When the FCC recently reversed net neutrality rules instituted under the Obama administration, the doom-sayers were full-throated about the pending collapse of the world wide web. Bernie Sanders even went so far as to say the following: “With this decision the internet [sic] and its free exchange of information as we have come to know it will cease to exist.” With every passing moment, nothing remains “as we have come to know it,” but this is not likely what Mr. Sanders had in mind.
When the Internet isn’t appreciably different in the years to come, will people like Senator Sanders recant their dire predictions? Not likely. Instead, we’ll be greeted with one of the politician’s favorite tools: counterfactuals. During the “crisis” of 2008, for example, our wise overlords in Washington insisted they could fix the economic downturn by bailing out banks and spending money on infrastructure. When these programs fell far short of their promises, the Obama White House offered a series of counterfactuals to explain away these conditions. We were told that “we didn’t know how bad it was” and “things could be worse,” neither of which is verifiable. However, such statements stave off the masses eager to believe in the wisdom of the powerful.
When Internet access remains virtually unchanged, we’ll be told “it could be better, cheaper, and faster.” We’ll also hear how wise politicians can better determine what services should be offered on the web. Finally, proponents of “neutrality” will persist the myth that the Internet is a “public good” requiring state oversight to keep it free. Few in the west would agree to giving the state control over food production and distribution, yet somehow access to the Internet is fertile ground for state control because it’s “important.” Counterfactuals are not without their ironies.
On a recent episode of Lions Of Liberty, Marc Clair interviewed John Perkins, author of New Confessions of An Economic Hitman. During the discussion, Mr. Clair described the power of government leveraged by big business as a chicken and egg situation. This is not an uncommon conclusion considering that libertarians and anarchists point to the government as the problem while progressives point to the greed of business as the source of corruption. However, assessing the question logically, one of these is clearly the primary culprit.
There are three possible configurations of any social structure: statelessness where business is subject completely to the whim of the market (i.e. anarchy), a coexistence of state and business, or complete ownership of the means of production by the state (i.e. communism or socialism). Needless to say, any practical application of the middle configuration would appear on a continuum between no state and complete control by the state. It is in this configuration we find ourselves today.
Where states exist, state actors claim powers which exceed natural rights. For example, the U.S. federal government claims a power to tax citizens (i.e. expropriate private property) as a means of raising funds to maintain government agencies. Such a power does not naturally exist and could not be exercised by someone outside of the government.
Since humans act purposefully, applying available means to achieve desired ends, it would be natural for anyone claiming the power of expropriation to exercise that power when they deem necessary. Similarly, anyone not directly possessing such power would seek avenues through which it could be wielded on their behalf. In a free market, businesses have no such power to expropriate: they must serve consumers in order to reap benefits from them. However, when the power of the state can result in greater profits for less cost, businesses will naturally seek access to that power.
In a stateless society, no person, group, or business can legitimately claim powers over others. The state introduces such claims to power and, as a result, the corruption inherent in it.
Censorship, we’re told, is one of the great social evils. The silencing of voices or opinions is generally considered a staple of tyranny to be fought with righteous indignation. While it’s true that state censorship is abhorrent, that doesn’t make all censorship evil. In fact, silencing others is only immoral when it involves prohibitions on the use of private property by the state or outside entities.
All rights are property rights. Claims to free expression have no meaning in a world without property: the only time we are free to speak as we wish is when we are on our own property or have the consent of those who own the property where we wish to express ourselves. The owners of Twitter, for example, recently decided to impose restrictions on who may communicate through their service. While it’s likely that this censorship will be used to silence people of particular ideologies, such censorship is completely within their rights. Private individuals, organizations, or companies have both a need and a right to restrict use of their property as they see fit. Similarly, those who access such a service are free to abstain from using it for whatever reason they wish.
The supposed right of free speech is a positive right and therefore cannot be a human right. The corollary of any positive right is an obligation on the part of others to enable that right. If individuals are not free to restrict others from using their property, the whole concept of human rights becomes meaningless.