Law in the Internet Society

Explaining Current Inequalities With Incentives, Focusing on the Internet Society

-- By AdithyaMani - 15 Oct 2012


Law school classes have made me think about a lot of different issues- why it’s so hard for some people to have their day in court, why someone would be mindless enough to not discuss which ship they were referring to in a contracts dispute, or why judges had to use “penumbras” to say that people had a right to privacy. However, the things that really made my head hurt and made me feel uncomfortable were what I saw outside of the law school in New York city- people sleeping on top of subway vents with newspapers covering their cold bodies while there is a black Range Rover (MSRP $80,275) parked 50 feet behind them . Before I could delve too deeply into why this happens on a deeper level, I would remember that I had to finish my reading for Torts. This class, Law in the Internet Society, has brought that level of discomfort to me at least once a week, often more. As hard as it might be to ignore the wastefulness of some and dire neediness of others, thinking about equal access to the network has compelled me to try to figure out why we as a society are where we are- why some, like me, have smart-phones and fancy laptops while others might not know what a computer is. Why some of us have wi-fi networks that we don’t share. The only way I can make sense of it is by thinking of incentives. Not incentives in terms of how much can one profit or hope to gain in monetary terms, but what compels people to intensely focus on gaining for themselves or share even when they may not have much.

Why is this the right way to introduce an essay? It concentrates on your personal responses, which may not immediately appear of pressing interest to your potential readers. The idea presented, from the reader's point of view, is that you are wondering about the source of inequality, and you have apparently focused on the contribution of individual psychology to the creation of social inequality. Why you would do so, and why, in particular, you would focus on that approach to the exclusion of political explanations, involving the relation between social inequality and the social structure of political and ultimately physical power, is not explained.

In Bombay, on the night of Dussehra, I see naked children sleeping on the stones, in the shadow of the Gateway of India, across from the Taj Hotel of now-bitter memory, where an armored personnel carrier of the Indian Army is therefore permanently parked, while people are everywhere dancing celebrating the victory of good over evil. Why should I believe that this brutality of social injustice is about "incentives" shared by the Tatas who own the hotel and the corn-seller trying to make a living next to the destitute toddlers sleeping on the stones? Isn't it perfectly clear that this has nothing to do with general incentives to self-betterment and everything to do with raw power to oppress?

The Current State

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.” Adam Smith, the alleged father of capitalism, started Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) with these words . Reading this quote as a sophomore in college gave me faith that modern capitalism could help bring up the weakest in our society- if the father of capitalism believed that altruism is real and legitimate, surely others would. After graduating from college through my second year in law school, my dissipated. From 1979 – 2007, the incomes of the richest 1% in our country have risen 275% while those the poorest fifth and middle fifth have risen 18.3% and 35.2% respectively . It would seem that capitalism and modern economics have failed.

Did you ask what relationship there was between the "moral sense" philosophy expressed by Smith here and the ideas about the nature of economic life that he wrote 17 years later? It does not seem to me that the conclusion that they must be compatible in Smith would be licensed by the mere fact that the same man wrote different sentences in different decades. Let alone that one could for that reason alone conclude that the ideas are always compatible with one another or with your situation. I doubt that you accept half the consequences that flow from "Scottish Enlightenment" moral philosophy, starting with a doubt that you, with your awareness of the breadth of human culture over global space and deep time, believe that human beings all possess a single, undifferentiated "moral sense," like eyesight or taste, which is everywhere and always uniform, unaffected by the nature of human culture. If, as is likely, you don't actually believe what Smith believed about the sources of human "sympathy," it's not clear to me why reconciling his ideas that you don't have about moral philosophy to his ideas about capitalism, which you probably don't share in detail either, is particularly relevant to what we're studying now.

Modern capitalism suggests that the price for objects is equal to the marginal cost of producing said objects. As Professor Eben Moglen states, sending and distributing bitstreams have zero marginal cost. Then why can’t the poorest among us receive all of the information that the rest of us get from the internet? The simple answer is that some people don’t have the resources to access the internet and the wealth of information that is propagated.

No. The simple answer is that power demands that rules maintain non-zero pricing for information, which we call "intellectual property," which destroys the free market that would price zero-marginal-cost goods at zero, thus fastening ignorance on the poor. Access is not the problem: here in India, for example, even very poor people have mobile phones. They could receive over that network any book or any other form of information from which they wish to learn.

But why is this so? What motivates Richard Stallman to form the idea of free software and Bill Gates to try to form a monopoly on software?


Professor Moglen has mentioned that in our class, we will look at the personalities and backgrounds of different characters relevant to our network in modern society to better understand why we are at this point in society. The shareholders that may drive a Microsoft or Apple to act destructively and in a way that constrains network freedom presumably are thinking about the next 6 months. Even if those same shareholders are thinking long-term, it may primarily be for themselves and their immediate families instead of what is good for society as a whole. The Steve Jobs that created the masterpiece or the nightmare that is Apple, was either allegedly hell-bent on showing his biological parents how they made a mistake by giving him up for adoption or wanted to create something beautiful to make up for any residual effects of having been given up for adoption. Regardless of what these motivations are, they are motivations and can likely be influenced.

Are we actually to conclude that inequality is the result of Apple's shareholders not having been taught there are more important things than making money? Is the root to fairness for the poor supposed to lie through the psychotherapy given to Mr Jobs?

Shaping Incentives

In a utopian society, the different motivations of each individual would result in something positive for society. However, individuality should be valued and celebrated. Therefore, some destructive actions may result from certain types of motivation. But how does society lessen the effects of these actions? One way is to breed a culture in our society of sharing. A direct method to accomplish this may be to use free software to teach youth how to use computers. The current generation of young people has grown up with the iPod and then the iPhone as the “it” products. If school-aged children grew up using free software and learned the benefits of equal access to the network and received in an appealing package, then they would prioritize those same benefits later on in life.

The beginning of the paragraph lies in mere speculation about "Utopia," which means nowhere. If teaching children to use free software has measurable effects, shouldn't we be able to measure them in Kerala, where that's been the way all schools taught about computing for almost ten years now? Why don't you look?

A potential solution.

How this can be achieved is not as clear but free software is likely headed in the right direction. Just in the past two weeks, I have switched to “Camino,” the free software internet browser for the Mac operating system.

Why don't you run free software instead of unfree software overall on that expensive piece of crappy hardware for which you paid so much too much? More than a decade after people moved to free software browsers on Windows, you're congratulating yourself on using a mostly free software browser (Camino is not as free as Firefox, because binary builds such as you probably installed are placed under an unfree license in order to perform trademark regulation; those versions of Camino are not free software). You could remove OS X and run a free operating system, too.

It is presented in a simple and aesthetically pleasing package, and kids would likely not notice a difference between “Safari” or “Google Chrome.” With the likely demise of textbook publishers influence on school curriculums, there may be an opportunity for free software to enter schools where younger children can use it and become comfortable with its capabilities.

Enter? Where on Earth at the moment is there no Android object running free software? What has that got to do with textbook publishers? This isn't about "entering," this is about whether people are learning about freedom, or just using some software the manufacturer picked up cheaply. Why not address that issue?


There are other ways in which one might be able to change the culture in our society towards free software, and towards income inequality generally. However, it seems to all come down to incentives and making sure that incentives are there for people to contribute to society as a whole and not just themselves.

I doubt this conclusion, for reasons I've already outlined. Nothing that was said in the essay actually made the conclusion more convincing. You neither presented factual evidence that your conclusion is true, nor did you provide any analysis of any alternative position, tending to show that it is or they are mistaken. Your assertions were the basis of the conclusion at the essay's beginning, and they are its only basis at the end. The primary route to improvement of the essay overall is to make that not true next draft.


Resolving Income Inequality Through Education


Income inequality in this country is at the highest level it has ever been. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that our educational outcomes are also poor – only 15% of American adults can read and comprehend at the highest level, which has not changed since 1993. Why should someone care? Democracy and public debate are at their highest levels when people have ideas to contribute. Additionally, poverty leads to crime. Indeed, where you find poverty, crime is not far away. How then do you resolve this problem? Teaching youth how to use free software and its benefits will breed a more technically proficient and better-educated populace. This will in turn increase equality of opportunity and perhaps reduce long-standing inequality in this country.

Better Educational and Employment Outcomes

Teaching young students how to use free software and what benefits it has can contribute to equalizing opportunity because it leads to better educational outcomes. One example of this exists in Kerala, India. Kerala decided to implement the free and open software platform (FOSS) in its IT@School project and saved 11 crore rupees as a result. For public schools, savings like these can be significant. In the United States, budget deficits in some of our largest school districts seems perpetual and permanent. The concomitant budget cuts shrink the amount of time students are actually in school and students generally receive less resources as a result of these cuts. If public schools were to utilize free software instead of proprietary software, then students would be able to receive more resources than they do now. The disparity in educational outcomes between the rich and the poor grows from summer vacation and not being in school. Just being able to stay in school longer as a result of budget savings from free software would equalize educational achievement.

Educating young people about free software also can contribute to equality because it leads to better employment outcomes. That same Kerala program utilizing free software also helps contribute to people from Kerala being employed in different areas of the world in various professions. These employment outcomes are available to all citizens, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. This is because the Kerala Government uses free software as a way of achieving an inclusive society, meaning one in which the benefits of the “socio-economic transformation” possible through using free software can reach every citizen. Because using free software can also improve employment outcomes for all, in addition to improving educational outcomes, it can decrease inequality as a whole.

Government Support

One might counter that for free software utilization to be effective, the government must be committed to having an inclusive society like Kerala was. It is difficult to imagine free software working in a state with a Government actively working to oppose it. However, a government committed to capitalism will not destroy the benefits of using free software. Modern capitalism suggests that the price for objects is equal to the marginal cost of producing said objects. As Professor Eben Moglen states, sending and distributing bitstreams have zero marginal cost. Therefore, a government committed to capitalism will allow free software to operate and reach those who can afford to pay the zero-cost for it. What about a government that is influenced by corporations who oppose free software? Because our public education system has had so many budget cuts, it will be difficult for a state to justify not using something that is cheaper. If public education is the only institutional avenue through which a large number of people can learn how to use free software, then these students will use their positive ideas about free software to further increase access to free software as they grow and start working in various professions. Therefore, a government committed to Capitalism will not quash free software being used in schools. However, if such a government still fights against the implementation of free software in schools, then the process of implementing the utilization of free software will be more difficult.

Even if a government does not cooperate in using free software in schools, groups and individuals can still achieve equality through their own ways of bringing free software to youth. In Bangalore, the Software Freedom Law Center has taught at least 40 students from a local slum how to use free software with positive results. Students working with the Center have contributed to the arts, to their fellow students’ educations, and have used their computer skills to enter the workforce. It would be easier to share free software with more students if governments supported the use of free software in schools; however, even without this support, teaching free software to children can help to equalize opportunity in society.


A final potential counter to the idea that free software in schools is not the best way to improve equality is that it is about what incentives that those in power have. Indeed, this is something I strongly considered to be the root cause of inequality previously. If more of the wealthy and powerful individuals in our society were incentivized to contribute to causes benefitting the poorest, inequality might be less of an issue. However, incentives and motivations are largely shaped by environment and as a result, one runs into the “chicken or egg” problem. Therefore, changing incentives is not a direct solution to the income inequality problem.


Utilizing free software in schools will not be straight-forward and easy- corporations profiting from proprietary software have a financial interest in preventing this. However, governments seeing that using free software is cheaper will lessen the influence of such corporations. By utilizing free software in schools, income inequality will gradually diminish, as students everywhere will receive better and more equal educations and enter into better jobs. ,,,9171,2005863,00.html, 6

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r4 - 23 Aug 2014 - 19:31:21 - EbenMoglen
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