29 April 2021

The Era of "Government Bad" Is Over?

Moving doesn't make for regular blawgging. Neither does a bone bruise on one's foot. Nor the discovery that many boxes of material that were supposed to be retrieved from storage… weren't (including all of one's woodworking tools necessary to settle in one's bound-and-printed children).

  • The fundamental assumption with the Reaganist/Clintonesque vision was that private actors would — motivated solely by profit — more efficiently provide the necessary infrastructure and services that government had been tasked with (however inefficiently), while being more nimble and innovative about it. The fundamental problem, though, is that infrastructure and services are not "things" that lend themselves to modern financial analysis; they are ongoing processes that run into unexpected events (like a certain virus) and must nonetheless keep running, even when unprofitable or inefficient.

    The President began to hint that some people just might understand this even when their actual motivation is the next election, not the next quarterly report. OK, I'm a cynic: The Congresscritters' motivation is derived from the next quarterly reports of their corporate overlordscampaign contributors, as epitomized by weapon-system procurement — the one part of "infrastructure and services" that literally has no private counterpart for valid comparisons. Small mercenary armies like Blackwater, or whatever its name is this week (and by the way it was founded by a relative of a recent Drumpfist cabinet officer), don't count because they rely on others for the actual infrastructure — the "tail" that is the real, and successful, American Way of War. (The F-35 is what happens when the only people who are making decisions are the pilots, with no knuckledraggers granted any right to suggest anything else. It's a flawed design based upon a flawed concept that ignores logistical reality.)

    The fundamental problem with the "let's repress the government" memes are that they represent negative externalities in the same way as pollution: The parties that most benefit from not participating in (or paying for) the types of infrastructure and services provided by governments disproportionately benefit from that infrastructure and those services anyway. And indirectly, too: There isn't an international private market for most goods and services of, say, the tech industry during rampant warfare elsewhere, which is at least arguably suppressed by having an appropriate overt/covert defense force available (however often it is misused; right, Mr. Allende? Mr. Allende?). That's just one example, and my point is that it's an extremely complex system. "Extremely complex," however, doesn't win elections in an era of soundbites and cows with antisocial media feeds.

  • There's another area in which "infrastructure and services" don't bow to traditional business analysis: The arts. Specifically, consider the problems of trademark enforcement for games. Admittedly, this is an extreme case; both the present "owner of the mark" and its predecessor are/were bad actors, encouraged to do so by a trademark system that is wholly against actual innovation.

    The fundamental problem here — one that the trademark system doesn't just neglect, but rejects — is that contemporaneous secondary meaning ignores alternate secondary meanings at the time of first use. The word "monopoly," for example, meant something entirely different to both cognoscenti and the general public at the time it was invented as a polemical educational device (and later appropriated — or misappropriated — into its current form by an entrepreneur). At the turn of the twentieth century, a "monopoly" was very much a bad thing in American culture; and that leads to questions today about a firm that would love to be a monopolist and whether both that firm and its product are mindlessly engaging with financial supervillainy. After all, villains never believe they're "villains" and can almost always justify their actions using some rhetorical smokescreen; in this instance, the lebensraum got overliterally translated into the "living room," and I think I've just broken Godwin's Law again. The key point here is that none of the people involved in misappropriating a term of common usage into a "valuable mark" actually created a damned thing; the creator never benefited.

  • And authors are at least as vulnerable, even when there is a promise to pay. This is made much, much more complicated by the way that most of these media contracts (which originated on or after 01 Jan 1978) were drawn in defiance of the requirements of the Copyright Act, asserting that they were "works made for hire." (I've seen a number of media-property contracts this century asserting that book-length works of fiction by freelance authors — that were derivative works, no less — were "works made for hire.") And that particular vendor is definitely an "oligopolist" striving to be a "monopolist," if nothing else. At least it's not a major textbook vendor (yet).

    There were lawyers involved in this who obviously had no clue about the implication of R. Prof. Cond. 4.3 that, when one is representing a downstream purchaser, one cannot cut off upstream rights without at least notice to the holders of the upstream rights. However "inefficient" that would be.

  • The Who had it right: Creators who want to get paid sell out (I've still got vinyl somewhere in those storage boxes that didn't make it here). That's how major copyright decisions reflecting First Amendment rights and the very purpose of copyright end up being litigated by a faceless corporate entity (what the hell did beancounters at Acuff-Rose Music have to do with Roy Orbison's actual creativity anyway?), even when the entire system further screws the songwriters.