its mixed republic, with its elections and juries, with its federalism, with its measured taxation, would stand to the left. True progress comes from the respect each of us has for a certain sphere of innocence and independent action that attaches to every person in his or her individual life and social interactions. The rights in this sphere are equal, innumerable, and inalienable. They do not conflict. They are natural. They are neutral. Creative people thrive in this freedom and build the world without having to ask permission. The Declaration of Independence is far left. It calls for a revolution in our thinking, in our culture, of which we have barely scratched the surface. The Constitution, in its art, merely tries to measure up.

As for the rest of the spectrum, amid the legal anarchy, you might find semblances of law. Perfunctory law would lie somewhere in the middle, going through the motions. Zombie law would patrol on the right, dead yet walking, and arbitrary.

Liberty and anarchy are distinct and opposed, as are liberty and collectivism. If you think libertarianism means anarchism and no taxes, then you can call me a liberal.

Whatever you call it when someone says, "Hey, liberty's deck," that thingamajig is the new left. Liberalization defines the new spectrum. Yes, then I'd agree.

Liberty is the new left.

Source for diagram: A political spectrum that makes sense by Jim Ostrowski.

UPDATE: Little Venice, as it slides towards legal anarchy and little dictatorship, takes its rightful place on this spectrum.

According to Venezuela's 1999 Bolivarian Constitution,
Artículo 114. El ilícito económico, la especulación, el acaparamiento, ... y otros delitos conexos, serán penados severamente de acuerdo con la ley.
According to an unofficial translation available at the website for the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United States of America, this translates to,
Article 114: Economic crime, speculation, hoarding, ... and other related offenses, shall be punished severely in accordance with law.

Here we have some conflicted commentary on PBS's Chavez report, by a team caught up in the old political spectrum.
So last century.

Update (Dec 6, 2007): Reality starts to hit, according to this report on Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

Solonian Journal - On Rights

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why I am an Abolitionist

In the debate on how best to cut back the weeds of intellectual monopoly that entwine us, there are reformers, and there are abolitionists. I am an abolitionist.

The fledgling Pirate Party of the United States has not yet decided on its position, whether it is to be a party of reformers, abolitionists, or both.

The debate swirls upon the Pirate Party's "Points of Unity", which are its core principles, few in number, to which all board members of this pirate party must subscribe according to Section 2, Clause a, of the Proposal on Board Members.

On November 6, 2006, I wrote a small objection. The next day this objection was nearly ignored. Heart racing, I rose to defend my position.

[20:43:31] <nbx909> what about this objection
[20:44:06] <Gamer8585> its a radical proposal from the party fringe. I say deny it.
[20:44:46] <nbx909> i motion to dismiss this objection since it doesn't have enough support
[20:44:51] <Anon075> hi, I'm the objector. Actually the Swedish Pirate Party advocates the abolition of patents, too.
[20:44:52] <AdamG> well. How do you deny an objection? Has that happened before?
[20:45:02] <AdamG> Hello Anon075
[20:45:05] <Anon075> Hi
[20:45:07] <nbx909> hello
[20:45:11] <nbx909> good timing
[20:45:16] <AdamG> that's true, PPS does advocate the abolition of patents
[20:45:23] <Anon075> Jefferson advocated it, too
[20:45:24] <AdamG> That doesn't mean they are right
[20:45:33] <AdamG> Doesn't mean he's right either :)
[20:45:51] <Anon075> I may not be right, but should I be excluded?
Since then, the small objection has grown. From small seeds... And now I'm not alone. Prof. David K. Levine has contributed.

This is my objection. This is why I am an abolitionist.

Casey's Objection

My position
I would not be able to agree with the points on patent and copyright, since I favor the abolition of intellectual monopolies. I view the Intellectual Monopoly Clause of the US Constitution as a defect.

I'd recommend that the points of unity be agreeable to copyright reformers, copyright abolitionists, patent reformers, and patent abolitionists. Some might actually characterize my position as a copyright reformer instead of as a copyright abolitionist, since I believe in a right to attribution, which could be regulated much like copyright. I do believe copyright and attribution to be distinct, and so consider myself an abolitionist.
I urge support for Casey on this point. I've added material below explaining why patent and copyright are an intrinsically bad idea. It is possible to have principled disagreement on this point. I would urge the point of agreement to be that things have gone too far - that is, we agree that improvements need to be made. Does the party need to take a stand also against abolition? Would it not make more sense to be agnostic on this point? There are many of us who support abolition, but we support also sensible changes in existing law.
added by David K. Levine
[Professor of Economics at Washington University]
22 November 2006

Argument against intellectual monopoly
As I wrote on the fly in the IRC meeting (Logs11-07-06) in response to AdamG's question "What's your argument for no IP at all?",
I believe there is a natural right to imitate. That's the deontological reason. Then there is the utilitarian reason that it fosters cartels. Jefferson believed strongly that the general principle of forbidding monopolies was paramount. I could go on. There's also another book called Information Feudalism[1] that explains how patent and copyright are ways in which this country bullies poor, developing countries.
There are other points I would add, now that time permits.

I also believe there are natural rights to teach and quote. Practically speaking, the right to teach with free, unlimited quotation is one of the most important, essential moves we can make to really help the poor of the world.

Competition is also important to drive a social conscience in companies. Say there's a company, a big company, that caves into China's demands for censorship. People should be able to compete with that company by imitating it in all the dimensions of its business except for the censorship, if they feel strongly about that. In economics, this is called free entry[2].

In the real world, complex patent thickets have become an obstacle to free entry. Innocence, in principle, should be simple.

Finally, the ultimate goal would be to liberate philosopher Karl Popper's World 3[3][4] and keep it free. Yes, this would be a Third World Liberation Front[5] :-) This would ensure the most precious natural right we possess, the right to criticize. For those unfamiliar with Popper's idea of objective knowledge, here's a quote[6],

By "world 1" I mean what is usually called the world of physics, of rocks, and trees and physical fields of forces. By "world 2" I mean the psychological world, the world of feelings of fear and of hope, of dispositions to act, and of all kinds of subjective experiences.

By "world 3" I mean the world of the products of the human mind. Although I include works of art in world 3 and also ethical values and social institutions (and this, one might say, societies), I shall confine myself largely to the world of scientific libraries, to books, to scientific problems, and to theories, including mistaken theories.
Elsewhere, Popper writes[7],
The evolution of language and, with it, of the world 3 of the products of the human mind allows a further step: the human step. It allows us to dissociate ourselves from our own hypotheses, and to look upon them critically. While an uncritical animal may be eliminated together with its dogmatically held hypotheses, we may formulate our hypotheses, and criticize them. Let our conjectures, our theories, die in our stead! We may still learn to kill our theories instead of killing each other. If natural selection has favored the evolution of the mind for the reason indicated, then it is perhaps more than a utopian dream that one day may see the victory of the attitude (it is the rational or the scientific attitude) of eliminating our theories, our opinions, by rational criticism, instead of eliminating each other.
Perhaps the more we hinder the former, the more we foster the latter. This is one reason it's so important, so imperative to keep World 3 free.

How do people get paid?
I don't know, but as I said in the IRC meeting (Logs11-07-06), "The market has many ways." One person's imagination won't necessarily predict where the marketing people will find a way. Much of it will be by trial and error. But here I go anyway...
In a parallel universe, not far from our own, I go to iTunes and subscribe to the South Park season, much like we can now do for the Colbert Report with a Multi-Pass. Only there's a twist. If there's not enough interest, there's no new South Park season. Does this sound far-fetched? Seems pretty normal to me.
If I may add here. The bottom line is that they do get paid. The situation with patent and copyright is different, and in both cases there are a great many ways of getting paid. The problem is that there is a seemingly compelling theory of why people won't get paid - without IPR no one needs to pay because consumers will prefer to wait until it is available for free rather than pay the creator. There are two defects in this argument, one most relevant to patent, one to copyright. In the case of patent, the argument ignores the property right that exists without IPR, the property right in the first copy. Unless someone pays for the first copy, the innovator has no reason to make known the innovation. The right to go first is extremely valuable in fact. It is easy to debate the theory on either side. But the facts are pretty clear: there is no evidence that patents increase innovation, and plentiful evidence they do not. Two particularly good sources: Lerner's study [1] of 150 years of data on patents and innovation, and the careful study of the software industry by Bessen and Hunt [2] showing that patents reduced rather than increased innovation. Basically, while patents increase the return from innovation, they increase the cost due the need to acquire IPRs in order to innovate. So from a theoretical standpoint, patents can either increase or decrease innovation, depending on which effect dominates. In software it seems it is the latter; in general, it seems that it is something of a wash. It is important here to recognize that in addition to the effect on innovation patents have an impact on the usefulness of innovation. Hence, to justify patents from an economic point of view, not only must they increase innovation, they must increase innovation substantially enough to offset the other costs. The evidence is strong that they do not.

Turning to copyright, there is again no evidence that copyright serves to increase new creations. Simply looking at the time-series of copyright changes against the number of copyrights shows this pretty clearly - see for example my work with Boldrin [3]. The best comparative study is the book by Scherer Quarternotes and Banknotes documenting the fact that copyright had little or no effect on the output of classical music. The best pro-copyright argument is one of "now things are different because the electronic reproduction is so amazingly fast and cheap." This argument also is defective. First, it is the amount you can earn relative to the cost of production that matters - the same technology that makes electronic reproduction so amazingly fast and cheap also makes the cost of production amazingly cheap. Second, it ignores the potential for selling complementary items. The obvious examples are recorded music increases the demand for the creators live performances. So there is a perfectly viable model where recorded music is given away for free as advertising for the expensive concerts where the creator makes his living. The working example of this is the open-source software music, where the software is generally not only free as in freedom, but also free as in beer, with the profit coming from the sale of consulting services.
added by David K. Levine
[Professor of Economics at Washington University],
10 November 2006.

Additional Materials
  • A summary of the principles of a Free Pirate.
    [added by AdamG]

  • Madison's speech about the Bill of Rights
    [added by AdamG]

  • Against Intellectual Property
    [added by AdamG]

  • ...
  • Reds with Suits by Randy Barnett, professor of legal theory at Georgetown University. This is a review of Larry Lessig's book Future of Ideas, where Barnett praises his book, while spelling out his differences with him. He writes,
    Unfortunately, Lessig is a trimmer when it comes to IP law, not an abolitionist.

  • Property Rights and Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin, Professor of Economics at University of Minnesota, and David K. Levine, Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis. They write,
    All of this brings us to what intellectual property law is really about - a reality that is simply obscured by analogies to other types of property. What intellectual property law is really about is about your right to control my copy of your idea. ...
    It is no coincidence that the battle over intellectual property is so closely tied to debate over freedom and privacy. For you to control my use of my copy of your idea necessarily requires intrusive measures.

  • Princeton University Press has made available online the introduction to Randy Barnett's book Restoring the Lost Constitution. Natural rights are the measure of the legitimacy of any constitution, and Barnett develops this founding concept beautifully. In his conclusion, Barnett writes[8],
    There are other defects as well.... Congress is given the power to grant authors and inventors limited monopolies on their writings and inventions, which restricts the property rights of others.

  • Regarding AdamG's question in the IRC meeting, here's an excellent work on how sovereignty is limited by rights[9], On the Sovereignty of the People by Benjamin Constant (1815).

  • Tom Palmer, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote two papers that question patent and copyright law.

  • Finally, here's a quote from the economist F. A. Hayek (Nobel Prize, 1974), the man I credit with winning the commanding heights[10] in the war of ideas last century. He writes in 1947,
    The problem of the prevention of monopoly and the preservation of competition is raised much more acutely in certain other fields to which the concept of property has been extended only in recent times. I am thinking here of the extension of the concept of property to such rights and privileges as patents for inventions, copyright, trade-marks, and the like. It seems to be beyond doubt that in these fields a slavish application of the concept of property as it has been developed for material things has done a great deal to foster the growth of monopoly and that here drastic reforms may be required if competition is to be made to work. [emphasis added]
    - "Free" Enterprise and Competitive Order. In Individualism and Economic Order. University of Chicago Press. pp. 113-114.

  1. Information Feudalism by Peter Drahos with John Braithwaite

  2. See free entry

  3. See Objective Knowledge by Karl Popper

  4. See also World 3

  5. For those of you who didn't grow up in the Bay Area in the 60s, here's an article in Asian Week, Back in the Day by Neela Banerjee

  6. Source: Popper's Theory of Objective Knowledge by Rafe Champion, quoting Popper's essay 'Indeterminism is not enough' in Encounter, April 1973.

  7. Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind by Karl Popper. In Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge, edited by Gerard Radnitzky and W. W. Bartley, III (1987) p. 152.

  8. Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty by Randy Barnett (2003) p. 355.

  9. See also Le Droit Naturel: Ses amis et ses ennemis by Patrick Simon (sorry, no English translation yet).

  10. See the PBS movie Commanding Heights