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If like me you're sometimes confused or annoyed by the way "neoliberal" has become a pejorative shorthand for centrist, technocratic policymakers, the recent behavior of ICANN provides an illuminating case study for why a lot of people feel that way.
ICANN controls the domain name system and delegates control of domains like .com and .org to other companies. It had rules restricting these companies from jacking up prices, but has been phasing them out.
This summer ICANN removed price limits for the .org domain, run by the nonprofit Internet Society, despite overwhelming opposition from the Internet community—3,000+ comments opposed, just 6 in favor. arstechnica.com/tech-policy/20…
One of those six supportive comments came from Shane Tews, who is a "visiting fellow" at the American Enterprise Institute. She wrote that it was "an opportunity to move to more market-based pricing in the domain name space and away from arbitrary price caps."
Tews is also—surprise!—a former lobbyist for Verisign, the company that runs the .com domain. Verisign would profit hugely if ICANN eliminated the price cap for the .com domain as it has done for .org.
Her argument about "market-based pricing" doesn't make sense because the Internet Society has a monopoly over the .org domain. Yes, you can register at another TLD for a new group, but if your group has had the same .org domain for 20 years you're not going to change it.
Now—surprise!—the Internet Society has decided to sell the .org domain to a private equity group. The private equity group is—surprise!—linked to former ICANN executives. arstechnica.com/tech-policy/20…
So to sum up, we've got a group of people using free-market rhetoric to justify privatizing a public resource. Coincidentally, the people pushing the change have a number of ties to people or organizations who are likely to profit from it.
Many of the people pushing this seem to sincerely believe that they're pursuing good, technocratic, market-oriented reforms to the domain name system.
Part of the neoliberal ideology is a social norm that insiders shouldn't criticize other insiders for this kind of thing.
You're supposed to pretend that industry-funded think tanks are impartial sources of expertise and that former corporate lobbyists are perfect choices for regulatory jobs because they're experts in their fields.
And this allows the people who get rich from this kind of arrangement to convince themselves that they earned their money based on their managerial competence and technocratic expertise, not due to their connections and low ethical standards.
And in some cases it's true! Modern societies do need technocratic experts and competent managers. Those are rare skills and people who have them should be compensated well. But maybe not this well, and maybe not in a way that undermines trusting public institutions
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