corporatism

Serenity
Joss Whedon at Comic-Con 2012
Joss Whedon at Comic-Con 2012

So disappointing:1

“We are watching capitalism destroy itself right now,” [Whedon] told the audience.

He added that America is “turning into Tsarist Russia” and that “we’re creating a country of serfs.”

Whedon was raised on the Upper Westside neighborhood of Manhattan in the 1970s, an area associated with left-leaning intellectuals. He said he was raised by people who thought socialism was a ”beautiful concept.”

Socialism remains a taboo word in American politics, as Republicans congressmen raise the specter of the Cold War. They refer to many Obama administration initatives as socialist, and the same goes for most laws that advocate increasing spending on social welfare programs. They also refer to the President as a socialist, though this and many of their other claims misuse the term.

This evidently frustrates Whedon, who traces this development to Ronald Reagan[.]

We have people trying to create structures and preserve the structures that will help the middle and working class, and people calling them socialists,” Whedon said. “It’s not Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal […] it’s some people with some sense of dignity and people who have gone off the reservation.”

Whedon obviously can’t tell the difference between laissez-faire capitalism (i.e., free markets) and the state-regulated capitalism we have today. Or the difference between democratic corporatism and tyrannical absolute monarchy. As with most on the left, he directs his criticisms almost exclusively at the market and big corporations.

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  1. I’m a huge fan of Firefly and Serenity and enjoyed Dr. Horrible, Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, and the Avengers. 

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The Krugman Effect
Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman

In an interview on Geeks Guide to the Galaxy (Wired), econtard Paul Krugman discussed the relationship between science fiction and economics. He said that he was inspired to pursue economics by Asimov’s Foundation series. Quelle surprise! He also claimed economic laws change over time (I know, I know!), but he nevertheless embraces one unstoppable apriori economic law in the interview: greed.

Free online college course: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World: Taught by Professor Eric S. Rabkin of the University of Michigan. Hosted by Coursera. The course will run 10 weeks and will cover Grimm, Carroll, Stoker, Shelley, Hawthorne & Poe, Wells, Burroughs & Gilman, Bradbury, LeGuin, and Doctorow (Little Brother). Click on over for more details and the registration form.

ISS astronaut impressed by private firm SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle: “Inside of the Dragon module. Beautiful. Spacious, Modern. Blue LEDs. Feels a bit like a sci-fi filmset. Of course it is from Los Angeles.” And “You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.”

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Government Failure by Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon, and Gordon L. Brady

Government Failure by Gordon Tullock, Arthur Seldon, and Gordon L. Brady

Michael Stackpole, a traditionally published author who was one of the early champions of self-publishing ebooks, has an interesting post analyzing the settlement agreed to by three of the Big Six publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster — involved in the alleged ebook price fixing flap. If he’s right, the Department of Justice is going to be imposing more injustice than just preventing a little self-destructive collusive fixing of high prices. This is yet another among so many many many examples of the state stepping in to prevent something only to impose that very thing itself. Yes, it looks like the DoJ is going to prevent price fixing of one sort only to impose its own brand of price fixing. But hey, it’s only a bad thing when non-state entities do it, right?

Here is Stackpole’s breakdown of the settlement  provisions:

  1. For a period of two years,
  2. Publishers will not be able to set a restricted retail price for their product.
  3. Retailers will be able to set their own price for an ebook, but they cannot discount the bookbelow their own discount. (In short, the retailer cannot sell ebooks at a loss.)
  4. Publishers cannot “retaliate” against retailers during this time.
  5. The “favored nation” status that prevented a publisher from selling at a lower price to one retailer over another is gone.
  6. The Agency Pricing discount of 30% off the top that retailers pay publishers can remain in place.
  7. There are compliance procedures being set in place (that I don’t bother discussing) so the government can make sure that the publishers are complying with the agreement.

That’s right. Provision #3 fixes an arbitrary minimum price —a price floor. Retailers like Amazon will not be allowed to sell ebooks below the price they pay publishers for them; they will not be allowed to sell at a loss. For two years. And apparently there is yet more intrusive bureaucracy being set up to monitor compliance with these new regulations for the ebook market. It’s another shovel-ready Obama jobs program!

The federal government is also going to prevent publishers from requiring retailers sell their ebooks for a certain price. In other words, it bans the agency model. Now, I’m no fan of the agency model, and I think it’s self-destructive for publishers to adopt it in order to screw their customers with high prices so that they can prop up their dead-tree book business model for a while longer. But I don’t think they should be prevented by law from doing so.

Stabilization is Chaos: “Monetary policy all over the world has followed the advice of the stabilizers. It is high time that their influence, which has already done harm enough, should be overthrown.”
— F.A. Hayek, 1932

The federal government is also going to prevent publishers from retaliating against retailers for the prices they set. Also, no more contracts that stipulate publishers can’t sell to other retailers at a lower price. In other words, the state is going to short circuit the market process by preventing publishers from putting any kind of meaningful pressure on retailers and vice versa. No jockeying for position in the ebook market. Forget letting consumers decide and the best business model win. The United States federal government prefers stasis — the maintenance of a status quo of its own making.

But wait, there’s more. Stackpole does the math and argues that far from preventing publishers from fixing high prices for consumers, the settlement will actually disincentivize both publishers and retailers from setting lower prices:

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NEWS | Can a bookseller destroy bookselling by selling books? Should writers be paid for their writing? Thumbnail

As you may have heard, the Department of Justice is looking into opening an antitrust case against the Big 6 publishers and Apple for allegedly colluding to set prices via an agency model which the publishers set the prices for their books in the iBooks store, not Apple. They were then able to put enough pressure on Amazon to coerce it into accepting the agency model as well, which it had previously resisted. This is why you see ebooks being sold on Amazon for $9.99 or more nowadays.

Now, there’s a contingent of publishers and authors who fear change and have grown complacent and dependent on their IP-based, physical distribution model; they tend to see Amazon as an evil corporation out to destroy publishing, bookselling, and writers.

Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild — does anyone else find the idea of an authors guild disturbing, like modern-day feudalism? some would say the same about the Big 6 publishing houses — recently wrote an open letter speaking out against the antitrust investigation and in defense of the agency model. Quelle surprise! Though it’s ironic to see someone defending big corporations against antitrust investigations who, under normal circumstances (i.e., ones in which his bottom line isn’t directly affected), would probably be in favor of antitrust suits against monopolistic big corporations.

Anyway, Turow types some rather outrageous falsehoods about Amazon. Indie powerhouses Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath1 do a pretty god job of showing how ridiculous Turow’s claims are. Richard Lea summed it up on Twitter with question that makes up the first half of this blogpost title: “Can a bookseller destroy bookselling by selling lots of books?”

I do disagree with Eisler and Konrath on one thing, however, and that is their opposition to the collusion between Apple and the Big 6 publishers. As a libertarian, I don’t have a problem legally speaking with collusion, or price fixing. Without government support, cartels are unsustainable. Of course, believing some practice shouldn’t be illegal doesn’t mean I approve of said practice.

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  1. Full disclosure: Both men recently made publishing deals with one of Amazon’s new fiction imprints but were extremely successful self-publishers beforehand and are still self-publishing other work. 

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