Corporations and Persons

26 July 2015

In the eyes of the law, a corporation is itself a person. This effects two sorts of things.

The first comes into play when the corporation is shared amongst multiple owners or ownership changes. Because the corporation may enter into contracts as a legal person, may be sued as a legal person, and may bring suit as a legal person, it is typically unnecessary to identify all the owners for purposes of contracts or of suits, and shares may be traded without explicit and complex contracts reässigning rights or responsibilities.

The second thing effected is limited liability. When a corporation is found to be at fault in some way, typically no more may be seized to satisfy its responsibilities than that assets of the corporation; other assets held by the owners are insulated from confiscation. (And when corporations are themselves permitted to file for protection as bankrupt, there may even be insulation of the corporate assets.)

It is largely because of this insulation that corporations are sometimes created to be owned by single persons, who have no intention of selling shares. (And those owners may be merely legal persons — corporations most of whose assets are now insulated by a layering of incorporation.) Unlimited liability presents some potentially enormous difficulties for the law when a company has many and variable owners; but, if such limitation is to be granted at all, any sort of minimum number to qualify for that limitation would seem to be arbitrary.

In the case of liabilities to second parties — those who have chosen to do business with the corporation — there is really no problem of morality nor otherwise of economics in limiting those liabilities. The limitations are essentially contractual conditions. (And, historically, some firms have avoided incorporation exactly to get the volume of business and to be able to charge the sorts of prices that a corporation within their industry could not.)

But liabilities to third parties — those who have not contracted with the corporation — are another matter.

An example of a liability to third parties would be a case where an airplane crashed into a residential neighborhood. The owners or residents entered into no agreement waiving damages, but if the assets of the corporation are not sufficient to make those victims whole, typically the other assets of the owners of the corporation are out-of-reach.

Incorporation confiscates the property of third parties. At the least, the right to be compensated in the event of injury is abridged.

Economic efficiency would require that an activity be avoided unless its expected value — that is to say its value accounting for possible outcomes and the various plausibilities of those outcomes — were greater than alternatives. For that to obtain, the activity must be fully insured (either self-insured or by the purchase of insurance through an agency); but, if a party is insulated from liability, then that party has a natural incentive to over-consume risk as a productive factor.

And let us be clear that corporations are a deviation from laissez-faire; free-market corporation is a contradiction-in-terms. Incorporation may be on behalf of some private party, but it is not itself a private act. It is the state that creates corporations. In exchange for registration fees and perhaps for special taxes, the state implicitly confiscates the property of third parties, and enables the owners of the corporation to over-consume risk. Where the sums extracted by the state are less than the cost of full insurance, there is more incentive to incorporate, especially in the cases where the firm is to be owned by a single individual or by a small and stable group of people. And corporate taxes are not indexed to risk. When third parties are injured, officials of the state may present themselves as rescuers or as champions of the victims, but those officials are actually amongst the victimizers. And, since over-all the monies got from registration fees and corporate taxes are less than the corresponding aggregate cost of full insurance, either some third parties injured by corporations must go uncompensated, or taxpayers of some other sort must make good the difference.


When there’s an argument over whether corporations are people, oftentimes each side is simply talking past the other.

Those who insist that corporations are people are not typically expressing a position on whether the law should create such legal persons; rather, they are usually trying to communicate that the burdens imposed upon corporations are ultimately imposed upon people — that nothing that the corporation is compelled to do can be done except that it be done by human beings, and that nothing taken from a corporation is not taken from its ultimate owners, who are people.

Those who insist that corporations are not people are typically arguing that the legal fiction that a firm is a distinct person is unwarranted.

But many of those who assert that corporations are not people go on to insist that, because corporations are not persons, they may be compelled to do things that persons should not be compelled to do, and may be restrained in ways that persons should not be restrained. However, it’s one thing to argue that a corporation as such is not itself a person outside of law and should not be one in the eyes of the law, and entirely another to argue that the acts of corporations are not the acts of any person and that constraints on corporations are not constraints on any people. With the corporation stripped of distinct personhood, the actual persons of the corporation are revealed, not hidden. A willful blindness is then required if they are not seen.

In the face of decisions to which he objected about what was allowed and disallowed for corporations, Bernie Sanders asserted that Ben Cohen were a person and that Jerry Greenfield were a person, but that Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings, Inc., were not a person. But if, while Messrs Cohen And Greenfield still owned that corporation, the law had forbidden the corporation’s doing such things as hiring the homeless or required it to do such things as to devote a percentage of its capacity to the manufacture of munitions, then this imposition would have forbidden them to do these desired things or required them to do these repulsive things, and they would surely have taken that quite personally. Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Holdings was not and is not a person (outside of legal fiction), but it was and is persons and the property of persons. Mr Sanders is willfully blind or a demagogue or both.

They and Mr Sanders might be quite sure that what they wanted to do were right, and that what they didn’t want to do were wrong, but so are the owners of corporations who want to support political candidates or who object to paying for abortifacients. Liberty isn’t simply for those who agree with some of us; it wouldn’t be liberty if it were.

It might be argued that the various constraints placed upon corporations are none-the-less perfectly legitimate, as incorporation were voluntary. But if incorporation creätes a relative advantage for those who incorporate in some industry, then it ipso facto creätes a relative disadvantage for those who do not. Incorporation may then be voluntary only in the sense that participation in that industry in the first place is voluntary. In such a context, insisting that those who incorporate have voluntarily surrendered various rights would be analogous to claiming that carpenters have voluntarily surrendered those same rights.

Don't Bank on It

25 July 2015

This morning, I discovered that a number of attempts in 2012, in ’13, and in ’14 to breach the security of this 'blog came from an IP number assigned to the Federal Reserve Board (132.200.32.34).

No, I don’t think that Bill Bernanke and Janet Yellen wanted to crack my site. Rather, I’m pretty sure that a Fed computer was itself cracked, and was operating as a 'bot, for years. 'Cause that’s how our government rolls.

Musings on Mystery Mail

19 July 2015

On 15 July, there was a slip in my mailbox from the letter carrier, declaring that 71¢ postage were due on an item, which could be redeemed and retrieved at the post office after 09:00 on the next day. I was explicitly named on the slip.

Had this been an item that I’d allegedly sent without sufficient postage then, instead of my just receiving a slip, the item would have been physically returned, with a demand for more postage; so it was something sent to me.

USPS rates for First-Class mail are 49¢ for the first ounce, and 22¢ for each ounce thereafter. So, if someone were to misjudge the weight of an item, then it would be expected to have some integer-multiple of 22¢ too little (or too much) postage. To be 71¢ short, it would most likely have been dropped in the mails unstamped, or had all of its stamps stripped by postal machinery; in the latter case, one expects the stripping to occur sooner rather than later.

The most likely thing would be that this item were without stamps very early in process. And, in that case, it would have been delivered to the return address, with a demand for more postage, if there were a return address; so I guessed that there weren’t. That had me curious.

Very shortly after 09:00 on 16 July, I was at the post office, with the slip. But the postal clerk was unable to find the item, and the carrier was not available. (He or she was probably already out, making deliveries.) The clerk insisted that she would take care of the postage due — I suspect that there were no provision for me to pay postage due on a lost item! — and have the carrier deliver the item.

However, it was not in my box on 17 July, nor on 18 July; it would seem still to be mislaid. So I’m left to conjecture.

for generations to come

4 July 2015

I believe that I last wrote here about what became the Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — in an entry posted on 28 July 2008. I’ve been meaning to write about it since, but I paused to await the outcome of NIFB v Seleblius, and then again to await the outcome of King v Burwell.


To understand what really drove the Democratic Party to pass the Affordable Care Act, one may look at the experience of the Social Security Act (1935).

The programme of old-age benefits — which is what most Americans have in mind when they refer to Social Security — is one that had been failing slowly over the many decades of its existence. Population growth has slowed strikingly, and life-spans have been extended significantly, so that the number of people paying into the system has declined dramatically relative to the number of people to whom payments have been made. At the same time, in various ways the typical payment per individual has been allowed to climb. The tax used to fund it has never collected enough revenue to do so indefinitely. At times, revenues have been much greater than benefits; but, none-the-less, there has never been a moment over the last 50 years or more when the demographics did not show that, within the expected lifetime of a young person, promised benefits would exceed revenues and exhaust whatever had been saved under the revised programme.

Congress did not plan for the old-age benefits programme to fail, slowly or otherwise. Congress simply didn’t take a careful look at the future. The immediate concerns of Congress were to exploit the political gains to be had from promising a pension programme, and to short-circuit political support for the ruinous Townsend Plan.[1] But this slow failure has proved to be hugely rewarding to the party most responsible for effecting the programme.

Because the programme has failed slowly, there was sufficient time for a large share of Americans to become dependent upon it. It was even, for a while, said to be the third rail of American politics — analogous to the rail delivering current to an electrically powered train, in the sense that touching it would prove fatal. As failure has recurringly loomed, Republicans (having increasingly become the party of opposition to the New Deal Coälition) struggled with how to respond to the failure of a programme with such broad support, while the Democratic Party has been able to position itself as rescuer. The slow failure of their creature has been an important part of the success of their party.

Although supporters of the programme often speak and write as if opponents would simply and abruptly withdraw benefits from all recipients, a more common suggestion has been to phase-out the present programme in favor of an overt poverty-relief programme. Thus, for example, those born after some point in time would received reduced benefits — perhaps in some cases no benefits — if they had income or wealth measured above some levels. This idea meets resistance not only from those who would lose benefits, but from those who would then find themselves on welfare.

Younger people, looking at a future tax burden, and perhaps doubtful that the next major reforms will prove sufficient to maintain the programme through their own retirements, are most often open to suggestions of reform. But, as time passes and they age, they find themselves having paid much of the tax that they might earlier have hoped to avoid, so that the principal pecuniary result of a phasing-out would be either to deny them benefits or to place them on welfare. Additionally, as they age, so do their parents, who go from being perhaps middle-aged to being elderly.

A sense may often be retained that they would have been better-off had the programme been phased-out when they were younger,[2] and that those now young would be better-off if the programme were phased-out now. There is, thus, something of the flavor of a sub-optimal Cournot-Nash equilibrium to it all. A lot of people would admit that the programme ought not to have been instituted; but, since it was, and since they would personally be hurt by an attempt to end the programme, they will not assist in an unwinding, and may even actively oppose an unwinding.

And, so, they are increasingly inclined to support the Democratic Party, which continues to promise to do whatever is necessary to keep the programme going.


The Affordable Care Act was intended to creäte another slowly failing programme with a large number of people dependent upon it. There was no illusion on the part of most of those who voted for the Act that this programme would be the one exception in the history of large state programmes. They might not know the core reason that such programmes perform so badly, but they’ve had plenty of observations of failures. As with the Social Security old-age benefits, each time that failure loomed for Obamacare, the Democratic Party could position themselves as rescuers of the programme and thus of the people dependent upon it in order to receive medical treatment. And the Republican Party would again be forced to choose between protecting their brand and protecting their jobs. The public might perhaps conclude that they would have been better-off had the programme not been brought into existence in the first place, but they’d see themselves now being made still worse-off in any unwinding, however an unwinding might benefit later cohorts.

Indeed, when the President acted to preserve the programme by ignoring the plain wording of the law, a large part of the defense of his action was that a substantial number of people had become dependent upon the programme. Even a great many people who had been insured, at lower cost, previous to the programme could have suddenly found themselves uninsured, and the programme was defended on the basis of a dependency that it had induced amongst those people. Meanwhile, the Republican Party, though returned to power largely because of voter discontent with the programme, has been widely criticized for not agreeing upon some view as to how health care ought to be allocated, and then presenting that view to the public. Many Republicans essentially propose adopting a position they are just stuck with Obamacare, since the Supreme Court has twice now refused to stop it.

However, Obamacare is not a slowly failing programme; it is a rapidly failing programme.

In my entry of 28 July 2008, I explained that the programme was effectively to tax the insurance policies of the healthy in order to subsidize the unhealthy; and that, in the absence of compulsion, the healthy would not insure, causing premia to spiral upward.

In order to make passage of the law politically palatable, the compulsion was relatively weak. The annual penalty for failure to buy insurance is well less than the cost of insurance, and the IRS is forbidden to attempt to collect the penalty (if not paid voluntarily) except by reducing the annual tax refunds of those against whom it is charged. I suspect that the Democratic leadership had some awareness that this penalty structure was going to be inadequate, but were thinking of this weak compulsion as the camel’s nose — they planned to get the rest of the beast into the tent in some later session, with higher penalties and more freedom of action for the IRS. They didn’t understand that they’d lose control of one chamber in the very next election.

So, indeed, many of the relatively healthy chose not to buy insurance, despite repeated extensions of the buying period. And, as a consequence, premia are going to rise by more than 10%. This increase makes insurance a bad buy for an even larger group of people, who will choose not to buy insurance next year. That will cause a further rise in premia. And so forth. Premia should be expected to increase by more than 10% every year, until the programme implodes as affordable insurance moves out of reach for a huge share of people. (With annual increases of more than 10%, premia would more than double over just eight years, but I do not expect the programme to survive to a doubling of premia!)

There was talk of how, if King v Burwell were decided against the President, Obamacare would go into a death spiral. In fact it was already in a death spiral. King v Burwell could have accelerated that sharply; if the spiral were faster, then the health-care system would have been less distorted by Obamacare, and the unwinding would thus be injurious to fewer people.

The sooner that it were admitted that Obamacare were in a death spiral, the sooner that a drum might be beaten for toughening penalties upon those who refuse to buy insurance. (Or for kicking the insurance companies to the curb, and establishing a more explicitly socialistic system.) But the President is not a man to admit to mistakes, nor do supporters want to admit to yet more deep problems in a programme that has already had many embarassments, as such an admission would increase skepticism. Further, the elected Republicans are unlikely to alienate their base by acting to pull Obamacare out of a death spiral any time soon, though most of them might do so from expediency were Obamacare to last-out a decade.


[1] The Townsend Plan, advanced by Francis Everett Townsend beginning in 1933, was that each person in the United States over the age of 60 years were to be given a monthly pension of $200, conditional upon a requirement that the entire $200 be spent within a month. The theory was that this spending would result in an increase in economic activity that would, in turn, effectively pay for the pensions.

I won’t endorse simply claiming that, since the CPI is now about 30 times that in 1933, $200 then would be equivalent to about $6 000 to-day. (Comparisons of so-called price levels becomes increasingly problematic as time-spans become longer.) None-the-less, one should see that a $200 monthly pension would have been rather breath-taking.

The Townsend Plan was supported by a very large number of people, and was especially popular amongst those over or approaching the age of 60 years, and amongst those economically responsible for the support of older people.

[2] This sense will be especially acute amongst those who understand that the Social Security old-age benefits crowd-out investment-savings for retirement. With reduced investment, the economy grows at a diminished rate.

Dying Asymptotically

2 July 2015

It seems as if most economists do not know how to handle death.

What I here mean is not that they don’t cope well with the deaths of loved ones or with their own mortality — though I suspect that they don’t. What I mean is that their models of the very long-run are over-simply conceived and poorly interpretted when it comes to life-spans.

In the typical economic model of the very long-run, agents either live forever, or they live some fixed span of time, and then die. Often, economists find that a model begins to fit the real world better if they change it from assuming that people live that fixed amount of time to assuming that people live forever, and some economists then conclude that people are irrationally assuming their own immortality.

Here’s a better thought. In the now, people are quite sure that they are alive. They are less sure about the next instant, and still less sure about the instant after that. The further that they think into the future, the less their expectation of being alive … but there is no time at which most people are dead certain that their lives will have ended. (If I asked you, the reader, how it might be possible for you to be alive in a thousand years, chances are that you could come up with some scenario.)

On the assumption that personalistic probabilities may be quantified, then, imputed probabilities of being alive, graphed against time, would approach some minimum asymptotically. My presumption would be that the value thus approached would be 0 — that most people would have almost no expectation of being alive after some span of years. But it would never quite be zero.

While I’m sure that some models will only work on the assumption that people impute absolute certainty to being alive forever, I suspect that an awful lot of models will work simply by accepting that most people embrace neither that madness nor the madness of absolute certainty that they will be dead at some specific time. Other models may need a more detailed description of the probability function.

As I’ve perhaps said or implied somewhere in this 'blog; I don’t think that real-life probabilities are usually quantified; I would therefore be inclined to resist adopting a model with quantified probabilities, though such toys can be very useful heuristics. The weaker notion that probabilities are an incomplete preördering would correspond to some weaker notion than an asymptotic approach, but I haven’t given much thought to what it would be.

An Error of Multiplicities

30 June 2015

Imagine a nation containing two jurisdictions, A and B. Imagine further that the population of jurisdiction A divides neatly into two groups: 51%, who oppose and do not receive transfer benefits from the federal state; and 49%, who receive such benefits (whatever their expressed beliefs). Imagine also that the population of jurisdiction B divides neatly into two groups: 67%, who support but do not do not receive transfer benefits from the federal state; and 33%, who receive such benefits (whatever their expressed beliefs).

The majority in jurisdiction A oppose transfer benefits; yet a higher share of people in that jurisdiction draw benefits than in jurisdiction B, where a majority support such programmes. None-the-less, these figures provide no evidence of hypocrisy in jurisdiction A. Possibly no one there who draws benefits speaks out against them or works to prevent others from receiving them.

In the real world, things are messier. (There’d be six relevant types of people.) But I sometimes see it argued that the people of certain jurisdictions are hypocrites simply on the basis that a majority there oppose some set of entitlement programmes, while at the same time a higher share of the population in that district (than of populations in other districts) draw benefits from that set. The hypothetical case above illustrates the fallacy of that argument.

If we had just one jurisdiction, in which a majority opposed some set of benefits yet a large share of people drew those benefits, the idea that there were some sort of hypocrisy wouldn’t naturally arise, unless it were suggested that a majority drew those same benefits. Knowing about other jurisdictions doesn’t tell one what one needs to know about that one jurisdiction. But many people get befuddled by the multiplicity, especially when the narrator tells them what they are predisposed to believe.

(There’s here also another, perhaps more important fallacy, which I discussed in an entry more than five years ago. People who do not believe that some order should prevail can participate in that order without being hypocrites. It is when they deliberately act to sustain an order against which they express themselves that they are acting as hypocrites.)

A Monumental Error

29 June 2015

Imagine that, under some law passed long ago, some group of persons was able to take $10 000 from you, without your consent. Further imagine that they spent this money on a statue of your beloved dog, Earl, and presented it to you.

The statue is actually rather nice. The artist truly managed to convey Earl’s personality! Setting aside what it cost you, you’d like it a great deal. And, if you’d tried to have one made like it, it would perhaps have cost you $20 000, rather than $10 000. (They have many statues made, and get each at significant discount.)

None-the-less, you don’t like it as much as you’d like $20 000; you don’t like it as much as you’d like to have kept your $10 000. And no one else is willing to pay $10 000 for a statue of your dog.

Most of us would say that you’re entitled to feel yourself worse-off, not-withstanding that, by some accounting, you’ve got a $20 000 return on a $10 000 cost.

Yet officials and other citizens who complain about Federal tax burdens (or about intervention in general from the Federal government) are often mocked as supposed hypocrites if they come from jurisdictions in which the Federal government spends more than it takes in revenue. The principle may be exactly the same. Even if the Federal government delivers money (rather than commodities) to the constituent state, if it requires that the money be spent in a particular way, then this is like compelling someone to buy a statue of Earl. And the constituent states were not themselves the taxpayers, so giving those states money without mandates still leaves people with reason to feel aggrieved, even when the money is more than that taken from taxpayer. (It is not as if each constituent state has just one taxpayer who is also its one voter, able then to direct how the money be spent.)

A Symmetry

24 June 2015

The following advice has become rather common-place:

If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, they’re yours; if they don’t, they never were.

I want to note something about the logick of this formula.

To return is to have gone; implicit in the words come back is that distance develops, whether actively or passively. And, indeed, if neither of two people makes an effort to stay connected, that is what one expects to happen.

If two people each apply the rule of setting the other free and of then awaiting the return of the other, it will not be love but chance-coïncidence or a conspiracy of others or perhaps some action of the collective unconscious that brings them back together — if anything does at all. The formula as popularly given strikes me as potentially very destructive to the purposes of love.

Now, that doesn’t mean that each of two people in love should do entirely the opposite, and attempt to constrain the other person by threats or by impairments. Rather, one wants to empower the other person, yet hope that he or she stays, so that there is no coming back. And, typically, that hope should be expressed to the other person.

But, sometimes, one watches one’s love go away, and prays for a return.

The Instituted Unconscious

22 June 2015

An institution is a persistent organizing practice or relationship within a culture. When most people hear or read the word institution, they think first of a sort of an organization, somewhat like a firm though typically for some purpose other than pursuit of pecuniary profit. But, really, the scope is much wider, which is how one may, for example, speak or write of the institution of marriage.

Economists and other social thinkers recognize as institutions a great many practices and relationships that most people don’t conceptualize as such. For example, languages are institutions; markets are institutions, and monies are institutions within those institutions; professional codes of ethics are institutions; and so forth.

Any given society is exactly a society, rather than merely some selection of people, to the extent that it is characterized by institutions.

Institutions can be hard to see as institutions; they can be hard to see at all. That which pervasively informs our thinking can be invisible for lack of contrast. The fact that a competent social thinker will recognize institutions that most people over-look does not mean that any given social thinker will recognize all the institutions of the society that he or she observes, or in which he or she participates. Rather, I do not think that any social thinker manages to attain such a profound awareness. If there is a meaning to most here, then I think that none of us sees most of the institutions. We participate in them, we use them, but we are unconscious of them.

Although one might imagine some outside agency acting to preserve an institution, more typically a practice or relationship will be persistent to the extent that it is self-perpetuating. It might be self-perpetuating in some fairly direct manner, or it might be thus simply by conferring some advantage on those who adopt it. Something that behaves in a self-perpetuating manner can seem to be purposeful. There are, in fact, some who would insist that a thing that behaves in a self-perpetuating manner truly is purposeful, but I don’t want to enter into that debate here. Whether it be purpose or something that merely seems like purpose, there may not be any person to whom one could point and properly say that the purpose were his or were hers. Perhaps no individual wants the institution perpetuated — in some cases[1] participants may actually want an end to the institution — but acting through people the institution perpetuates itself.

So my claim is that we live and act within a rich frame-work of practices and relationships, largely unrecognized, that affect and effect events as if with purposes distinct from our own.

This concept may be related to various things.

In Jungian theory, there is postulated a collective unconscious, which is a set of structures of the unconscious mind, shared amongst animals to the extent that they are biologically related. In general, these structures include instincts; in humans, they also include symbols (called archetypes). Jung believed that the collective unconscious was dormant in the zygote; so that a person whose biological parents were of one ethnic group but who were raised from birth by members of another would have the collective unconscious of the biological parents, rather than of the family in which he or she were raised. I assert that this collective unconscious does not exist; but that something rather like it does, with the very important difference that it is transmitted experientially. The actual collective unconscious is the aforementioned unrecognized institutional frame-work.

Evolutionary psychology, also known as sociobiology, has sought to explain behavior (including human behavior) in terms of some habits leading to more reproductive success than do others. That much is surely part of a proper explanation of human behavior, but these theorists have had a propensity to insist or to presume that the mechanism of transmission is in the DNA of the chromosomes or of the mitochondria. (In this commitment, they have been rather like the Jungians.) After entirely too much delay, some of them acknowledged that cultures as such could be affected by evolutionary pressures. They developed the notion that Richard Dawkins called the meme,[2] and that EO Wilson grotesquely called the culgen (or something like that),[3] which was that of a culturally transmitted, self-perpetuating pattern, somewhat analogous to the chromosomal and mitochondrial genes. These patterns are institutions, viewed individually. We would be consciously aware of some of these patterns, but by no means of all.

Some people are convinced that all events are effected to some purpose, a thought typically expressed as Everything happens for a reason. This claim surely goes too far, but one could see how observing many events that seemed to happen towards a purpose, which purpose was not that of any one of us, could suggest a theory that all reälized outcomes were in some sense intended.

Others do not necessarily think that all events are effected to some purpose; but, perceiving in some events apparent purposefulness that cannot plausibly be imputed to any ordinary person, take this apparent purposefulness as evidence that events have been or are being guided an extraordinary person — G_d. As a metaphor, this works rather well, though the impersonal G_d of Spinoza would be a better fit for the institutional framework; but, in any case, the apparent purposefulness is not good evidence for the involvement of a literal G_d.

Where many believers have been too quick to see the work of G_d, many non-believers have been too quick to see mere chance-coïncidence. But teasing-out the difference between that which is mere accident from that which works to the purposes or quasi-purposes of a frame-work of unrecognized parts is at best extremely difficult, if not impossible. A pattern can be found in any data set, and from it the number of super-patterns that may potentially be extrapolated are infinite. Additionally, most of us want to find significance in our lives, which biases us to see not only purposes but particular sorts of purposes behind events.


[1] For example, sub-optimal Cournot-Nash equilibria.

[2] Largely due to laziness and misunderstanding, this word came thereafter to have its popular meaning of any sort of widely spread expression.

[3] It’s appalling how little philological sense is now had by otherwise educated people.

Preserve the Proxies!

22 June 2015

Under the original ethos of the ‘Net, those who registered domain names were required to make publicly available their contact information.

A technical loop-hole was found. One party could register a domain name, and that party could provide its own contact information; yet the party could allow (and perhaps even be contractually required to allow) some other party to use the domain name for its own ends. So the technical registrant was a proxy agent for the practical holder. This loop-hole was challenged, but ultimately allowed to remain.

Now pressure is being brought upon ICANN to prohibit proxies for what are deemed commercial sites. The primary motivation appears to be to help firms identify and pursue those who infringe upon trademarks and other intellectual property. (At present, they would have to get a court order requiring the proxy service to release the identity of the practical holder.)

I think that this effort should be strongly resisted. At the time that the use of proxies began, I had mixed feelings about it. But use of the Internet and of the World-Wide Web has evolved, and evolved within the context of this proxied registration being an accepted practice. A rule-change now would impose new costs — sometimes quite significant — on many people, the vast majority of whom are quite innocent of any trespass on intellectual property. Further, I note that most of those who are deliberate in their infringements are unlikely to have qualms about using using proxies that simply claim to be practical holders.

You may want to read ICANN‘s discussion of the matter

Comments may be sent to comments-ppsai-initial-05may15@icann.org before 7 July.