Communications Technology: Is It Good for Liberty?

Robert Higgs has written a piece that was linked at  Higgs discusses modern communications technology.  While he acknowledges it has had some benefits for the cause of liberty, he is generally pessimistic and sees technology as more of a negative against the cause of liberty.

Higgs is one of us and I agree with him on many things.  He is a solid libertarian.  But I disagree with his assessment of things in this article.  I don't understand how he can be such a long-term pessimist.  The state has continued to grow and there are certainly many things to be pessimistic about.  Yet it is not hard to see the bright side of things and the wonderful things that technology has brought us.

In Higgs' article, he states, "What decides the issue in the end is neither guns nor information technologies, but the people's ideologies."  I completely agree that it is the ideology of the people that ultimately matters.  The government can only rule with an iron fist because a large portion of the people consent to it, even if tacitly.  But this is the whole reason that I think the great advancements in communications technology is such a glorious thing for the cause of liberty.

While I will acknowledge that there are some bad aspects of technology that the government will use against innocent people, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the negatives.  Higgs speaks of the importance of ideology, yet he fails to realize that technology has allowed the spread of ideas (as well as exposing the crimes of politicians).  In his article, he acts as though these ideas are put out there and they don't stick.  But it is obvious that these ideas are having an effect on people.

I have to remind people that the whole libertarian movement was practically nothing about 10 years ago.  There was a Libertarian Party and a lot of literature on libertarianism, but the numbers were really small.  You could go to a crowd of a thousand people and you would be lucky to find 5 people who would call themselves a libertarian.

In the last presidential election, Ron Paul received about 2 million votes in the Republican primaries.  This would have been inconceivable just 6 years ago.

There is a vast following among young people and it is truly amazing because they really understand libertarianism for the most part.  It is not some watered down version like we see with some think tanks and some politicians who call themselves libertarian leaning.

While the percentages are not huge by any means, the number of libertarians, particularly young, far exceeds anything this world has seen in the last 100 years.  I think a small part of this is due to the bad economy and the wars.  But it is not as though we haven't seen that throughout history.  I think a big part of it is the two Ron Paul presidential campaigns that made people more aware of the libertarian philosophy.  And I think the other big part is technology and the wide open communication that exists today.

It is kind of ironic that Higgs writes an article published on the internet about how communications technology will not really help the cause of liberty.  Yet, if it weren't for the internet, I wouldn't have read his article and I probably wouldn't even know the name Robert Higgs.