Subject: Re: street performer protocol
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Wed, 10 May 2000 13:07:56 +0900 (JST)

>>>>> "shap" == Jonathan S Shapiro <> writes:

    shap> What I said was "everyone is guilty", not "everyone is
    shap> liable".

What do "guilty" and "responsible" mean if not "liable"?

    shap> Actually, I was overstating the case,

This overstatement is dangerous; it is the standard argument used to
justify terrorism.  You also face a slippery slope!  (Terrorism is
actually not the relevant issue; _1984_-style totalitarianism is.)

I agree with you that extending responsibility is necessary.  But not
in the dimension of arbitrarily extending responsibility to a wider
variety of individuals.  This is a violation of the principle of
modularity, which is just as important to efficiency of human
organizations as it is to quality of software.[1]

Rather, individuals with decision-making power should be responsible
for making a "reasonable effort" to determine if there are important
side effects of the decisions they make.  If there are, they must
inform the relevant policy-makers.  (You can't really ask a business
firm to take a decision adverse to its business interests if its
competitors don't have to do the same.  Of course, if there's already
a policy in place that says such side effects are impermissible, the
firm must refrain from a decision that would cause them.)  A similar
responsibility applies to employees who happen to come into possession
of information about employer misbehavior; they must blow the whistle.

But this extension of responsibility is not needed in the Microsoft
case.  Ordinary anti-trust principles were applicable, and came to the
right decision as far as I can tell.  Sure, it took a long time;
that's because of the "innocent until proven guilty" bias that
pervades the American justice system.  Not because the principles were

[1]  This is not to argue that "modularity" always overrides
responsibility.  Rather, modularity means that responsibility should
be restricted to those who in the ordinary course of business can
affect the decision.  This may apply for _all_ decisions to a small
group of executives who are presumed to have a responsibility to know,
and for particular decisions for staff members who would be consulted
on those decisions---the "whistleblower" responsibility.

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