Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jeffersonian democracy and net neutrality

Yesterday's celebratory quote of Thomas Jefferson received a thoughtful reply from Suresh V, reminding us that the author of The Declaration of Independence was a lifelong slave-owner.

Suresh is much more polite in his criticism than Jefferson's contemporaries were. Foremost among the Jefferson-bashers of history is Alexander Hamilton. Though not as celebrated as Jefferson, Hamilton arguably had even more influence in shaping the modern United States of America. You might say that Jefferson planted the seed of the American Revolution and Hamilton tended the resulting garden.

Hamilton saw Jefferson's vision of populist democracy as misguided and dangerously self-serving. When Jefferson publicly called Hamilton a corrupt monarchist (for such atrocities as creating the US Federal Bank and Customs Service), Hamilton pointed out that Jefferson's tactics were far more likely to bring down the new republic, as quoted by Ron Chernow's excellent biography Alexander Hamilton:
"If [I] had wanted to impose a monarchy upon America, [I] would follow the classic path of a populist demagogue: I would mount the hobbyhorse of popularity, I would cry out usurpation, danger to liberty etc. etc. I would endeavour to prostrate the federal government, raise a ferment, and then ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm."
This vicious debate between Jefferson and Hamilton reminds me of today's debate over net neutrality. In one corner, we have the paragons of online populist democracy, led by Google. In the other corner, the titans of industrial Internet infrastructure, such as Comcast.

In contrast to some of my blogger friends who support net neutrality (e.g., Bill Ives, Mal Watlington), I am glad that the government has so far refused to prohibit Comcast and other telcoms from instituting preferential pricing schemes for access to their Internet networks. With lobbyists from Google now crying "antitrust", I think we have reason to suspect that net neutrality--as it is argued in Washington, anyway--is as much about protecting the Google-Amazon-eBay oligopoly of social commerce (as reported in "Going Long" by John Cassidy in today's New Yorker) as it is about protecting individual life, liberty, and pursuit of online happiness.

Which mega-corporation are you cheering for?

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2 comments:

Elissa said...

Yes, Google and Comcast are two megacorporations on the opposing ends of one net neutrality continuum, still I'm suprised that you are undecided in your opinion on the matter. Yes, again, both corporations want to preserve (or further) their own interests, however one corporation became mega based on it's values of openness and connecting the dots. The other become mega by being extremely closed and proprietary and isolating the dots. Two very different sets of values in operation here. To me it's clear which set is most closely aligned to the world I want to live in....

Bruce Hoppe said...

Just to put the previous characterization of Google in perspective--Couldn't we also say that GM is about connecting the dots? As for openness, I'd say GM and Google are equally (extremely) secretive.