Left Libertarian

Crowd-Sourcing the Law David S. D'Amato at Center for a Stateless Society (Saturday, July 23) Around the world, from the North Atlantic to Anatolia, political and economic instability have stimulated a reassessment of the requirements of constitutional government. In what seems to be an acknowledgment of the new realities of the Information Age, the political class has stressed popular involvement in the drafting process, a “participatory” approach to overhauling the foundations of the legal framework. “Iceland,” reports the Washington Post, “is trying to do just that, by crowdsourcing its new constitution to its citizens through social media.” Cries for popular participation are no less vociferous in Turkey, where—in the wake of the Arab Spring—a recent election has prompted calls for a completely new constitution. Opening the process of shaping the law to the body politic is an important step in the right direction, but it need not stop at merely tweaking a constitution. In fact, the practical benefits of popular participation in shaping the contours of the law suggest that a single starting point for law, a static authority like a written constitution, is neither necessary nor desirable. The useful insight embedded in the “crowdsourcing” approach to constitutional government is its implicit rejection of a top-down blueprint for the law. Whether its advocates realize it or not, Friedrich Hayek’s concept of “spontaneous order” is the core of the participatory model. What’s more, the logic of that concept requires us to go well beyond just the replacement of a constitution; it insists on the replacement of the state itself.

We might wonder, in a society without the arbitrary authority of the state, wherefrom the just authority of the law would derive. The absence of self-anointed rulers and their capricious edicts presents a question of what the substance of the law would be, of where we might find its content and how we could ensure its legitimacy. And although there is a general and prevailing assumption that we need the overriding, centralized supremacy of the state to have law and order, there is reason to believe that indeed the opposite is true, i.e., that law and order are impossible under the direction of the state. Today, in places like Iceland and Turkey, the tension between the rational coherence of spontaneous order and the inertia of illogical, traditional ideas about government is at center stage. The problems inherent in economic planning thus provide an especially apposite analogy to those of legal planning. Just as Hayek observed of the economy that the knowledge necessary for order “never exists in concentrated or integrated form,” neither is it possible for “a single mind” to concoct the legal framework. Still, once the structural problems of an exclusive source of law have been established, it is no more clear where society ought to look for credible rules governing human action and implementing the libertarian nonaggression principle.

“Property Rights” Aren’t Just for the Rich Kevin Carson at Center for a Stateless Society (Saturday, July 23) Through the mid-fifteenth century, access to land in the typical English village was regulated on the so-called “open-field” model. The village lands were the common property of the peasant communes, and occupancy right to arable land was periodically redivided between families, with each family receiving a number of strips in each field proportionate to its size. Access rights to pasture and woodlot were similarly assigned by family. This family patrimony in access to the land was a permanent source of economic security. What’s more, the ability to build a cottage on the border of the uncultivated waste, or a marsh, was a way of insuring minimum subsistence for the landless and land-poor peasantry.

Beginning in the Tudor period, the landed classes of England enclosed a growing portion of the arable land for sheep pasturage, essentially robbing the peasantry of its traditional property rights in the land — established by the venerable title of cultivation for time out of mind — by brute force. Henries VII and VIII seized the land of the Church and the monasteries and gave them away to royal favorites, who disregarded the peasants’ customary rights and either evicting them to enclose more pasture or rack-tenting them. By the eighteenth century, probably half the arable land in England’s open fields had been stolen in this manner. The process continued in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this time under the so-called Parliamentary “Acts of Enclosure.” Arable land, but even more so common pasture and waste, were enclosed as fee-simple property. Although in legal theory the peasants were compensated for their share in the common with fee-simple rights to a share of enclosed land, in practice most claims by customary right weren’t recognized under royal law.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Permanent Settlement was undertaken to determine the ownership of land — and consequently tax liability — in British-ruled India. The colonial authorities identified some landed family in each village, whose rights were heavily restricted by customary law, and recognized them as fee-simple owners in the English sense, nullifying the peasantry’s previous customary rights in the common lands of the village and turning them into tenants at will.

A post by Arnold Kling got me dredged up some thoughts from the back of my mind concerning the non-profit sector. For a long time I’ve had mixed feelings about this sector. On the one hand, I regard non-profit organizations as institutions (and I regard institutions as the enemy of thick individualism) which of course is an entry in the minus column. On the other hand, non-profit status per se appeals to my anagorism and suspicion of the profit motive.

Kling uses the following table to illustrate the differences between for-profit and non-profit entities:

This doesn’t quite match my understanding of the situation. I would use “Customers” rather than “Consumers” in the lower left corner cell. Every consumer (in this particular context) is a customer, but not every customer is a consumer. There are, after all, some important differences between B2B and B2C commerce. A consumer, unlike a business customer, is an individual. Actually, the inclusion of the word Pinel in the table is what unleashed the present post from the mental stew. The trend toward referring to “Beneficiaries” of both public and charitable agencies as “consumers,” like most campaigns of conservative messaging and framing, has not exactly been subtle. This tendency is one more reason for my “I hate charity” attitude. All charity is philanthropy, but not all philanthropy is charity. The forms of philanthropy I most admire (and actually do try to support, even with my meager means) are those that are out to change the world. Charity, as I understand the term, is about changing individuals.
The interpersonal manifestation of charity is what is commonly referred to as “making someone one’s project.” A good popular culture example is the “takeover makeover” described in the song Popular from the Broadway musical Wicked. Resistance to this practice consumes a lot of mental energy I’d much rather be free to invest in other things, and I wish the prevailing mores and norms treated it as atrocious etiquette or something. The institutional form of charity is infinitely worse. This is especially the case if the charity in question uses means testing. At any rate, institutional charity is often literally about re-formatting a personality to reflect middle class norms, such as dressing conservatively or self-identifying as a homeowner. The most abusive charities, of course, are those connected with evangelical charities (basically any organization with “rescue mission” in its name) who speak in terms of people “hitting rock bottom.” Use of this phrase by anyone (especially when referring to themselves) should in all cases be interpreted as code for “Yes, Virginia, I’m one of those people who believe human nature is inherently rotten.” As an anarchist, I hold such attitudes in actual contempt.

I apologize for the tardiness, and the brevity, of this update — as is too frequently the case lately, I’m in the midst of intermittent Internet problems, this time probably due to something going on with my router. I foresee a trip to the electronics store in my immediate future. Have a great weekend!

It's not entirely clear what's going on here, but someone anonymous has pointed us to a post on a blog that was supposedly posting "ridiculous pictures of Celine Dion" (that's the name of the blog) that says the site got a legal nastygram from Dion's lawyers, claiming infringement. They don't provide details of what they think about the site is infringing (copyright? publicity rights?), so it's tough to analyze the specific legal issues, though I can't see how they have much of a legitimate case. Either way, whoever runs the site has agreed to take it down, because the cost of defending it is too high. Of course, that's what Celine Dion's lawyers were hoping for anyway. So the blog is gone, though it did leave this one image as the avatar of the user who put together the site:

A reader points out a police dashboard video posted by Ohioans for Concealed Carry that vividly illustrates some of the problems with the state's requirement that people with carry permits "promptly" announce that they have a weapon if they are stopped by a cop. In this case, two officers in Canton pull up behind a car to investigate what they think is solicitation of a prostitute. The driver, William E. Bartlett, repeatedly attempts to notify them that he is legally carrying a handgun, holding out his permit for them to see, and he is repeatedly silenced or interrupted. When Bartlett finally is able to say "I have a CCW," the officer near him, Patrolman Daniel Harless, panics, grabs the gun, and goes off on an extended, adrenaline-fueled, profanity-filled tirade that must be heard to be believed, telling the disarmed, handcuffed man that his failure to promptly report the gun shows he is too stupid and irresponsible to have a CCW permit and would have justified a swiftly administered death penalty:

In the most comical moment, Harless expresses doubt that Bartlett, who has been holding out his CCW permit for the officers to see since he was stopped, has a permit at all. He goes scrounging through Bartlett's personal effects and car, looking for the permit, which Bartlett is still holding in his hand as he sits handcuffed in the police cruiser.

According to an update added today, "Canton Police announced Thursday that the officer was relieved of all duties in June following an internal investigation complaint filed in this matter." Even if we assume/pray that Harless is unusually hotheaded, the encounter, which occurred on June 8, shows how difficult it can be to comply with the CCW notification requirement, which is in any event open to interpretation. (How prompt is "prompt"?) Ohioans for Concealed Carry argues that the rule, violation of which can result in arrest and loss of the permit, "has substantial 1st, 4th, and 5th amendment problems."

Since 2000, The Canton Repository reports, the police department's internal affairs unit has investigated 16 complaints against Harless, a former Marine and Ohio native who came to Canton in 1996 after working as a police officer in Virginia for four years. "Obviously," says Bill Adams, president of the Canton Police Patrolmen's Association, "whatever transpired on that video is an isolated incident."

“The collapse of fisheries worldwide endangers the livelihoods and food security of tens of millions of people. These fisheries are often small and ill-suited to top-down regulatory intervention. In many cases, a “tragedy of the commons” scenario—in which each individual fisherman seeks only to maximize his own catch—leads to overfishing and collapse. But a recent article in Nature describes a different, far more promising trend. It analyzes the surprisingly successful preservation of small fisheries through devolved systems of comanagement. As Ray Hilborn, professor at the University of Washington and one of the article’s coauthors puts it, the report’s findings “[illustrate] the world’s growing ability to manage fisheries sustainably … in small-scale fisheries or countries without strong central governments.”

The project followed 130 comanaged fisheries in 44 developed and developing countries across a range of ecosystems, fishing styles, and targeted species. Across the sample, a pattern emerged: for a fishery to survive, there needed to be strong community leadership. “Community leaders weren’t just important,” said lead author Nicolás Gutiérrez, “they were by far the most important attribute present in successful co-managed fisheries.” Interestingly, these community leaders do not themselves need to be fishermen.

Southern California’s sea urchin fishery is a good example. Urchin fishing in the 1970s was unregulated and lucrative enough to draw people from their stable full-time careers; by the 1990s the urchin population had been reduced by 75 percent and showed no sign of leveling off. State licensing restrictions did nothing to stave off collapse, and it was only when the community of fishermen agreed among themselves on the necessity for moderation that the urchin population began its recovery. Today, under the same communal leadership, the urchin fishery of San Diego is one of the world’s most sustainable.

It’s Very Hard To Take Money Out Of Politics Matthew Yglesias at ThinkProgress » Yglesias (Friday, July 22)

Turn the waste of one production process into the fuel/input required to operate another. Do that again and again and again until there is nothing left to reuse.
All along the way, find ways to take the good parts out of each process. It could be food in one. Heating/cooling in another. Fresh water in a third.
For example. Let's say you want to produce vegitables and fish. If you did it in a disconnected way, you would be hit with expenses (both monetary and time) at each step in the process. You would need to fertilize the plants. Feed the fish. Clean the water. It gets expensive early.

If you connected the production systems together, by closing the loops, you would have an aquaponics system. In an aquaponics system, the fish waste feeds bacteria which in turn produces fertilizer for the plants and fresh water for the fish. The food the plants produce generate excess that feeds the fish. With a tiny bit of automation and design, the entire thing operates seemlessly. Loop closed! The biggest chore is collecting the bounty.

Closing loops can turn problems into opportunties. Waste into bounty.

I'm both streamlining the Corvus Editions catalog a bit for upcoming bookfairs and trying to assemble a more focused body of materials to serve as a background for the next couple of issues of The Mutualist. With those goals in mind, I've combined the most useful bits of my own writing from the two issues of LeftLiberty with the blog posts I reference, or expect to reference, most often, as a special issue of The Mutualist. The contents are:
Their System is Breaking David S. D'Amato at Center for a Stateless Society (Friday, July 22)
“The euro and stock markets fell,” reports BBC News, “and borrowing costs of indebted countries rose, as worries over debt crises in the eurozone and US mounted.” Ahead of a meeting of European leaders set to begin in Thursday (July 21), gold spiked to record highs and financial stocks plummeted.

As trust in the state wanes, interest rates on government debt rise starkly, accompanied by growing worries that governments around the world — including the U.S. — will default on their debt obligations. All the while politicians insist that, in the words of U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, government must act “forcefully” to prevent further crisis.

Whether or not any particular state is currently in default, the economic system of statism, built on theft and exploitation, is at all times unstable and on the verge of collapse. By rendering inefficient business models and pursuits profitable where they otherwise would not be, the state promotes the accumulation of wealth in losing commercial activities.

The state’s arbitrary rules and regulations, barriers to market entry erected under the pretext of “consumer protection,” create an environment wherein multinational corporate giants suck up all the oxygen. Where — in a market freed from the constraints of the ruling class — societal wealth and investments would flow into cost-effective and socially beneficial enterprises, today the outlets for all economic resources are systematically determined by the interests of elites.

To brace its crony capitalism against the constant pressure of economic reality, the state must spend ever more, both allaying the strains of widespread poverty and unemployment and — more significantly — subsidizing the operating costs of huge, powerful companies. “Too big to fail” became the familiar refrain in the incipiency of the present economic downturn, and it is indeed true that in the current, statist economy, many of the most important pivot points of the system are the most thoroughly intertwined with the state.

The Policeman is Not Your Friend Kevin Carson at Center for a Stateless Society (Friday, July 22) After writing so many columns on police issues, I suppose I should make the disclaimer that my dad was a cop. I’m morally certain he was a good man, and that — however much we might differ on politics if he were still alive — he was scrupulously just by his standards. But when I see a cop in my rearview mirror, I don’t like having to hope it’s a decent person.

And there’s good reason to assume any cop you see is a bad person. The town where my dad worked as a cop topped out at under 20,000 people when he retired in the 1970s. The kinds of people who chose to work in small towns, policing their neighbors in communities where everyone knew everyone else, were a lot different from those who find police work appealing today. Urban police forces are disproportionately attractive to people who get off on wearing black uniforms and making displays of force to terrorize the local population into submission (er, “compliance”). They appeal to people who enjoy stomping around in loud boots and kicking in doors at 3AM, terrorizing children and shooting pets. They appeal, in short, to sociopaths.

Here’s a quote from a Cato study on police militarization: “We send out two, two-to-four-men cars, we look for minor violations and do jump-outs…. After we jump-out the second car provides periphery cover with an ostentatious display of weaponry. We’re sending a clear message: if the shootings don’t stop, we’ll shoot someone.”

In 2009 the Homer, Louisiana Police Chief stated: “If I see three or four young black men walking down the street, I have to stop them and check their names. I want them to be afraid every time they see the police….”

In that context consider the recent arrest of Emily Good, in Rochester, NY — while standing in her own front yard — for filming cops making a bust. The arresting officer claimed she was “interfering” with the arrest and he “didn’t feel safe” with her back there. He initially told her it wasn’t legal to film him from the sidewalk, but he escalated matters after she’d already stepped back onto the grass.

In a Free Market, Information Wants to be Free Kevin Carson at Center for a Stateless Society (Friday, July 22) I just read a piece by Peter Frase, a graduate student in sociology at City University of New York, in which he exposes (“Anti-Star Trek: A Theory of Posterity,” December 14, 2010) the irony of state intervention being used to save “the market” from unfettered competition (or, as some call it, “socialism”).

Frase points out that the Federation of Star Trek: The Next Generation is, “in essence, a communist society. There is no money, everyone has access to whatever resources they need, and no-one is required to work.” The communism of Star Trek is enabled by two technological components: the replicator, which can instantly produce a copy of any object at virtually zero cost; and some vague form of free energy.

In other words, this communism results, not from any kind of nationalization or other government action, but from the spontaneous effects of technology that makes goods and services “too cheap to meter.” This isn’t exactly a new idea. A number of free market economists, starting with Carl Menger, have recognized in theory that a good could be so abundant as to be a “non-economic good.” That is, because the supply exceeded any demand for it even when it was virtually free, it was a non-scarce good with no need to economize on it.

And from the opposite direction, Marx saw his communist model of distribution “to each according to his need” as something that would be made possible by the economy of abundance growing out of the productive forces unleashed by capitalism. The forces of production would achieve a level of productivity that could no longer be contained within the bounds of the capitalist system.

Against this future scenario, Frase posits an “anti-Star Trek” which “takes these same technological premises: replicators, free energy, and a post-scarcity economy,” but arranges the social system so as to “maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power” despite the abundance created by replicators.

There Is No Expiration On Your Stupidity
(A customer comes to the till with a large bottle of milk.)
Customer: “Hello, I’d like to return this. It’s expired.”
Me: “It says on the receipt that you bought it last week.”
Customer: “Yes, but I haven’t used it. It’s expired.”
Me: “The expiration date is yesterday. It was well in date when you bought it.”
Customer: “Yes, but I didn’t use it, so you have to give me a refund.”
Me: “I’m afraid we can’t give a refund for that. It was within date when you bought it.”
Customer: “Well, can’t you change it, at least?”
Me: “You want to swap some expired milk for fresh milk?”
Customer: “No, just change the label so it’s in date again.”
Customer: “Do you still have the fifty piece nuggets?”
Me: “No, I’m sorry. It was a limited time product, but we still have the twenty piece.”
Customer: “Okay, I need a minute to figure out what I want.”
Me: “No problem. Just let me know when you’re ready.”
*long silence*
Customer: “Okay, that’ll be all.”
Me: “I’m sorry?”
Customer: “Oh, I think I forgot to order!”

Regardless of any decay in the legal system, business will still be conducted. Small disputes will be resolved through the existing system, with graft tipping the scales or speeding the outcome. Large disputes involving substantial wealth transfer will be something else entirely. These disputes will be resolved through the ability of one party or the other to apply the threat of (or actual) violence to the negotiation process.

These pressures won't only be the result of counterparties that have access or control the large mafias/gangs/militias (or corporate militaries) that will spring up during economic collapse (far larger than we've seen the US to date). Threats will also be mounted by government/defense/security officials that use their government sanctioned command of violence (police, SWAT, military units, etc.) as a means to personal enrichement.

This has pretty intersting implications for those GG readers that have large amounts of wealth in the current system. You might not be able to retain it or move it or transact with it in a collapse scenario w/o putting your life (and those around you) at mortal risk.

NOTE: We've already seen a taste of what's to come with the financial crisis of 2008. In sum: it was the biggest financial crisis to date, full of fraud and deception across the board, and almost nobody was punished for it. In fact, most were rewarded for their malfeasence with generous government bailouts and huge bonuses.

I love the Freeebay website for their commitment to the gift economy, although I find the writing there to be very academic and usually way over my head. Today, however, David Graeber’s On the Moral Grounds of Economic Relations is readable, humorous and really offers some believable explanations of things. Required reading for anagorists and our detractors alike.

Traditionally, entitlement referred to the condition of the aristocracy, the nobility, the landed gentry; someone with a title. The conservative public relations machine has been very successful at re-branding, in the public mind, safety net programs as “entitlement” programs, or “entitlements” for short. The liberal project started out as an attempt to make sure nobody was entitled to anything; sort of a negative equality to go with their negative liberty. I would say they’ve succeeded mainly at replacing the de jure aristocracy in land with a de facto aristocracy in currency-denominated “wealth.” I myself endorse, at least as an asymptotic goal, post-scarcity, which might be thought of as everyone being entitled to everything. Adopting (for the sake of argument, of course) the rightist credo that “utopia is not an option,” we are stuck with a “pick two” universe; entitlement for some or entitlement for none. Entitlement for some may have something to do with civilization itself, as it may take a certain level of economic surplus to support what might be called a leisure class, and it may take a leisure class to invent handy-dandy tools such as literacy, and maybe some forms of inquiry. This may be reason to believe that civilization (and technology, urbanism, literacy, etc.) are incompatible with anarchy. Be that as it may, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle simply does not appeal to me. I find technology fun as well as useful, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to get educated; while respecting the overall tenor of anti-schooling arguments.

There has been some trickle-down of entitlements, but universalizing of even the most basic entitlements seems to elude the forces of progress as if by an Iron Law of Economics. A “first world” nation can be civilized enough for workers to be entitled to basic protections of labor law, but it seems there’s always a (usually migrant) workforce outside the “labor law system,” which only covers “real jobs;” permanent and/or full-time jobs, and the Central Dictate of Market Economics (even in the freed market, to some extent) is that work itself is a privilege and not a right.

I read an article about the recent breach of NATO by LulzSec, which is the latest battle, if you will, in an ideological war between governments who rely on lies, secrecy and fear, and activist hackers who want to expose these criminals for what they really are.

But where the article was good, the comments were abysmal. One shining example of unthink was MidWestMom’s exhibit of a brainwashed person’s thought process (these are the people who vote to elect the criminals, so it is no wonder we get what we get).

Doesn’t matter what information the hackers found….their actions are illegal. They knowingly & purposefully committed a crime…

…[W]e should consider the age-old question: Does the end justify the means? If we answer Yes to that question, aren’t we equally as guilty in the crime? And doesn’t that indicate our standards are just as low as those who work to destroy our rights, our government and our country. How can we demand our government adhere to our laws and our constitution if we ourselves condone selected violations of the same?

Setting aside the double-standard and non sequitir, this is not about whether “the end justifies the means” (but if you’re keeping score at home, yes, sometimes it does), the real question is whether we have the right to challenge unjust authority.

The people who are “working to destroy your rights”, your enemies, are in ur guvermint makin’ ur lawz.

When they have taken away or diluted the legal means to challenge their authority, when in courts they have stacked the deck against the common man, in favor of their own interests and those of their lobbyists, when they ignore the rules intended to bind them in our service, the only available means of recourse are by process of elimination, “illegal”.

Well it’s a little to late for that because they’ve got the opporunity and they’re taking full advantage of it. Naturally, the people who are fucking you have created “laws” and “rules” to establish the “order” which ensures you will always be the fuckee and they will always be doing the fucking. And although it may not always be prudent to resist, it is by no means wrong to resist, no matter what their law says.

If you can’t make that distinction between what is right and what is legal, then you deserve whatever fucking they decide to give you.

From the insight that the benefits of civilization rest on the use of more knowledge than can be used in any deliberately concerted effort, it follows that it is not in our power to build a desirable society by simply putting together the particular elements that by themselves appear desirable. Though probably all beneficial improvements must be piecemeal, if the separate steps are not guided by a body of coherent principles, the outcome is likely to be a suppression of individual freedom.

The reason for this is very simple though not generally understood. Since the value of freedom rests on the opportunities it provides for unforeseen and unpredictable actions, we will rarely know what we lose through a particular restriction of freedom. Any such restriction, any coercion other than the enforcement of general rules, will aim at the achievement of some foreseeable particular result, but what is prevented by it will usually not be known. The indirect effects of any interference with the market order will be near and clearly visible in most cases, while the more indirect and remote effects will mostly be unknown and will therefore be disregarded. We shall never be aware of all the costs of achieving particular results by such interference.

And so, when we decide each issue solely on what appears to be its individual merits, we always overestimate the advantages of central direction. Our choice will regularly appear to be one between a certain known and tangible gain and the mere probability of the prevention of some unknown beneficial action by unknown persons.

I’m attracted to the point Hayek is making here, and it gets at some issues I’ve been thinking about regarding the gap between strict minimal state versions of libertarianism and more modest forms of classical liberalism (see here or here for my take on the distinction). Here are some reflections, and questions.

Many anticensorship systems work by making an encrypted connection (called a “tunnel”) from the user's computer to a trusted proxy server located outside the censor's network. This server relays requests to censored websites and returns the responses to the user over the encrypted tunnel. This approach leads to a cat-and-mouse game, where the censor attempts to discover and block the proxy servers. Users need to learn the address and login information for a proxy server somehow, and it's very difficult to broadcast this information to a large number of users without the censor also learning it. Telex turns this approach on its head to create what is essentially a proxy server without an IP address. In fact, users don't need to know any secrets to connect. The user installs a Telex client app (perhaps by downloading it from an intermittently available website or by making a copy from a friend). When the user wants to visit a blacklisted site, the client establishes an encrypted HTTPS connection to a non-blacklisted web server outside the censor’s network, which could be a normal site that the user regularly visits. Since the connection looks normal, the censor allows it, but this connection is only a decoy.

The client secretly marks the connection as a Telex request by inserting a cryptographic tag into the headers. We construct this tag using a mechanism called public-key steganography. This means anyone can tag a connection using only publicly available information, but only the Telex service (using a private key) can recognize that a connection has been tagged.

As the connection travels over the Internet en route to the non-blacklisted site, it passes through routers at various ISPs in the core of the network. We envision that some of these ISPs would deploy equipment we call Telex stations. These devices hold a private key that lets them recognize tagged connections from Telex clients and decrypt these HTTPS connections. The stations then divert the connections to anti­censorship services, such as proxy servers or Tor entry points, which clients can use to access blocked sites. This creates an encrypted tunnel between the Telex user and Telex station at the ISP, redirecting connections to any site on the Internet.

The Lack Of A Legal Or Moral Basis For The Aaron Swartz Indictment Is Quite Troubling
There have been a lot of interesting discussions about the Aaron Swartz indictment, but I wanted to highlight a few key points on this, starting with an analysis of the actual legal points by Max Kennerly, who points out that the actual charges don't seem to hold up: I'm not going to take the wire fraud claim under 18 U.S.C. § 1343 seriously. They’re going to have a lot of trouble proving Swartz “devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud” by evading the IP restrictions imposed by JSTOR. As the Department of Justice’s Attorney Manual (USAM) notes, most courts interpret “defraud” as meaning “a scheme to defraud another out of money.” More from the USAM about the “specific intent” to defraud here. Introduction to the New World of Alternative Currencies Michel Bauwens at P2P Foundation (Thursday, July 14)

“The words ‘money’ and ‘currency’ are used synonymously in everyday language. However, the rising importance of collaborative consumption and social networks is bringing another, broader definition of ‘currency’ into focus. To understand the impact of new social technologies for trading and sharing, an analysis of this broader concept of currency can be illuminating.

Art Brock, a monetary theorist and founder of the meta-currency project, recently articulated why a broader definition of currency is now needed. In a panel discussion aptly entitled ‘Monetizing Intangible Value,’ Brock suggested that many symbols which aren’t in fact fungible, like money, are in fact forms of currency:

- [m]oney is a subset of the overall range of currencies that we have. For me, something like “Certified Organic” is actually a currency. There are rules by which it’s issued. It changes value flows. It changes the way people shop. It changes the way production is done.

The suggestion is that other types of symbols than money, which aren’t units of exchange, but do affect the way value flows through the economy, are also types of currency. A “Certified Organic” sticker is a socially accepted symbol for an underlying (otherwise invisible) aspect of a product’s value. By creating a social symbol, which has “currency”, patterns of consumption and production can shift. The production of such socially recognised symbols can be a powerful way of changing economic habits. However, there is more to the search for a broader understanding of currency than concerns about organic apples. Brock’s motivation as a theorist about the future of money stems from his interest in the rise of the internet as a platform for quantifying and recording “flows.”

Currencies now exist to measure previously vague and unquantifiable social assets, like reputation on eBay. Likewise, trust earned in the context of gift economies like CouchSurfer, where users invite each other to stay in their homes as guests, can now be measured and displayed in the form of a review, another type of social currency. A good host can earn valuable “CouchSurfer currency” which can be used to encourage others to trust them as a guest, all around the world.

Intellectual Property Advocates Hate Competition
On a recent Mises blog thread, a commenter noted repeated a common argument that IP rights are needed to protect inventors and innovators. The reasoning is that without IP, some large company can just “knock off” your products and outcompete you.

Think about what he is saying: it’s too risky to go into a given business because someone else might compete with you. It is no surprise that the more honest advocates of IP openly admit that the very purpose of patent and copyright is to provide protection from market competition to entrepreneurs whose products are services are more easily copied than others. As I noted in my post IP Rights as Monopolistic Grants to Overcome the Public Goods Problem, IP proponents support these monopoly privileges on explicitly anticompetitive grounds. Take this explicit opening passage in an article by an ardent IP advocate, Jerome H. Reichman, a law professor at Duke:

Governments adopt intellectual property laws in the belief that a privileged, monopolistic domain operating on the margins of the free-market economy promotes long-term cultural and technological progress better than a regime of unbridled competition.

… Intellectual property laws typically provide qualified creators with temporary grants of exclusive property rights that derogate from the norms of free competition in order to overcome the “public goods” problem inherent in the commercial exploitation of intangible creations.1

Here we have an explicit admission that IP grants are monopolistic and derogate from free market norms and are opposed to a regime of “unbridled competition”–i.e., IP is anti-competitive. As is to be expected–after all, it’s a monopoly grant. Also, a recognition that the legitimacy of IP is based on the modern economic idea of “public goods” (see, on this fallacious notion, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security,” in The Economics and Ethics of Private Property).

One has to wonder why IP proponents are in favor of a competitive free market economy at all. Apparently they are willing to tolerate competition as long as competition is difficult, as long as there are high barriers to entry. If I build a warehouse business, say, someone else can compete with me but only buy buying their own warehouse, building up customers, and so on. It takes a while. Thus, I have enough “incentive” to take a “risk” and invest in my business because I know I’ll be free from competition for some time. But with businesses that rely heavily on information–the sale of software or music of movies that are easily duplicable, the sale of products with inventive features that others can soon emulate–it’s “too easy” for competitors to come in and match what I’m doing. So it’s easy to see that these “fair weather free marketeers” have a completely unprincipled, and apparently contingent and begrudging, tolerance for free market competition: they are willing to tolerate it only if competition is not too easy. Otherwise, the state must step in to dole out monopolistic privileges to protect people and their fledgling, tenuous endeavors from market competition. Their entire mentality is pervaded by bad economics, such as the idea of market failure and public goods.

My last blog suggested that the current US wars in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia are really proxy wars with China over oil and gas resources. I continue the discussion by outlining the crucial Chinese and US alliances in the region.

Libertarianism is not Madisonian Democracy
A writer at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen attempts to deduce that Libertarianism implies Madisonianism. Conclusion: Libertarians are Madisonians (but not vice-versa) Because libertarians believe humans are not angels, they grudgingly accept the necessity of some degree of government. But because they believe humans are not angels, they are also desperate to keep that government.