3 September 2015

Properly Addressing Inequality

Inequality is ultimately a self sufficiency problem which is a result of lack of education. The relatively high distribution of education in the 20th century can be credited for the ramp in technological progress but still so many people on Earth suffer while the privileged few live in a world of relative opulence that the kings and emperors of the past could never have imagined.


Education is the grand equaliser. A self sufficient person is far less likely to build up a dependence on those around them, likewise educated people are less likely to derive self worth from the praise of others thus breaking down social hierarchy. Lastly people are far more comfortable dividing decision making powers among educated people for obvious reasons. I'll get into why that's needed below. Education also has a humbling effect because the more you know, the more you realise you don't know. As John Cleese puts it; "stupid don't know that they're stupid", uneducated people generally lack what's needed to understand what it is that they do not know or do not understand.


In a previous post i discussed what i, as a systems engineer, define as being centralised, decentralised and distributed systems so i won't go into detail about that in this post. Suffice to say that decentralisation is the progressive pinnacle of the three. If we keep decentralisation as our guiding principle then our direction and all succeeding decisions fall into place naturally. After all, equality is simply decentralisation of power, decentralisation of wealth and importantly decentralisation of responsibility. That last point often goes unconsidered, people have rightly always wanted a more even distribution of wealth and power but they often neglect the responsibility that comes with it. It is for this reason that centralised, aristocratic socioeconomic systems have always grown out of earlier more equal societies. A small group of well-meaning individuals assuming a large portion of social responsibility will naturally eventually expect a larger portion of the reward. In order to combat this natural social effect, we need to start with decentralised responsibility, not end with it.

Information policy

Here's where i'm going to lose some people; information policy is the be all and end all of law. I suspect that it's going to take many years for people to come to terms with because there is such a disconnect in the current zeitgeist, between information and ethics. I'll do my best to bring the two together and explain why; when we fix information policy we fix society. It comes down to one important concept; democracy.

I'll start with the simple stuff; democracy relies on an informed electorate to ultimately decide the direction of society. It's plainly obvious that the electorate cannot be well informed if there are state secrets. I refer to this as "the simple stuff" yet somehow very few people seem to understand this and people tend to hold on the the idea that "some government operations should be classified". Absolutely not, no exceptions. This may have been worth discussing during World War 2 or the Cold War but right now, the very low risk of a country being targeted because of it's openness is certainly worth the avoidance of the very high risk of corruption due to an opaque government. It will take a lot of strong evidence to change my stance on this; democracy cannot exist without operational transparency.

Now for the difficult stuff; copyrights and patents must go. The layman thinks to himself; how will movie studios make money without copyright laws? The educated man thinks; freeing up technology and culture may address wealth disparity to a degree in the short term but eventually the economy will take a hit because the incentive to create and invent will be removed. Firstly, money is not an incentive for creativity (see this video on incentive) and secondly the societal benefits of building on others' work will counter balance and eventually far exceed any immediate "lost revenue".

Let's deal with patents first, again because it's the simpler of the two. Patents were initially intended to be a short term safeguard against plagiarism. Patents were conceived as a social contract to give inventors time to establish themselves as the "original" creators of their inventions. They were fully entitled to keep the inner workings of their inventions secret but the government was not responsible for protecting those secrets, just for making sure that others weren't plagiarising the invention and only while the patent was in effect. Once a brand is established around an invention the patent loses it's purpose because the original creator has then solidified their public image and the public can no longer be mislead about which product is the original. The purpose of a patent was primarily to protect the public from inferior imitations and secondarily to incentivise ingenuity.

Now for copyrights; copyrights were of course intended to give authors full control over their works but again only for a limited period. They inadvertently created a blank sheet for authors to effectively write laws around the usage of their original content. Again copyright laws were intended to address plagiarism and to incentivise original creativity by giving the author a monopoly over the content for a given period. Copyright laws were never meant to put people in jail for sharing culture, especially when the original author information remains in tact. In other words if someone shares content without committing plagiarism or theft, the original author may not be getting direct monetary compensation but their credit remains in tact. It can be further argued that that accreditation and popularisation can then be monetised, in which case the more fluid the sharing, the greater the monetary potential.

My attitude on intellectual property laws is that we should give original content creators their "incentive" in the form of a timed monopoly but that time limit should be reasonable, my personal opinion is that 12 years is the absolute maximum. Thereafter your secrets are yours alone to keep, the government should never be expected to enforce secrecy to the extent of jailing people. If you publicise your work and people are sharing it, use the opportunity to monetise that popularity instead of attacking the very people that have demonstrated that they approve of and support your work. However, if you have not published something (source code for example) and a leak has resulted in widespread sharing of your content then the legal system is at your disposal to determine whether foul play (plagiarism, theft, etc.) was involved. And again, sharing itself should never result in jail time, a culture of sharing is ultimately a positive one. Sharing is not theft despite what movie studios would have you believe.

The Connection

The ultimate goal is free speech and open standards, or as i like to put it; freedom of information and technological democracy. Freedom of information for the purpose of education, and technological democracy for the purpose of systemic efficiency. We need to encourage the production of new technologies built on older technologies rather than starting from scratch each time. We should also encourage the spread of culture in order to better understand ourselves and to unify our species. And we need to make sure that culture and technology is accessible to everyone via information systems and that everyone is able to contribute back to them if they feel inclined to do so. If a small, well connected few are reaping high rewards for information monopolies then we have to ask ourselves, is this what we want human society to be? Islands of power and influence while the bulk of the human population essentially stagnates due to restricted access to information?

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