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Working Paper #21

What Larry Doesn’t Get
A Libertarian Response to Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace


Abstract: Lawrence Lessig’s Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace is an important book, critical reading for anyone interested in the future of Internet policy. It is a dense and multi-layered indictment of the net.libertarian’s fondness for what Lessig calls ‘policy-making by the invisible hand’; left to itself, Lessig argues, commercial forces will gain control over the architectures of cyberspace, and cyberspace will fail to realize its profound promise and will become a place of ‘perfect control.’ For Lessig, the choices that cyberspace forces on us are the stuff of politics, not markets; we need more politics, not less, if we are to preserve fundamental ‘constitutional’ values in this new space. While there is much that is thought-provoking and at times even profound in Lessig’s analysis, I suggest in this essay a number of reasons why Lessig’s larger argument fails to persuade, foremost among them his unwarranted exaltation of ‘collective’ decision-making and his unwillingness to accept the virtues of uncoordinated, bottom-up spontaneous order as a means of allowing policy to develop in an uncoerced manner in cyberspace.

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