More Anti-Corporate LIbertarianism

Wow, suddenly the blogs are full of anti-corporate libertarianism.  Following up the post I blogged about yesterday, Cato published Matt Yglesias of The Atlanatic on how libertarian organizations (including Cato) have often reflexively backed corporations in initiatives with dubious free-market credentials.  And now here’s a great broadside by Eric Raymond against both sides of the "net neutrality" debate.

He starts by reiterating a point made in the Roderick Long piece: much of the coroporate monopoly control cited by opponents of the free market is regulatory in origin:

Let it be clear from the outset that the telcos are putting their case for being allowed to do these things with breathtaking hypocrisy. They honk about how awful it is that regulation keeps them from setting their own terms, blithely ignoring the fact that their last-mile monopoly is entirely a creature of regulation. In effect, Theodor Vail and the old Bell System bribed the Feds to steal the last mile out from under the public’s nose between 1878 and 1920; the wireline telcos have been squatting on that unnatural monopoly ever since as if they actually had some legitimate property right to it.

Raymond goes on to chide the net-neutrality backers for utterly missing the point:

I’ve spent endless hours trying to point out to these people that their assumptions are fundamentally wrong, and that the only way to break the telco monopoly is to break the scarcity assumptions it’s based on. That the telecoms regulatorium, far from being what holds the telcos in check, is actually their instrument of control. And that the only battle that actually matters is the one to carve out enough unlicensed spectrum so we can use technologies like ad-hoc networking with UWB to end-run the whole mess until it collapses under its own weight.
His prescription is to break the monopoly by routing around it, much as Free and Open-Source Software has rendered a lot of the debate over software monopolies moot:
The only substantive threat to the telco monopoly is bandwidth that has been removed from the reach of both the telcos and their political catspaws in the regulatorium. Keep your eye on that ball; the telcos know it’s the important one and will try to distract you from it, while the “network neutrality” crowd doesn’t know it and wastes most of its energy self-defeatingly wrestling with the telcos over how to re-slice the existing pie.

Go active whenever there’s a political debate about “unlicensed spectrum”. More of it is good. Oppose any efforts to make UWB (or any other technology that doesn’t cause destructive interference) require a license anywhere on the spectrum. If you are capable, contribute to the development of mesh networking, especially wireless mesh networking.

Raymond, in painting the net neutrality activists as "useful idiots" who have allowed the telcos to frame the parameters of the debate, is making a deeper point that deserves attention.  It’s an idea that goes back at least to Korzybski and General Semantics: if you can define the agreed-upon structure of a subject, the map by which all participants orient themselves when taking their positions, you can control the debate completely.  Frame a debate in terms of scarcity, and everyone involved will spend all their time arguing about how to divvy up the pie. Control the vocabulary, and you constrain the continuum of possible outcomes.  Not that I think there’s a nefarious puppet master, scheming to impose his will by controlling the terms of the debate.  But everyone who could derive benefit from regulations guranteeing them a share (either of the pie itself or of the money and power adhering to the administration of the pie) has a vested interest in promulgating the scarcity worldview.

Korzybski said it best, when he coined the phrase "the map is not the territory".  Always question the maps, even when you like the cartographer.

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