November 2007

I found here a peculiar set of arguments, directed against Solveig the Social Calculator, Solveig the Rampant Utilitarian, Solveig the Anti-Individualist. Who is this Solveig person? Oh, wait, it’s me. I have to wonder if this critique is by the same character who has been going around posting on blogs that I am a defender of Scientology and an erotic model. No, these posts aren’t anonymous.

1) The classical liberal recipe for freedom incorporates the principle that one’s freedom stops where it runs into another’s rights. We may disagree about what those rights ought to look like–and history shows that those rights are likely to change somewhat over time–but if my
package differs somewhat from someone else’s, well, sorry, the argument that this makes me a “regulator” is no more to the point than the argument that the someone else is an “anarchist.” Very silly rhetorical flourishes that fail to join the main issue: what should the rights be?

2) There are perfectly respectable utilitarian arguments for free markets and property. This is not a grand venture into social calculus, it’s common sense. How long would freedom, property, and contract be defensible as institutions if there were a better way to raise standards of living, to get more clean water to more people, to generate wealth so that cleft palate babies can have surgery instead of being left in orphanages, so that a musician from Ghana can quit his day job waiting tables and do what he really loves and others can listen to him? No, I do not know what the socially optimal level of created works to be produced is, or grain, or houses. On the whole, people would rather have ground rules that support the creation of such things. If one is going to up-end those ground rules, one’s case against them had better be pretty strong.

3) Concern for enforcement is not an endorsement of “regulation.” Not even arguably. A defense of freedom includes supporting the fair enforcement of contracts, property rights, voting rights, or any other right that has a proper place in an advanced civilization. Again, we may disagree about what those rights are, but that has nothing to do with enforcement. Now, to the details: Is my view that copyright penalties should be lighter “regulatory”? Is the view that it is unfair to single out a few random individuals and let the majority of infringers’ off, and that this is ineffective for deterrence, “regulatory”? No. Not even close.

In short, teach your grandmother to suck eggs. There are arguments to be made here along these general lines about copyright and regulation that would need to be considered more carefully (see Tom Palmer, Tom Bell, Jerry Brito, etc.) … but you ain’t makin’ ‘em yet. If there were a fundamental, easy-to-spot disconnect between classical liberal fundamentals and my views on IP, I’d have noticed some time in the last twenty years. The more subtle tensions I’m way ahead of you on. (For the love of pete, I’m on the record on what I think on all these things–enforcement, and how strict, and copyright as regulation, and so on–you don’t need to make up what you think my position is and then critique the lame result).

Recently, there are reports of more compulsory licensing for 20 more drugs in Thailand; and a conference is announced to celebrate this strategy.

Hence this series of links and clips.

On April 11, http://www.africasia.com/services/news reported on a plan that seems to implicitly suggest that African states might set aside an array of patents (sorry, no present link):

“We need to produce (medicines) in Africa. We have the potential, why do we want to take them from outside when we can take it in Africa?” Mamadou Diallo, chief pharmacist in the AU commission’s medical services directorate, told AFP.

“The main objective is to identify which kinds of medicines we are going to produce, essential drugs we need for Africa, and who is going to produce these drugs.”

Many African countries currently rely on India and China for imports of affordable generic drugs, but both countries are subject to patent laws which threaten Africa’s access to the medicines.

According to Diallo, Africa has all the resources and capacity at its disposal to manufacture essential medicines for the opportunistic infections like tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS which plague the continent.

It is sad that the plan to produce the drugs in Africa apparently does not extend to actually inventing and developing more such drugs in Africa–or then the patents would be important.

Contrast Alec Van Gelder’s article on African medicines:

The UN Economic Commission for Africa endorses fears that “drastic trade liberalization, particularly substantial reductions in tariff, could entail, for instance, loss of tariff revenue hence fiscal difficulties.” The anti-globalisation group Oxfam issued a 128-page document in 2005 called “Why Developing Countries Need Tariffs”, as part of the Trade Justice Movement coalition.

All of this means that many religious, aid and international organisations think incomes for bureaucrats matter more than prices for citizens. They also believe that tariffs protect local industries and allow them to grow up into competitive industries.

Thus Tanzania imposed on 26 July a 10 per cent tariff on imported medicines, to protect what it called its “infant medicine industries.”

What about real infants? The immediate effect of this new tariff will be deadly. “Low income of the majority of the Tanzanian population hinders their accessibility to health services as medicines and other services are unaffordable,” according to the World Health Organisation. The average Tanzanian earns US$744 annually–a 10 % increase in the cost of medicines can make the difference between life and death for the 21.7% of the population that suffers from malnutrition.

While few of the world’s poorest–and least healthy–countries have any viable pharmaceutical sectors, a shocking number apply similar taxes and tariffs on medicines. A 2005 American Enterprise Institute study revealed that over 33 countries impose levies higher than the new Tanzanian rate.

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This from Mike Masnick is absolutely brutal:

[Universal Music CEO Doug] Morris is so clueless that he chooses the worst possible analogy to explain his position. Lots of entertainment industry execs have thrown up their hands and ignorantly stated that “you can’t make money from free.” That’s wrong, of course, but Morris takes it one step further up the ridiculous scale, with the following example: “If you had Coca-Cola coming through the faucet in your kitchen, how much would you be willing to pay for Coca-Cola? There you go. That’s what happened to the record business.” Hmm… and what is coming out of your faucet in your kitchen? That’s right… water. And how much are people willing to pay for water? That’s right, billions. In fact, it’s a larger market than (oops) recorded music. Can someone please explain how Morris keeps his job?

Honestly, I don’t get it. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, is mounting a strong challenge for the GOP nomination primarily by appealing to the social conservative wing of the party and religious groups. He uses rhetoric like this on the campaign trail:
Ric Flair

“Over the past 30 years, a decline in moral character has produced a decline in the character of our society. Everything hinges on the men & women we choose to establish public policy. And their character depends on you. There is something you can do: you can live a God-centered life of high moral character, and you can support candidates who share your Christian standards.”

Ted NugentChuck Norris

OK, that’s fine, but here’s what I don’t get. Why is Huckabee preaching the gospel of moral decline and cultural disintegration while also playing up endorsements from martial arts expert and actor Chuck Norris, professional wrestler Ric Flair, and rock-and-roll star Ted Nugent? Don’t get me wrong, I spent more time than I care to mention watching Chuck Norris movies and Ric Flair wrestling matches with my Dad growing up, and I used to own all of the Motor City Madman’s (that’s one of Nugent’s many colorful nicknames for you non-fans) albums in the late 1970s.

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Fair Use vs. Fared Use

by on November 27, 2007 · 2 comments

“Information wants to be free,” claim those who decry the overpowering grasp of copyright law. But they cannot mean what they say. Information wants nothing at all. The epigram speaks not to what information wants, but rather to what people want: people want information for free.

So restated, the catch-phrase still rings true. Who would not prefer to get information–that increasingly vital good–at no cost? But, alas, information never comes for free. We can only account for its costs as fully as possible, try our best to minimize them, and allocate them fairly.

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In February, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the following about the REAL ID Act: “If we don’t get it done now, someone is going to be sitting around in three or four years explaining to the next 9/11 Commission why we didn’t do it.”

Alice Lipowicz of Washington Technology reported on REAL ID today:

[Chertoff] and other DHS officials have said that older drivers present a lower terrorism risk and, therefore, might be allowed more time to switch to Real ID licenses. According to the Washington Post, DHS might extend the deadline to 2018 for drivers older than 40 or 50. Moreover, states will have more time to implement the act, Chertoff said.

DHS had previously extended the statutory May 2008 deadline for beginning implementation to December 2009 and recently set 2013 as the deadline for full implementation.

2013 is more than 5 years from now – 2018 is more than eleven. For all Chertoff’s urgency at the beginning of the year, has the Department abandoned its mission to secure the country?

Of course not. But Chertoff and the DHS were clearly trying to buffalo the Congress and the American people on REAL ID earlier this year. They haven’t succeeded.

Happily, this national ID system doesn’t add to our country’s security as its proponents have imagined. We are not unsafe for lacking a national ID. I explored all these issues in my book Identity Crisis.

If REAL ID were a sound security tool, pushing back the deadline for compliance would be a security risk, of course, as would reducing the quality of the cardstock used to make REAL ID-compliant cards – another measure DHS is considering.

Forget security, though. DHS is straining to get the program implemented just so it can claim success and save some face.

“[T]hose who are singing a funeral dirge, I think they’re singing the wrong tune,” Chertoff said November 6th. Alas, as before, Secretary Chertoff is the one more likely to sing a different song.

More Singel on Klein

by on November 26, 2007 · 2 comments

Ryan Singel points out even more problems with Joe Klein’s follow-up post on his train wreck of a column:

In his two follow-up blog posts, Klein compounds his errors and valiantly argues he is right that the Dems are coddling terrorists because a bill passed by the House says that if the NSA targets a foreigner or group of foreigners who will likely communicate with someone inside the United States, the spies need to get court approval.

Klein says this gives foreign terrorists the same rights as Americans.
But, this restriction is only true when the nation’s spies are wiretapping fiber optic cables, telecom switches and web mail providers INSIDE the United States.
Klein continues to miss this most crucial distinction in the debate, which is why THREAT LEVEL, paraphrasing Klein’s column, continues to believe that Klein is well beyond stupid. He’s dangerous.

Outside the United States, such wiretapping isn’t even defined as surveillance and it never has been.

If the NSA is listening in on cell phone calls in Iraq, they don’t need a warrant nor do they need court approval of their techniques.

If the Iranian cell phone user they are listening in on calls an American, they don’t have to stop and get a warrant. Instead they follow long-established minimization procedures that disguise the American’s name, unless there’s a good reason not to.

Wiretapping inside America is the whole reason various bills are being debated. After a secret spying court decided last spring that the government’s wiretapping inside America without having particularized warrants was illegal, the Administration began pushing for new powers from Congress. The administration then scared Congress into rush passage of a bill that massively expanded the government’s spying powers outside and inside the United States, without any real expansion of oversight.

But Klein can’t grasp this simple point, which may be why he defends himself by saying that bills are hard to read and details are unimportant

I can write half-baked articles about subjects I don’t understand. Where’s my Time column?

Scott Cleland over at The Precursor Blog is an ideological ally on many issues, most prominently, network neutrality. Scott has come out strongly against government intervention on a host of issues, but the Google/Doubleclick merger is not one of them. Last week Scott posted a long set of talking points supporting Senators Kohl and Hatch who have called for heightened scrutiny of the deal.

But the blackboard economics that are being applied to the deal just don’t relate to reality. A brief look at recent history should stem any worries that Scott and the incredulous Senators may have.

The history of the Internet is littered with former giants like AOL, AltaVista, and Lycos that lost significant market share or went bust because they couldn’t keep innovating. Yet these companies were also labeled monopolies or, more euphemistically, as “market dominant.” In 1999 the Motley Fool called Yahoo! “the dominant brand of the Internet.” Recently, Boston Business Journal recounted that “Lycos Inc., once one of the biggest Web portals on the planet, is now a shadow of its former self with a mere 70 employees in Waltham.”

The real competition to Google-DoubleClick may not even exist yet—Google itself was a grad student science project a decade ago. Startups can grow exponentially in a short time on the web. Look no farther than Facebook, a $10-billion gorilla today, that didn’t even exist four years ago.

Ultimately, concerns about online market consolidation are unfounded. They depict the web advertising market as static—yet the last decade has shown the dynamic nature of Internet commerce. How can one claim to find an iron-clad monopoly in a market that is best described as hyper-competitive?

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I had fun just now looking over the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s upcoming dog-and-pony show promoting the REAL ID Act. It’s a big business opportunity for Washington, D.C.-area technology vendors – nevermind that this national ID law is dying because of nationwide disapproval.

Why fun? Because clicking on the link to Gold Sponsor Wiley Rein LLP, I saw the promotional blurb below their Web banner: “‘Demonstrates a high-caliber command of privacy’ issues. – Computerworld” (It rotates through blurbs – you might have to hit reload once or twice to see it for yourself.)

wileyrein.JPG

You can’t promote REAL ID and claim a command of privacy issues. So which is it gonna be?

And what other promotional blurbs might go there? Let’s see ‘em in the comments. A few to prime the pump, after the jump.

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Klein and MSM

by on November 26, 2007 · 0 comments

The most frustrating thing about the Klein fiasco is that I can think of a number of people who actually know a lot about the FISA issue and could have provided Time‘s readership with useful information about the state of the debate. At a minimum, they should be able to find someone who can at least take the trouble to read the text of the legislation he’s writing about.

The RESTORE Act is about 20 double-space pages long. You can read it in under an hour. I did it when I was writing up the story for Ars. Ars has a lot fewer readers than Time, and I guarantee you that Klein got paid more for his column than I got paid for my article.

There’s been a lot of commentary of late blaming the Internet for undermining the high journalistic standards of the mainstream media. Well, it doesn’t get more mainstream than Time. So why didn’t the magazine’s vaunted editors notice that Klein’s “summary” was riddled with errors? If Klein couldn’t be bothered to read the bill, shouldn’t Time have assigned a fact-checker to do so? And how do we explain the fact that Internet-centric journalists like Greenwald and Singel (not to mention up-and-coming journalists like Julian) can run circles around Klein on the FISA issue?