Comments on: The Economist on corruption Blog, news, books Thu, 02 Feb 2017 18:43:00 +0000 hourly 1 By: Gordon Cook Mon, 31 Dec 2007 09:03:50 +0000 A final comment

n friday following one of Dirk’s links, I made a belated discovery of Larry Lessig’s Free Culture.

I spent the greater part of the day reading it from start to finish. At the end of the book when he describes the RIAA’s refusal to allow the Eldred legislation to become law (to extend copyright beyond 28 years owners would have to fill out a form and pay the nominal fee of one dollar) he concludes that the RIAA is determined that a public domain for culture will never be allowed.

As I read Lessig’s rather grim conclusion I put it through the mindset filter of Naomi Klein’s grim Shock doctrine critique of Milton Friedman and the brand of capitalism that he engendered. I concluded that it was not just a desire to prevent a public domain for any events that any of us have lived through. But no it was worse it was part of the Friedmanite march to gain control of over all information so as not to loose control of the ability to push the Friedman version of capitalism forward and attain greater dominance for it on the world stage. I did this by taking parts of lessigs text and commenting on it from the Shock Doctrine point of view.

Troubled by the pessimistic nature of what i had written I sent it privately to Frank Coluccio and asked for his opinion> Frank is a wise man and I value what he has to say.

Franks sent back a few comments and then included the following pointers which he has given me permission to share.

Frank: OK, I read yours. Now you take in these: Have a pencil and paper ready to take notes (or have a writepad open on your desktop) and the powerpoints in front of you when you listen to these:
Michael Conroy discusses his new book Branded! about how certification systems, market campaigns, and champions within corporations are driving a major shift in global corporate accountability on social and environmental issues. Rising demand for ethically certified products shows that civil society can use the vulnerability of brand value as leverage to create a new international ethic for corporate behavior.

Download the accompanying PowerPoint Presentation.

And ESPECIALLY when you view this:

The Superclass (vodcast/vodcast)
David Rothkopf, Carnegie Endowment for Peace (Sep 28, 2007 at Middlebury College, Rohatyn Center for International Affairs)

Gordon: I followed frank’s advice and learned a LOT. These are not pollyanish don’t worry we are doing just fine statements. They are assessments of where we are now from the point of view of what is, and should be, being done to bring the world into balance. Conroys Branded shows that it is possible to stand up to seemingly heartless multi national in the field of corporate ethics and environmentalism by campaigns about wrongs being done and pointing out that consumer boycotts can cost companies tens of billions in the value of their brand which in many corporations is worth more than their physical plant. Savoring Conroy makes me wonder whether one of his campaigns could be conducted against ATT. Faced with what we are its encouraging to note that there *is* something that can be done.

Rothkopf is equally fascinating. He looks at corporation, government and the public interest and explains in a new and refreshing way why the are so badly out of whack. He juxtaposes our traditional goals of freedom and justice and finds that over reliance on free markets has left justice in a position of gross disparity. The pendulum he finds has swung to a position in favor of free over Justice that is simply not sustainable. he suggests that we will before long see the emergence of new forces that will swing the pendulum into a position of better balance.

As we look to the new year what you think we can or should be thinking or doing?

By: Gordon Cook Sat, 29 Dec 2007 07:10:26 +0000 Hi Larry,

Only 3 year and nine months later I discovered your book Free Culture on the web. I devoured it from start to finish in about 6 hours. I have recently finished reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine; the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. I think Klein’s work provides some possible answers to the question of what the copyright warriors really want. Not so much WHAT they want. But WHY they want the end of public domain.

You say: But when the copyright owners oppose a proposal such as the Eldred Act, then, finally, there is an example that lays bare the naked self-interest driving this war. This act would free an extraordinary range of content that is otherwise unused. It wouldn’t interfere with any copyright owner’s desire to exercise continued control over his content. It would simply liberate what Kevin Kelly calls the “Dark Content” that fills archives around the world. So when the warriors oppose a change like this, we should ask one simple question:

What does this industry really want?

With very little effort, the warriors could protect their content. So the effort to block something like the Eldred Act is not really about protecting their content. The effort to block the Eldred Act is an effort to assure that nothing more passes into the public domain. It is another step to assure that the public domain will never compete, that there will be no use of content that is not commercially controlled, and that there will be no commercial use of content that doesn’t require their permission first.

The opposition to the Eldred Act reveals how extreme the other side is. The most powerful and sexy and well loved of lobbies really has as its aim not the protection of “property” but the rejection of a tradition. Their aim is not simply to protect what is theirs. Their aim is to assure that all there is is what is theirs.
It is not hard to understand why the warriors take this view. . . . “

Cook: and you go on to imply that they want it because they are greedy. Then referring to AIDs in South Africa and the drug industries insistence that they be compensated for the use of their property, you speak of a policy “whose only real benefit would be to uphold the “sanctity” of an idea? What possible justification could there ever be for a policy that results in so many deaths? What exactly is the insanity that would allow so many to die for such an abstraction?”

I ask you is this sacredness of “property” just one more example of the Milton Friedmanite view of the world where the only interests that can be permitted to flourish are private? I, of course, was aware of Friedman and his “Chicago school of economists but I had no real understanding of what their free market principles were all about until I read Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

Then you go on to say Lessig: “A different problem, however, could not be overcome. This is the fear of the grandstanding politician who would call the presidents of the drug companies before a Senate or House hearing, and ask, “How is it you can sell this HIV drug in Africa for only $1 a pill, but the same drug would cost an American $1,500?” Because there is no “sound bite” answer to that question, its effect would be to induce regulation of prices in America. The drug companies thus avoid this spiral by avoiding the first step. They reinforce the idea that property should be sacred. They adopt a rational strategy in an irrational context, with the unintended consequence that perhaps millions die. And that rational strategy thus becomes framed in terms of this ideal – the sanctity of an idea called “intellectual property.” “

Cook: Influenced by Klein, I suggest that in the USA and UK the role of government now is exclusively to protect the interests of the moneyed and powerful against the general public. The profit spiral and its need to leverage itself through administration of shock is the sole remaining driver of our political system. Klein shows the unbalanced nature of our greed coming from the worship of Milton Friedman’s free markets over the past 40 years”

Lessig: But we as a culture have lost this sense of balance. We have lost the critical eye that helps us see the difference between truth and extremism. A certain property fundamentalism, having no connection to our tradition, now reigns in this culture – bizarrely, and with consequences more grave to the spread of ideas and culture than almost any other single policy decision that we as a democracy will make.

Cook:: Larry, I agree with you,. but I also suggest that what you are missing is that this fundamentalism has its source in capture of our government by the ideas of Milton Friedman that has given rise to the Disaster capitalism chronicled by Naomi Klien in her Shock Doctrine in which the whole world is being made to fit arbitrarily into the same procrustian bed of Milton Friedmanite economics.

It seems to me that under such a domineering interpretation of capitalism as described by Klein – the war against free culture as described by YOU is inevitable.

Lessig: There is a history of just such a property system that is well known in the Anglo-American tradition. It is called “feudalism.” Under feudalism, not only was property held by a relatively small number of individuals and entities. And not only were the rights that ran with that property powerful and extensive. But the feudal system had a strong interest in assuring that property holders within that system not weaken feudalism by liberating people or property within their control to the free market. Feudalism depended upon maximum control and concentration. It fought any freedom that might interfere with that control.

Cook: A good analogy. However I would say that because you don’t take your argument far enough you misunderstand what the free market is REALLY about. As chronicled by Klein in her powerful description:

it is about the power of the “feudalist class” to enforce the rule set that extorts the maximum tribute from its feudal subjects.

The PURITY of Milton Friedman’s free markets cannot abide the idea that any government can restrain anything they wish to do to maximize their monetary gain at our expense. And remember that in their clamping down on the diversity of media outlets and opinions, they are able to see increasingly that they only message we get is THEIR message. Having lived through another 39 months of the Bush Administration should show you that they have no trouble in criminalizing the activities of most Americans. Read the other Naomi, Naomoi Wolff Letter to a Young Patriot to see what I am talking about.

I will send you as a separate email excerpts from Klein’s book. I have used Google to try to ascertain if you have seen any connection between Klein’s thought and your own. Was unable to find any evidence that you have connected those dots,

By: John David Galt Fri, 14 Dec 2007 01:08:34 +0000 It seems to me that the only really effective way to reduce corruption would be to work on changing the incentives for it that arise out of government institutions. Are you at all familiar with David Friedman’s works on this topic, especially Law’s Order which is available free online?

By: Pablo Rodríguez Sun, 09 Dec 2007 21:30:07 +0000

[...] my (arguably) corrupt offer to send a (CC-licensed) DVD to anyone who contributes $100 to Creative Commons

What happens if one spends $500? Does (s)he get five DVD if requested?

By: Sepp Hasslberger Sun, 09 Dec 2007 00:11:01 +0000

As he prepares to embark upon his new campaign, Mr Lessig—whose conversation frequently sounds footnoted, so often does he credit the book or person who inspired the point he is making—is already examining the model used by organisations such as and the Sunlight Foundation, both of which provide databases that enable American voters to see which groups fund particular politicians, what their voting records are, which companies they own shares in, and so on. These are good examples of how technology can promote transparency. “Technology will be a crucial part of solving this problem,” he says, because it “challenges the balance of power”.

I agree wholeheartedly that the solution to corruption and actually to a whole host of problems with our democratic societies lies in transparency. Technology can promote transparency, but we will also need a political commitment to prioritize the availability of information to the public.

After all, how are we to vote much less to build a participative society if we are continually denied access to the information that makes it possible to decide in a sane fashion?

By: Seth Finkelstein Sat, 08 Dec 2007 05:30:46 +0000 Also, regarding “ … in a manner akin to Wikipedia

See my column just now:

Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa’s workshop

“Wikipedia is frequently touted as a model of selfless human collaboration but it may be more instructive as a hotbed of social pathologies”

By: Seth Finkelstein Sat, 08 Dec 2007 04:23:46 +0000 “Technology will be a crucial part of solving this problem,” he says, because it “challenges the balance of power”.

NO. Regrets, that’s deeply wrong. That turns into technological determinism, the idea that if we have the right technology, the problem will be solved. And please, please, YOU WILL GET “USED” if you follow that path.

See my own Lessig and corruption studies column.

“I want to implore you with all my heart not to fall prey to the blandishments of those who will seek to exploit your studies for their own enrichment.”

By: Chris Fri, 07 Dec 2007 23:09:12 +0000 Great Article!

I want more of this stuff, more conversation.

This was a good article a little while back:

Maplight is excellent. But I wonder if there’s more.

What is the ecology of corruption? Where is it, especially in it’s softer guises, when the edge of awareness of laws or of ethical guidelines comes into play? How can we locate it? For example, how does a good person come to think, in the example Mr. Lessig sighted, “Oh well… I’m not the molester, so I’m not to blame.” How do they come to say “I won’t be prosecuted. I’m not ‘the one’. I won’t face a consequence for not picking up the phone.”

How does that awareness develop, or change? Is that a failure of the legal realm, or is that only the purview of morality? If it were the purview of law, would we all have to report on our friends?

When is it that the economy of corruption reaches a tipping point where even good individuals make entirely rational choices to be corrupt–because they will find no reward (let alone success) for choosing the noble action.