My Weekly Reader 7 June 2019.

Often times, modern readers misunderstand the monarchies of the Middle Ages.  They know that monarchy came to seem so tyrannical to the people of the 18th and 19th centuries that an “Age of Revolutions” took place between 1775 and 1850.  If they are lucky, they’ve seen Kenneth Branagh’s version of “King Henry V”: a king both conscious of his own humanity and imperious in his ambitions.  People may believe that Medieval kings wielded immense power.

They did not, or at least not necessarily.  For one thing, Medieval kings could be certain only of the troops and taxes they raised from their personal lands.  Beyond that, they had to rely upon their “vassals,” who owed a specified amount for support for a limited time each year.  In times of tumult, some of these vassals might increase their own power and independence relative to that of their king.  To take an extreme case, in 1066, the Duke of Normandy—a vassal of the King of France—invaded and conquered the neighboring kingdom of England.  Thereafter, the Duke of Normandy was a vassal of the French king, but the King of England was the independent equal of the King of France.  So, that’s concerning, as young people say.

For another thing, kings were just men who had inherited a crown.  A few were suited to be great kings, many were suited to be ordinary kings, and a few were—spectacularly—not suited to be kings at all.  King Henry IV displaced (and probably murdered) King Richard II.  His son, King Henry V, was a great soldier who might have turned into a great king.  His victory at Agincourt resulted in the Treaty of Troyes, which made Henry V the heir to the French king Charles VI.  England and France would be united under one ruler.  A super-state that could dominate Europe loomed on the horizon.  When Henry V died very young, his son became king when he was one year old.  King Henry VI of England[1] was “simple-minded,” mentally-unstable, and gender-dysphoric.  Not a good combination for a Medieval king.[2]

The weakness of Henry VI empowered other men.  On the one hand, great nobles led the fight to hold on to England’s French empire.  The long war exhausted both countries.  Oddly, defeat in that war discredited King Henry VI more than it did the men who had insisted on waging the war.  On the other hand, the descendants of the deposed King Richard II began to assert their claim to the throne.  Richard, Duke of York, began what came to be called “The War of the Roses” (1455-1485).  That civil war ended, at first, in a “Yorkist” victory.  Then the victory proved unstable, thanks largely to the efforts of Margaret of Anjou, Henry VI’s queen.[3]  However, in the end, the House of York trampled down the House of Lancaster.[4]  The once-again-deposed king, Henry VI, soon died under murky circumstances.  “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun/son of York.”

It was a short summer.  Soon, a distant relative of Henry VI overthrew the last Yorkist king, Richard III.  Nature better endowed King Henry VII to be king than it did King Henry VI.  However, only Henry VII’s grand-daughter Queen Elizabeth I, matched him and “the former lions of your blood” in ability.  So, monarchy was a bit of a crap-shoot.  So, Revolution is…?

[1] Lauren Johnson, The Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI (2019).

[2] Or a modern elected president.  Not that I think President Trump is gender-dysphoric.  Far from it!

[3] She was more man then most men.

[4] Lancaster, not Lannister, but that seems to be where George R.R. Martin found his inspiration for “Game of Thrones.”

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Spiderman on Net Neutrality.

There are three parties to the “net neutrality” debate. There are Internet Content Consumers (ICCs, individuals and businesses); Internet Content Providers (IPCs); and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Since the ISPs connect the ICCs with the ICPs, they’re the subject of proposed regulations.

Unlike the public highways, the Internet is private property. To what degree is it legitimate for government to regulate private property? Should the Internet be treated like a utility or like normal company selling goods or services? A utility bills a customer for how much of the service or good that s/he consumes. It does not distinguish between customers, nor is it involved in competition with other providers, nor does it inquire into what purpose s/he uses the service or good.[1] A normal company competes with other companies for customers by offering new and attractive products at as low a price as possible. Which of these business forms does the Internet most closely resemble?

The Obama Administration argues that the Internet is like electricity, a utility. The President professes to fear (or serves as the mouthpiece for ICPs who fear) that ISPs will be able to “restrict the best access or pick winners and losers in the online marketplace.”

Internet Content Providers are not all equal in that some of them (Netflix, Hulu) require a lot more bandwidth than do many others. Internet Service Providers want to be able to charge these customers a different price than they charge other users. They analogize on-line content to cable television content. Being able to charge differential rates has led to an explosion of widely desired content in cable television (HBO for example). The same will happen with on-line content.

Internet Content Consumers and Internet Content Providers both hate this idea. Customers see the ISPs as positioning themselves to gouge money out of consumers by forcing them to pay for “packages” that include content that they don’t want or to pay premium prices for content that they do want. ICPs see the ISPs forging alliances with whoever has the deepest pockets, while squeezing anyone who doesn’t have great wealth yet out of the “fast lane” and into a “slow lane.”

On the other hand, differential pricing and “congestion” pricing are both well-established practices in business, government, and education. The toll on the bridge over the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal goes up on the week-end; colleges discount their price to students by providing different amounts of financial aid to different students; stores have sales.

The Internet is one of the engines of the future growth of the American economy. The Internet is not a “mature” industry or technology. Therefore the single most important issue is to decide what policy best encourages productive investment in and maximum expansion of the Internet. ISPs picking and choosing between customers sounds like a prescription for favoring established interests over new interests in a segment of the economy that is undergoing rapid development, innovation, and change. Ponderous—and perhaps politicized or paralyzed—government regulation sounds like a prescription for driving away badly-needed investment.

“One gives you cancer and the other stunts your growth.” You choose.

Neil Irwin, “A Super-Simple Way to Understand Net Neutrality,” NYT, 11 November 2014.

Eduardo Porter, “The Pitfalls of Net Neutrality,” NYT, 12 November 2014.

[1] I wonder if this is actually true in some place like Humboldt Country, CA, where there are a ton of grow houses?