[iDC] The New Socialism

Frank Pasquale frank.pasquale at gmail.com
Sun Jun 21 20:58:15 UTC 2009

I've really enjoyed the discussion above.  Here are two cents from a
"legal realist" perspective.  Legal realism as a movement really took
off in the US during the New Deal, when legal scholars had to
fundamentally rethink the relationship between state and market.

First, Kelly's ideological evolution is interesting.  Best & Kellner's
review of Kelly's early work (at
http://www.democracynature.org/vol6/best_kellner_kelly.htm) reveals a
naively Ayn Randian theme in works like "Out of Control" and "New

"Kelly envisions a future with radically different forms of social and
organizational control.  In this future world, control is dispersed in
highly pluralistic, open and decentralized systems. . . . [W]hereas
Kelly is correct to see unity in all complex systems, there are also
differences that he collapses; e.g., capitalism is something of a
self-organizing system, but its dynamics are also shaped by class
struggle, competition between major economic units, and complex
interaction between economic and political institutions, unlike any
natural system."

"Kelly’s chapters on the economy are wholly uncritical and say nothing
about such things as exploitation or monopoly control, and not much
about ecological problems. He has little sense of how power operates
and of how big organizations manipulate the economy and polity for
their own ends. It is indeed not clear to us how an economic system
can be self-organizing when it is shaped by giant corporations,
quasi-monopoly control of key technologies, and the state."

The libertarian solution often focuses on getting rid of the state
actors that distort the market, and sometimes this is clearly the
right thing to do. But to the extent they hope the state will “wither
away,” libertarians may end up the unlikely bedfellows of those on the
opposite end of the ideological spectrum.  Thus perhaps Kelly's move
from libertarianism to "socialism" should not be that surprising.

For me, the main problem with Kelly's essay is that he seems to assume
that the "moderate socialism of Sweden" will make it possible for us
all to take risks and give up privacy on the new platforms.  His
rhetorical method is to predict a future and thus to try to get that
future to come about by encouraging people to adapt to it.  I'd love
for this self-fulfilling prophecy dynamic to take hold.  But as the
Senate eviscerates even the few progressive pieces of legislation
coming out of the Obama White House, it's totally irreponsible to
advocate people acting in ways that assume they will be supported by a
more humane social welfare state.

For example, Kelly praises innovations like "PatientsLikeMe, where
patients pool results of treatments to better their own care, [and]
prove that collective action can trump both doctors and privacy
scares."  Until the US has universal health care, those patients are
taking a huge risk that they will end up in the individual insurance
market and be discriminated against by insurers.  (See, for example,
this story:
 Do we have enforceable contracts from the new Web 2.0 platforms that
they will not share data with insurers?  Ironclad protection against
data breaches and indemnification in case of such breaches?)

As for Lessig: I have to agree with his point that, "in America the
term 'socialism' is a smear."   But we have to remember that treating
it as such also plays into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Moreover, the
discredited right's anachronistic red-baiting may be having the
opposite of its intended effect; according to one recent US poll,
"adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer
capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided."  (at

In conclusion: I think the key is to realize that the state is always
around.  As James K. Galbraith's The Predator State reveals, many of
those who claim to be "market-oriented" are in fact simply trying to
shift the state's largesse from the less to the more privileged.  Or,
as Chris Sagers has said in the essay “The Myth of Privatization” (59
Administrative Law Rev. 37 (2007)):

"The basic choice in the organization of society is not between
organization by government bureaucracy on one hand, and markets on the
other–a choice that is assumed in the privatization literature.
Rather, the basic choice is between two kinds of bureaucracy, which
really do not differ much at all. Indeed, the chief difference seems
to be that one of them lacks even a nominal obligation toward the
public interest."

I have tried to argue for alternatives to bureaucracies that "lack
even a nominal obligation toward the public interest" in the following

On Search Engines:

On health care:


Frank Pasquale
Visiting Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Professor of Law, Seton Hall Law School
Seton Hall Law
One Newark Center
1109 Raymond Blvd.
Newark, NJ 07102

On Sun, Jun 21, 2009 at 8:00 AM, Christian
Fuchs<christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at> wrote:
> Dear all,
> Thank you for your interesting comments on Kelly and Lessig, allow me to
> add a few aspects:
> It is really ridiculous that Kevin Kelly puts in his timeline of
> socialism: 1848 Communist Manifesto (...) 1917 Russian Revolution (...)
> 1959 Cuban Revolution 1998 Rise of socialism of the 21st century in
> Venezuela 2005 Amazon's Mechanical Turk (!) 2008 Facebook 2009 YouTube.
> I agree with Jodi that Kelly is a neoliberal, as his books such as "New
> Rules for the New Economy" or "Out of Control" have shown. What he is
> interested in is not socialism, but a new form of neoliberalism or
> "socialism for the rich". He has got a wrong notion of socialism.
> Lawrence Lessig - "At the core of socialism is coercion": Oh my god, he
> has also got it wrong about socialism, even more than Kelly.
> Maybe Lessig and Kelly should start to read Marx once in their lifetime
> in order to find out what is really meant by socialism and that Marx had
> democratic socialism in mind. So Marx wrote for example that socialism
> means the "battle for democracy", Engels wrote that it is the
> "establishment of a democratic constitution", Marx described communism
> as being being based on the democratic principle "from each according to
> his ability, to each according to his needs!" - no coercion involved
> here. Similarly no coercion involved in Marx's notion of the
> all-rounded/well-rounded individual, which stands for pure freedom.
> Lessig and Kelly could also simply start by reading Albert Einstein's
> essay "Why Socialism?", which has just been re-published in the latest
> issue of Monthly Review. Einstein argues that true socialism is not
> coercion, but a form of democracy. Einstein: "the real purpose of
> socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory
> phase of human development", " socialism is directed toward a
> social-ethical end", "Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a
> planned economy is not yet socialism".
> In my opinion it is important to re-actualize Marx today by discussing
> what he had to say about media, Internet, knowledge, etc and to use the
> terms socialism and communism in their actual meaning in this respect.
> This was the task of my book "Internet and Society: Social Theory in the
> Information Age" (http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/i&s.html) and of other of
> my recent works (Some Theoretical Foundations of Critical Media Studies:
> Reflections on Karl Marx and the Media:
> http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/336, paper in current
> issue of Rethinking Marxism:
> http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g912316157 )
> I think people should stop unbiased, uninformed views of Marx and
> socialism and start reading and discussing Marx before talking about him.
> Best, Christian
> --
> - - -
> Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
> Associate Professor
> Unified Theory of Information Research Group
> University of Salzburg
> Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
> 5020 Salzburg
> Austria
> christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
> Phone +43 662 8044 4823
> http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at
> http;//www.uti.at
> Editor of
> tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society
> http://www.triple-c.at
> Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age. New York: Routledge.
> http://fuchs.icts.sbg.ac.at/i&s.html
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