Daily Archives: May 2, 2014

Don’t Let Net Neutrality Become Another Broken Promise | On Democracy, Take Action | BillMoyers.com

May 2, 2014   by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Barack Obama told us there would be no compromise on Net neutrality. We heard him say it back in 2007, when he first was running for president.

“We have to ensure [a] free and full exchange of information and that starts with an open Internet,” he said in a speech at Google headquarters, the presidium of cyberspace. “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality, because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The Internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.”

He said it many more times. And defenders of Net neutrality believed him, that he would preserve Internet access for all, without selling out to providers like Verizon and Comcast who want to charge higher fees for speedier access – hustling more cash from those who can afford to buy a place at the front of the line. On this issue so important to democracy, they believed he would keep his word, would see to it that when private interests set upon the Internet like sharks to blood in the water, its fate would be in the hands of honest brokers who would listen politely to the pleas of the greedy, and then show them the door.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be Washington’s infamous revolving door. Last May, President Obama named Tom Wheeler to be FCC chairman. He had other choices, men or women whose loyalty was to the public, not to rich and powerful corporations. But Tom Wheeler had been one of Obama’s top bundlers of campaign cash – both in 2008 and again in 2012, when he raised at least half a million dollars for the president’s re-election. Like his proposed new rules for the Web, that put him at the front of the line.

….(read more).

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How Piketty’s Bombshell Book Blows Up Libertarian Fantasies | Alternet

April 28, 2014 |

Sorry, Ayn Rand. Your fiction has been exposed as, well, fiction.

Libertarians have always been flummoxed by inequality, tending either to deny that it’s a problem or pretend that the invisible hand of the market will wave a magic wand to cure it. Then everybody gets properly rewarded for what he or she does with brains and effort, and things are peachy keen.

Except that they aren’t, as exhaustively demonstrated by French economist Thomas Piketty, whose 700-page treatise on the long-term trends in inequality, Capital In the 21st Century, has blown up libertarian fantasies one by one.

To understand the libertarian view of inequality, let’s turn to Milton Friedman, one of America’s most famous and influential makers of free market mythology. Friedman decreed that economic policy should focus on freedom, and not equality.

If we could do that, he promised, we’d not only get freedom and efficiency, but more equality as a natural byproduct. Libertarians who took the lessons from his books, like Capitalism and Freedom (1962) and Free to Choose (1980), bought into the notion that capitalism naturally led to less inequality.

Basically, the lessons boiled down to this: Some degree of inequality is both unavoidable and desirable in a free market, and income inequality in the U.S. isn’t very pronounced, anyway. Libertarians starting with these ideas tend to reject any government intervention meant to decrease inequality, claiming that such plans make people lazy and that they don’t work, anyway. Things like progressive income taxes, minimum wage laws and social safety nets make most libertarians very unhappy.

Uncle Milty put it like this:

“A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.… On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.”

Well, that turns out to be spectacularly, jaw-droppingly, head-scratchingly wrong. The U.S. is now a stunningly unequal society, with wealth piling up at the top so fast that an entire movement, Occupy Wall Street, sprung up to decry it with the catchphrase “We are the 99%.”

How did libertarians get it all so backwards? Well, as Piketty points out, people like Milton Friedman were writing at a time when inequality was indeed less pronounced in the U.S. than it had been in previous eras. But they mistook this happy state of affairs as the magic of capitalism. Actually, it wasn’t the magic of capitalism that reduced inequality during a brief, halcyon period after the New Deal and WWII. It was the forces of various economic shocks plus policies our government put in place to respond to them that changed America from a top-heavy society in the Gilded Age to something more egalitarian in the post-war years.

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As you’ll recall, if you watched the movie Titanic, the U.S. had a class of rentiers (rich people who live off property and investments) in the early part of the 20th century who hailed from places like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. They were just as nasty and rapacious as their European counterparts, only there weren’t quite so many of them and their wealth was not quite as concentrated (the Southern rentiers had been wiped out by the Civil War).

The fortunes of these rentiers were not shock-proof: If you remember Hockney, the baddie in James Cameron’s film, he survives the Titanic but not the Great Crash of ’29, when he loses his money and offs himself. The Great Depression got rid of some of the extreme wealth concentration in America, and later the wealthy got hit with substantial tax shocks imposed by the federal government in the 1930s and ’40s. The American rentier class wasn’t really vaporized the way it was in Europe, where the effects of the two world wars were much more pronounced, but it took a hit. That opened up the playing field and gave people more of a chance to rise on the rungs of the economic ladder through talent and work.

After the Great Depression, inequality decreased in America, as New Deal investment and education programs, government intervention in wages, the rise of unions, and other factors worked to give many more people a chance for success. Inequality reached its lowest ebb between 1950 and 1980. If you were looking at the U.S. during that time, it seemed like a pretty egalitarian place to be (though blacks, Hispanics, and many women would disagree).

As Piketty notes, people like Milton Friedman, an academic economist, were doing rather well in the economy, likely sitting in the top 10 percent income level, and to them, the economy appeared to be doing just fine and rewarding talents and merits very nicely. But the Friedmans weren’t paying enough attention to how the folks on the rungs above them, particularly the one percent and even more so the .01 percent, were beginning to climb into the stratosphere. The people doing that climbing were mostly not academic economists, or lawyers, or doctors. They were managers of large firms who had begun to award themselves very prodigious salaries.

This phenomenon really got going after 1980, when wealth started flowing in vast quantities from the bottom 90 percent of the population to the top 10 percent. By 1987, Ayn Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan had taken over as head of the Federal Reserve, and free market fever was unleashed upon America. People in U.S. business schools started reading Ayn Rand’s kooky novels as if they were serious economic treatises and hailing the free market as the only path to progress. John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged(1957), captured the imaginations of young students like Paul Ryan, who worshipped Galt as a superman who could rise to the top through his vision, merit and heroic efforts. Galt became the prototype of the kind of “supermanager” these business schools were supposed to crank out.

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Is Net Neutrality Dead? | Moyers & Company | BillMoyers.com

http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-is-net-neutrality-dead/

May 2, 2014

For years, the government has upheld the principle of “Net neutrality,” the belief that everyone should have equal access to the web without preferential treatment.

But now, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and a former cable and telecommunications top gun, is circulating potential new rules that reportedly would put a price tag on climbing aboard the Internet. The largest and richest providers, giant corporations such as Verizon and Comcast – in mid-takeover of Time Warner Cable — like the idea. They could afford to buy their way to the front of the line. Everyone else — nonprofit groups, startups and everyday users – would have to move to the rear, and the Net would be neutral no more.

This week, speaking with Bill Moyers about these latest developments are two keen observers of media and the world of cyberspace. David Carr covers the busy intersection of media with business, government and culture for The New York Times. Susan Crawford is a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, contributor to Bloomberg View and author of, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

“For most Americans, they have no choice for all the information, data, entertainment coming through their house, other than their local cable monopoly. And here, we have a situation where that monopoly potentially can pick and choose winners and losers, decide what you see,” Crawford tells Moyers.

Carr adds: “People have a close, intimate relationship with the web in a way they don’t other technologies … they have the precious propriety feelings about it. And I’m not sure if the FCC really knows what they’re getting into.”

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