High IQ isn’t worth a darn if you refuse to or are unable to acknowledge that sometimes you just might be wrong. You can be the smartest person in the world, but when you make a mistake, and out of pride or fear refuse to recognize it, all your intelligence might as well not exist.
The person I just described is rarely a particularly evil person. They are simply human. And they are found in high numbers amongst the Powers That Be, precisely because of their higher level of intelligence. This is not the same as, but neither is it incompatible with the traditional Hayekian take on the subject.
When you see something, a public policy usually, done against the dictates of common sense you can be fairly certain that there are some highly intelligent people behind it. Some of them have ulterior motives, and some of them, as I said, refuse to or are unable to acknowledge that they might be wrong. I refer to “inability” in contrast to “refusal” because perhaps it is not always happening consciously. If it was, one would tend to think that most such people would check or recuse themselves after the first few times they were disproven or humiliated.
Regardless, I would go so far as to say that these peoples’ knowledge combined with their influence is a conflict of interest. And very often a liability (to the rest of us) more than an asset. Even the worst of these type of offenders may not be too smart for their own good, but they are definitely too smart for everyone else’s.
I bring all this up because of internet censorship and regulation. It seems to me to be the stupidest idea ever. Clearly, evidently, provably stupid. And unlike the invasion of foreign countries where the pretext is to overthrow evil dictators and liberate millions, unlike the drug war which is ostensibly to save people from doing themselves harm, unlike carbon emission caps and alternative energy schemes which purport to have the goal in mind of saving the planet, unlike myriad other things that just shouldn’t be done but at least someone out there is clever enough to figure out some humanitarian or altruistic or principled excuse for doing them, censoring and/or regulating the internet seems to have no reputable purpose at all.
To be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what is meant by “internet censorship,” that’s how foreign from reality the concept really is. I mean, does it have something to do with pornography? I doubt that very much. Since when did anyone in charge, the Powers That Be, care about society’s morals?
And if it isn’t that (or that is little more than just one of the pretexts) are we then talking censorship of whistle blowers and alternative media perhaps? If so, I can begin to understand why some are pushing for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still wrong (as in there is no humanitarian or altruistic or principled excuse for it), and easily in the same category as the Fairness Doctrine and book burnings. Do not people have the right (and is it not beneficial to society?) to know what is going on if it affects them? And if it doesn’t affect them, what justifiable reason is there to keep it a secret from them?
And as to regulation other than censorship, I guess I know what that means: things like taxation, invasion of privacy to fight crime (they already have the Fourth Amendment, don’t they?) and government access to confidential information to fight “terror” (but then they already have the Patriot Act) or stopping internet “piracy”, and maybe the creation of an internet commissar (pronounced “Commie-Czar”; appointed by the UN or the White House, either one will do) who makes up new things to do to justify the existence of his position.
As to “piracy,” I have a few questions: Does protecting the “rights” of large monopolies (with publishing subsidiaries) and millionaire artists (that is not to say all artists who benefit are rich, only that the rich ones are the only ones with enough clout to make it a priority in the first place) really require railroading normal internet users who have nothing to do with “illegal” downloading or copying intellectual “property”? I realize there are others who are not large corporations and millionaire artists who could in theory have their rights violated, but more than likely it wouldn’t be primarily by their peers, it would be by the same large corporations and millionaire artists who already have monopolized a niche market.
My own opinion is that intellectual property is property in the sense that the originator has the right to profit off of his own work (a text or a sound sold to a publisher or recorder), but once that work is repackaged as a sound or an image and sold to someone else, they no more own that than a baker owns a loaf of bread purchased by a hungry passerby.
Think about “illegal” downloading of music for example. In essence it is always (perhaps I should qualify that with an “almost”, but that is a separate issue) someone who acquired it legally (and who thus has property rights to it) and is choosing with whom to share it. Maybe they charge a fee. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they credit the original author. Maybe they don’t. Understand that the enforcement of intellectual property rights as currently understood entails forcing the person who is “sharing it” to do something no one has the right to force that person to do. They are either forbidden from making money with their own property (if they acquired the music legally, which short of theft that can be quantified in real terms encompasses just about every potential acquisition), or they are forcing them to say or write something when they credit the “source” and exacting punishment for those who forget or choose not to. Whether the recipient of that (whether generous or profit-motivated) exercise of property rights is one person in a living room, 100 people in a restaurant, or a million people on the internet is completely immaterial.
When such things are “stolen” there are no more tangible negative effects than there would be if a person bought a loaf of bread and decided to break it with (or resell it to) strangers. What the anti-“piracy” lobbyists are advocating (and even implementing in some cases) could be paralleled in the real world by a group of rich and influential bakers lobbying for a law requiring every person who bought a loaf of bread to throw out that which they did not eat themselves. It is true that “illegal” downloading may lead to diminished sales for record companies and publishers and so on, but it is equally true that sharing your bread with others, rather than throwing what you don’t eat away, may lead to diminished sales for bakeries. So all such laws are in fact mere subsidies to a given industry at the potential expense of everyone else.
And I still have my doubts as to whether the type of person that would “steal” (by merely having it shared with them by someone who previously legally acquired it) music is the type of person that would buy it if “stealing” wasn’t an option. Clearly they prefer “free” goods (essentially gifts from others willing to accept the costs for the sake of their reputation) and a the risk of having a bad reputation to costly goods and a good reputation.
Intellectual property rights enforced (through market incentives rather than coercive action) in the same way contracts are, as Murray Rothbard mentions here, is not the problem, it is the designation of sharing legal acquisitions for no fee, or selling legal acquisitions where there is no clear contractual condition against it, as theft, that is the problem. But at a certain point not even voluntary contracts (in the extreme case of voluntary slavery this is most obvious) can trump the human will in a way that upholds fundamental rights. When that point is reached, like when enforcing violates more rights than not enforcing does, the only thing that can satisfy both parties in the contract is trust (hence, an IOU is not worth the amount of money written on it, but worth the amount of trust the lender associates with the borrower).
When a book is sold and part of the agreement for acquiring that book is agreeing not to redistribute it in certain ways (this would, in essence be a contract) how is that enforced without disregarding the inalienable will or any of the specific freedoms implied by it? The seller should generally only do business with a buyer he trusts or is worth the risk if he turns out not to be trustworthy. If he mistakenly puts his trust somewhere he shouldn’t, he should accept that as a “loss,” though there would be no reliable way to prove or quantify that he, his reputation, or his sales were negatively effected, so it is only guaranteed to be a potential loss. It may be that the alternative, putting contractual obligations on the buyer (to not reproduce or redistribute in ways allowed for by the “contract”) would hurt reputations or sales worse than an actual violation of the contract by the buyer. But when trust is violated (not the same as committing fraud, which is more in the category of deliberately tricking someone into doing something) the seller now has the knowledge not to do business with this person and the ability to convince others to do the same, which creates a whole new array of incentives and disincentives for both he and the buyer. The latter, all other things being equal, would do best to abide by the promises he makes. In the long run it will likely be in his best interest, even if he takes a “hit” in the short term.
Another point worth making is this: If that (prevention of copyright violations) is the reason (legitimate or not) for regulating the internet (I can’t think of any others that make sense from a altruistic or even a law enforcement point of view), is it really necessary to regulate the whole thing when regulating a just a small sector of it would suffice? Or maybe that is what they are trying to regulate, just that one sector, in which case the term “internet regulation” is a little disingenuous. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be stupid for even one small sector to be the focus of new regulations, because historically, once the government gets its foot in the door, it opens it all the way and barges right in and acts like it owns the place.
Don’t the people lobbying for regulation, to protect their “rights” realize that some day it may come back to haunt them? Perhaps so, which may be why some companies, like Google, are opposing regulation and censorship.
Obviously, if it is the FBI’s job to track down “pirates,” can’t they do what they’ve always done and get a warrant or something? Doesn’t the law have enough teeth, though they be slow biters? Or does regulation somehow prevent the crimes (for the sake of the argument we’ll assume “piracy” is an actual crime) in question to the point where the need for investigation and prosecution approaches the unnecessary?
Does prevention of crime even at the expense of those whom it does not affect one way or the other really fall under the purview of law enforcement? Prevention of further, imminent crime certainly does, like when a cop shoots someone who, unprovoked, pulls a gun and points it and threatens someone with it (that is a crime even without the gunman pulling the trigger). But not cops shooting people who carry guns, own guns, seem or act like they carry or own guns, but never indicate that they intend to use them to commit a crime.
The internet isn’t broken. So don’t fix it! To me, it follows that when someone does try to fix something that is in decent shape already, that either they have a screw loose (the theory I articulated at the beginning, and by loose screw I mean the rest of their “machine” is otherwise well maintained) or they have ulterior motives (as Hayek explained it in the link above) or both. That doesn’t mean the internet can’t or shouldn’t be improved. But as with technology in general improvement can and must be achieved in a gradual, accountable, transparent, necessary, organic way.
The writing of this piece was brought on by my (slightly less than) recent signing of a Google petition, which included the option of “adding my voice” to my name, email address, and general location. Here’s what I wrote:
“If the people want something bad enough, they will find a way. You can censor the internet, but there will always be a way around it for those keen enough on finding it. Internet regulations from on high stifle innovation, limit choice, and crush freedom. You will create a black market, just like what happened with prohibition and the drug war. Perceived problems will get worse, not better. There will be unintended consequences. To enforce, you will need to spend an excessive amount of money that simply is not there. And what little is there will come at the expense of more worthwhile endeavors. Central planning, rule by experts, is doomed to failure. There is too much data and too many variables. If enforcement is instead relegated to a network of super computers, able to process such information and combinations of data at much faster rates than a body of experts, it will lack the human touch that even central planning, though inevitably destined to fail, is capable of having. This whole scheme is folly. I would not have thought it would take a humble nobody such as myself to inform you of this. But then, the conceit of the mighty never ceases to amaze.”
Also, I’ve been digging in Stephan Kinsella’s archives from the last three years and here are some pieces I would recommend for further reading on this subject, in no particular order: