by Dana Blankenhorn
Volume X, No. XXIV

This Week's Clue: A Chinese Internet

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This Week's Clue: A Chinese Internet
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Best of the Week
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of June 12, 2006

The United States is moving rapidly toward a Chinese Internet.

Instead of a Great Firewall there are millions of smaller ones and "Acceptable Use Policies" which aim to prevent employees or students from accessing whatever Their Betters deem should not be seen.

The latest example is a bill in Congress aimed at red-lining "social networking sites" like News Corp.'s MySpace from school and university computers. This is probably extending already to corporate networks, many of which turn their censorware to "high" routinely.

We have a government which seeks all your Internet use records, and phone records, in the name of data mining aimed at finding "terrorists," alongside a Justice Department which treats everything in the Patriot Act as something to be used against all crime, and all suspects, and which suspects just about everyone.

Yet despite all this, America seems to go on much as before. Just as China seems to continue to move forward.

Why is that? Human nature. People know how to censor themselves, but they also know how to get around their own self-censors. Chinese people still think about democracy. Americans still think forbidden thoughts, too. What happens is that these "forbidden" thoughts become ever-more desireable, the more they are suppressed. We find that slower, softer approaches to them yield greater satisfaction. Rape does not decline when sexual talk is prohibited, only the reporting of rape.

A Chinese Internet, in other words, is infinitely superior to none at all.

Why is it that Americans are turning more-and-more against the Bush Administration, even as the thumbscrews turn tighter-and-tighter? The same thing, human nature. No one, neither in America nor in China, is under any illusions about the nature of their system.

But here's the problem.

It's economic.

Limits on Internet speech, and Internet access, reduce economic growth.

They do this in several ways:

  • They reduce demand for faster broadband service.
  • They cut the speed with which people learn new software, and thus the demand for software and services.
  • They reduce the inclination of people to create new intellectual property.
  • They limit the personal connections from which new breakthroughs emerge.

In the Internet Age growth comes from the bottom up. It can't be mandated from the top down. China is building an industrial economy, not a post-

industrial threat, because of the limits it places on the use of the resource.

The Internet eliminates barriers to entry, and thus lets any crazy idea bubble forth and find its market. Any law that raises barriers keeps this bottom-up growth from occurring, and thus reduces the growth of the whole economy.

At the heart of the economic changes created by the Internet should be social mobility. This is not just an individual value but a corporate one. By increasing the pace of change, and by disintermediating markets, the Internet creates powerful incentives to entrepreneurship. Raise the barriers and larger firms are protected, but the whole economy is made less efficient, allowing entrepreneurs in other nations to eat your lunch.

This decade should be a Golden Age of bottom-up entrepreneurship. This should really be the dawn of the World of Always-On, with RFID and sensors on wireless networks creating new services in medical, home automation and inventory fields. It's not because of the forced concentration of network power within an ever-decreasing number of companies. It's not because we see corporations and government claiming ownership of our data, and thus we have no incentive to create more.

Political and social disincentives to using the Internet resource just make things worse. Kids who are afraid of MySpace today will be afraid of Ryze tomorrow. People who are protected from pictures and video they want today won't create the new pictures and video they want tomorrow.

The only top-down policy in the Internet Age that can maximize economic growth is one that says thou can and thou may. We need to increase our inputs in order to increase our outputs. Yes, there are risks there. People can run down their own rabbit holes, into games or porn or hoarding. But we should be dealing with those from the bottom-up, not through mandates that come from on high.

This is the real economic battle of our time, and the real political battle. It is a battle between top-down economic management, based on top-down thought management, against bottom-up creativity. It is a battle between the power of the state and that of the individual.

And right now, in America, both parties are on the wrong side. So all Americans are suffering.

What we need is a new political myth, which infuses us with new political values, that can take political power and unleash this creativity.

That's what open source politics is about. Be open to innovation from wherever it comes. Let the market decide what shall rise, unforced and uncontrolled. Share and you will grow. To gain, first give.

This is what the Internet implies. It's hard to get our heads around it. But those who do prosper.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I have made a big decision. I have moved my main blog, formerly called Mooreslore, to under the name Dana Blankenhorn. (Hey, that's MY name.) The blog is written in Typepad and is also available at

I'm continuing to produce a special blog on Open Sourcefor ZDNet. I am pleased to say it has grown into a real money-maker. I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for Voic.Us, which aims to become a political "super-site" and offer mobile marketing services. Please visit that blog as well.

You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Best of the Week

Walled Gardens

The "network neutrality" debate, in the end, represents the Bells' effort to re-define this last 1% of free bandwidth inside their "services" model, to essentially run a private network, call it the Internet, and then charge both sides of every information transaction.

Where Fair and Balanced Gets Its Start

In seeking to identify two sides, it's easy to let lies slide by from the weaker side.

Amend That Energy Plan

Set two floors.

Free Speech, Freely Heard

For freedom of speech to have any meaning, others must be free to hear us. And we all deserve the same freedom to be heard.

The 1966 Game: Who's Wallace Now?

Michael Bloomberg.

Frankston Tries Satire

In this lovely little yarn, sidewalks are treated the way most want to treat bits. That is, when his character arrives at his new home he is urged to sign up with a "Transportation Service Provider" (TSP) and can only want what that TSP decides he can want.

Vixie Identifies The Bind

Vixie's talk illustrated the difficulty those who have built open source have with with implications of what they have done.

Market Power vs. Coercive Power

Market power, by its nature, is coercive. Dominant players can squeeze suppliers until they sell-out or go under, even smart ones. They can take monopoly rents from customers, which may be hidden by depressing wages and declining service.

The Key to Open Source Economics

Open source -- a shared commons which everyone can build on -- creates greater value than a proprietary model.

Beat the Press

In the last few months cable TV news has moved en masse from cheerleading for the Bush Administration's failed policies to actively ignoring reality.



The YouTube Campaign Era Opens

Immigrants Taking Bite from Atlanta Doughnut

Price Starts Feeling Pressure

Media Variety Starting Early

Georgia's Dumbest Expert

Spinning Gay Marriage Left

Blogosphere Fires on Everybody

Left Celebrates Memorial Day

The Choice: Reed or What He Stands For

ZDNet Open Source

Zen and the Art of RedHat

RedHat's Strategy is Applications

Free Speech, Freely Heard

Patent Holders as Open Source Allies

Visicalc Co-Founder Offers a Modest Proposal


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Eben Moglen, who said "the politics of open source are as American as apple pie." They are.

Clueless was Fox trying to edit a show transcript to hide what was plainly on the videotape. Someone needs to rent A Face in the Crowd.

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