Following the President’s recent signing of the cellphone unlock bill (“Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act”) the White House issued a press release extolling the benefits of the bill. Amidst the usual self-serving propaganda (“democracy at its best”, “broke through gridlock”, etc.) we find two telling phrases that betray the consequences of accepting dominion of the state over our lives: loss of freedom.
The first is found here, “The story of how we broke through Washington gridlock to restore the freedom of consumers…” and the second here, “…consumer will now be able to enjoy the freedom…”. The unspoken but obvious question here is, How exactly did consumers lose these freedoms in the first place? Oh, that’s right, it was due to the very institution now taking credit for “restoring” those freedoms. The state exhibits the character traits of a thief with self-esteem issues: he robs you but then returns your stolen goods in order to bask in the ego trip of being praised for having done the right thing.
The story of how these freedoms were lost has its genesis in the most basic function of the state: interventionist protectionism for the few at the expense of the many. It started with a bit of intellectual property crony capitalism known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Under the DMCA it is a crime to duplicate digital intellectual “property” (music, movies, books, etc) as this is considered theft. Of course it is not really theft since IP is not intellectual property but rather imaginary property; a business model that necessitates state intervention to succeed is necessarily defective and thus invalid (more of my thoughts on this here and here). Sometimes digital IP is secured with digital locks (digital rights management or DRM) and thus just as it is considered a crime to defeat someone’s padlock in the real world, it is also considered a crime under the DMCA to defeat a digital lock, even if no duplication of the unlocked software ensues. So this is where we get to cellphones; cellphones are locked by the carriers with digital locks, thus breaking those locks is likewise considered a crime under the DMCA. For many years the Librarian of Congress (no idea why it would fall to that department) had issued waivers to the DMCA for phone unlocking, however those waivers ended as of January 1, 2013 due to the increasing availability of unlocked phones directly from carriers. There soon followed a consumer backlash, which manifested itself in a “We the People” petition at whitehouse.gov, which garnered over 100,000 signatures. Congress and the White House soon worked out a bill to permanently restore this exception to the DMCA and the rest is history.
Many are now touting this series of events as a model for how democracy should work: the people spoke, the government listened, case closed. Not so fast. This is yet another lesson in the political slight of hand that hopes to misdirect a gullible public into forgetting some recent history. To be fair we need to review the whole trip, not just the last 5 minutes. The bigger picture of this “democracy in action” includes: the passage of a bad bill that provided for aggression backed support of crony capitalist imaginary property rights, that had obviously foreseeable unintended consequences which could only be avoided with a regular legislative Band-Aids, and that took 16 years to permanently fix, that whole process, that is a model of democracy in action? No wonder the state must exert monopoly control over governmental duties because I can’t imagine anyone voluntarily choosing to pay for the service of these clowns.
With a subtle edit I think this quote by Harry Browne (1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party candidate for President) captures the essence of what has transpired here: “[The State] is good at one thing: It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, “See, if it weren’t for the [state], you wouldn’t be able to walk.”