Archive for December 2010

General Welfare

Woz has a good letter on net neutrality.  I’m also for net neutrality.  This is anti-libertarian.  I know that.  I’ll explain.

Libertarians are not anarchists.  Anarchists are people who don’t want any laws, and want us to work everything out ourselves.  Libertarians are anarchists who realize that you can’t always just work everything out, and sometimes a coercive method is just plain better.  These are almost always things that promote the General Welfare, like in the preamble to the Constitution.  That’s not income redistribution welfare — that only benefits the people who get it.  The General Welfare involves things that make you better off whether you want them to or not, like national defense and fire departments.  They are things that you can do for yourself, but if someone is doing them, then you benefit anyways.

One of the most anti-liberty parts of our Constitution is right here:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

That’s it.  That portion of the Constitution steals a small part of you.

Copyright is not a natural right.  It is a created right.  Naturally, once something enters your brain, it’s yours.  If I sing you a song, and then you repeat it, I haven’t lost anything.  I still have my song.  If I have an apple, and you take it, I’ve lost my apple.  I always have my ideas, my inventions, and writings and discoveries.

The problem is, if I give you the freedom you were born with — to listen, to understand, and to mimic — then I lost a large part of what I could gain by my writings and discoveries.  That decreases my benefit to doing so, and makes it more likely that instead of finding new ways of doing things, I’ll do what everyone else does — use other people’s writings and discoveries.

Someone has to do it first.  To get the person to do it first, the government decided to let the first person be the only person for “limited Times”.  After that, your fellow men are no longer coerced into an unnatural state, where they can completely understand your Discoveries, but are prohibited by law from using that understanding.

Why did the founders, who were as libertarian as Radley Balko or Nick Gillespe write such an anti-liberty clause into the Constitution?  Because that’s the only way that actually works. I have big problems with the way we handle copyright now, mainly revolving around the “limited Times” part, but as a principle, I agree that we need intellectual (imaginary) property to go onwards and upwards as a society.

I’m the same way about net neutrality.

In an ideal world, there would be ideal competition, and the provider that gave the service that people wanted would thrive.  Telecommunications is hardly an ideal world.   The people who run that world swim in a sea of regulation.  They wouldn’t exist without government monopolies — copyright, trademark, common carrier, etc — it’s their bread and butter.  It’s the only way they think.  To them, the only way to do business is to own the assets of their industry: Congressmen, regulators and judges.  You know how you identify a telecom executive?  He’s the guy with no nose.  He already cut it off to spite his face.

It’s blindingly obvious to anyone with half a brain that the best way to do business would be to give your customers what they want.  No one with half a brain can survive to the top of a telecom company.  Therefore, net neutrality is the only way — for now — that you can rely on these half-witted apes to not shit on anything they can’t fuck or break.  Because if someone else is making a buck off it, they’ll break it, and if they can figure out a way to fuck you — even if it costs them money in the long run — they’ll do it.

Put a sunset provision on it.  Revisit it in 10 or 20 years.  It might be obvious to a cable CEO with 3/10ths of a brain that neutrality is the best way to grow his business after a while.  But until then, we need to be protected from their stupidity.  And I say regulate them without mercy, because they wouldn’t even exist without the same regulation they are crying about now, giving them monopolies in the first place or common carrier access.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose