“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
I’m looking out the airplane window, marveling that the clouds are below me. My computer is out and I’m surfing online. As usual, I inhale a big intake of air, still dazzled that this is possible.
A notification pops up that there is a meeting taking place in Austin, Texas, a digital Meetup sponsored by the Mises Circle as run by a student name Michael Goldstein. I’m invited to join.
Surely, their bandwidth won’t support my joining. But I figure I will try it anyway. Suddenly, I find myself on camera along with many others, and looking not only at others who have entered the digital space, but also at a group of students in a room where the meeting itself is taking place.
So I do a double take, glancing at my screen and out the window again, and I almost have to pinch myself. I’m flying above the clouds, yet I’m also on the ground in Texas. In technological parlance, the whole thing is made possible by “cloud computing,” but it is also literally true.
When exactly did this kind of thing become possible? There was no headline in The New York Times. There was no grand announcement. I’m not even sure myself when this became possible. Google Hangouts are about 18 months in existence, but the technology keeps improving bit by bit. It seems almost like it all happened in the blink of an eye.
Remember how people warned us about how digits would destroy personal contact? How we would all get sucked into the Web vortex of fake friendship and digital relationships and lose the ability to engage each other face to face?
As far as I can tell, experience is showing the opposite. The digital world is making possible new forms of robust physical networks too, people meeting face to face in social settings that did not and could not have existed even five years ago. And these physical meetings are integrating with digital ones.
And maybe that’s the great benefit of the digital turn. Digits link real-life human beings in ways that had never been possible in previous ages. This allows the formation of human communities to serve a crucial social and political function: They serve as a buffer between the individual and the state. Such networks are essential for the building of human liberty.
Today, there are thousands of gatherings of people from all walks of life that would not otherwise exist. There is a simple reason. Now we can form them and get the word out, and others can find out about them. These enthusiast groups cover crafts, running, surfing, painting, music, technology, philosophy, religion, investment, and every other conceivable thing.
For example, I just returned from an exciting speaking tour of sorts in southeast Texas. Gatherings of this sort — huge cross sections of people from many walks of life — would have been so much more difficult in the pre-digital era. Why? Well, in the past, the organizers might not have known there was a demand, they might not have had the resources to promote, and people wouldn’t have thereby known they should even attend at all.
But with the digital world of Web communities and social media, it all came together quite beautifully. There was a traditional meet and greet in a restaurant one night with a standing-room-only crowd where your editor gave a talk on new strategies for reclaiming our right to be free. This was sponsored by Liberty on the Rocks, an expanding network of meetings all over the country for libertarians.
At the main event, held at Stephen F. Austin State University, in Nacogdoches, Texas, Young Americans for Liberty and the Charles Koch Foundation sponsored a conference on libertarian ideas, as well an event with a more formal and academic approach (but still fun!).
Stefan Molyneux gave a paper on how politics compromise ethics. Jessica Hughes eviscerated the idea that the Constitution is a source for freedom and human rights. Stephan Kinsella presented an illuminating case against John Locke’s idea that we own the products of our labor. Your editor presented a tutorial for living outside the state.
The place was packed, with people coming from long distances to be there. We even had one digital speaker. Walter Block appeared on Skype on the big screen and answered a number of audience questions on banking, labor, the environment, and other matters.
Stefan Molyneux, Stephan Kinsella, yours truly,
and other “meet and greeters,” at Liberty in the Pines, Feb. 23, 2013.
It was a fun, educational, and exciting experience. We all take this for granted, but again, trying to put this kind of meeting together 20 years ago would have been nearly impossible. Today, it is commonplace. In fact, even this very evening, I’m speaking at a student gathering that was easily formed and promoted through Facebook and Twitter, whereas it would have required plastering posters all over campus in the past.
I first began to sense this some years ago when a friend of mine moved to Shanghai. Had this happened 20 years ago, this young American would have been lost and isolated for years, maybe forever. But he and his wife notified their network in advance and arrived with a social structure already in place. They moved into a foreign country with an unfamiliar culture where the language is forbidding and still felt right at home.
This type of thing is happening all over the world and probably in your hometown. It began a few years ago with the institution of the Meetup. But over time, many different venues have served the same purpose. Facebook and Google started allowing events to be created, shared, and promoted. And the lines between digital and physical are blurring so that Google Hangouts and Skype meetings of groups commonly extend and entrench the relationships formed in physical spaces.
As a result, all kinds of intellectual societies are becoming ever smarter and more sophisticated. This is particularly true in libertarian circles. Students today are able to read and borrow from thinkers from all ages. Barriers between factions have broken down. The learning never stops, extending from digits to real life and back again. This has put new pressure on me as a speaker, but in a good way: If I ever repeat myself, someone will take note!
Coming up in Las Vegas, July 10-13, 2013, is the largest gathering of the year. The event is FreedomFest, and there could be as many as 3,000 people there. Laissez Faire Books is sponsoring an entire day of talks and panels. We’ll have a large book table of all the speakers’ books. The event keeps growing year after year because it gets better and more people are hearing about it.
Technology has heightened the value of the event, and the event has heightened the value of the technology. They work together. The result is the formation of a new community of people who find new forms of strength, intellectual confidence, and human camaraderie in discovering that we are not alone, but are part of something much larger than ourselves. We are part of a generation radically rethinking the way the world works and the role of politics in society.