WikiLeaks & Free Press Have a Hole in the Bucket When It Comes to Private Property

by Mike Wendy on December 8, 2010

Whatever one may think about the WikiLeaks mess, quite frankly it is not a horse I’d want to go about hitching to.  Of course, that’s just silly ‘ole me.  For Josh Silver of the Free Press, his allegiance seemingly couldn’t be stated fast enough, expressing unequivocal support for WikiLeaks last week on “Democracy Now” when asked about Amazon dumping the hole-in-the-bucket group, purportedly at the behest of Senator Joe Lieberman.

Said Silver:

“Well, this becomes a policy question, when I look at it. And the question is, should companies or the government be allowed to censor and block content that’s on the web at will, or do they need to follow constitutional law? And so, that’s really, at the end of the day, what’s the question here, and whether there should be stronger laws that enable the Federal Communications Commission to protect WikiLeaks and other transparency entities so that their content cannot be blocked.”

Three things struck me immediately about this quote.

First. I can’t help but glue it together with statements from WikiLeaks head, Julian Assange, and Free Press founder, Robert McChesney.

Julian Assange:

“It is not our goal to achieve a more transparent society; it’s our goal to achieve a more just society.” If leaks cause U.S. officials to “lock down internally and to balkanize,” they will “cease to be as efficient as they were.”

Robert McChesney:

“Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism. It is impossible to conceive of a better world with a media system that remains under the thumb of Wall Street and Madison Avenue, under the thumb of the owning class.”

The Assange and McChesney quotes have a common theme – i.e., achieving “social justice” by exploiting / undermining the “ruling” substrate.  In contextualizing Silver’s quote – that is, the idea that “transparency entities” should have a protected Right to damage others’ private property – a troubling conclusion emerges.  This lot of professional misanthropes is not merely advocating Schumpeterian disruption.  As McChesney aptly puts it, their “reforms” are really “part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself.”

Wow.  Very unsettling, knowing the horrific dystopia such authoritarian systems have lead to in the past.

Sure, Capitalism “sucks.”  But when you look at all the other options, it’s the hands-down winner to lift all boats. Heck, even the Chinese accept some form of Capitalism, having legalized private property in 2007. This has vastly liberalized their private economy, and in doing so has lifted millions of Chinese out of entrenched poverty.

I guess Julian, Bob and Josh missed the memo in 1989 – Socialism is dead, guys.

This leads me to my second rambling point.

Private property – if it is adequately protected – is a prerequisite to wealth creation and economic growth (as noted above).  It is also a cornerstone of individual liberty.  But this doesn’t sit well with the misanthropes.  Such liberty minimizes their elite intermediary roles.  Realizing this, Assange, McChesney and Silver use a similar anti-property toolbox to effect their ends.  Quite simply, they believe that the right to possess and dispose of one’s property (others’, that is) is superfluous, trumped by “social justice.”

That’s essentially what Silver’s peddling in his Net Neutrality advocacy these past five years.  If he had his way, a network operator that owns its facilities would be forbidden by government law from stopping any content – even WikiLeaks – or able to charge for that content as it sees fit because social equity demands otherwise.

Espousing such a position, of course, reveals a clear conflict.  Free speech, privacy, due process and private property protections within our Constitution remain largely suspect of such an elastic “trumped by social justice” standard.

Sure, there’re a couple of ways one can get around these “little” limitations – a clear market breakdown with actual consumer harm; natural monopoly / essential facilities doctrine; and public forum speech regulation to name a couple that come closest to mind.

But none is present in the Net Neutrality battle today.

As long as 9/10ths of the Internet is private property, the government’s got a high hurdle to jump over before it can demand access to one’s property and determine how it’s used.

The only real way around this for people like Silver is through something that McChesney hit on last year; and that is:

“What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility. We want an Internet where you don’t have to have a password and that you don’t pay a penny to use. It is your right to use the Internet.” (Emphasis added)

When something like the Internet is elevated to a Right, then the related rights of incumbents become subordinated to the public weal. Consequently, rights once possessed – for even small, component pieces of the larger ecosystem – may more easily become public property, stripped of their “private-ness,” essentially stolen.

And this takes me to my third point.

Watch out if what you are creating actually becomes valuable to society.  Network operators know this.  As we saw with the Fox / Cablevision dispute, it’s likely the content owners will know it next.  When the people have a Right to the results of your risk and toil, the confiscatory possibilities are endless (i.e., new drug discoveries, pollution technology, the GUI interface on a Smartphone, Doctor’s services, you name it).

So, at bottom, I think this whole WikiLeaks business reveals the utter depravity and selfishness of the “Free culture.” Groups like Assange’s and Free Press want all the advances that the protection of private property brings, while simultaneously working to undermine those very protections.  They want all their content, music, movies for “free.”  All their “truths” to traverse the ether without restriction.  All their networks to grow organically and robustly.  All their technology to move at Moore’s law speed. They want it all as a Right, without cost.  And why not?  They surmise that that’s the most equitable outcome for society.  It’s morally justifiable.

At the very least, this presents a tragedy of the commons problem, wherein the risk-takers will simply pack up their risk – and the good stuff that resulted from taking it – and move elsewhere.  At its worst, it represents a form of servitude that sits directly at odds with our natural liberties.

Who wants to hitch their cart to that moral, lame horse?  Or, is it a jackass?  Not I – and that’s no yoke.

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