Capitalist Realism

I picked up Capitalist Realism: Is there no alternative? by Mark Fisher, from Zero Books, as my first read and first exposure to Fisher’s work. When he passed away by his own hand, in January 2017, I was struck by how many people were talking about him, and since I hadn’t known of his work before, thought I’d dive into something, and Capitalist Realism was of note.

Although the work contains examples that are a bit dated and specific to the UK or UK academic experience, the topics are particularly fresh in this year of governance by Reality TV, a kind of apotheosis of capitalist realism and late-capitalism. A discussion of the context and meaning of a period with an apparent end of neoliberalism becoming a dystopia of reality warping PR symbolism over substance is new again these days.

The strongest part, but also probably the most dense in references, of the overall work for me was the last, Marxist Supernanny, which provided the hint of a takedown of narcissistic infantile Traditionalist individualism and proposed a direction forward toward organizing around a rejuvenated progressive collective will to address root causes instead of symptoms or distractions.

Overall, a timely-again volume worth reading in these days of surreality in discourse but dark dystopia in events that offers not hope so much as encouragement that hope is at least possible to contemplate.

I made 86 highlights.

The cheat code of the day is TURK

Via “Chinese Gold Farmers: Work or Fun?“:

“This relationship is an amazing tangle of play and work. The gold farmer works playing a game, so he can earn money which he spends playing the same game. The customer finds part of the game too much like work, so he works at another job to earn money to pay a gold farmer to play for him, so the customer can have more fun when he plays. Got it?”

The crux of the issue is poor design. Game designers are designing games that slow players down in order to get more subscription money, which from a player perspective is just lots of boring grind. So, the players are gaming the game design. For multiplayer games, cheat codes are not available, the players have found they can use throw a turk at the game to enable a kind of cheat for themselves.

This is Globalization’s version of, “Here, let me get you past this level and then I’ll give the controller back.”

But, it’s all about how the game design sucks in every MMORPG. World of Warcraft did change the recipe a bit, but there’s just too much grind still. I know that I quit Everquest because the idea of having to build another character from nothing made me sick and angry. I felt cheated, and when people feel cheated they start to feel entitled. When people feel entitled they take back for themselves.

So, if game companies keep designing boring grind, then they will simply re-create a market for turks. Frankly, when it comes down to it, every MMORPG these days is an economic simulation more than it is a game, so players will end up coming up with economic solutions.

If I’m going to play an RPG, then I want it to be a role simulation, about relationships and factions and not about collecting currency, whether that currency is gold or number of monster kills.

Wake me up when there’s an MMORPG that actually is about roleplaying. There’s just not enough fun in these games to make it worth the time.

Real common wealth

Via The Huffington Post:

The wealthy have made greater use of the common good–they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth–and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it. They are merely paying their debt to society in arrears and investing in future empowerment.

This is the fundamental truth that motivates progressive taxation.

It is a truth that undercuts conservative arguments about taxation. Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.

Interesting article and worth a read. But it does not explicitly link wealth to privilege, only implicitly. Also, wealth is an accumulation of surplus value beyond the cost of doing business and is therefore a form of tax. Wealth is the amount by which someone has under-paid and over-charged for what they do. Profit is a form of taxation without meaningful political oversight.

Our tax forms hide this truth. They do not indicate the extent to which taxes have created and sustained the common wealth so you could earn what you have.

Like the movement to include or reveal information about the real cost of the goods and services exchanged, this seems to suggest revealing information about the real common wealth contribution to income. For example, how much would one have paid in order to commute to work, or go to the grocery store for that matter, if all roads were toll-based?

I used to advocate this to billing people when charging for bundled services. I suggested that each included service be itemized, showing the cost of each, and then to show each of those charges being zeroed out. This was a way to express the value gained through bundling, and to demonstrate the value of the services being offered.

It makes sense, though it would be complicated. What if, like Canada requires French and English, every price was required to show a real cost. Like, at the gas pump there might be two prices displayed: the point-of-sale charge and the real cost, such that each $3 gallon was demonstrated to actually cost $25, or whatever, in corporate welfare and tax money spent on the military support of industry.

The infrastructure is there at any shop that offers a “member” discount for people that have voluntarily given away their demographic information. So like selling tap water in plastic bottles, the public is already being trained to see “real” cost. Now, if only that “real” cost were the real cost instead of some inflated private tax on people that value their privacy …

Forcing the clowns to break their fall makes high-wire act safer …

Here’s an example that shows that something is messed up in the way products are priced. The article “Slashdot | Apple Turning Cell Phone Market Upside Down?” observes:

Everyone assumed that Apple’s $499/$599 prices for the iPhone was subsidized by Cingular. But, it appears that Apple is not allowing mobile carriers to subsidize the iPhone. Why? Because when Apple comes out with the Touch iPod, they don’t want it compared in price to a discounted/subsidized iPhone.

This is a product that isn’t even on the market yet and the price is already being insulated from market forces through contactual obligation. The price of the goods is pre-determined and conditioned by contract to avoid devaluation. Further, just as in the way that cars are priced, the price is made static by pushing the fungibility of the market cost into incentives and rebates. Only this time, because a dominant market position for the manufacturing firm, like any good captain of industry that has consolidated power, is forcing the partners to assume an assigned role in the circus side-show that is the market.

Of course, partly the market itself is to blame, or rather the consumers who both demand the product and are willing to go along with the show because of a suspension of disbelief, or perhaps due to managed access to information or, moreover, because of a lack of real choice other than to step off the treadmill. The managed perception of the goods is part of the sale, just like any good brand, but more than just a brand. Because the hysteria around the product is managed to a fever-pitch, or, well, at least to a slow-boil, something that Microsoft has really never managed to do, Apple has given itself room to make a deal with a partner that includes for itself a 50% profit margin.

But, what will happen is that the bargain-seeking market will make demands from the end-vendor, the retailer, and the retailer is contractually bound to not pass that pressure up the supply chain to the manufacturer. That seems like an amazingly sweet position to be in, if you’re the manufacturer, anyway.

The image that comes to mind is the high-wire artist that wows the crowd by working without a net, but has convinced circus clowns in padded clothes to gather on the ground to break any fall. It all seems harmless until some clown gets crushed.

Update: 29jan07 @ 11am

There’s a note over at Ars about a USA Today report on the deal Apple shopped and the reaction from the cellular vendors: “Verizon kicked Apple out of bed over iPhone deal.” I note with some amusment the irony that Verizon “said no because of the strictness of Apple’s terms.” Yeah, those abusive, multi-year contracts sure do suck, don’t they Mr. Cellular?

Funny money

Via Media Bloggers Association‘s aggregator, “More on the Pizza for Pesos Scandal“:

And the Republic is still standing.

Indeed. Up here at this end of the woods, I remember a time when most places actually accepted Canadian coin, and I remember that was quite convenient. Now days, I still get slipped Canadian coin every once in a while, but can’t use them. I just put them in a jar until the next time I’m up north of 49.

Every time I check my pockets these days there’s some new coin or greenback design. I find myself doing a double-take trying to suss out whether I’ve gotten slipped a Canadian coin or plug nickel or who knows what. All of the new designs are frankly a bit ugly, either they look and feel like cheap arcade tokens or the bills just look intentionally ugly … except for those lovely Sacajawea dollar coins. I cried a little, inside, when the Post Office downtown put in the lame ATM stamp machine because I would love going in there and buying a book of stamps with a $20 from the old machine and get a jackpot of Sacajaweas back in change to throw around town.

And, while I’m on the topic of funny money: what’s up with the 10 dollar bill? I swear it looks like someone urinated on it. Is that a ploy to get people to spend it faster? Like the studies that restaurants did on what color schemes would get people anxious so they wouldn’t sit in a seat for longer than it took to eat. Is the new bill designed to look soiled so people won’t want to hold on to it for long?

Update 12jan07 @ 9:39am:

Boing Boing picked this up, and links to an AP wire article about the issue. The article points out, apparently, that there are still places along the border that accept Canadian coin in the US. I am pretty sure I remember using Canadian coin in Seattle back in the day. I remember when I worked retail in Seattle a decade ago there were still tourists that would come in and try to use Canadian currency.

Heck, I’d use Canadian currency here if I could. I have a jar full of coin and bills that just hang around, sometimes for years, until I have the chance to use them. It’s really the coin that sucks, because a while ago banks stopped accepting coin for currency exchange. I found that out when I got back from my first trip to Europe and I had a small bag full of coins that I didn’t bother to spend or convert because I figured I’d just do it when I got home. The excuse was that it’s too heavy to ship and exchange bags of coin.

(Huh, I still have that bag around here somewhere … only I think I agreed to give some of the coin away as gifts at some point. Do the airport exchange booths at SEA accept coin at some usurious tithe?)

Heck, I might even use Canadian currency, if I could, just to be strange.

MPAA – size queen, fashion diva, and girlfriend from hell?

Via Slashdot, BBspot – MPAA Lobbying for Home Theater Regulations, Apparently the MPAA wants to reach into your living rooms and bedrooms and regulate the size of your equipment and the arrangement of your furniture:

The MPAA defines a home theater as any home with a television larger than 29″ with stereo sound and at least two comfortable chairs, couch, or futon. Anyone with a home theater would need to pay a $50 registration fee with the MPAA or face fines up to $500,000 per movie shown.

Then, again, they want to control your social life:

“Just because you buy a DVD to watch at home doesn’t give you the right to invite friends over to watch it too.”

It’s clear that the MPAA is a girlfriend from hell. She wants to get rid of your gadgets, rearrange your pad, alienate your friends and control your entire life. You’ve got to dump her before she ruins your life permanently.

Dude, she’s insane and needs therapy.

Too bad the story is fake. The lesson here is that the MPAA must be really, really bad if people are willing to believe they would do this kind of thing for real. This kind of asshattery is not unbelievable even if it isn’t real.

This is something that I realized a long time ago about fooling people: It’s neither hard nor skillful to get people to believe believable things. That’s just telling a lie. The skill is getting people to believe things that are unbelievable. That’s funny. If the BBspot story were well written, the level of abusrdity would have increased to the point when laughter burst from the reader. But, no. The reader is left unsatisfied. Obviously, the author of the BBspot joke story isn’t very good in bed.

On the other hand, this is a good time to reflect that the voice of authority, in this case Slashdot, can be used to legitimize lies, like laundering money. Authority in an of itself cannot be a test of veracity and therein is the character flaw of the republic. To believe authority is to conflate messenger with message.

Why do the bastards hate Animal Farm so much?

Greed, individualism, power, empire, fear … at least Cheney is consistent, but why does he hate democracy so much? He seems to even hate the republic.

I mean, I get that somewhere a whole lot of people got some wires crossed and can’t separate in their heads the idea of community from the fear of a constructed strawman “communism,” and the pathological monomania makes a kind of insane sense. But, when I was a kid and the schools kept showing the animated “Animal Farm” I didn’t get the message that community was bad. I got the message that the selfish, evil bastards can ruin community for the rest of the animals.

Is this a litmus test? Are all, and only, evil bastards drawn like flies to the concentration of power? Perhaps we can develop honeypot traps, small islands where the rich and powerful can be drawn to micronations (or see the wikipedia entry) of their own, and kept in isolation like lions at the zoo? A place where they are safe, but kept away from anyone else they might hurt. At some point, they are removed from the society to which they cannot seem to adjust.

Well, at least the prison-industrial complex will have job security taking care of all the rich and powerful so that neither are dangers to society anymore. Perhaps they deserve each other. The difference between “walled community” and “prison” is not so great after all, and we can let marketing take care of perception.

I wonder if the rich and powerful can be rehabilitated? Or, if push comes to shove, we can just use them as soylent green and be done with it.

How sane is it that to survive retail makes us insane?

I only noticed this yesterday, but Mervyn’s is closing in the Mall. This was announced as far back as January at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Layoff Tracker.

Mervyns LLC said Monday that it will close 20 stores — including all 13 in Washington — by next year, affecting more than 1,400 positions, as the struggling retailer aims to improve its profits.

The last paragraph offers the tidbit that Mervyn’s was owned by Target, but sold off. Major retail brands being owned by the same actual company. Another case of the disease in the detergent aisle: the appearance of choice, but no real choice. The appearance of competition, but no real competition. Oh, what tangled webs corporations weave, when they practice branding to deceive:

Mervyns has been steadily losing market share to more nimble competitors for years. Frustrated with the chain’s meager returns, Target Corp. sold Mervyns last year for $1.65 billion to a group of investors that includes Sun Capital Partners Inc., Cerberus Capital Management LP and Lubert-Adler and Klaff Partners LP.

I can’t help but wonder what this means for the other stores in the “shoppolis” (to try and coin a new word: shop-city, the artificial towns comprised of retail and little or no residential buildings.). So many retail companies rely on the holiday season to make money. My understanding, from many years ago, was that if a retail company didn’t make money during the holiday season they simply did not make money for the year.

This is shocking to realize. Not only does this mean that the rest of the year is a loss-leader to get people to shop with some kind of brand loyalty during the holiday, but it also means that normal, everyday purchasing of goods is not enough to sustain retail businesses. If people shopped as they normally do every other day of the year during the holidays then the retail economy would collapse. That means that the success of retail requires that people behave as if they are insane for months of the year. How sane is that?

And, that insanity is the fuel that makes the engine run. Without that fuel, there would be rolling blackouts in the Shoppolis.

But what happens when Mervyn’s goes out of business and is selling everything, even the fixtures? Will this be a gravity well for consumers seeking cheap goods for the holidays? If Mervyn’s sucks up money that would have gone to making the year for other stores, then other stores in the mall may not survive the collapse of Mervyn’s.

And, here’s a funny twist: while retail requires us to be insane, we have to be consistently insane. From The curious economics of temptation. – By Tim Harford – Slate Magazine:

Mainstream economics has no way to describe Frances’ behavior, because it assumes people are impatient in a consistent way

(I just had a moment of self-doubt about whether it was Mervyn’s or Mervyns, but find that I’m comfortably old school with the name.)

Whither sprynet now?

Time to track the ownership of sprynet again? Last time I looked it was back in ’99. I sent out an e-mail:

So, it’s been fun watching where Sprynet had ended up over the
last couple years. Okay, so let me see if I can get this right:

Sprynet was purchased by Compuserve
Compuserve was purchased by AOL
AOL sold Sprynet to Mindspring
Sprint purchased Earthlink
Mindspring was purchased by Earthlink
Sprint is purchased by MCI-Worldcom

So, the current score card says that Sprynet is owned by
MCI-Worldcom, in case you were trying to keep track … it’s kinda
like playing Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon. How many mergers does it
take before Sprynet has been owned by everyone in the industry?

So, the last time I tuned in, it was at the time when MCI-Worldcom and Sprint announced a merger in 1999. I think I took too long to pay attention. With the Sprint Nextel merger, and MCI merging with Verizon I think it’s finally too much time past to trace Spry any longer. Even the domain appear to have been re-registered by some other entity (a Texas law firm) since 1999. I seem to recall that spry also used and that’s registered by someone apparently in Korea since 2000.

I suppose a copyright and trademark search might show something of who could be called the holder of spry now.

On the topic of crazy mergers, here’s news that AT&T and BellSouth are looking to combine. If the only thing to stop it is if the feds step in, then clearly the trend is that the less regulation the more consolidation there is. That means that monopolies, or cartels in an economic homeostasis, are the end result of this economic system without regulation. Free markets do not result in pervasive competition, but rather a process of consolidation and concentration towards economic homeostasis. This balancing loop then tends to resist change and to destroy overt competition whenever possible in order to maintain the status quo.

If it isn’t useful, then what is it good for anyway?

Writers Block Live » Blog Archive » The HD Boycott Begins Now

“Under pressure from Hollywood, they are engineering a complete removal of the concept of fair use. They are setting up systems that will completely control how, when and where you can use content that you buy. Even worse, they can retroactively change the rules!”

Here’s an interesting discussion of the strategy and implications behind the transition to digital content delivery that I’ve mentioned before.

The way that this transition to digital is being used to destroy opportunities to use content in my own time-shifting, room-shifting way, a la Tivo, is a primary reason that I have been avoiding the technologies, such as HDTV, etc …

If the media companies put too many restrictions in the way, I will likely decide to forgo their content entirely and I suspect that many consumers will also realize they are being taken through the doors of a prison with gilt bars. It’s bread & circuses, after all.

Much like the software industry, movies and music will be licensed, never sold, and subject to perpetual restrictions and ever under the threat that what little rights are available will be revoked.

What happens when a studio finds that it needs to make money to satisfy investors? What would stop a studio to issue a new release, say with nominally new features, and revoke use on the previous edition? You think the double dipping of special editions and extended releases is bad now? Just wait until your entertainment library, which is a library of culture, after all, is subject to going dark when someone decides to end-of-life the copies you have.

It’s exactly the disassociation presaged in 1984, where the newspapers are the only record of the past, and they are re-printed with changed content, at the whim of isolated, authoritarian, and hierarchical controllers outside the ability of the public to influence.

Here is a primary reason that the notion that everything should be owned, the marketization and privatization of everything, is a heinously, cataclysmicly mistaken.

Anti-Globalization is not anti-globalization

Anti-Globalization movement is to supporters of Globalization what anti-federalists were to the federalists. Which is a s much to say that things are not what they seem.

The anti-Globalization movement is one which is a populist opposition to supporters of Globalization. This is much the same as the anti-federalists were a populist opposition to the federalists. Both the anti-Globalization movement and the anti-federalists consist of a broad, and fractious coalition of interests that align against the narrow economic interests of their opposition.

However, the anti-federalists were actually federalists; the federalists actually nationalists. Further, the anti-Globalization movement is a global and globalization movement; the supporters of Globalization are actually supporters of an elite capitalist concentration of wealth.

If it were not for the loose coalition grouped under the term “anti-federalists” we would not have a Bill of Rights. It is likely that the anti-Globalization movement will have a similar place in history.

But, maybe, X is not X after all?

I was thinking about the logical typing of “monopoly” where both XY and XZ appear to be X, neither are V. Public and Private entities can appear to be “monopolies” however, they are different magnitudes of X where governments are X prime.

To see public entities to be of the same order, or lesser order, than private entities requires that one presume that everything is a market, that the market is not conditioned and controlled by governments but rather an independent thing.

This presumption is the result of a paradigm shift over whether a government conditions the “market” versus the “market” being an inalienable entity in which governments participate. This is a progression from the developments of early industrial evolution through Adam Smith and culminating with the interpretation of the 14th Amendment as granting corporate personhood, with inalienable rights as individuals participating in current events.

However, the application of the 14th amendment seems incomplete. If corporations are people, then they also must not be owned. Either corporations are property or they are not. If they are people, then they must not be property.

If the corporation is freed from its owners, the collective voice of the body should have self-governance. That means the voice of the collective, comprised of the individuals in the collective, should have self-determination unfettered by ownership. However, if the voice of the body cannot self-determine, then the body must become a ward of the state. Either the collective is self-determined or state-run. I doubt this is a comfortable conclusion for any supporter of corporate personhood because it makes corporate personhood internally inconsistent.

If the government conditions, as guardian, the corporation; this is the same as if the corporation is not a person independent of the state conditioned market. Or, in the alternate, if the people that comprise the body of the corporation are the voice of determination unfettered by ownership, this is the same as if the collective is of many individual voices, not the single voice of an artificial person.

Applying the full standard of the 14th amendment ends corporate personhood, which collapses under internal inconsistency. However, even if this is not the case, that one liberates the corporate person from ownership, then it should be clear that the fruit of a corporation’s labor is being expropriated by the owners in perpetuity, making the corporation an indentured servant to the corporate owners. Again, there is injustice taking place from which the corporation must be freed.

The paradigm shift surrounding the relationship between Governments and private enterprise means that people can use the same words but have different meaning, depending on which side of the shift from which they speak.

There are nominally three types of monopoly: government monopoly, private monopoly and hybrid government endorsed private monopolies. The push to privatize every aspect of the government has been to diminish the number of government monopolies by pushing all activities toward either the private entities or, more often, toward hybrid government-endorsed private entities.

It appears that a government-endorsed private monopoly is a the kind of monstrous hybrid that Jane Jacobs speaks about in The Nature of Economies. Examples of a hybrid here are private entities granted special exclusive rights through the DMCA, patents or copyrights. (Although, there is some interesting news about these lately.) These special grants, which are not rights themselves but actually the space offered when the collective, represented by the Government, places an easement on its own rights in order to encourage innovation and creation through market compensation.

However, the market, and life, are governed by laws which are the rules developed by a legislature, enforced by an executive and applied by a judiciary. The market is in fact conditioned by governments. So, if the government grants itself exclusive control over providing some service this is not a government monopoly after all. This is the government removing from the marketplace the provision of that service.

This suggests that there are no such thing as government monopolies, only private and hybrid monopolies. Governments do not have monopolies in the market because they determine the scope and conditions of the market.

With apologies to Lincoln, the Government, like Soylent Green, is People! The people take on the responsibility for a service they require when a government takes the provision of a service out of the market. There is complexity here because the government often contracts with private entities for the goods and services that the government itself has taken responsibility. That’s apparently another kind of hybrid enterprise.

At the same time, very often, when the Government takes on the provision of a service, it does not actually exclude the market from also providing that service. This is another way in which a Government may not have a monopoly even when they have exclusive control because the exclusive control of a Government is not in the same domain as the market. They are of different magnitudes.

This does not even take into account the black and gray markets, which are further examples of how the Government may claim exclusive control of a service or good, but cannot stop the market from continuing to trade or provide the same. In fact, when Governments claim a product or service from the market in order to prohibit its use, very often this makes the trade of that good or service increasingly lucrative in the black or gray markets.

However, in a republic or an oligopoly, there is a potential for the Government’s control and conditioning of the market to be captured by special interests. This is also true when expansive hybridization occurs, because those entities with endorsed power in the market can exert government-like powers over others in the market, often without the appropriate public oversight to those powers.

Republics and oligopolies limit the scope the franchise, and therefore concentrate influence and participation in the Government away from the population into the hands of special, in this case economic, interests.

Either the law (which is an extension of a Government’s conditioning on the market and of life) apply to corporations or they do not. If they do, then the Government actions in the market are of a different order of magnitude than those of other entities. In this case, X is not X. Again, this suggests that there are no government monopolies, only private and hybrid monopolies. The law both conditions and protects corporations in the market. If not one then neither.

The people for John Kriscfalusi; democratized media; sense of virtual place

Via all kinds of stuff, “George Liquor Stories 1“:

“So listen, next step is to get as many more people (not repeat persons, but new people) to comment AND I just found out that the more people who link to me, the better chance I have to get sponsors-and when I do I will make NEW cartoons for you! I have more crap to show you, so as soon as I hit 400 comments…”

John Kriscfalusi, the artist behind Ren & Stimpy, is discovering the power of popularity on the Internet. His blog was linked at Boing Boing on the 15th, and elsewhere on the ‘net, and he’s been surprised by his reception, apparently.

The amount of traffic necessary to make direct marketing between the producer and consumer is significantly less than when there is a oligonomy determining the prices offered to producers and costs to consumers between them and filtering projects out which have significant appeal to the long tail.

This is the spring from which hope flows for the future of popular properties that the media conglomerates do not support, such as Firefly and Dead Like Me, to name only two that have been significant to me recently.

On the cusp, where projects like Rocket Boom meet the public demand and are rewarded, of a new world of media. The print revolution put democratized the transmission of knowledge. The computer democratized publishing. The Internet has been trying very hard to democratize radio, television and cinema. Internet radio failed to survive the legal onslaught of major media, once they awoke to the fight. I wait with baited breathe to see if podcasting will survive being co-opted by major media. Although it is not completely out of the woods yet. It does seem there are new platforms for distribution and creation almost daily. Perhaps the next step will manage some kind of victory.

This pattern of democratization brings to mind the democratization of virtual space, such as the place of MMORPGs in increasingly player-driven games. I’ve been thinking about all the waves that have attempted to provide a topology to the virtual world, and just a little while ago I thought to include the MMORPGs in this. These virtual spaces have routes and sights and crossroads wherein many of the activities of socialization occur, but bound by a geography.

What is liberty after all?

The notion that liberty is hypothetical opportunity ignores the existence of consequences and complexity. Sure, any one can rob a bank; any one can become a first tier telecommunications company. Except that, when taken in context, they cannot.

There are real social and economic consequences to the choices that people make, even small ones. Robbing banks is not without social and economic consequences for whole societies. The actions of individuals causes ripples far beyond their circle of acquaintances.

There are complexities which require more than an individual can manage. Corporations are collectives that live in cooperation, and potential conflict, with other collectives, and each of these collectives is comprised of potentially divergent individuals. Becoming a first tier telecommunications company requires webs of agreements and cooperations reaching far beyond the boundary of a single office, let alone the boundaries of a corporate campus.

Liberty is a socially constructed framework. It’s not a lawless state of frictionless movement without complexity or consequences. Liberty exists because the matrix of relationships between individuals and collectives is dynamic. The only reason the individual in isolation appears to have liberty is because of the elasticity of the natural world in response to isolated changes, but this is an illusion of scale. Liberty is a social phenomenon not a function of individualism, though paradoxically it makes individualism possible within society. (And, hence, the greatest fiction of individualism is that it can occur in isolation.)

The notion of checks and balances is essential to this liberty. Liberty cannot be preserved or protected by a linear authoritarian leadership, but is protected by a dynamic check and balance. There is no last bastion that protects liberty. There are no elements of society that are able to act without taint of self-interest and bias. Protecting liberty is a role of the whole system, though nodes of the system will take on more or less of that shared responsibility dynamically.

The branches of government are part of the equation, but there is also the necessary presence of engaged individuals. True to this, most advances in liberties appear in response to popular movements, sometimes radical. If the people are quiet, they will not be well served by governments.

Collectives, whether that means the collective of a corporation or of a group of workers, will work for the benefit they can see. They are unlikely to work for the benefit they cannot see or for the benefit of others, unless the collective is helped to see or can hear.

In an article about a recent study it was found that monkey culture included social facilitation, an element of society that kept the peace so that social interaction could occur. Without this element of safety, social groups did not cross thresholds to engage with others outside their group.

Each element of society can act as the peacemaker between others. The law, the legislature, industry and the people are all parts of a complex dynamic relationship. No one element of this web is the final champion of the social, economic fluidity called liberty.

In the conflict between the Federalists and the diverse, fractious semi-collective labeled Anti-Federalists, it was the radical populist threat that made the adoption of the Bill of Rights possible. It was, however, a compromise, socially negotiated.

The courts have been party to the abuse of the 14th amendment to fabricate the notion that corporations are individuals, that the collective has rights, while at the same time those corporate collectives deny that workers can have collectives.

Corporations will externalize. Human rights and quality of life are market inefficiencies, only to be included in the cost of doing business if market forces demand that be so, or corporate leadership is able to graft social responsibility to the only morality inherent in capitalism: profit.

Individuals, and I am not immune either, tend to have myopic notions of maximizing benefit and advantage unless they are confronted by and have their eyes opened to injustice and inequity.

There is no element in the web that is a true, pure witness and protector of liberty and the notion that this might be so is an opportunity for misuse of power and corruption. The responsibility to protect liberty is a collective responsibility. That responsibility is also dynamic. When some element of the social web cannot or will not take notice of and responsibility for the consequences and complexities of their actions, it is necessary for the remaining elements of that social web to give voice and become champions of liberty.

Response to “X, non-X, What’s The Dif?”

Noticed a reflection on one of my rambling posts reflecting on “New Epstein Book” …

Some interesting discussion. Certainly I could be wrong in my analysis, but that’s always a possibility. I do recognize that there’s a great deal more to be known about the function of and development of monopolies in the capitalist economic system.

Again, I will offer the caveat that I have not read the book about which the original post to Positive Liberty was in reference.

I do not think of myself as an expert in economics. But, I think I know some things, and we may end up having to agree to disagree. Even still it’s important to have these kinds of exchanges and even if we’ve agreed to disagree, keeping the conversation going is important.

Anecdotally, I hear a story about a course on monopoly economics that used to be taught by a tenured professor at the UW, which disappeared when that faculty member retired. It is a shame that more discussion, or better dialogue, does not take place about the economic system in which we all function. Not having that discussion is like playing cricket without learning the rules. Much like involvement in politics, awareness or care for issues of economics is missing from most public discourse.

Via Positive Liberty, “X, non-X, What’s The Dif?“:

“Only a government-endorsed enterprise can be a monopoly, because only coercive force—which government has the exclusive right to use—can create ‘exclusive control.'”

Perhaps we’re using the term monopoly differently. Milton Friedman actually offers two sources, one of which is government endorsed. The other is collusion between participants in the market. [source] Coersion isn’t mentioned, but I agree that power is an issue.

So government-endorsement is an answer, but it’s not the only answer.

Microsoft and IBM, for example, were both determined to be monopolies. They were not, to my understanding, government-endorsed, unless one means by that that the government was a customer and issued corporate charters. Or, are we talking about patents, copyrights and the DMCA? If so, then I think it can be demonstrated that those grants of exclusivity are an increasing function of the influence of industry on policy. Examples abound, not the least of which is the tactics of ever increasing copyright durations which stifle the public domain and sphere of discourse. Asking whether these are government mandated or a function of industry power over policy is a bit like the pointlessness of demanding a binary answer to nature versus nurture. They are both involved in greater or lesser ways in variance over time.

The notion of “exclusive” in a market is, I suspect rarely absolute. Exclusive control is functional. Even government mandated exclusive control is at the mercy of the black market, I recognize. But there is control of a market which is greater or lesser, on a scale of exclusivity.

The presence of a monopoly does not preclude the existence of other market players, but the monopolist has in some way insulated themselves from competition.

I suspect that I am also imprecise when I use the term monopoly. I likely also intend to imply the function of a cartel as a functional monopoly, which is not precisely what a monopoly is. This is more the area in which one would speak of oligopoly, oligopsony and oligonomy. [source]

I also suspect when I talk about monopoly power, I mean a scale of market control, not a binary is/is not. There’s an element here also of hegemony, in that smaller companies may believe it is in their own best interest to behave in the way the market leader indicates, or that the smaller company assumes the market leader will approve.

The primary example, in my experience, of this is the way that small companies in the technical market tended to have two strategies in relation to Microsoft. First, they would try to develop a business in a niche where the market leader would not move. Second, they would enter a niche in which they believed they would become a desirable target for acquisition by the market leader. That’s not an example one would expect if new entrants were free to compete. (Unless one means the kind of freedom one has to make self-destructive choices.)

OEMs found it in their best interest to secure exclusive agreements with Microsoft, not through coercion but because there appeared to be economic advantage to supporting this hegemon, the market leader. There grew a measure of coercion because deals on unit pricing could be offered to competitors, but just like the difference between economic incentives and the imposition of fine or fees, the actor in the market likes to have the perception of free will over feeling forced.

I’m not necessarily trying to suggest conspiracy, but at least there’s common sense involved which determines behaviour in the market. That’s a pattern then, that can be gamed and abused by the market leader.

Coercion is not necessarily required for this kind of control in the market.

“A monopoly is an entity which can coercively forbid its own competition. The post office, for example, is a true monopoly because it is illegal to compete with it.”

In fact, there are some government legal monopolies, like printing money which wasn’t always the case, but even there, banks are part of the captured regulatory body, the federal reserve. However, it should be obvious that the post office is not an exclusive controller of the market for mail and shipping services. In fact, the post office has had to respond to many market forces, including technical innovation such as e-mail and overnight carriers. The post office is, in fact, struggling to find a place in the market precisely because they are not the only carriers in the marketplace.

“Bell claims that cellular telephone companies are “colluding to create a dynamic of scarcity in order to keep prices and profits high,” which is, of course, absurd. In a free market, such collusions do not work, because it is always in the interest of one of the companies to undercut others that might agree to such collusion.”

Unfortunately, the mantra of the free market as a panacea just ignores the issue of power. I’m not sure that there is such a pure thing as the free market. It’s a convenient idealistic curtain behind which power tends to prevail, after all. But most importantly the increase of monopoly or monopoly like power is matched by the diminishment of equality and opportunity in a market. I’m not sure we disagree on that point.

I don’t think I mentioned cellular companies. If I go back and look perhaps I did. I was talking about broadband access, and the providers of that access.

It is not always in the interest of companies to undercut each other. Competition is costly, and it would be corporate common sense to avoid it if possible. Companies may chose their collective battle field and determine the constraints of the marketplace in a way to exclude new competition while maintaining the appearance of competition among the players.

A simple recent example of this is that ABC decided to sell episodes of Survivor online via their own website, instead of through iTunes, the market leader. However, did they reduce the price? No, they priced the episodes the same, and just kept the difference. Further, not only did they not undercut the going market price, they added additional restrictions to use. That’s not what one would expect if the market really did encourage competition to undercut each other.

Turning products into merely a commodity, with commodity pricing, is also a thing companies try to avoid as much as possible.

Corporations would love to approach monopoly power in the marketplace. For example, Microsoft, when faced with questions about their use of monopoly power responded that they were merely doing what they were supposed to do in the marketplace. Where monopoly power is not possible, power, when gained, attempts to maintain power by raising barriers to the entry of new players when possible.

Witness the patent cold war between high tech companies. Major players tend not to bother each other, but they bring their patent portfolio to the table against smaller players. Witness the attempt to use the DMCA to squash generic garage door openers, etc … or the other successful uses, such as against printer ink refilling companies.

“As a consumer you have vastly greater power to control the choices of Nike or Coca-Cola, than you have over the post office in your capacity as a voter. Namely: you can shop elsewhere. When Coca-Cola introduces a brand you don’t like, you can choose to purchase Pepsi instead.”

I think this notion sounds reasonable, but fails to signify the massive effect of persuasion in the marketplace. In fact, there are social consequences to alternate market choices because we’ve given so much control over culture away to the market, and to biased purveyors of culture.

The example of Coke reminds me of the debacle of New Coke. The new product was not well received by the consumer, and Old Coke was reintroduced. However, Old Coke was not the same formula as the real Old Coke because, primarily, the use of high-frutose corn syrup. The primary reason for the New recipe was to change sweetener from the usually more expensive sugar toward high fructose corn syrup. So, Coke’s reaction to the rejection of New Coke was to introduce a “Old” Coke recipe that included the primary innovation they wanted to introduce with the “New” recipe. The rest was merely marketing. (And, yes, they did lose market share, primarily in the South over the feeling of betrayal, but I think my example is still illustrative.)

“(It’s worth noting that one reason the Progressives admired government-run monopolies was precisely because the public did not have control over them; they would be run by disinterested “experts,” immunized from political influence, who could run state-organized enterprises (and ultimately the entire economy) in the “right” way.)”

This is an important point. It’s the reason taxes are necessary: because individuals do not make choices to maximize the collective good often enough to avoid tragedy. But, I recognize the apparent problem. There should be a balance and checks on the balance between what a government offers and other entities offer without destroying the diversity of methods services and goods are offered. Private enterprise is checked by the potential of public entities entering the market, and visa versa.

I guess the primary point is that of potential for transparency. While bad intentioned people can abuse both private and public entities, I suspect that it is easier to abuse the public through private means than public. I also suspect that it is easier to coordinate for the greater good of all through collective, public activity.

“In large part it’s because people are free to compete with existing businesses if they choose. The same cannot be said of government-protected monopolies.”

In fact, I tend to agree. The DMCA and the infinite extension of intellectual property rights could almost be a plague of excess power, where moderate protections would offer an incentive to innovate. There is a difference between government monopolies and government-protected monopolies. I argued against the latter, not the former. On this point, we seem to agree even if we don’t agree on the notion that “people are free to compete” with privately colluded monopoly or monopoly like powers in the market.

The final paragraph of the Positive Liberty post is a weak straw man, which is roundly attacked with great storm and thunder. But the point that monopoly power in the market is related to the issue of poverty sustains, and therefore, by virtue of interdependence so do the issues of race and war in this discussion.

Thanks, Timothy Sandefur for the post on Positive Liberty I’ve responded to here!

Following Good Guys, RadioShack closes stores.

Via Yahoo! News, “RadioShack to close up to 700 stores

Harsh news. I wonder if the Radio Shack in the Capital Mall will be one of the stores to go? Large national chains closing … this is economic recovery?

There was a time when my personal test of whether a town was a city was whether it had a Radio Shack. I remember the old Radio Shack that was in a building east of the Ralph’s on the east side of Olympia. I remember going in there, but I honestly cannot recall what I was looking to buy.

Radio Shack was the vendor of my first computer, a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer. A seemingly sleek silver case with 4k of memory and Microsoft Basic in ROM, back before Microsoft purchased DR-DOS.

Radio Shack always seemed a bit too thick with schlock. I seem to recall that my Color Computer had this odd behaviour where the screen would go all fuzzy and lose vertical sync. If I pressed down on the top of the plastic case, I could fix it for a short spell. Radio Shack couldn’t fix it, but I don’t remember ever getting very good service.

I’m having such a strong memory of lusting after the impossibly large storage of an 8-inch floppy drive … 1.2 megs! I could hardly imagine … such a vast expanse of storage!

Public “monopoly” …

Via Positive Liberty, “New Epstein Book“:

“he says is the greatest weakness of the Progressivist economic perspective: the notion that monopoly was bad, unless it was run by government. ”

I have not read the book and am responding to hearsay about it, but I am not sure I agree with the premise. I disagree that a public “monopoly” is a monopoly. One key element of a monopoly is exclusive control. However, I think that a public entity is not exclusive in that same way that a private entity gains exclusive control over a commodity or service.

Public control is an attempt to address needs that private interests will not or cannot meet. For example, municipalities are thinking about offering government developed wireless because private entities are, dare I say, colluding to create a dynamic of scarcity in order to keep prices and profits high.

A Slashdot post about a recent survey pointed out that 45% of respondents that did not have broadband did not because the price was too high.

So, there is a place for public entities to check private enterprises that are sequestering value. In a way, the public is willing to pay a premium for goods and services, which entities sequester as profits, but only when reasonable. The goods and services must be reasonable and the prices must be reasonable. When either the goods and services are not or the prices are not, the only way for the private entity to continue sequestering profit is deceit to keep the public from finding another way to achieve those goods and services or to develop an alternative.

And, more importantly, let us remember that monopoly power is not in and of itself illegal. It’s the improper use of monopoly power that is illegal. However, I will admit that I am generally suspicious of monopoly or oligonomy market power. The lack of fresh air and transparency seems to me to be too much temptation to allow.

Let’s also keep in mind that conflating economic systems with political systems is not necessary. So, the “progressive economic perspective” may be a shorthand way of ignoring important issues. At the same time, it’s important not to ignore the interdependent issues of race, poverty and war made clear by Martin Luther King, Jr.

On the other hand, I have been coming to grips with the realization that good government requires good people. In some sense the conservative criticism of large government is correct: when there is too much power in government, bad people can do bad things. There is, I think, no better example of this than what has happened when this conservative administration took control. The conservative warning was correct, only I don’t think we collectively realized it was more prescient than it was descriptive. They were recognizing what they would be like given the chance to control the government, and they see in others what they would do if they were the government.

That begs the question of what the progressive / liberal blind spot is, of course, but it seems somehow appropriate that conservatives should be in control of small government because when they’ve got a big government all hell breaks loose.

I wonder if the progressive blind spot is too much consensus? The divisiveness and factioning of progressive movements helps it address a wide plurality, where when consensus is achieved at the expense of inclusion?

HBO wants its business to be off-limits for customers

Via Ars Technica, “HBO wants its programming to be off-limits for DVRs“:

HBO has joined the fray with a recent FCC filing in which it argues that its programming—and all “Subscription Video On Demand” services—should fall into the category of “Copy Never.” In a broadcast-flagged world, that translate into consumers not being able to record content broadcast by HBO. No TiVo, no VCR, no video capturing on your PC, no nada.

For me this connects with the network neutrality issue through an essential pattern of economic control. This then is further connected to the overall debates over copyright, intellectual property, and the public sphere.

When the content of our discussions are owned then our conversations are owned and there is no longer a public sphere in which culture can occur, develop or survive.

Okay, that’s a long chain of links, but that’s how far we’ve gone down the path. When the government mandates that the spectrum for analog television is returned, and digital content is mandated; then and there we find ourselves collectively moved into a technology which is being bound and gagged as we speak so that we cannot speak and cannot share and cannot think without paying someone for the use of their copyrighted material.

It’s not just about money. This is a fight over a pattern of economic behaviour that has the result of privatizing all collective and public culture.

Copyright is a consession by the public that grants a period of economic exclusivity to the author. It is not an inalienable right. Quite the opposite. Copyright is an easement on the inalienable rights of the public to the public sphere. It is in fact a consession of the right of the public domain in an attempt to compensate authors for their work. It is the inalienable right of the public that is being legislated away.

The eviscerated corpse of the public domain has left the cemetary and is knocking on the door, yelling, “I want my commons back!”

Suddenly scope-locked on net neutrality

Om Malik posts about an article the issue of network neutrality which appears quite good. Additionally, there’s a much better metaphor than mine here:

Via Om Malik’s Broadband Blog, “Net Neutrality Not An Optional Feature of Internet“:

“The telco and cable companies have in mind creating another type of customer not a class of service. They want suppliers to pay for the right of transit. It amounts to airlines charging Time Warner for the right of readers to take Time magazine on an airplane. It means charging Ford tolls in addition to drivers for the right of Ford cars to use highways.”

Great point about this being a way for companies to buy market results, not just network performance. This seems like my worry about the notion of “postal” charges for routing around spam filters. After all, if a company is paying a large amount of money, the mail provider is incentivized to keep that revenue, not in controlling the content of the messages that would otherwise be filtered.

And, here’s the thing: a source is only likely to pay to be routed around a spam filter if the content of the message is likely to be filtered in the first place. Perhaps there’s a reason it was going to be filtered, and the recipient hadn’t added the source to their whitelist or address book? It’s because that content is or resembles spam, right? Or why pay to be routed around a filter in the first place?

So, who’s the product for then? It’s a way to get questionable content to the recipient, so the product is, in a way, to create a threshold, and economic barrier to questionable content. It doesn’t eliminate the questionable content, but rather gentrifies it.

The network management quality of service argument for ending network neutrality misses the fact QoS does not work outside a private network environment where a single entity controls usage end to end. The implementation of QoS remains limited to private networks, because it makes the negotiation of interconnection compensation intractable.

Or, if the mahor carries are able to create a formal or informal cartel, in which they perhaps become as close as they can towards an oligonomy. With the quickly diminishing number of carriers, there’s very likley to be a time when informally the battle fields for competition are agreed upon by the carriers instead of determined by the market.

I note with interest the “free lunch” meme seen from AT&T’s Whitacre now appears in a report of words from Verizon’s John Thorne as well. Sure, it could have been independent development, but it’s interesting to see both appearing to espouse such similar thoughts. These two nominal competitors have aligned, and that’s not good.

Via Washington Post, “Verizon Executive Calls for End to Google’s ‘Free Lunch’“:

“The network builders are spending a fortune constructing and maintaining the networks that Google intends to ride on with nothing but cheap servers,” Thorne told a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. “It is enjoying a free lunch that should, by any rational account, be the lunch of the facilities providers.”

The current government is overwhelmingly aligned with large corporate and multi-national interests, so network neutrality could be in clear and present danger.

Theater Economics

Via Hacking NetFlix, “Theater Economics” points to an article at Slate about the economics of running a movie theatre: The Popcorn Palace Economy – The thirsty moviegoer fuels the business. By Edward Jay Epstein.

The studios made films for theater chains that they either owned or controlled, and they harvested almost all their revenue from ticket sales. Then, in 1948, the government forced the studios to divest themselves of the theaters. Nowadays, the two are in very different businesses. Theater chains, in fact, are in three different businesses.

Interesting reading.