[governance] FW: TP: city government exercising policy on Google Applications / consumer rights / Consumer Protection Act / trial period

Milton L Mueller mueller at syr.edu
Tue Jul 12 13:31:15 EDT 2011

From: governance at lists.cpsr.org [mailto:governance at lists.cpsr.org] On Behalf Of parminder

Internet exceptionalism...

I reject the label. But I see how you need to hide behind it. Anti-exceptionalists fall into the mirror-image fallacy of the exceptionalists: they must contend "there is nothing new here." Well, sorry, but that's wrong. We wouldn't be having this debate if there wasn't something new, something structurally different about the internet. I suspect you agree: Internet creates new issues and problems in public governance.

All or most large insitutional systems are a network of, or join,  private spaces or actions or initiatives or bodies.
Market (as a space of legitimate trading) or  media or health services or the education sector, aren't they too interconnected private spheres? But how does that exclude application of the concept of publicness (which in a good part means some kind of government-ness) to these institutions or institutional systems. Are they not regulated, are they not taxed..... Internet is just another one of them. Unique in its own way, as are also all others in their particular ways.

Earth to Parminder: No one said it DID exclude the concept of publicness. No one ever said that, no one could feasibly say that. Indeed, when it comes to access to information resources Internet vastly expands and transforms the notion of publicness - open source, peer production, file sharing, creative commons, etc. etc. We are instead having a debate about the proper role and scope for traditional territorial public authorities. We are talking about how it needs to change. Change is inevitable because the Internet IS different.

Historically, it is not unheard of for coercive state authority to withdraw from some areas and realign its role. For example, we no longer tend to associate government with religion (although some countries still do this). Had you been around when old liberals posited the revolutionary idea that maybe we should separate church and state, I suppose you would have accused them of marketizing all social relationships and institutions...

As stated above (repetition seems to be necessary here) Internet creates new issues and problems in governance. One new issue is it creates the threat (or for some, the opportunity) for a local jurisdiction to try to expand its scope globally). Some of us recognize this as a distortion and perversion of the concept of publicness / government. Others, apparently, don't. Either way, it is a new problem and it has to be dealt with. People like Daniel and I who believe that we need for states to pull back and allow a broader scope for private action are not trying to erase the notion of a public; we are trying to transform it and update it.

This may be hard for you to grasp because you are so stuck in the 20th century social democracy mindset, in which there are big, bad "private" corporations (many of which turn out to be state-owned, but never mind), and we need wonderful, flawless democratic governments - national governments - to save us from them. And the more control and regulation and taxation those governments assert over private economic activity, the more "the people" win. I think that whole worldview is just wrong, but we can agree to disagree on that.

Privateness or publicness is not the real issue in judging what is unique about the Internet. It is its globalness, represented in the phrase 'death of distance'. This features creates considerable challenges to its governance and we do need to grapple with them.

No, privateness and publicness are at the core of the issue. The internet thrived on private, unlicensed initiative. Innovation without permission. And because the nature of a "public" is defined by a combination of institutional structures and communications media, this realignment of the private remakes the public. In the past, national-scale publics and national governments arose alongside territorial postal monopolies, territorially extended sovereigns and print mass media. New forms of publicity and new publics arise with the internet.

Internet "globalness" facilitates "private" activity, both economic and social, that transcends borders, but it also facilitates a new polity, new publics, new problems in collective action. I've made a pretty systematic argument to that effect in my book.

However positing the Internet as intrinsically and uniquely 'private' and antithetical to any notions or institutions of public-ness is either naive or, if deliberate, a part of the neoliberal design of marketising all social institutions and relationships in a manner that benefits the already most powerful.

Like I said, stuck in the old 20th century mindset. If you should learn anything from the past 30 years of history it is that marketizing services that were needlessly state-controlled can be very beneficial to the public and can empower new actors. Conversely, keeping things under state control often locks into place dysfunctional and oppressive local power relations. (Or maybe you thought those Middle Eastern dictatorships shouldn't have been disturbed by neoliberalized communications.) And collectivizing too many decisions and processes, even with the best of intentions, can impose so many limits and restrictions on human activity that everyone loses.

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