Sunday, January 22, 2012

Piracy, Anti-Piracy, and the Roots of the Stagnation

Piracy and the willingness to inflict any amount of damage to stop it both arise from the deep structure of society of the past 4 or so decades.
The knowledge
economy that is trying to emerge has two primary needs: information needs to be able to disseminate without restriction and knowledge producers, maintainers, and distributors need to be compensated. These both need to happen at the same time. No one knows how to do both at the same time. That is why the knowledge economy can not emerge. This is the indirect, root cause of all the economic problems of the past 4 decades or so.
Information wants to be free. But only in the sense that it wants to be able to spread. Information is indifferent to whether or not compensation is provided to knowledge workers. For example, information would not try to fight against a system in which society as a whole paid information workers because then individual and group knowledge consumers would get all they wanted.
One could express "information wants to be free" as "people want free information and tend to feel entitled to it". Same effect. Because no society is yet able to address this functional need of the not-yet economy, it takes the form of a powerful osmotic force, like a flood trying to overcome all seawalls and other barriers.
On the other hand, the desire of the knowledge workers to be compensated is also quite strong. Some of the claims made by owners of intellectual property in our current economic systems are just rent collection, i.e. highway robbery with legal backing and higher social status. But still highway robbery. But much of the claims are on behalf of people doing real work who want and need real compensation. And that fact is also the moral justification that rent seeking can hide behind. If movies or knowledge of new drugs or a new Lady Gaga album or the moment-to-moment information required to run a smart power grid just appeared out of nowhere, the claims of the movie industry etc. would be all but ignored. And again, because we have not yet developed social arrangements capable of addressing this need either, it takes the form of a tide, striving always to overcome or penetrate any barriers in its way.
As long as these forces, which are the expression of the core drives of the trying-to-emerge economy, are not both openly and honestly addressed by society, then these forces will act immaturely and irresponsibly. Pirates (which is most of the population probably) will try to get information for free, regardless of the damage they may do to those who produce the information they desire. Knowledge producers, especially the large corporations who under our current system have the legal right to the fruits of knowledge production labor, will do whatever they can to receive the compensation they desire. They will often make demands that amount to excess compensation and they will not care how much damage they do to social transparency, human rights, and the flows of information that they themselves are also dependent on.
This immaturity, this irresponsibility ,on both sides will continue until we see that addressing both these two needs is actually the core task of the global economy now and for the foreseeable future.