Yesterday, James DeLong, a senior fellow for the Progress and Freedom Foundation, wrote that "'collective licensing or a media levy' is a euphemism for turning creativity into a socialist gulag" (More Soothsaying). I characterized that statement as "grotesque hyperbole" (Senior Fellow for Progress and Freedom Foundation Compares Alternative Compensation Schemes to Forced Labor Prison Camps). Today, he defends his statement (In Defense of "Grotesque Hyperbole").
I beg to differ. A tad hyperbolic, perhaps, but not grotesquely removed from the inevitable reality.I
beg to differ. James' statement was so ridiculously over the top that, originally, I didn't think it needed any commentary, "I could say more, but James' grotesque hyperbole says enough." Apparently I was wrong.
What part of slave labor prison camp doesn't James DeLong understand? Let me turn to a recent discussion in the Washington Post of gulags by Pavel Litvinov, who was a dissident active in human rights causes in the Soviet Union and now lives in the United States (No American 'Gulag'):
The word "gulag" was a bureaucratic acronym for the main prison administration in Stalin's Soviet Union. After publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago," it became a symbol for the system of forced-labor camps that have been an integral feature of communist countries. Millions of prisoners confined in the gulag had not been involved in violence or committed any crime -- they were there because they belonged to a "wrong" social, national or political group or expressed a "wrong" opinion. ...
There is ample reason for Amnesty to be critical of certain U.S. actions. But by using hyperbole and muddling the difference between repressive regimes and the imperfections of democracy, Amnesty's spokesmen put its authority at risk. U.S. human rights violations seem almost trifling in comparison with those committed by Cuba, South Korea, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia....
Words are important. When Amnesty spokesmen use the word "gulag" to describe U.S. human rights violations, they allow the Bush administration to dismiss justified criticism and undermine Amnesty's credibility.
At least Amnesty is referring to actual prisons, as opposed to what James DeLong considers poor public policy choices.
Returning to James' defense:
I would apply the epithet [gulag] to any system in which creators and doers must beg government functionaries for permission to exercise control of themselves, their creations, or their property, and this permission can be granted or denied whimsically, according to the functionaries' views of "the public good."
Well, gee, that pretty much characterizes most of the United States today
as a slave labor prison camp in certain circumstances. Kelo
, anyone? Perhaps this quote from Lewis Carroll will illustrate the difficulty with DeLong's definition here:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'
Litvinov is correct when he says that words are important. DeLong not only unfairly characterizes alternative compensation schemes, but trivializes the suffering of those caught up in the actual gulag.
Back to James DeLong:
Anyone who thinks this system [Fisher's alternative compensation system] will be clear of the corruptions of money, political connections, and political correctness is not living in the real world. Furthermore, anyone who thinks that such a system, even if totally pure, could effective allocate resources and produce results superior to a market needs to read about the history and economics of the 20th Century.
It's a seriously flawed policy concept. I've raised numerous objections myself:
Those are most of my posts on the issue, not counting my criticisms of some of the voluntary
compensation schemes that have been put forth. I yield to no one in my opposition to a compulsory licensing scheme.
But if a compulsory licensing scheme were legislated into being, I don't think that would qualify as a slave labor prison camp.
Not every reduction in freedom, even a significant one, is the same thing as a move into the horrors of the gulag archipelago.
James DeLong ends with a Kantian quote:
A classic philosophical statement says that "to will the end, you must will the means." In this case, a variation applies: If you will the means, you will the end.
Let me respond with a classic internet statement
that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." In this case, a variation applies: as a discussion of copyright grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving communists or Soviet gulags approaches 1.
Derek Slater has some good thoughts on this issue as well (The Real Fear Mongerers).