Further information at: Not-so-Random Information: Introduction and Table of Contents
- Government Sanctioned Monopolies, Net Neutrality, and the FCC
- Capital Accumulation, Freedom-Crushing Legislation, and Rebellion
- Working for the Spooks, Mathematicians' War, and Mesh Networking
I. Government Sanctioned Monopolies, Net Neutrality, and the FCC
Capitalism is making way for the age of free - “Over the past decade millions of consumers have become prosumers, producing and sharing music, videos, news, and knowledge at near-zero marginal cost and nearly for free, shrinking revenues in the music, newspaper and book-publishing industries.
“Some of the US's leading economists are waking up to the paradox. Lawrence Summers, former US treasury secretary, and J Bradford DeLong, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, addressed this in August 2001, in a speech delivered before the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Summers and DeLong focused their presentation on the new communication technologies that were already reducing the marginal (per-unit) cost of producing and sending information goods to near zero.
“They began by acknowledging that ‘the most basic condition for economic efficiency: [is] that price equal marginal cost’, and further conceded that ‘with information goods the social marginal cost of distribution is close to zero’. They then went to the crux of the problem. ‘If information goods are to be distributed at their marginal cost of production – zero – they cannot be created and produced by entrepreneurial firms that use revenues obtained from sales to consumers to cover their [fixed set-up] costs … [companies] must be able to anticipate selling their products at a profit to someone.’”
“Summers and DeLong opposed government subsidies to cover up-front costs, arguing that they destroy the entrepreneurial spirit. Instead they supported short-term monopolies to ensure profits, declaring that this is ‘the reward needed to spur private enterprise to engage in such innovation’. They realised the trap this put them in, recognising that ‘natural monopoly does not meet the most basic condition for economic efficiency: that price equal marginal cost’ but nonetheless concluded that in the new economic era, this might be the only practical way to proceed.
“The pair had come up against the catch-22 of capitalism that was already freeing a growing amount of economic activity from the market, and threw up their hands, favouring monopolies to artificially keep prices above marginal cost, thwarting the ultimate triumph of the invisible hand. This final victory, if allowed, would signal not only capitalism's greatest accomplishment but also its death knell.”
II. Capital Accumulation, Freedom-Crushing Legislation, and Rebellion
The Enlightened Capitalist - “Capitalists and corporations, we argue, are driven not to maximize profit, but to ‘beat the average’ and increase their differential power. In this approach, the redistribution of income and assets is not a ‘societal’ side effect of the economy, but the central conflict that propels modern capitalism. And the main weapon in this struggle, we claim, is not investment and growth, but what the American political economist Thorstein Veblen called ‘strategic sabotage’ – the restrictions, limitations, hazards and pains that capitalists impose on the rest of society in order to sustain and augment their differential power….
“In order to buck this trend, however symbolically, we wrote a short, pointy article titled ‘Why Capitalists Do Not Want Recovery, and What That Means for America’. The paper delivered a clear massage, backed by two highly contrarian graphs. The graphs showed that, contrary to the conventional creed, both mainstream and heterodox, accumulation thrives on crisis and sabotage. They demonstrated that, over the past century, the capitalist share of U.S. domestic income and the income share of the Top 1% have been tightly correlated not with growth and prosperity, but with unemployment and stagnation…. It suggested that upward redistribution and its associated sabotage were not unfortunate manifestations of ‘social injustice’, but the twin drivers of capital accumulation.”
click to enlarge - source
click to enlarge - source
III. Working for the Spooks, Mathematicians' War, and Mesh Networking
Maths spying: The quandary of working for the spooks - “FOR the past 10 months, a major international scandal has engulfed some of the world's largest employers of mathematicians. These organisations stand accused of law-breaking on an industrial scale and are now the object of widespread outrage. How has the mathematics community responded? Largely by ignoring it….
“The NSA claims to be the largest employer of mathematicians in the US. It may be the largest in the world. It part funds GCHQ, also a major employer of mathematicians, and works closely with intelligence agencies in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Some mathematicians work for these agencies full-time. Others do so during summer breaks or sabbaticals from their university jobs….
“Our work, then, can be used for both good and ill. Unfortunately for us, it is the latter that is in the public eye. Already unpopular for our role in the banking crash, we now have our largest employer running a system of whole-population surveillance that even a judge appointed by George W. Bush called ‘almost Orwellian’.
“So mathematicians must decide: do we cooperate with the intelligence services or not?...
“Eminent mathematician Alexander Beilinson of the University of Chicago has proposed that the American Mathematical Society sever all ties with the NSA, and that working for it or its partners should become ‘socially unacceptable’ in the same way that working for the KGB became unacceptable to many in the Soviet Union.
“Not everyone will agree, but it reminds us that we have both individual choices and collective power. Individuals can withdraw their labour. Heads of university departments can refuse staff leave to work for the NSA or GCHQ. National mathematical societies can stop publishing the agencies' job adverts, refuse their money, or even expel members who work for agencies of mass surveillance.
“At the very least, we should acknowledge that these choices are ours to make. We are human beings first and mathematicians second, and if we do not like what the secret services are doing, we should not cooperate.”
“One began to hear it said that World War I was the chemists' war, World War II was the physicists' war, World War III (may it never come) will be the mathematicians' war.” - Davis, Philip J. and Hersh, Reuben, The Mathematical Experience, Boston: Birkhäuser, 1981.