“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 […]
This year, Facebook will reach 1 billion users — or one-seventh of the human population. It has elicited more participation than any single government in the world other than India and China, and it will probably surpass them in a year or two. And whereas many people are fleeing their governments as they are able, more and more people are joining Facebook voluntarily.
What is the logic, the driving force, the agent of change?
Yes, the software works fine, and yes, the managers and owners have entrepreneurial minds. But the real secret to Facebook is its internal human gears — the individual users — which turn out to mirror the way society itself forms and develops.
The best way to see and understand this is to compare the workings of Facebook with the workings of the democratic political process. Watching Facebook’s development has been fun, productive, fascinating, useful and progressive. The election season, in contrast, has been divisive, burdensome, wasteful, acrimonious and wholly confusing.
That’s because Facebook and democracy work on entirely different principles.
Facebook is based on the principle of free association. You join or decline to join. You can have one friend or thousands. It is up to you. You share the information you want to share and keep other things from public view. You use the platform only to your advantage while declining to use it for some other purpose.
The contribution you make on Facebook extends from the things you know best: yourself, your interests, your activities, your ideas. The principle of individualism — you are the best manager of your life — is the gear that moves the machine. Just as no two people are alike, no two people have the same experience with the platform. All things are customized according to your interests and desires.
But of course, you are interested in others too, so you ask for a connection. If they agree, you link up and form something mutually satisfying. You choose to include and exclude, gradually forming your own unique community based on any selection criteria you want. The networks grow and grow from these principles of individualism and choice. It is a constantly evolving, cooperative process — exactly the one that Hans-Hermann Hoppe describes as the basis of society itself.
Democratic elections seem to be about choice in some way, but it is a choice over who will rule the whole mob. It provides the same user experience for everyone, regardless of individual desire. You are forced into the system by virtue of having been born into it. Sure, you can choose to vote, but you can’t choose whether to be ruled by the voting results.
In this democratic system, you are automatically given 220 million “friends” whether you like it or not. These fake “friends” are given to you because of a geographic boundary drawn by government leaders long ago. These “friends” are posting on your wall constantly. Your news feed is relentless series of demands. You cannot delete their posts or mark them as spam. Revenue is not extracted from advertising but collected as you use the system.
Nothing is truly voluntary in an election. You are bound by the results regardless. This creates absurdities. This is incredibly apparent in the Republican nominating process. If people under 30 prevailed, Ron Paul would win. If religious families with several kids prevailed, Rick Santorum would win. If the Chamber of Commerce members prevailed, Mitt Romney would be victor. It all comes down to demographics but there can be only one winner under this system.
Therefore, an election must be a struggle between people, a fight, a wrangling around, a push to assert your will and overcome the interests and desires of others. In the end, we are assured that no matter the outcome, we should be happy because we all participated. The individual must give way to the collective.
We are told that this means that the system worked. But in what sense does it work? It only means that the well-organized minority prevailed over the diffused majority. This is about as peaceful as the kid’s game “king of the mountain.”
Facebook has nothing to do with this nonsense. Your communities are your own creation, an extension of your will and its harmony with the will of others. The communities grow based on the principle of mutual advantage. If you make a mistake, you can undisplay your friend’s posts or you can unfriend him. This hurts feelings, sure, but it is not violent: It doesn’t loot or kill.
Your friends in Facebook can be from anywhere. They “check in” and plot their journeys. Whether your friend lives in or moves to Beijing or Buenos Aires doesn’t matter. Facebook makes possible what we might call geographically noncontiguous human associations. Language differences can be barriers to communication, but even they can be overcome.
Democracy is hyperbound by geography. You vote in an assigned spot. Your vote is assembled together with those of others in your county to produce a single result, and therefore, your actual wishes are instantly merged. They are merged again at another geographic level, and then at the state level and, finally, at the national level. By that time, your own preferences are vaporized.
Sometimes people get sick of Facebook. They suddenly find it tedious, childish, time wasting, even invasive. Fine. You can bail out. Go to your system preferences and turn off all notifications and take a sabbatical. People might complain, but it is your choice to be there or not. You can even delete your account entirely with no real downside. Then you can sign up again later if you so desire or join some other system of social networking.
Try doing that to democracy. You can’t unsubscribe. You are automatically in for life, and not even changing your location or moving out of the country changes that. It is even extremely hard to delete your account by renouncing your citizenship. The leaders of the democracy will still hound you.
We can learn from Facebook and all other social networks that the Internet has brought us. These are more than websites; they are models of social organization that transcend old forms. Make the rest of life more like a social network and we will begin to see real progress in the course of civilization. Persist in the old model of forced democratic community and we will continue to see decline.