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Information monopolies may be established not only by staking monopoly claims over information content through intellectual property rights (IPR), but also by controlling the hardware infrastructure for manipulating or distributing information. This infrastructure includes computer centers, voice and data switching centers, communication lines, television and radio stations, satellite networks, cable networks, cellular networks, printing presses, moviehouses, etc. Like their software counterparts, the owners of the hardware infrastructure make money through monopoly rents, in the form of subscription fees or per-use charges.
Because they earn their incomes from monopoly rents, the propertied classes of the information sectors are rentier classes. They are the landlords of cyberspace, or cyberlords. The content monopolies are owned by information cyberlords, and the infrastructure monopolies are owned by industrial cyberlords.
Because they earn their incomes from monopoly rents, the propertied classes of the information sectors are rentier classes.
The richest man in the world, as well as several others among the 10 richest, is a cyberlord. The economic powers of cyberlords are immense, and these powers are increasingly being felt in the political and diplomatic arena. Among U.S. negotiators, for instance, IPR-the mechanism which gives software cyberlords their power-is invariably a non-negotiable item in their agenda. It is the partnership between information cyberlords, industrial cyberlords, and finance capitalists which is at the core of the third wave of globalization.
The products of industrial and agricultural economies are material goods; the products of an information economy, however, are non-material goods. The reproduction cost of information goods is very low. This has led to the widespread social practice of freely sharing and exchanging information. On the other hand, it also promises extremely high profit margins, if the seller can monopolize information. Information monopolies have become the main form of ownership in the information sector. The high profit margins that they realize have led to a continuous movement of investment capital towards the information sector, eventually making it the dominant sector of the economy and transforming the economy into an information economy.
First to Third Waves: A Comparison
Let us compare the emergence of the global information economy with the two previous waves of globalization:
- The first wave was after slaves, previous metals and lands for raising export crops; the second wave was after new investment acquisitions, sources of raw materials and labor, and industrial markets. The third wave is after sources of mental labor, sources of information raw materials, and markets for information products. This is why the World Trade Organization (WTO) pushed very hard to conclude as soon as possible the agreements on information technology, telecommunications and financial services.
- The third wave requires freer movement of information across national boundaries. This has helped erode further the power of the State. Global corporations are now assuming the dominant role in the State-corporate partnership, in close collaboration with supra-national institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the WTO.
Because of the huge disparity in costs, trade between information economies and other economies become even more unequal.
- In addition to the earlier forms of wealth extraction practised during the first and second waves, new forms emerge or old forms acquire new importance. Monopoly rents become the main form of wealth extraction. Because of the huge disparity in costs, trade between information economies and other economies become even more unequal. Compare, for instance, a CDROM which might sell for $300, but whose production cost is around $3, to a typical Philippine product like sugar, which might sell for 15¢ per pound. Much of the $300in the price of 2,000 pounds of sugar would barely cover the cost of production, while much of the $300in the price of a CDROM would be profit. Royalties from intellectual property rights (IPRs) and other income from information rents assume major significance; technology makes possible high-speed, finely-tuned financial speculation. As the importance of the nation-state recedes, corporations are able to purchase State assets and public properties at bargain prices.
- New technologies of exploitation are introduced. Advanced information and communications technologies make possible the convergence of media, entertainment, data, and communications. The application of information technology to genetic engineering and biotechnologies has transformed these fields and made them fertile areas for information monopolies, best illustrated by the patenting of life forms.
- As the global information infrastructure now being constructed reach the remotest corners of our countries, we will be further flooded with all kinds of junk culture, easily accessible with a few keystrokes, and the homogenization of our cultures will reach new levels. The reckless experimentation with new life forms in the race to introduce new commercial biotechnology products and services will lead to biological pollution from genetically-modified organisms. Their potential for damage will be infinitely greater than chemical pollutants because these organisms can reproduce by themselves, mutate and evolve. Driven by the logic of profit-making and rent-seeking, biotechnology will pose the greatest threat to human health and survival.
The global information economy will also enable those with vast resources to concentrate wealth further into their hands. To illustrate this capacity for super-exploitation, imagine a corporation which can afford to automate its international financial transactions so that its computers could do a round-the-clock, unattended scan of the global financial markets for opportunities, make decisions automatically, and conclude a financial transaction within three seconds or a buy-then-sell transaction pair within six seconds.
What we face here is really a new personification of greed, one that has freed itself of distracting human feelings like love, compassion, charity, guilt, fear and other emotions, leaving only pure greed, unencumbered and free to pursue singlemindedly the one and only thing that motivates it: profit.
Who but the largest financial conglomerates would have the resources to set up and maintain such automated, round-the-clock facilities with a global reach? We had better think again, those among us who believe that the Third World can leap-frog second wave economies and ride the third wave by surfing the web or by selling our agricultural and manufacturing commodities and our cheaper labor over the Internet. What we face here is really a new personification of greed, one that has freed itself of distracting human feelings like love, compassion, charity, guilt, fear and other emotions, leaving only pure greed, unencumbered and free to pursue singlemindedly the one and only thing that motivates it: profit. It is the search for profit by global corporations that is powering the whole process.
These corporations have even acquired their own rights, which are often more favorably recognized than the rights of real persons. They have learned to nourish themselves and to grow by feeding on nature, people, and information. They have become increasingly aggressive in asserting their freedoms ("liberalization"), overcoming government controls ("deregulation") and in taking over government activities ("privatization").
Corporations had earlier shared global rule with governments. Now, they want to rule it by themselves ("globalization").
The colonization of our countries that began in the 16th century hasn't really stopped. It has just changed forms, coming in waves of globalization that intrude into our communities, impose their unwanted rule, and squeeze the wealth out of our people and environment. With each improvement in technology, with each transformation of capital, a new way of extracting wealth from our shores is employed, continually enriching those who control the technology and our economy while impoverishing us, destroying local livelihoods, ravaging our natural resources, and poisoning our environment.
A Green Response
We can learn from some of the responses of social movements which have confronted specific issues involving the information economy. An illustrative set of responses can be seen in the program of the Philippine Greens for a non-monopolistic information sector. The following are the major elements of this program (Society, Ecology and Transformation, the Philippine Greens, 1997):
- 1. The right to know. It is the government's duty to inform its citizens about matters that directly affect them, their families or their communities. Citizens have the right to access these information. The State may not use 'national security', 'confidentiality of commercial transactions', or 'trade secret' reasons to curtail this right.
2. The right to privacy. The government will refrain from probing the private life of its citizens. Citizens have the right to access information about themselves which have been collected by government agencies. The government may not centralize these separate databases by building a central database or by adopting a unified access key to the separate databases. Nobody will be forced against their will to reveal any information they do not want to make public.
3. No patenting of life forms. The following, whether or not modified by human intervention, may not be patented: life forms, biological and microbiological materials, biological and microbiological processes.
4. The moral rights of intellectuals. Those who actually created an intellectual work or originated an idea have the right to be recognized that they did so. Nobody may claim authorship of works or ideas they did not originate. No one can be forced to release or modify a work or idea if he/she is not willing to do so. These and other moral rights of intellectuals will be respected and protected.
5. The freedom to share. The freedom to share and exchange information and knowledge will be recognized and protected. This freedom will take precedence over the information monopolies such as intellectual property rights (IPR) that the State grants to intellectuals.
6. Universal access. The government will facilitate universal access by its citizens to the world's storehouse of knowledge. Every community will be enabled to have access to books, cassettes, videos, tapes, software, radio and TV programs, etc. The government will set up a wide range of training and educational facilities to enable community members to continually expand their knowhow and knowledge.
7. Compulsory licensing. Universal access to information content is best implemented through compulsory licensing. Under this internationally-practiced mechanism, the government itself licenses others to copy patented or copyrighted material for sale to the public, but compels the licensees to pay the patent or copyright holder a government-set royalty fee. This mechanism is a transition step towards non-monopolistic payments for intellectual activity.
8. Public stations. Universal access to information infrastructure is best implemented through public access stations, charging at subsidized rates. These can include well-stocked public libraries; public telephone booths; community facilities for listening to or viewing training videos, documentaries, and the classics; public facilities for telegraph and electronic mail; educational radio and TV programs; and public access stations to computer networks."
9. The best lessons of our era. While all knowledge and culture should be preserved and stored for posterity, we need to distill the best lessons of our era, to be taught-not sold-to the next generations. This should be a conscious, socially-guided selection process, undertaken with the greatest sensitivity and wisdom. It is not something that can be left to a profit-oriented educational system, circulation-driven mass media, or consumption-pushing advertising."
As the Philippine Green program indicates, one of the tasks of such struggles is to develop a non-monopolistic information sector, where intellectual activity is rewarded through non-monopolistic mechanisms which are more consistent with the social nature of information. This will involve a radical rethinking of property concepts in the information sector, reinforcing similar demands for property restructuring in the industrial and agriculture sectors.
How we rise up to this challenge will determine whether our children and grandchildren will live as neo-slaves under a global system as cruel and heartless as the colonial system of old, or as free citizens living in communities where knowledge and culture are again freely-shared social assets, where industrial machinery is appropriately designed to serve and not to enslave human labor, and where ecology is the organizing principle in agriculture.
There is one final lesson, among so many, that our own colonial past teaches us. The first Spanish colony was set up in the Philippines in 1565. Over the next three centuries, colonization would encroach on most of the archipelago, except the Muslims of Mindanao and the upland indigenous tribes. Isolated rebellions would occur but could not shake Spanish rule. In 1864, a public manifesto by a Filipino priest began a Propaganda Movement, which eventually awakened our people's anti-colonial consciousness. In 1896, a full-scale revolution broke out. By 1898, the revolution had for all intents and purposes defeated Spanish colonialism.
It took some 300 years before we Filipinos shook off the colonial mentality that immobilized most of our people and made them vulnerable to Spanish rule. The campaign for the Filipino mind took another 30 years to win. Within three years of anti-colonial armed struggle against Spain, victory was in sight.
The struggle to unmask the colonial monster was 10 to 100 times more difficult than the struggle to bring it down.
Let us keep this lesson in mind today, when we are yet at the early stages of unmasking the monster of globalization. Let not the seeming immensity of this task cloud our vision of the future, when our communities and nations shall at last be free to chart their own destinies guided by the principles of ecology, social justice and self-determination.