Wednesday, 14 May 2014

How To Be The Party Of Innovation - A Five Point Plan

Former US Republican Party staffer, conservative political commentator and columnist Derek Khanna has written a thoughtful piece on The American Conservative, a blog I sometimes read. Check it out. Like me, he's moderate, but I can't help thinking he's got an overly rose-tinted view of his party and their ideology. I've pulled out a few choice quotes to critique from a Pirate perspective. I'll tweet this at him to see what he thinks — wouldn't it be awesome if he decided to join us — or at least began to advocate more of the things we believe in? 

1. Permission-less innovation

Mr. Khanna is in favour of IPR reform. Indeed, he's keen on a return to US Constitutional limits, e.g. 14 years for copyright. He's also keen on breaking up monopolies and reducing barriers to entry, the idea being that innovators will be able to start businesses and therefore employ people, pumping money into a stagnant economy. Great ideas, but with one itty-bity downside... I can't help thinking that he hasn't taken sustainability and inclusivity into account.
True innovators often can’t afford—either in terms of money or mental energy—to hire lobbyists and change the law. Entrepreneurs should not be wasting their start-up capital on lawyers, consultants, and PAC donations.

Well, yeah, but that's not the only thing that drives jobs. One of the most controversial issues in the proposed FTAs the TPP and TTIP is the expansion, enforcement, and consolidation of IPR laws. And why is America pushing those terms? Because IPR enforcement means that the "innovators" can sit at home in America raking in the cash while their products are made in sweatshops in China, India, and Vietnam, then sell their products in their home market at a cheaper price than if they had been US-made. Consumers win, right? The trouble I have with laissez-faire economics (a traditional Republican stance) is that "the market" is actually NOT "a harmonious and self-regulating system" because "individuals in following their selfish interests" actually DON'T "contribute[d] to the general good." This is why we have child labour laws, people. Individuals following their selfish interests naturally tend towards authoritarianism to make the peasants accept their lot.

A party of innovation would not place all their bets on relaxed IPR laws and lower copyright terms; this would be part of an holistic approach that takes into account the fact that the market is not and never has been free because those pesky individuals will insist on following their selfish interests.

2. Occupational licensing should be limited to what is strictly necessary to protect the general public

No arguments there. Ridiculous protectionism stifles business. While I say there's no such thing as a free market (because it's true!), I am in favour of a fair and open market, which is what the free market enthusiasts claim to be in favour of; reducing barriers to trade. I should point out that the buying power of massive corporations such as Walmart, Tesco, and the like create barriers to trade by forcing prices down. Great for consumers, but what about the farmers? And don't get me started on the sheer unfairness of forcing British farmers to compete with those in receipt of greater subsidies. Barrier to trade, much? Driving people out of business by undercutting them creates monopoly conditions where the last man standing wins — then drives up prices. That is emphatically NOT a free market.

A party of innovation recognises that healthy competition is essential to a properly-functioning market that benefits both sellers and buyers and should be encouraged at every opportunity.

3. Restrict copyright and patent terms to what they were originally for

Khanna can't resist taking a backhand swipe at the dirty Lib'ruls, but concedes:
'...some elected Republicans have embraced the Hollywood-lobbyist version of “zombie copyright” that cannot die: where copyright exists forever in clear violation of the Constitution. As former George W. Bush administration official Stewart Baker has explained, modern copyright has come to resemble “a constantly expanding government program run for the benefit of a noisy, well-organized interest group.”'

He is, of course, correct about what copyright has become. However, I'd have written,
'...some elected representatives have embraced the Hollywood-lobbyist version of “zombie copyright” that cannot die: where copyright exists forever in clear violation of the Constitution. Modern copyright has come to resemble a constantly expanding government program run for the benefit of a noisy, well-organized interest group.'

FITY, Derek. This is not a partisan issue; both parties were implicated in SOPA and both parties are up to their eyeballs in the unfolding surveillance scandal. The point is, the maximalists own the narrative in the public consciousness at the moment. Pirate thought is still widely seen as being on the fringe because people have come to accept that creative output is property and should be treated as such. Couching it in such emotive terms has twisted and warped it from a means by which a creator can earn a living from his work to an hereditary investment and welfare scheme for writers, artists, musicians, and their families and/or an entirely legal form of extortion and racketeering.

A party of innovation would work to return the narrative to the true meaning and function of copyright and patents, etc.

4. Reasonable opportunities to profit from creative output

Khanna writes,
For copyright and patent law alike, the traditional conservative position is to prefer less government intervention and less regulatory uncertainty, with a system that compensates rights holders and inventors but that does so for the constitutionally enumerated purpose of spurring innovation and content creation, not at the cost of inhibiting it.

Here's the problem: copyright and patents, etc., are creatures of the state. Therefore the state bears responsibility for regulating them. Regulatory uncertainty could be done away with by a Constitutional amendment to restrict copyright to a 14-year term with a 14-year extension, as it was at the time of the Founding Fathers. Partisanship prevents this from happening, of course. That, and all the money in politics. It'd be a noble act to put the people's interest first but it'd be political suicide. Here in Europe, we copy and paste US positions on IPR, accepting them without question, as a rule. If they change their minds, we will, too. What happens in American matters over here.

A party of innovation would promote alternative business models and policies that ensure that creators are fairly compensated and properly incentivized. 

5. New ideologies and economic models for a new era

The trouble with excessive individualism is that it discounts the fact that we human beings are naturally social creatures. That's why there are cities! We don't live together because we have to, but because we want to. The Pirate principle of the Swarm Economy recognises this. Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge writes,
The industrial society is dead and it is not coming back. As we went from an agrarian society to an industrial one, roughly half of the people became unnecessary for production. We are at the brink of a similar shift where we will never again see full employment in the industrial model. Therefore, we need to find new models for the economy.

Contrasting sharply with this truth, Khanna writes,
If we want to create millions of new jobs—and jobs that are better than those lost during the Great Recession—the way to do so is to unleash the full entrepreneurial potential of our society, and Republicans should in the vanguard of the effort at both the state and federal levels.

Well, yeah... but those jobs need to be in America, for Americans. What I don't want to see is loads more innovation that creates a shiny new product that is later manufactured abroad to keep production costs down. That is a jobs killer — well, it is over there. We're also going to have to face the fact that there will never be enough paid jobs for everyone. There is too much automation of production and there are too many people. How are we going to employ them all in waged jobs at a decent rate of pay? Yet there is work to be done. Volunteering to earn welfare benefits is one idea being picked up by the UK Conservative Party. To make this work, any volunteering would have to be done in a way that doesn't threaten existing jobs. Pirates are aware that no system is perfect. That's why we're always working on them instead of regurgitating the same thing for centuries in the hope that one day, they'll work as intended. Our principles are flexible because we accept that change is inevitable.

A party of innovation is more interested in whether policies work in practice than promoting and maintaining traditional views.

I'm amused that Derek Khanna thinks the Republicans can be the party of innovation. You can't innovate if you don't like change and your ideology is founded on a faulty premise, to wit, that selfishness is ultimately beneficial for the rest of us. As an Irish woman whose neighbours back home still remember the sting of the phrase, "It is no man's business to provide for another," I can't accept that such an idea can ever be true. History and empirical evidence keep getting in the way.

Laissez-faire is not a viable economic option for a healthy society and every Pirate knows it. Well, we are the party of innovation.

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