|Daniel Berninger's - Quandaries -|
The Road to Serfdom
Friedrich Hayek's book "The Road to Serfdom" frequently gets referenced as the inspiration for the work of so called conservative and libertarian movements toward smaller government. Milton Friedman serves as the leading holder of the intellectual torch, but Hayek's ideas don't seem well represented by either libertarians or conservatives. It seems unlikely Hayek would have knowingly traded oppression by government for oppression by corporations as conservatives and libertarians presently do. Corporations largely funded the effort to reign in government, so it should not come as a surprise who benefited. It does seem important to note individual freedom did not benefit, unless one weighs the individual freedom of corporate CEO's above all others. Government in the United States now seems largely captured by the liberal spending corporations directly on contributions and by hiring and obtaining the influence of former government officials. We have a situation where the conservatives and to a lesser extent the libertarians control many of the levers of power, but individual freedom seems to have reached an all time low. The political movements claiming Hayek inspiration created a monster by removing regulatory and legal constraints on corporate power. Corporations that survive by influencing government don't need to address the interests of their consumers. Ignoring consumers destroys demand and starts a viscious cycle that destroys the economy. The corporate driven American imperialism designed to make the world safe for business represents another thread of the same effort. The resulting oppression of people on a global basis produces animosity that further destabilizes the world and obtains a viscious cycle that leads us toward Armageddon. One can only hope the vast majority of individuals associated with the term individual freedom wake up in time.
Fish Did Not Discover Water
Marshal McLuhan noted "We don't know who discovered water, but we'er certain it wasn't a fish."
Our inability to see beyond our own assumptions seems ubiquitous. We would rather ignore reality that let go of a dearly held assumption. Assumptions tend to serve as the foundation for many things, so the house of cards that represents our reality can come tumbling down. Events in the world of telecom regulation remind me of this phenomena. Lots of stuff just does not make sense or accomplish intended goals, yet it gets protected vigorously by the status quo. I wrote an essay questioning why the voice quality of a local telephone call had not improved in 50 years. 8-track tapes get replaced by cassette tapes which get replaced by CD's in the world of consumer electronis, but for some reason simple intelligibity represents the end game for telephone sound quality. People responded that we don't need better voice quality. I noted that the so called Universal Service program advertised as helping make telephone calls more affordable has not done as well as market forces in making television, cell phones, or cars more affordable. Net income has increased 67% in the last 20 years, but telephone penetration rates have increased only 5% from 91% to 96%. It falls as low as 75% in some areas. Why not let competition reduce the cost of telephone service for everyone rather than moving dollars around. What if we had simply subsidized the cost of shared processing power on an IBM mainframe rather than allowing the PC to bring computing power to the masses? The Universal Service program deters innovation as the regulatorium repels investment.
Role of Trust in Propagation of Ideas on the Internet
Traditional meda remains far more powerful than the Internet with regard to propogation of ideas. This does not represent a significant surprise given the Internet just arrived on the scene. One does wonder if there exist obstacles to the impact of the Interent beyond the obvious economic and technical ones. It seems like the issue of *trust* deserves some attention. Trust plays an essential role in communication as a filter through which a senders message must pass. Traditional media has many more figures people trust than the Interent. Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, et al lead the pack of personalities that citizen's trust or at least feel they know how to interpret. People like Howard Stern also enjoy the trust of many and would get included under the same idea. The power of these individual to communicate ideas derives from the trust of the audience as well as the wattage of the platform. Power in the financial and political sense also has a significant impact either through some presumption of trust or awareness that power means the ability to make things happen. President Bush's proclamations have a significantly greater impact than john q citizen. The Internet will not change the fact that communication gets filtered through trust. It seems likely to change the model of who gets chosen to hold the peoples trust. Expense and scarcity produce very high barriers to entry into the traditional media trusted community. The Internet destroys this control over the distribution of information. The Internet enables something much closer to a meritocracy of ideas. It will nonetheless take a while before the Internet gets populated with enough trusted individuals to challenge traditional media's influence with the masses.
Follow the Money
People have argued (and you know who you are) that regulatory and antitrust enforcement don't work, so we might as well go with a deregulatory model. Deregulate has a nice get the government off the backs of citizens kind of feel. The reality of both regulatory and antitrust enforcement regimes does not arise so much from a flaw in the models as the power of money. An entity, say a Bell company that reaps $16 billion in profits ($160 per household in US) has incentive and resources to corrupt the system in their favor. There exists no doubt about the best regulation from a public interest perspective, but the industry simply has sufficient money to block it or at least mute it. There exists no doubt about who violates the antitrust laws, but the wealthy violators simply block or mute enforcement. In other words, money places them above the law. This starts to sound like a formula for the fall of American Democracy. Stay tuned.
Verizon, Tonya, and Intel
Tonya Harding famously decided breaking a competitor's leg represented the best option to increase the chance of winning Olympic gold. This seems like a good analogy as to why Verizon represents a bad monopoly and Intel represents a not so bad monopoly. Monopolies won by providing customers the best service should get applauded. Monopolies won (maintained) by breaking competitors legs should get universal condemnation. Consider the pace of innovation at Intel versus Verizon as an indication of the different models they pursue. Consider that local telephone service has changed very little since 1927 with the introduction of dialed telephones and not at all since the 1950's. What computers even existed in 1950? Intel lives by Moore's law. Verizon (all Bells) live by birth rates, growth in GDP, inflation, world class litigation and lobbying, and utterly opaque bills.
Truth as an Outlier
The distance between conventional wisdom and reality continues to grow. A mainstream reporter can not address a story unfavorable to the power status quo without fear of getting fired. The myth of objective (balanced) reporting makes it impossible to address outlier issues. Bad news about powerful people requires powerful evidence. As a reporter's audience grows, they tend to stick closer and closer to conventional wisdom. The corporate owners of media make sure this is the case. Success revolves around audience size not truth.
If a story makes it through the filter, then everyone can pile on - safely. Enron and Worldcom were not exposed by "investigative reporters". They got exposed when the companies ran out of ways to conceal the truth. An alternative model gives up on the objective reporting lie and admits all reporting represents the bias of the reporter. This conveys the job of filtering to the reader. The reader "considers the source" when deciding how to weigh information received. The Internet has lots of potential in this regard, but getting people connected, actively seeking information, and comfortable doing their own filtering seems a non-trival task.
Will Internet Restore Balance of Power?
Efforts at oppression fail to the extent communication helps the oppressed assemble collective opposition. Those seeking to oppress the people understand this and work hard to make sure the tools of communication operate in one direction and top down. This represents the status quo in America and most of the world. The Internet will eventually change this framework as it represents a fundamentally end user to end user communication medium. It resists efforts of the Oppression Incorporated to use it for their purposes. As a result, anyone that has access to the Internet and spends the time to take advantage of the various communication resources offered will resist the fear and complacency of the isolated. This connected and Internet savvy group remains very small. It seems unlikely that more than 1% of voting public gets a majority of their information and pursues a majority of their communication through the Internet. This leaves those that control the top down media in power. 99% of the population remains potentially under the spell of the wizard behind the curtain - afraid and complacent.
Activists against oppression might think adding Internet connectivity and education to their to do's.
Bush says _NOT
I can't help but feel uneasy when I hear President Bush quoted in the press. He seems to assert what he wants people to believe without concern for what people know to be true as in - we need to address evironmental problems by thinning forests. A reporter asked Dennis Hastert what he planned to do given the momentum from the election. He offered interest in working on health care and creating jobs. It occured to me all of this - say what you think they want to hear and do the opposite - followed the Verizon press release model.
Verizon launched its ONE-BILL service where they will send a post card to all customers and offer to consolidate local, wireless, DSL, and LD on a single bill. The VP of Consumer marketing had this to say. "Our goal is to simplify their lives," said Wagner. "It's one of the benefits consumers want the most from today's fully competitive telecommunications marketplace."
Telecom ranked a #2 in political donations over the last 5 years (slightly edged out by insurance companies for #1). Verizon's response to a reporters question - "We give to candidates who support pro-competitive, pro-consumer policy and those who we believe support good telecommunications policy," said Verizon spokeswoman Susan Cavender Butta.
I did manage to resolve the cognitive dissonance this causes by adding a _NOT whenever I hear a quote from someone in the Bush administration or Verizon or anyone else that thinks power automatically turns a lie into truth.
Leadership Versus Power
There seems two ways to assemble a large following. You can pay people to follow or you can inspire them to follow. The prior defines power and the latter leadership. No amount of money can turn power into leadership. It represents my hypothesis that pursuit of power defeats pursuit of leadership. People might leverage both in the early stages of building a following, but neither can scale without purity. People don't find themselves inspired to follow someone that has to buy their influence. People that buy influence can't afford the lack of direct control associated with leadership.
Power follows directly from money, so if you have one you have the other. There seems no short cut to leadership. People need to become aware and get inspired to follow. The situation implies prevail to the extent leaders accept money in exchange for compliance. Powerful people need only worry about leaders that refuse money or "maybe everyone has a price." Leaders have a more durable influence as they continue to inspire after their death. We carve the face of leaders on mountains, but the powerful need to buy their own memorials.
As a corollary, does this mean collective action does not happen without a leader? Can a group of leaders get things done or can the greatest collective impact only occur when a single inspirational leader emerges (e.g. a King or a Gandhi)?
Written Rules Imply Cheating
Humans document rules of behavior only with the expectation of the need to enforce the rules. In other words, the expectation and or reality of cheating. Human interactions proceed much more efficiently in the absence of rules to the extent participant behavior allows. This means no one participant can dominate the others. The maintenance of a civil relationship between the participants must represent the foremost priority for everyone or the interactions will devolve to cheating. Enter written rules as enforcement of unwritten rules can prove difficult. The process of enforcing the rules represents pure friction against progress. It serves a necessary function of containing bad behavior, but it does not further the progress of the larger enterprise.
The fact that enforcement includes the possibility of some players escaping blaim and others attracting blame without misdeeds makes it even more problematic. I personally worry about entering situations that require a written contract, in particular, with an entity that has resources and experience in making the words, interpretation, and enforcement uneven. One should have as many relationships as possible where a written contract does not seem necessary.
Harmony Worries Government More Than Anarchy
Government exists to cope with the potential for anarchy. Anarchy ensues when rules of engagement don't exist or fail to concern people. Rules only exist because people insist on conflict in pursuit of dominance. Harmony follows and rules become superfluous to the extent people realize relationship building provides an end in itself in the struggle to survive.
Government becomes superfluous to the extent harmony prevails. Government becomes increasingly important to the extent anarchy prevails.
Why would a government want harmony?
Civil Society and Rejection
Laws exists to frame rules of engagement in our struggle to survive, but it seems the rules revolve around dominance conflicts. One can focus on relationship building as a survival mechanism. Society does not assert explicit rules regarding relationship building. Rules exist nonetheless to help set expectations regarding the flow of interaction. One largely needs to stick with the protocol in order to maintain mutual comfort. Cutting corners or switching into dominance mode slows or destroys progress. This yields a dilemma. Relationship building requires adherance to a set of rules in pursuit of mutual appreciation. In other words, it depends very much on behavior and we don't have relationship police to enforce the rules (assuming they don't become criminal). This makes it necessary to screen carefully that we seek to engage in a relationships. Others we reject or at least contain. Rejection produces more emotional suffering than anything else that comes to mind. It seems a contradiction that a person interested in relationships should spend time rejecting people. The screening for who to reject seems very likely an imperfect process. The answer likely revolves around personal or group vulnerability. Personal strength maximizes the openness to new relationships. Emotional weakness can at some point close the possibility of relationships. Maybe it comes down to balance or weighing the potential for false positives (wrongly reject someone) or false negatives (accept someone that proves untrustworthy). Maybe there exists a mechanism to quickly escape from situations where the wrong person got through the screening system.
It seems like the absence of hard constraints (time, power relationships, family relationships, proximity) where everyone assembled only rewarding relationships one could take a more open approach. To the extent the openness yields a negative interaction, there exists no reason to persist in that linkage. One need on maintain the relationships that prove rewarding. This does not mean directly rejecting the person associated with the negative interaction, but just that we don't pursue negative relationships.
Not as smart as we think
One gets the impression the general view considers the world as of 2002 as rather "advanced" and at some sort of an advanced degree of evolution. Maybe even a point of diminishing returns where we really don't have that much more to learn. What if we actually did not have a clue relative to the possible? What if really really did not have a clue relative to the readily realizable? I vote for the latter world view as it seems like society generally operates in a haze of perception that exists a significant distance from reality. As a result, we operate with a very distorted perception of what works and what does not and our state of progress at any given moment. Consider the task of driving a car with only a very vague sense of what lies ahead - those things we can predict readily - and a revisionist view of what we just past. Accidents and slow progress seem probable. That about sums of my sense of the present.
Maybe the situation flows from the fact we don't have good measures for the state of progress. We use wealth as a measure of progress for individuals, but that measure does not seem to get much attention regarding the larger society or at least individual wealth seems quite satisfactory for those in a position to make things better.
Country without borders
The Internet seems like a country without borders to its users. It seems like a rogue state to the folks that presently control countries. The U.S. gave life to the original idea for connecting different types of computers on a single network, but the U.S. falls farther and farther behind in adopting the Internet as it works harder and harder to fight the Internet.
Miracle it works at all
Do you know how humans manage to get along at all? It seems a miracle. It does seem we have some control over whether we dish out good experiences or bad. I have good experiences and bad. The determination of which way it goes can depend on both or we can seek to control the outcome for ourselves. Keeping interactions with others positive requires varying degrees of strength. No strength if the person also seeks a positive interaction. Positive means self reinforcing. Perhaps, a significant amount of strength if the person seeks to assert a negative interaction.