Sunday, February 24, 2008

Commercial Law on the Internet – Is Integrity Sustainable in Cyberspace?

With the recent SocGen scandal and the problems in the economy, the Internet and globalism have been topics. A Reuters’ article said that the SocGen scandal was possible because traders didn’t interact over lunches and the trading floor anymore. Another article said that banks were in crisis because globalism had removed not just borders, but also obligations and reciprocity. Fear was no longer immediate—the “animal factor” was gone.

This is a different world we are in. It is so uncertain. Now uncertainty has been a part of human life forever, but this is an uncertainty resulting from technology being used as gadgets to enforce solitude.

When I say uncertainty, I mean situations like Marco Polo on the Silk Road, Cortez burning his boats, and the experience of the Brits in the regions of empire. Think of Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. Jim broke the code of decent behavior – “He was one of us.” That expectation of behavior showed up in strange ways. My father left London for Australia after World War II for about ten years. Last week he told me a story of strangers helping each other out in the Australian outback. Dad closed with, “That wouldn’t happen today, Jack. It was only possible because he was white with an English name.” Dad y meant that Marlowe’s code still held up the late 1940s.

Cyberspace isn’t an empire. People go into Second Life expecting to make money in a free environment and then are horrified when the open system allows crime.

It may be that open systems without mutual obligations cannot support commercial law. MIT Tech Review has a series of articles on this. They are worth reading

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