Media Note: I will be on the Killstream this Wednesday to celebrate the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. The show starts somewhere around 9:00 PM eastern and runs for a couple of hours. Are you into midgets? Westerns? Maybe midget westerns? Well, I watched Terror of Tiny Town and posted a review to my SubscribeStar page.
A defining feature of the managerial state is that it creates problems that require it to then fashion complex solutions to solve. A group of experts from the managerial class made some reform, which then created unintended problems. The solution is to draft a new set of experts from the managerial class to solve this new problem. Inevitably, this creates new problems and the process continues into forever. A good current example of this is what to do with the tech monopolies.
The reason we have tech monopolies is Congress drafted laws that allowed the firms to turn into behemoths. In gratitude, these firms then showered their favorite politicians with cash, in order to avoid getting the Microsoft treatment. This allowed the firms to get bigger and turn the thank you cash into threats. It is not unrealistic to think these firms are now able and willing to blackmail politicians with information gleaned from their social media, e-mail and mobile devices.
The starting point for this problem is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996. Section 230 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This means that on-line intermediaries cannot be held accountable for what passes through their network or platform. Specifically, the intent was to protect them from libel claims.
At the time, this made sense for two reasons. One was the government did not want the internet service providers walling off the internet as a collection of private domains that they policed as a private space. They wanted the internet to be open. Second, they were told that it was practically impossible to monitor what was posted on-line in real-time, so it would cripple this new industry to treat them as publishers. To let the industry grow, it had to be the wild west on-line.
So far, so good, but like everything else done by the technocrats, they created new problems they could solve at some future date. This immunity from libel claims, for example, has made it possible for the big social media companies to operate as regulators of the public square. It has allowed domain registrars to violate individual rights under the cloak of immunity. Even banks are getting into the act, claiming their web portals are covered under section 230.
This brings up another feature of managerial state. It is a strange version of Chesterton’s gate that is baked into their thinking. Once their creation is set loose, no one ever looks back to understand why they created it and what it was intended to do. It just becomes this thing that sprang from nothingness, like the organic institutions for which they have so little respect. We see this with Section 230. It’s just this thing that is either treated as a force of nature or a thing that must be destroyed.
The thing is, much of what ails us could be solved by simply going back to the original intent of the law. The tech companies argued that they should not be treated as publishers because they could not regulate what was on their platform and most important, they did not want to regulate the content. They just wanted to act as facilitators that allowed people to come together in the public square. It was not their job or intention to tell anyone what they could say on-line.
Right there is a solution to much of what is happening. If Twitter, for example, is regulating speech on its platform, then it is no longer covered by Section 230, because it is clearly able and willing to act as a publisher. We call a dog a dog because it has all the characteristics of a dog. Twitter is a publisher because it now has the vital characteristics of a publisher. Applying the original logic of the law to Twitter means it either stops censuring people or it transforms into something else.
Another simple remedy that exists in the law is property ownership. It is well established that when ownership of something is in doubt, the law starts at the creator and then establishes a chain of custody. Stolen goods for example, are returned to the last person who can establish ownership, either through a purchase agreement or proof there are the originator of the item. If you made it, it is yours until you agree to sell or gift it to another person, who then becomes the legal owner.
If we treated your information the same way we treat all other property in the western world, the tech companies would no longer be allowed to harvest this information without your permission. They would have to get your permission every time they sold your information. Most people, of course, would refuse and the business models of these firms would more from rentier to retail. They would have to charge you for the service they provide, like every other business.
Way back in the 2016 election, the liberal pundit Mickey Kaus observed that the Republican party could have cut Trump off early if they just adopted some of his ideas, especially on immigration. If they more gracefully advocated for some limits on immigration and maybe a new attitude on trade, Trump would have lost. They did not, so we will never know, but the implication was that they refused to go down that road because nefarious forces behind the scenes were preventing it.
We get similar argument about the tech monopolies. Congress is now conveniently split on how to address the problem. Bill Bar has initiated what will no doubt be a glacial process to file anti-trust claims against the tech giants. We’ll all be dead long before any of these turn into results. The assumption is that it is all just a show, while behind the scenes the pols bath in cash from the tech giants. It is certainly a useful and satisfying conspiracy theory, but it is mostly wrong.
The truth is, the managerial state turns the ruling class into children, always living in the moment and searching for a present distraction. Instead of taking the prudent and mature view of the problem, tracing it back to its origin and then simply applying the law as intended, they turn it into story time. In this story, they are once again cast as the strong female lead, taking on the sinister bad guys. You go girl. In order to defeat the bad guys, they must create a super complicated solution.
In many areas, this is not much of a concern. The issue of tech censorship is one that can largely solve itself. In order for Twitter to exist, they need the state to keep their competitor out of business, but those same children playing make believe in response to the problem are unable to maintain their end of the bargain. People will find a way to meet on-line and exchange ideas. The result will not be ideal or even very good, but it will allow people to communicate on-line.
This is not happening with important stuff like building roads and keeping the hospitals open. All over the country, technocrats agree that we need more new housing, so builder need more power to build developments. That results in the need for more road and more schools, but building roads is boring, so the children of the managerial state use their time dreaming up smart communities and smart transportation plans. They get to pretend they are smart and popular while the rest of us sit in traffic jams.
The observation about bureaucracy is it becomes sclerotic over time. The people inside the system stop caring about the purpose of the system. Something similar happens with the managerial state. The people inside become hyper-educated toddlers, unable to grasp the concept of time. They spend their days trying to impress each other with their highly complex public policy solutions. Governance becomes a giant parlor game where the more ridiculous the idea, the more the children cheer.
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