Monday, February 20, 2012

Abolish Neo-Feudalism

Hello folks,

In 1331, England was an intellectually backward country. In order to import knowledge and crafts, Edward III struck a bargain. If you brought a new industry into the country, you were rewarded with a short monopoly over it, up to five years for example. Skilled workman from across Europe came to the England and with them brought weaving, clock making, metal working, gunpowder, cannon making etc. [See Deazley, R. (2008) 'Commentary on the Statute of Monopolies 1624']

These were not abstract, incremental or mathematical ideas, these were high-level industries, and they were time limited.

Over time, the aim of the original bargain - short time-limited monopoly to increase the spread of knowledge and crafts - was lost, and it became another way for the English Kings to raise finance and grant favours. By the time of Queen Elizabeth, she had even given one of her Lords a monopoly over salt.

Over time, as the divine rights of the monarchies were replaced by democratic parliaments, these monopolies were broken up and free trade was introduced leading to the industrial and scientific revolutions.

By the late 18th century, the time of the great classical economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo, it was understood that competition by manufacturers produced better outcomes than monopoly; that in a free market free of government protection, price will fall to the marginal cost of production as manufacturers innovate not just in producing the design of a product, but also innovate in the efficient production of it. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations begins with the famous example of how to best organise the production of a pin.

This reduction in price gives the most benefit to consumers and society as a whole. In the free market, that is free of feudal patronage to a single company, companies have to compete to best please their customers in order to survive.

However, beginning with the rise of the cold war military industrial complex and increasing throughout the 1990s and 2000s with the rise of multi-national organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, this process has now gone into reverse. Government created monopolies are increasing at a fast rate, one of the reasons is again the patent system.

The modern patent system does not spread previously secret knowledge of high-level crafts. Since the 1970s and especially since the 1990s, patents are given for obvious and incremental improvements in very specific areas. Instead of a patent for say, the steam engine, a patent might be for improving an algorithm for moving stream along a pipe, 5% more efficiently under certain conditions.

Indeed patents now often work against the spread of knowledge. A patent over an obvious and incremental improvement is given by the state to company A, and when company B, with no knowledge of the patent, implements the obvious improvement in an act of parallel evolution, it then gets hit with a insidious threat - pay up or stop improving.

These patents are sold and cross-licensed until they form huge collections owned by a handful of elite companies.

Because building any technology requires the combination of hundreds or thousands of these obvious small steps, no one can build technological devices without permission from the government protected elite multi-national companies.

So technology becomes harder and slower to develop, less safe and more expensive. Progress becomes slower. The capitalist free market is replaced by Neo-Feudalism.

Patents are just small one example of how control is getting centralised in a new feudal elite. Another example is that the corruption of the democratic process by political contributions and lobbying means the government and legal system has been captured by the feudal elite, acting for those minority interests rather than for population as a whole.

I have not updated this blog for over 5 years. Why? Because I realised that the issue of keeping or abolishing the British crown is rather small fry.

Countries that are republics end up with a washed up politician as their head of state - take the recent example of the German president, he served for just a year and a half before resigning in scandal. Even worse, presidents seem to cost even more than monarchies do. Recent American Presidents spend money and dole out favours to such an extent that it puts the medieval monarchs to shame.

However, regardless if we have a smiley old grandmother or a washed up politician as our head of state, it does not matter since they are no longer calling the shots. The new feudal elite does not care about jurisdictions or democratic government.

Our ancestors struggled for hundreds of years to win freedom from feudalism and authoritarianism. This freedom had to be defended in World War II at a cost of millions of lives on all sides.

Now as we are moving into a new digital and multinational age, these freedoms are being systematically undermined and removed. A new legal system has sprung up and is building a new feudalism.

The medieval feudal Lords had their own system of censorship and control which they defended as their divine rights to subjugate the common man. Now the new feudal Lords have a new religious belief called 'intellectual property' which aims to give them the power to control technology and through it, the common man. The new feudal rulers make demands over democratic governments (which are becoming democratic only in name). These governments make laws 'protecting' these 'intellectual' rights.

In the opening chapters of the Proverbs of Solomon, it is explained that the route to wisdom is modesty (Proverbs 1:7), knowledge is not derived through being an intellectually superior individual because all knowledge derives from God, for example in Proverbs 2:6, it says "For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding". God gives knowledge is for the good of all, not in order to "fill our houses with spoil" (Proverbs 1:13).

Today we would express this same idea without explicit reference to God. We would say that all knowledge is derived from nature and from living in a social network of ideas.

The most influential scientist in history, Isaac Newton, who discovered the laws of gravity, said "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants".

Since the 17th century, science and technology have revolutionised our world. They have brought freedom from poverty and disease, given us the ability to travel across the country and across the world, even to the moon and beyond.

At the heart of the scientific method is openness and sharing. No one owns knowledge. All technology is reducible to the principles of mathematics, and no one owns mathematics, because it is based on nature, on the in-built laws of the Universe.

From Aristotle onwards, philosophers have argued that the protection of personal property - your clothes, your tools, your home, your own skins and bones - is the foundation of liberty.

The new feudalism argues that "Intellectual property" is akin to physical property. However, this is the kind of muddled doublethink satirized by Alice and Wonderland and George Orwell.

One of the fundamental attributes of property is scarcity. If I am wearing my coat, you cannot wear it at the same time. If I give you my coat to wear, I cannot wear it at the same time.

Ideas are not scarce, if I understand gravity, and explain it to you and you understand it, then I do not stop understanding it. The idea of gravity is not owned and does not cost anything.

You cannot own ideas. Intellectual property only exists as a pseudo-religious idea in its followers' brains. If it is decided that person X has a sole property right to the idea of gravity, this system only works if everyone believes in this bizarre pseudo-religion.

Since these 'rights' are fictional and irrational, increasingly totalitarian policies are being enacted on the population in a vain attempt to 'protect' the 'intellectual rights' which are allegedly held by a small elite of extremely rich companies and individuals.

The side effect of this fruitless campaign is that our freedoms are removed and technological and social progress is inhibited. We cannot allow these side effects to happen. We must overthrow this new feudalism.

Meanwhile, while governments and the legal system spend their energies on implementing 'intellectual property', they have deliberately neglected the protection of personal property and safety which is the real basis of liberty and prosperity.

A confident and free society will not stand for corrupt and ineffective leaders who act for the interests of the minority feudal interests, so society is transformed into a scared and disordered set of divided individuals hiding inside their cars or behind their satellite dishes.

Burglars now operate in broad daylight, murderers are lightly punished or left completely uncaught, deaths due to dangerous roads are not prevented, while child rapists are given new identities and police protection.

Enforcing laws against drug possession and gambling have more or less ceased, because people with brains stupefied on cannabis or distracted by the next bet cannot threaten the powerful.

The rise of the digital age has much promise, but only if we can take control of our technology and take control of our legal and political systems so they benefit the whole population. not just minority neo-feudal interests.

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