Trust me, I’m an expert

by Ben Kamis

Given such phenomena as the dramatic leaks of the last decade, the vibrant and inflammatory discourse about 'cyberwar' and the conflation of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement with the 'backbone of the European economy', regulation of what the Internet is supposed to be and what people are allowed to do in it is always and everywhere about security, whether users like it or not. And that regulation comes from people, special people we like to think of as experts.

Experts: the dream

Experts: the dream | public domain

Therefore, it's interesting to note that a new 'Global Commission on Internet Governance' was established last week to sell ideas about how to manage the Internet and cybersecurity, and it includes some of the most respected names in international relations and International Relations.* For example, the chair of the commission is Carl Bildt, who was Sweden's foreign minister for several years, when he helped to get Sweden into the EU, and he was heavily involved in the Balkan 'peace process', representing both the EU and the UN. Joseph Nye is also on the board, and he was a big academic - run-the-department-at-Harvard big, as well as serving in executive positions in the American state and defence departments. It also includes Mathias Müller von Blumencron, who is the editor-in-chief of the FAZ, the conservative German newspaper** of record.

Okay, so what does this tell us? First, the commission is intended to make an impact. This isn't an academic exercise, because you wouldn't need individuals with such connections merely to get published in an academic journal. Any idiot can do that (and trust me, they do). No, you hire powerful people in order to influence other powerful people. Second, the commission ain't cheap. I didn't dare inquire about what Bildt charges for an hour, but he's listed on at least two public speaker agency websites, though neither names a price up front. Ditto Joseph Nye. As they say in snooty boutiques, 'If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it'.

So money is power, and to find the power, follow the money. Who finances the GCIG? Well, the website says that it was 'initiated' by two think tanks. But most of the time in most think tanks is spent scrounging for grant and sponsorship money, so they're not fronting the cash. Besides, I love to initiate pub crawls without financing them. And if we're going to play Horatio Caine, the think tanks also lack a clear motive for hiring these guys. Why not get hungry, young (cheap) academics who can devote 120 hours a week to the question? The website also says that the commission will be supported by a committee, including a 'small number of officials from interested governments'. Awesome. Governments are elected right? Some are, I guess, but if they were interested in the "officials' " democratic bona fides, they'd probably take the trouble of telling you who they are, how they claim to represent anybody and how much of whose tax money is going into the venture. So we keep looking. The final 'supporters' in the list include a (note the capital letters - you're supposed to be impressed) 'Research Advisory Network' and a 'Business Advisory Network'. These will provide 'a full range of research and stakeholder views'.

"Tell Horatio that Joe's waiting."

"Tell Horatio that Joe's waiting for him." | "Joseph Nye" by Chatham House under CC BY 2.0

That last mention seems to be what we were looking for. Governments can print money, but you've probably noticed that they're not very keen on spending it, at least not on things that can't be described as 'too big to fail', like research institutions, so the government officials probably aren't the financiers. The business advisory network, however, should have money because making money is what 'business' as we normally understand it is for. Making money is also fine. Somebody has to. But if that's the only source they're willing to list for 'stakeholder views', and the businesses are the only ones listed who might have money to spare, of which the commission will need plenty, the whole thing starts to look rather shady.

So these are the new experts, and their short time and long status implies that they're more valuable for their ability make their advice stick than to come up with good*** advice. And they're not interested in becoming an Internet government, which would imply more or less clear relations of authority and submission, but just in contributing to governance, which also consists of rules, but we agree not to ask about the who's doing the ruling. Government requires rulers; governance gets by fine with experts. And how do you get that status? How do you get to shape governance? The best answer comes perhaps from Damon Runyon, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes 9:11

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets.

Experts: the reality

Experts: the reality | public domain


* There is a vain tendency in the discipline of International Relations for its self-assigned members to write the term with capital letters, reserving lower-case letters, i.e. 'international relations', for what actually happens between states in the world - things like war, structural adjustments, arms sales, and - less frequently - arms control.

** Newspapers as such no longer exist. Much, if not most of their content, is consumed digitally, and their editorial and journalistic practices have recently changed so radically that they have hardly any resemblance to what 'newspaper' originally denoted. But what else are we supposed to call them? Grandpa blogs?

*** Defining 'good' is hard, but if you're happy to defend your activities publicly and honestly, even against opposition, and you'd be proud if your parents/kids did the same kind of thing, you might be doing some good. You could also trust in the categorical imperative, provided you're not a jerk to start with.

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