Capitalism and democracy not compatible on the Internet, author says

Mar 14, 2013
"Really existing capitalism" is "turning the Internet against democracy," says University of Illinois communication professor Robert McChesney, in his new book "Digital Disconnect." Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

Two decades into the digital age, the Internet is now "enmeshed in the fabric of nearly every aspect of life," says University of Illinois communication professor Robert McChesney. In ongoing debates about its influence and future, there are, he says, celebrants and skeptics.

But there's an "elephant in the room" that's getting little attention, McChesney says in a new book. That elephant is capitalism, and its growing of the Internet is threatening everything from privacy to democracy.

Both the celebrants and skeptics "take capitalism for granted as part of the background scenery" and disregard the , McChesney writes in "Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy," published this month by The New Press.

"When capitalism is mentioned, it is usually as the 'free market,' which is taken as a benevolent given, almost a synonym for democracy," McChesney writes. Yet "really existing capitalism" doesn't fit with the free-market "catechism" or with democracy, he writes; "the crisis of our times is that capitalism undermines democracy."

The Internet has been transformed from the noncommercial and that many dreamed of in its earlier days to one that "has been commercialized, copyrighted, patented, privatized, data-inspected, and monopolized," McChesney writes.

As part of that process, advertising has been transformed online in a way that eliminates previous notions of privacy, and the government has surveillance powers that were once unimaginable. Large telecommunication and entertainment corporations that once appeared to be vulnerable, because of the Internet, have prospered through their influence in a "corrupt" policymaking process.

The Internet giants that have risen over the last two decades are not the progressive force some think them to be, and have prospered as the result of privileges, exploited labor, and and subsidies, he says.

McChesney has written extensively in the past about the politics and economics of the media, the decline of journalism, and corporate influence in the government's media policymaking. He also is a co-founder of Free Press, a media reform organization.

This book comes now, McChesney writes, because he sees the Internet as having crystallized to a significant degree. "We are in a position, in some respects for the first time, to make sense of the Internet experience and highlight the cutting-edge issues it poses for society," he writes.

We also are in a better position to understand what decisions can be made that might determine the future of the Internet and its influence in shaping the society, he says in the book.

Among his prescriptions: broadband availability to all for free as a basic right, strict regulation of advertising and a sharp reduction or elimination of the tax write-off of advertising as a business expense, heavy regulation of digital "natural monopolies" or conversion of them to nonprofit services, large public investments in journalism, net neutrality, strict privacy regulations that make online activities as private as correspondence in the mail, and strong legal barriers against militarization of the Internet and use of it for warrantless surveillance.

Yet while outlining these and other reforms related to the broader communications environment, McChesney pessimistically writes that none of them have a chance of enactment given the power of wealth and corporations in the policymaking process. Movements for democratic reform and revolution will therefore be required, he writes, and he believes those movements are emerging.

"At the center of political debate will be economics: What sort of economy can best promote democratic values and structures and self-governance while nurturing the environment? And at the center of everything will be the Internet. The democratization of the Internet is integrally related to the democratization of the political economy. They rise and fall together."

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User comments : 42

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Doug_Huffman
2.4 / 5 (17) Mar 14, 2013
Read Jonathan Zittrain's The Future of the Internet - and How to Stop It
http://futureofth...rnet.pdf

When something online is free, you're not the customer, you ARE the product.

http://futureofth...comments
Deadbolt
2.5 / 5 (21) Mar 14, 2013
When food and shelter is a basic right, then we can start on the internet.
ODesign
2.5 / 5 (10) Mar 14, 2013
good read- the author makes several good points and seems to be sincerely acting for the betterment of mankind.
bertibus
2.1 / 5 (18) Mar 14, 2013
Ah yes, just what we need. Free broadband, more government involvement, more bureaucracy, more pf everything that's strangling the developed (and in the case of India, developing) world.
Huns
2.6 / 5 (18) Mar 15, 2013
Usually, when I read an article on this site, it's about... uh... science. This is just an ad for a book. It's spam. How did it even get published? If I write a crappy book full of obnoxious, nanny state garbage, can I pay to have it plugged here too???

Oh, well. While we're here:

"Free" broadband: It isn't free. Someone has to pay for it (i.e. taxpayers.) Go to hell.

Strict regulation of advertising: Go to hell.

No more writing off advertising as a business expense: It IS a business expense. Go to hell.

Heavy regulation of digital "natural monopolies" or conversion of them to nonprofit services: Is that like nationalization, in which a government steals private property by force? Go to hell.

Large public investments in journalism: My tax dollars are wasted on enough already and I don't see any news drought. Go to hell.

Net neutrality, etc.: I'm OK with that, but like the Bible, getting a few things right don't mean the work as a whole isn't abject BS.
ormondotvos
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 15, 2013
Communication and governmental transparency through citizen monitoring are essential public goods properly the domain of democratic processes (also known as government.)

Karl Polanyi clearly noted that Self Regulating Capitalism was a utopian scheme that inevitably generated blowback in the form of governmental regulation. See "The Great Transformation" his seminal and still pertinently discussed book on the subject, written beginning in 1944 and published in 1957.
ShotmanMaslo
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 15, 2013
Whats there to regulate about internet advertising? Thats just nonsense, if it bothers you get an adblock or something.

His other points are acceptable, but I dont think internet needs any changes beyond getting rid of some instances of censorship, both governmental and by ISPs. Otherwise the net is fine as it is, and any change would most likely be for the worse. Leave the net alone.
alfie_null
4 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2013
The Internet has been transformed from the noncommercial and public space that many dreamed of in its earlier days to one that "has been commercialized, copyrighted, patented, privatized, data-inspected, and monopolized," McChesney writes.

McChesney's book is available through one of the world's largest Internet-based commercial enterprises. Electronic versions are available, but are DRM encumbered. I'm guessing the work is copyrighted.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Mar 15, 2013
Otherwise the net is fine as it is, and any change would most likely be for the worse.

I generally agree with your statement, but the privacy issue is a real problem that would require a fix. the amount of data that can be harvested (and profitably used) against every single one of us on the net is staggering. And this isn't due to our carelessness of 'putting the data out there' without need.
It starts from very simple ways oftracking your internet behavior (with targetted advertising being the most benign - and still vexing - of the abuse potential)
nowhere
4 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2013
Net neutrality, etc.: I'm OK with that

How should it occur? You're for commercial journalism which generally isn't neutral. You don't mind monopolies, even prefer unregulated ones. It's fine that corporations can utilise advertising, amoung other methods, to dodge tax, placing more of a burden on individuals to maintain infrastructure which the corporation uses extensively. You don't want advertising regulated, who cares if they harvest you personal details, and target you with ads you don't want? And finally, only those who are lucky enough to have the infrastructure and finances available should have access to the Internet? Where does neutrality fit into this picture?
kochevnik
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2013
Where does neutrality fit into this picture?
It fits in because your carrier is obliged to transmit packets without discrimination. When you lose that you have China and N. Korea. You won't have the Internet, but just some packet-switching network or local area network. Learn about NAPs
nowhere
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 15, 2013
At the moment, when you allow some governmental officers to control the Internet content, you're facing the risk, they will not only control this content, but your access to it too.
I don't advocate government control, but rather necessary regulations meant to limit corporate control. While that regulation may be abused to the point where it becomes control, in general a democratic government ideally creates policy for the good of its citizens. A corporation explicitly works for the good of itself.
nowhere
3 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2013
Where does neutrality fit into this picture?
It fits in because your carrier is obliged to transmit packets without discrimination. When you lose that you have China and N. Korea. You won't have the Internet, but just some packet-switching network or local area network. Learn about NAPs

Agreed, you need to have a neutral carrier before you can have a neutral Internet, however having such a carrier doesn't automatically mean you have a neutral Internet. Without regulation, monopolies using a neutral network can easily exploit such a network, rendering it far from neutral. That is what this article is discussing, capitalism and a democratic Internet. Since nk and China's Internet, as well as policies, are far from democratic, they do not even feature in this discussion.
3432682
1.6 / 5 (13) Mar 15, 2013
McChesney is a very left wing guy. As such he is certain that he has the answers on how to make everything better through even more government power. How has that worked out so far?

Our government retirement systems are Ponzi schemes. Government is working to make energy cost more; and food costs more because of the ethanol mandate. Our government monopoly schools have tripled costs in the last 40 years, but quality of output is worse. Medical costs are at least 30% wasted because the market functions are gone for 90% of payments, because of our twisted tax code. Wherever government inserts itself costs go way up and innovation does way down.
zaxxon451
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2013
When food and shelter is a basic right, then we can start on the internet.


Agreed. A Second Bill of Rights would be a great place to start.
http://en.wikiped...f_Rights
ForFreeMinds
1.7 / 5 (13) Mar 15, 2013
"the crisis of our times is that capitalism undermines democracy."

McChesney shows his misunderstanding of government power. No corporation can force me to do anything, but politicians can force us and corporations to act via laws and regulations. Like many liberals who bemoan corporate "power", McChesney should point his finger at politicians who sell us out.

Politicians often sell us out by selling government favors for campaign cash or other favors. What is undermining our government and freedom, are politicians who can't resist "regulating" commerce to generate campaign cash. There is nothing immoral about a business trying to avoid legislation that reduces its profits. On the other hand, corporations seeking government favors at our expense (subsidies, no-bid government contracts, restrictions on competition, new tax breaks, etc) are immoral for asking, but asking for favors is no crime. Politicians who hand them out for campaign cash are the real greedy immoral actors.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (14) Mar 15, 2013
It's too bad so many 'intellectuals' don't understand what real capitalism is.
What sort of economy can best promote democratic values and structures and self-governance while nurturing the environment?

It's not the socialism/crony capitalism they propose.

Read more at: http://phys.org/n...html#jCp
VendicarE
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 16, 2013
Real Capitalism is what has destroyed the American State and American Culture.

"It's too bad so many 'intellectuals' don't understand what real capitalism is." - RyggTard

Money grubbing and greed are all RyggTard knows, and so to him, more money grubbing and greed are the solution to every problem.
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 16, 2013
You mean they aren't forcing you to drink polluted water and eat genetically modified corn and soybeans?

"No corporation can force me to do anything" - FreeTard

I suppose you could stop drinking water and die, or install a water filter on your tap that is sold to you by another corporate entity that dumps it's effluent from manufacture into your drinking water.

You could just stop eating food, or you could rely on labeling that tells you which foods contain genetically modified corn and soy products.

Good luck with that since corporations are preventing you from knowing which foods used in their preparations are genetically modified.

You are a farm animal, and Corporations are the rancher.

VendicarE
3.5 / 5 (6) Mar 16, 2013
"There is nothing immoral about a business trying to avoid legislation that reduces its profits." - FreeTard

So your belief is that there is nothing immoral about offering a bribe.

How about offering to kill someone?

baudrunner
2.3 / 5 (13) Mar 16, 2013
"the crisis of our times is that capitalism undermines democracy."
That's an understatement. Thanks to Plato, true democracy is still just dialogue, and hovers dangerously close to communism - "by the people, of the people, for the people" - and yet it is still every man for himself, thank goodness. Thanks to political corruption we have true freedoms, however. Nothing's perfect makes it perfect, in a sense. You gotta be rich to run for office; you can buy votes; you can serve the mob for your own ends; and so on. Unfairness is a fact of life, apparently. You can load all the ad blockers you want to prevent ads from displaying on your screens, but you are still paying for the bandwidth they occupy, like it or not, and they occupy a whole lot more of that than the relevant content you opened the site for in the first place. Life's not fair. Tough.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (13) Mar 16, 2013
true democracy is still just dialogue, and hovers dangerously close to communism -

Democracy is a tyranny of the majority.
50% 1 can force the 50%-1 to do whatever they demand, or else.
Real capitalism cannot use force. Capitalists must first risk their wealth to create products and service they think customers will be WILING to TRADE their wealth for.
Capitalist success in the market is truly democratic as customers 'vote' with their wealth to invest and/or purchase the capitalist's products.
VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2013
RyggTard is caught lying again...

"Democracy is a tyranny of the majority. 50% 1 can force the 50%-1 to do whatever they demand" - RyggTard

The lie exposed...

DEMOCRACY - definition

1a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority

1b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2013
Absolute Monopoly is absolute force.

Practical monopoly produces practical force.

"Real capitalism cannot use force" - RyggTard

Monsanto is forcing RyggTard to eat genetically modified corn through the creation of a corn market where genetically modified corn constitutes the vast majority of all corn sold.

In order to avoid eating genetically modified corn RyggTard will have to avoid eating all corn or all products containing corn products.

Since this is not practically possible, he is forced to consume genetically modified corn.
VendicarE
3 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2013
This is also false and can only be true if consumers have perfect awareness of the products they are purchasing and have infinite choice in the products they can select from.

"Capitalist success in the market is truly democratic" - RyggTard

In addition, Corporations use all manner of collusion and deception in order to increase sales. Red lights are use to make pail meet appear more appetizing, new car smells are added to used cars to make them appear newer than they are. Products are made hollow and weaker in order to reduce material costs and facilitate breakage.

And of course, replacement parts are made unavailable in order to assure that a product has the shortest life possible while still giving the manufacturer an excuse for that limited lifetime.

Americans are cattle. Corporations are the ranchers.
kochevnik
3 / 5 (8) Mar 16, 2013
@nowhere Agreed, you need to have a neutral carrier before you can have a neutral Internet, however having such a carrier doesn't automatically mean you have a neutral Internet. Without regulation, monopolies using a neutral network can easily exploit such a network, rendering it far from neutral.
In the short term I agree. But give hackers network neutrality and some NAPs, and all of the higher protocols such as the web, DNS, telephony, Twitter, bittorrent etc. can be reconstructed in the spirit of anarchy. Governments and corporations want to domesticate the beast, but it is wild to the core and not easily kept on a leash
VendicarE
4 / 5 (4) Mar 16, 2013
Capitalists mix ground horse meat with beef and sell it as pure beef, thereby defrauding the customer.

"Capitalists must first risk their wealth to create products and service they think customers will be WILING to TRADE their wealth for." - RyggTard

I have never encountered a Randite who wasn't a congential and perpetual liar.

RyggTard is no exception.
MandoZink
3.7 / 5 (9) Mar 16, 2013
Capitalist success in the market is truly democratic as customers 'vote' with their wealth to invest and/or purchase the capitalist's products.

Are you KIDDING me? These guys use their money and influence to buy/manipulate the conditions that keep them on top and you on a string. There is no democracy in capitalism, and they'll make damn sure there never is!
kochevnik
2 / 5 (8) Mar 16, 2013
Are you KIDDING me? These guys use their money and influence to buy/manipulate the conditions that keep them on top and you on a string. There is no democracy in capitalism, and they'll make damn sure there never is!
To be fair this is not the effect of pure capitalism, but the magnified effect of capitalism fueled by BANKSTERISM. Since 1913 all your wars began with WW1 one YEAR after the FED establishment. Selected robber barons close to the banksters have been able to swallow up the US economy with their worthless paper.

The G5 nations mainly US and Britain produce little of value and now have little intrinsic worth. In response they are forming police states. You can see the decline in charts such as AUD/USD. Australia's economy is based upon real assets like natural resources. Hence the AUD has doubled in value relative to the baseless USD and GBP: http://media.dail...re_8.png
VendicarE
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 17, 2013
"These guys use their money and influence to buy/manipulate the conditions that keep them on top and you on a string." - MandoZink

RyggTard is an ideological Corporatist. He will say or do anything, invent any fiction, however nonsensical in order to further the corrupt interests of Corporations.

Like every Randite, his goal is the establishment of a Fascist New World Order.
grondilu
1 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2013
It seems to me that the aspects of internet that the author deplores actually come from democracy, not capitalism. He points at government subsidies and interventions in the free market, but isn't government precisely the emanation of democracy? He talks about the lack of privacy but aren't there laws (an other emanation of democracy) that forces internet provider to keep a database relating name and physical addresses to IP addresses?
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2013
isn't government precisely the emanation of democracy?

Since when?
Since 1913 all your wars began with WW1 one YEAR after the FED establishment.

Thanks to 'progressive' socialists.
Martin_Shaw
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 17, 2013
It's not capitalism that undermines democracy, it's corruption by those who consider themselves "capitalists" yet want the nanny state for corporations. Capitalism is survival of the fittest corporations; not a $700B bailout of investors.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 17, 2013
It's not capitalism that undermines democracy, it's corruption by those who consider themselves "capitalists" yet want the nanny state for corporations. Capitalism is survival of the fittest corporations; not a $700B bailout of investors.

It takes two to tango.
It is more difficult to corrupt the govt if the power of the govt is limited.
The Regulatory State is the vehicle for corruption as the creation of the FDA demonstrates.
The alternative to the regulatory state is the state that protects private property rights and allows competition.
Rockefeller refined kerosene yet kerosene had a bad reputation for burning down houses. It wasn't kerosene per se, it was poor quality kerosene that caused the fires. Rockefeller improved the quality of kerosene, standardizing the process and created a better, cheaper product.
Electricity replaced kerosene, but appliances caused fires prompting the creation of Underwriter's Laboratory.
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2013
"In a radical departure from previous aid packages, euro zone finance ministers want Cyprus savers to forfeit up to 9.9 percent of their deposits in return for a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) bailout to the island, which has been financially crippled by its exposure to neighboring Greece"
http://www.reuter...20130317
This is just another result of what happens when the govt controls money.
MandoZink
3 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2013
The Regulatory State is the vehicle for corruption...

Hardly. Regulation in key areas is quite necessary for the common good. Just the repeal of sections 20 and 32 of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act by the passage of the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act put into motion the financial mergers that brought on the devastating Subprime Mortgage Crisis in the 2000's. This is the kind of regulation that Big Money Capitalists like to eliminate to their advantage, and our detriment.

One example of an idea that Capitalists would immediately kill in its tracks is this recent revenue proposal:
http://www.washin...ory.html

Those with money like to suggest things such simplifying tax revenues by increasing sales taxes and removing business tax obligations. This cleverly shifts the burden to lower income people who have a greater percentage of their earnings taken.
grondilu
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 17, 2013
isn't government precisely the emanation of democracy?

Since when?

Well, it's certainly not the emanation of capitalism, anyway.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 17, 2013
isn't government precisely the emanation of democracy?

Since when?

Well, it's certainly not the emanation of capitalism, anyway.

Govt, at its best, is force to protect individual property rights. At its worst, it is force to plunder private property.

removing business tax obligations.

Businesses pay no taxes if they are to stay in business. They must pass along those taxes to their customers.
Consumers and competitors provide all the regulations needed.
Glass Stegal is just one in a long line of regulations on an already govt regulated banking industry. So G.S. was needed because the previous govt regulations failed?
When the federal reserve is eliminated and there is free market money, THEN there may be a truly capitalist banking system.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2013
Govrnment at it's best promotes the social welfare in a variety of ways, some of which include the compulsory purchase of property through eminent domain.

"Govt, at its best, is force to protect individual property rights." - RyggTard

RyggTard's Libertarian/Randite ideology also holds that it is best if child prostitution is legalized.

As the Libertarians say, it isn't molestation if the child is willing.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2013
Ah... The Libretarian/Fascist wet dream.

"Businesses pay no taxes if they are to stay in business. " - RyggTard

But of course, when an individual acts as a business they must still pay taxes in accordance with Libertarian Economic policy.

Corporations are people the Randite's say. But special people, exempt from taxation, and a host of other laws that apply only to citizens of Libertarian land.

RyggTard is a fine little Fascist.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2013
Ah.. RygTard want to return to the good oll days when private banks issued their own private money so that workers could be paid in private banko notes redeemable only at the corporate store.

"When the federal reserve is eliminated and there is free market money" - RyggTard

Total slavery to the Corporation is the goal of every Randite.
VendicarE
5 / 5 (1) Mar 17, 2013
"Since when?" - RyggTard

Since the creation of the word "Democracy"

Laughably RyggTard believes that Democracy is actually what is written in his Libertarian new speak dictionary.

Doing so is the principle mechanism by which RandTards lie to themselves and each other.