Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"Jurisdiction as Property" makes the SSRN Top Ten List

I'm happy to announce that my paper "Jurisdiction as Property" made the top 10 list for all time most dowloaded papers in legal history on the Social Science Research Network, the standard site for posting scholarly legal papers here in the U.S. Alas, the number of downloads is not quite as overwhelming as this suggests -- academic interest in the crucially important area of legal history is depressingly small -- but then again they are not counting the larger number of downloads of the paper from my own web site. Here's my brief description of the paper:
In medieval and renaissance England jurisdictions were often held as property. Relationships between these jurisdictions were property relations. The basic laws of jurisdiction were trespass and title. Infringement of a jurisdiction was a trespass, and abuse of a defendant by a court could be a trespass. In addition, the king could use his writ of right to challenge title to a franchise. In determining title, a crucial idea was seisin, which for franchises generally meant proper and continual use, and for jurisdictions in particular came to mean the following of proper procedure. Defense of trespass by and seisin of a franchise court came to imply obligations of protecting individual rights and serving the public good as well as private gain. Thus the property relations between franchises played a significant role in the development of English jurisdictional and procedural law.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ron Paul, Internet culture, and the new generation gap

Ron Paul scored a respectable, if hardly leading, 10% among Republicans in the Iowa caucus,and will probably garner an even higher share of the vote in New Hampshire. (For my overseas readers, the United States is currently in the "primary elections" which determine the nominees of each party for the next President of the United States). Yet, at one extreme, traditional media has rarely mentioned Paul, considering him to be an unthinkably fringe candidate, while judging from the Internet buzz you'd think that Ron Paul was the leading Republican candidate. Google trends shows that "Ron Paul" (A, in light blue) has for the last few months been searched for on the Internet more than any of the other major Republican candidates, and "Huckabee"(red) the second most:

The large Internet presence of Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee is confirmed by the number of mentions as indicated by Yahoo search results:

"Ron Paul" 52.5 million
"Mike Huckabee" 32.4 million
"Mitt Romney" 28.6 million
"John McCain" 26.5 million
"Rudy Giuliani" (+ "Rudolph") 22.5 million
"Fred Thompson" 18.3 million

This vast discrepancy between Paul's Internet presence and his traditional media presence has given rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories, for example that the mainstream media's polls are rigged against Paul, or that the Ron Paul effect is just a spam campaign being run by some eccentric millionaire. (In fact, while there may be a bias against cellphone-only young voters from doing landline polls, the 7.3% mean of polls was within the margin of error of Paul's actual 10%, and Google and Yahoo to protect their ad revenues go to great lengths to prevent spam from rigging search results). But there is something interesting, and far bigger than any particular candidate or ideology, going on.

CNN entrance polls from Iowa showed the following vote distribution among 17-29 yearolds: Huckabee 40%, Romney 22%, Paul 21%, McCain 7%, Giuliani 5%, Thompson 4%. Paul garnered more than twice the support of this demographic than he did among older age groups. I expect Paul to come in second among the under-29s in New Hampshire, behind Romney but ahead of Huckabee and McCain, but to rank below most of these candidates in older age groups.

Here's a very oversimplified theory, but one worth thinking about: mainstream media is Baby Boomers and old people, and Internet is young people. By "is" I mean both the producers and the consumers of the media. And, as with the "generation gap" in the 1960s, they mostly don't talk to each other. (Along the same lines, the 1960s generation gap may have had much to do with television. But that's a story for another day). Furthermore, as with the monk's scribal culture versus the new print culture during the Renaissance and Reformation, and as with pre-1960s versus post-1960s culture, traditional media culture and Internet culture are very different cultures with very different views of the world. (Ironically, Ron Paul himself is an old codger like John McCain and Fred Thompson. He seems to be as surprised as anybody else about his support, which seems from the point of view of traditional media culture to have come out of nowhere).

One could have used Internet search and result figures months ago to predict stronger showings by Huckabee and Paul than polls then showed, and especially to predict their relative strength among youth. The Fox/talk radio axis ignore Paul and dump on Huckabee, not so much intentionally (they do have some reasons of self-interest to do so, but that's beyond the scope of this post) as out of habitual cultural and generational differences and the simple fact that they and their audiences are not very aware of Internet culture and the fading of their mass media culture as being representative of conservatism.

Mass media, both left and right, have long assumed their overwhelming influence on elections from selecting politicians for coverage. Although that influence remains very strong, the desertion of the young to the Internet is starting to erode that king-making power, and will erode it further in future elections. Paul's message of extremely small federal government, in particular, is very threatening to federal government employees and the journalists who habitually socialize with those employees and depend on them for stories. In the past this has been evidenced by the mainstream media coverage given to the Libertarian Party (to which Paul's message most closely hews) -- i.e. by the practically complete lack of any such coverage. In the past Paul's message of adhering to the U.S. Constitution's enumeration of a handful of federal powers, which include neither welfare handouts nor wars undeclared by Congress, though entirely mainstream in terms of U.S. history, would have achieved no media coverage except being the butt of occasional jokes about "whackos". Now not only have the "whacko" yuks greatly increased and gotten shrill (methinks they protest too much!), but some serious coverage of Paul has started to occur as well. (Most of the latter, though, has been from left wing journalists who consider Paul's anti-war message to be mainstream). As for Huckabee, his southern Baptist evangelism, perceived by non-evangelists to be uncompromsising, is very alien and threatening to the owners, advertisers, and journalists in right-wing media, very few of whom are southern Baptists. (There is much evidence of this religious war within the right wing -- another example was the right wing media attack on the Harriet Myers nomination to the Supreme Court -- but that thread is beyond the scope of this post).

Admittedly, there are also other things going on with the Internet results, such as Paul's popularity among technology entrepreneurs and workers who, along with young people, are more likely to use the Internet for political discussion and to learn about the candidates. But the growing gap between Internet and mass media cultures, which is also in part a generation gap, should not be underestimated. Fueled by the Internet, I expect these gaps to grow more severe, and political ideologies and other cultural norms to trend more towards the developing Internet culture, in the coming years.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

In what ways does your vote count?

In what ways does your vote count? Should you vote for the candidate you most agree with or for the least objectionable candidate who can win? I can't put it any better than this comment by Mark Bahner, which deserves its own blog post:
...I don't think my one vote can't change the course of a presidential election, I know it can't, to greater than 99.99+ percent certainty.

So why vote? For the same reason that some people (I admit I'm not one of them) agree to respond to Nielson TV-watching polls.

It's a poll. And for the president, your one vote can't possibly change who gets elected. (This is in contrast to local politics, in which a school bond in my parents town actually finished with a tie, with some 10,000+ votes cast.)

That's why it makes sense (if you're going to vote at all) to vote for the presidential candidate who is closest to your political views. If you are a libertarian, there is only one libertarian running in either party. That's Ron Paul. Mitt Romney is not even in the same league, stadium, or country as Ron Paul, as a libertarian. Ron Paul is a libertarian. Mitt Romney is not. And neither is any other other Democratic and Republican candidate.

The main thing you do with a vote is send a signal to political players about your views. The second thing you do with a vote is create a power bloc with which other candidates may have to negotiate and compromise. Very far down on the list of things your vote might be good for is changing who wins. Only for this last inconsequential reason to vote is the "they can't win" argument relevant. If you are not voting for the candidate you most agree with, regardless of their chances of winning, you truly are throwing away your vote.