Bryan Caplan, against populism

My point: If your overall reaction to business progress over the last fifteen years is even mildly negative, no sensible person will try to please you, because you are impossible to please.  Yet our new anti-tech populists have managed to make themselves a center of pseudo-intellectual attention.

Angry lamentation about the effects of new tech on privacy has flabbergasted me the most.  For practical purposes, we have more privacy than ever before in human history.  You can now buy embarrassing products in secret.  You can read or view virtually anything you like in secret.  You can interact with over a billion people in secret.

Then what privacy have we lost?  The privacy to not be part of a Big Data Set.  The privacy to not have firms try to sell us stuff based on our previous purchases.  In short, we have lost the kinds of privacy that no prudent person loses sleep over.

There is more good material at the link.


Very well put by Bryan.

Be wary of those who are always calling out Greed, they may be agents of Sloth and Envy.

Privacy has nothing to do with Greed, Sloth or Envy or any other shortcoming of virtue you may perceive. It has to do with the relationship between the governing class and the governed. When Facebook collects data on its users, the government can send them an NSL (National Security Letter) forcing them to reveal information. Suddenly what you thought was "harmless" info can now be used against you. This is no Alex Jones conspiracy theory, it has been corroborated by the Snowden leaks. The Founding Fathers were smart to include both the 4th and 5th amendments to limit governments power but with all the technological change of the last 3 centuries, it is in great need of an update. I can overlook Jefferson and Madison not knowing anything about the IPhone or Google but not Obama and certainly not Trump. Connecting privacy which is a civil right to populism which is a political ideology related to economic insecurity and unrelated to privacy was an unfortunate connection for Caplan to draw.

Precisely so. ^^^

The hardware; that is the computer systems, phones, control systems, etc. AND the software is designed to allow improper use of these high tech systems. It was done at the request of big business so that they could have more control and be more intrusive in their data gathering. Everyone who uses the internet for any reason can be tracked. They will know your name, your location, your email addresses, your telephone number, your pictures and postings, everything is tied together by links and can be tracked down. This was intentional.

If that were the primary concern, then politicians would be talking about privacy laws, not monopoly laws.

Except monopoly laws give politicians more power and privacy laws give them less.

Like this one?

You do understand that google and Facebook sell you a “free” service in exchange for whatever private information you provide them....

That’s how exchange works and 99 percent of Americans wouldn’t trade the status quo for more privacy and a “for pay” model.

Assuming they need a NSL. Maybe the government calls up Facebook and says "hey, tell us what you know about this guy" and Facebook is 100% happy to comply. Or maybe the government calls up and says "hey, we don't like this guy, kick him off all your services" and Facebook is 100% happy to comply.

Maybe the tech companies are resistant to the government, but maybe they are happy to work with the government if you are someone they have decided is a Bad Person.

No one is forcing you to use facebook, I know many people who don't have an account. You think facebook intrudes on your privacy? Delete your account. I deleted my linkedin account because I didn't want my CV published online. If that made me miss a job opportunity so be it.

I gave a link recently to a story about bail bondsman finding bail jumpers by their cell phones. From a phone number, down to a live location. There is no due process involved, it essentially shows that anyone can be located by a "private detective" accessing the same databases. It is, without hyperbole, a private surveillance state.

So I don't know, is Bryan Caplan unaware, or is this the kind of thing he accepts now as natural?

I don't have the details at hand, but Facebook has recently assisted in the doxxing of some right-wing figure by a private journalist, without subpoena or order to do so.

Thanks would be another example of a private surveillance state.

That would be Facebook helping the Daily Beast reporter dox the guy who uploaded the manipulated Pelosi video.

Interesting that Kevin Poulsen is still involved in social engineering, apparently.

And from his wikipedia page - 'On June 1, 1990, he took over all of the telephone lines for Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM, guaranteeing that he would be the 102nd caller and win the prize of a Porsche 944 S2.'

And it also seems that Poulsen has a long history of doxxing people - 'In October 2006, Poulsen released information detailing his successful search for registered sex offenders using MySpace to solicit sex from children. His work identified 744 registered people with MySpace profiles and led to the arrest of one, Andrew Lubrano.'

Ah, so he was just a typical right wing figure ;-)

Are you justifying the doxxing of a private person just because he's right wing?

Doxxing is free speech.

doxing is shitty excuse for journalism

I'm no fan of Daily Beast or Facebook for that matter but a journalist investigating the source of political propaganda is within their rights to do that. Foreign disinformation campaigns are rampant on social media, but you don't need me to say that.

I don’t care if a company has my data per se, at most it might be a mild annoyance when it tries to sell me something.

But any info a company has about me, the State has as well. Do you really want the State to know what you write, what you surf, who you talk to, what you buy, where you go, etc.?

The problem is not the privacy per se, it is the technical capability of organizing the information about each of us. We are technically and, it has been clear since Snowden, actually, in a situation worse than Nineteen-Eightyfour, regarding what the State knows about each of us.

If you have nothing to hide, then why does any of that matter. I know I've done nothing wrong.

Hey quick question, has your optometrist written down that you use glasses?

Oh darn, it turns out you *did* have something to hide, because you don't decide if you've done something wrong, the people with guns do.

You might well have something to hide.

For example, suppose you work for an IT services company doing business in China. You might have proprietary information that is owned by your company that a Chinese state-owned competitor might like to have.

This scenario is a very real concern for companies doing business in China, it isn't merely hypothetical at all.

There are people called hackers and sometimes cybercriminals that may attempt to make nefarious use of this information, if they can obtain it. Perhaps you've heard these terms before?

"If you have nothing to hide, then why does any of that matter. I know I've done nothing wrong."

Would you like to post your full name and address on this web site? Just so you can prove that you are living up to the credo you are defending?

The idea that the government is going to reverse course from a highly informative situation to a less informative situation is a joke.

Privacy is something you create as an individual. But as a private person you should stop giving your info to private companies that sell you “free” services if that kind of thing scares you....

'or practical purposes, we have more privacy than ever before in human history. '

Not even close. Unfortunately, I can not remember the source, but essentially the answer to the question 'How can you be certain you are having a private conservation?` is 'Have it 100 years ago in the middle of a field.'

'You can now buy embarrassing products in secret.'

Using a credit card, right?

'The privacy to not be part of a Big Data Set.'

Always interesting to see how that big data set looks in real time, your phone pinging its location in a regular rhythm.

'In short, we have lost the kinds of privacy that no prudent person loses sleep over.'

B-B approves of this, and would like to point out that Orwell always slept like a baby when contemplating a future when the telescreens were mobile, and not merely in fixed locations.

That deserves a +1 sir. The hand waving done by Mr Caplan in this post annoys me to no end.

And don’t forget the CCTVs... the NSA does not even pretend not to be everywhere, it does not have to recour to stupid fake birds...

When contrarianism goes bad: Exhibit A.

Caplan is remarkably clueless about the data that is being collected. I would say more but it is clear he is in full cheerleader mode and therefore immune to reason.

Certainly, the tech companies don't advertise that home devices like Alexa and Echo transmit every word said in the user's house to the company.

And to be clear, they do archive at least some of the data. As a user, you can go look at the transcripts that Alexa records as Alexa requests. Obviously, Amazon may well send more data upstream than what they show you. So, buyer beware.

Amazon keeps all Alexa recordings forever. Bezos is competing with Google, Zuckerberg or heck the FBI, CIA on who can blackmail the most Americans:

I don't know about Caplan, but having personally listed on a previous blog post here the objectively negative, actual consequences of people misusing big data I don't know that Tyler can claim cluelessness at this point. It doesn't take a lot of searching to find countless stories about the misuse of data from Uber employees secretly tracking people to Snowden level government abuses.

This is why Trump will get re-elected and why libertarianism will continue to be the ideology of the few and easily ignored. Caplan can scold all he wants but his moral shaming just shows that he is completely out of touch with the rest of America.


We have some good things, therefore the bad things are invalid?

We have growing prosperity, therefore there should be less oversight?

People who disagree are silly and wrong?

That's the way I read his argument at first. But I re-read it and it's clear he means a net positive. And assuming that's the correct reading then I agree with Caplan. Those that don't think those technological changes have been a net positive are not sensible people.

He's not saying that there are no negatives, he's saying that the positives clearly out weigh the negatives.

Surely the advances in privacy he touts were baked into the net by at least 2004, and "the last fifteen years" have not represented an advance on this? Even eBay was complete in 2002.

You can read or view virtually anything you like in secret. You can interact with over a billion people in secret.
I don't think this is true. We can utilize the anonymous web browser but we can still be identified by IP address, and our web clicks are tied to that IP. Eventually they will discover what we have looked at.
Nor are any of the emails safe unless we add a layer of encryption.

But we do not have guaranteed digital privacy, and the NSA is trying to prevent us from having it.

Caplan has never heard of browser fingerprinting and other deanonymization techniques that organized crime, nation states, and ad tech companies have mastered.

Always interesting how nobody likes to put links into their posts ->

And some explanation - ' “Browser fingerprinting” is a method of tracking web browsers by the configuration and settings information they make visible to websites, rather than traditional tracking methods such as IP addresses and unique cookies.

Browser fingerprinting is both difficult to detect and and extremely difficult to thwart.

When you load a web page, you will automatically broadcast certain information about your browser to the website you are visiting — as well as to any trackers embedded within the site (such as those that serve advertisements). The site you are visiting may choose to analyze your browser using JavaScript, Flash and other methods (just like Panopticlick does). It may look for what types of fonts you have installed, the language you’ve set, the add-ons you’ve installed, and other factors. The site may then create a type of profile of you, tied to this pattern of characteristics associated with your browser, rather than tied to a specific tracking cookie. '

Well, that is a bit of enlightenment!

Then let me really enlighten you concerning this statement - 'You can read or view virtually anything you like in secret.'

If it involves a networked electronic device, the straightforward answer to the question of remaining private is simple - never use an electronic networked device if you wish information to remain private. It is such a basic fact that most people with even the slightest awareness of how this works instantly know how ignorant someone is when they wrte 'You can read or view virtually anything you like in secret. You can interact with over a billion people in secret.'

About the best you can hope for is misdirection - that is, someone else will be ID'd as the source of the request/data (and that is growing increasing harder with things like unlocking a digital device connected to biometric markers such as facial ID). Encryption is its own subject, but has basically nothing to do with interacting with people over a data network in a truly private fashion (then there is the classic analog hole, which is an insurmountable challenge as the entertainment industry has discovered).

Essentially, anyone who tells you secrecy is possible on the Internet is either thoroughly ignorant, or is selling something, whether it be a product or a narrative to their advantage. Of course, ignorant salesman are such a commonplace that it goes without saying that more than one factor can be involved.

There has basically never been a time in the entire history of the Internet when privacy was more than a sad joke played on people who think that because they are alone in front of a screen, no one knows what they are doing. That is not an accident, as demonstrated by how common mesh networks are (well, basically completely unknown even as a concept to most people), so as to make centralized monitoring essentially impossible through an extensive demand on surveillance resources.

(You can reduce your browser footprint to basically nothing apart from the IP address - which is very informative, though to an extent spoofable - but a number of web sites will not function with such a stripped down client - out of self-defense, essentially.)

never use an electronic networked device if you wish information to remain private.

Untrue. AppleID solves that problem, AppleID can hold secret keys, unknown to humans and it is counterfeit proof. That is the sufficient and necessary condition for two AppleIDs to communicate honestly and secretly.

Until the SJW mob decides you are this weeks target for the two minute hate, and go digging through your online history to get you fired from your job/acceptance by your university cancelled/website memory holed. But of course this only happens to people guilty of thoughtcrime, so nothing to be concerned about.

Border agents are instructed to collect visitors' social media accounts, email, and forced to unlock their phones to see if they are possible terrorists. These techniques created for the war on terror are very effective when you use them against your political enemies. When Trump declares war on Iran expect even more liberties to vanish under the Patriot MAGA Act.

'But of course this only happens to people guilty of thoughtcrime, so nothing to be concerned about.'

A statement that those involved in Gamergate would definitely agree with - depending on your perspective, of course.

Caplan's adulation for tech in his essay at the link reveals the hollowness of what tech has delivered: online shopping, social media, taxi service via a cell phone, the video phone, 24/7 entertainment on Youtube, and a digital encyclopedia. What he doesn't mention in his essay against populism is that tech has delivered . . . . populism. On the right, and on the left. Everyone it seems has a gripe, including Caplan, and tech provides the platform for the angry lamentation. I am with Caplan in his criticism of populism, but his adulation of tech misses tech's essential role in the rise of populism. My good friend's son was hit by a truck while his son was riding a bicycle on his college campus. The young man suffered a brain injury that prevents him from "seeing" what's to the right of the direction he is looking: he "sees" it but his brain doen't register it. It's a common affliction among certain intellectuals.

One huge change is that nowadays nothing is lost in the mists of time, but everything goes on your Permanent Record, just like your high school principal said it would. Consider that kid who got de-accepted by Harvard because somebody else at his school snitched on him ... and had proof.

Very good rebuttal

The next thing you know, your permanent record will be scrutinized for social scores and the wise ones will decide where you can live, travel and if you get food.

I don't share my data. I expect to be paid like any business transaction. Until GOOG and FB offer cash money, I won't give anything up for free.

If we all had a proper AppleID, then the website AppleID and my AppleID would negotiate a standard privacy agreement, and my AppleID would send a few pennies directly to the website AppleID, no one, not even the central banker knows we made this private money transaction.

Nowe, I could trust the website, they have AppleID, and Tim Cook guarantees that all contract the AppleID agrees to is executed honestly, the AppleID preserves itself as a neutral party after the contract is made. i can cancel the contract at any time.

This is why AppleID is a big deal. We price the content, and thus individuals will optionally select ads that appeal, and the web sites become great trade presses, just tailored to me with all the product listings I need. All this intelligence drop the ad congestion (which is ruining the internet), down to a fraction. Data is much better read when it is mirco priced. AppleID, a really big deal coming up.

This is your second comment crammed with "Apple". I know there would be little reason for Apple to pay you to comment at MR, but your comments read like ads.

Personally, I plan on never buying any Apple product/service.

Tim Cook is my new hero, and this is about the umpteenth time I mentioned Apple. Mainly, AppleID solves the problem, Tim knows it, he is marking AppleID as the solution. No one else is.

So the issue is why is Google letting Apple have the entire business? That is the answer we need, Google is stuck, they managed to screw themselves on this issue, and Tim Cook is winning, and I am his biggest fan.

All that said, I sure wish they were all able to target me better so as not waste so much of my very scarce attention span… scarily I recently read they would not be allowed to target as much since that was a form of discrimination :-(

If by secret he means "being tracked," he is correct. Seriously, smh.

It is not that simple. Red China-Russia-Japan keepes launching cyberattacks against America and its allies. Recently, it has been revealed that Brazil is the country that suffers more cyberattacks in the world, and important government authorities had dat stolen by third parts. I really think we should not be complacent. We, Americans, should invest more in cyberdefenses.

I hadn't heard that Japan was accused of involvement in such attacks.

I think it is clear they are all acting together. Japan is an awoved enemy of Western democracies.

Oh please. Tech has amassed a large amount of power. And like everyone who has amassed large amounts of power in the past they elect to use their power to achieve goals and to retain power. Like all such oligarchs, they make the case that they use their power benevolently for the good of society.

And what if that is true? Do we have any guarantee that Augustus will not be followed in due time by Caligula or Nero? I would say no. After all tech rose to power on the promise of being content neutral and serving all comers. Now they are increasingly aligning with half the political spectrum, being selective in their services, and frankly lying about their policies.

Only a short sighted fool looks at what an entity is doing now alone. Tech is potential to do many things and like all concentrated power appears to be following an age old attempt to preserve its primacy and remake society to its liking.

Bryan Kaplan is a smart guy, at least in some ways.
He’s also a raving lunatic, as he proves here:

It can be interesting to read the arguments of a smart raving lunatic, but one should not forget that he’s a lunatic.

I dunno ... I really don't get these libertarian economists. Are they on the spectrum? They don't appear to be autistic savants, and definitely not idiot savants, but they seem not to understand culture in the anthropological sense of the word, and the attachment people have to cultural ideas.

Trump burst out of the gate saying the unsayable about illegal immigration, never backed off, and he won the election. Isn't that a useful piece of information? Doesn't that imply anything?

These characters all left their hometowns, their families, childhood friends, neighborhoods, etc to take jobs as tenured professors in the least ideological diverse institutions in the world. They think they are really slumming when they talk to an Uber driver or the doorman at the hotel for 30 minutes. They are strangely detached from reality.

They are almost like the patients in the split brain experiments, unable to process information from one side of their field of view.

I don't think they are necessarily on the spectrum, but there definitely seems to be a bug in the hardware somewhere. I used to think like this as a teenager. Now I have a more complete view, I understand how to reject this type of thinking. Caplan's blindspots are 100% absolute. Cowen is much more perceptive and never makes this kind of mistake. Yet he references Caplan a lot. It's an interesting dynamic. I guess he finds Caplan useful to make certain arguments.

'Now they are increasingly aligning with half the political spectrum'

Since when did the rich become half of the political spectrum?

'being selective in their services'

This remains simply incorrect, at least as a criticism of how they act. As private companies offering free services, they can be as selective as they wish, for any reason they wish. That is a benefit of being a private company.

'and frankly lying about their policies'

Well, yes, particularly in the case of Facebook. Not that you will hear about such rampant lying from people like Prof. Cowen. It comes too close to being mean, apparently.

Well overstated. Isn't it economists who preach that there's no such thing as a free lunch? That there are always costs?
To the contrary, anyone who thinks big tech is an unalloyed good is motivated purely by ideology. Does Caplan really think there can be NO risk whatsoever to companies controlling such large amounts of information about each of us and power to act on it beyond anything comparable that each of us has?
It's one thing to argue that many overreact and fail to appreciate how much good big tech has brought. It's another to engage in reactionary utopianism of this sort

Then again, I suppose there is a certain strain of economist who has always been excellent at teaching the populace to ignore specific kinds of externalities. Especially those that might possibly constrain the power, excuse me, "freedom", of corporations, owners, ceo's, etc.

he writes as if reading girly mags without his mommy knowing is the relevant standard

until she looks under his bed...

If your overall reaction to business progress over the last fifteen years is even mildly negative, no sensible person will try to please you, because you are impossible to please.

Someone ought to address a letter to the adult human being in the Caplan household (I think her name is 'Corina') informing her that her husband should be parked in front of a chess board and not permitted to interact with the actual people he will never comprehend except on a rudimentary level. As in, say, understanding that not everyone shares the value scales of annoying middle-aged men on the autism spectrum.

Caplan is just remarkably clueless here.

The ubiquitous, automated, and increasingly seamless integration of systems that track your communications, financial transactions, and movement provide incredibly powerful tools for influence and control.

It may not be worth it - yet - to openly use those tools, but one has to be naive to not see the risk, and as Sure notes above, the virtual certainty that the private for-profit infrastructure once built will eventually be used for political rather than commercial ends.

There is no on-line privacy. And increasingly, attempts to retain it are going to be considered prima facia evidence of prohibited or criminal behavior. Why did you leave your phone at home? Why did you put your phone in a Faraday pouch? Why did you disable the camera / microphone in your house or car? Why did you buy encryption software? None of your business is unlikely to be accepted as an answer.

Indeed. Sooner or later a "rogue employee" will release a Republican candidate's Amazon or Google history for embarrassment purposes, and then the floodgates will open.

Trying to explain this to someone like Caplan would be like lecturing a mouse on atomic fission

Beyond clueless.

"...will eventually be used for political rather than commercial ends."

Too late - it has already happened!

Anti-tech populists who've made yourselves a center of pseudo-intellectual attention:

meet the pro-tech elitists who've managed to make themselves centers of rational lunacy, intellectual insecurity, and cosmopolitan provincialism. (Oh, and tenure.)

True or false: America today knows no "tech populism". (?)

I am very heartend by the responses here. Caplan may not be intentionally nefarious but he is an enemy. The things he advocates and believes in are dangers to the majority of people in this country and the world.

I’m sorry but this is so overwrought.

The vast majority of Americans don’t give Google, Amazon or Facebook much important information.

Your relationship status or family pictures or music purchase history actually doesn’t mean that much to the NSA. The US government actually doesn’t care about you.

And bad private actors that want to harm the general public or people who simply don’t want to be in the cross hairs of the government don’t interact at all with google, Facebook, or Amazon.

As for open borders, I’m not the biggest fan in this day and age of the welfare state.

But the populists economically speaking are mostly as horrendous as the socialists. We need immigrant labor in this country. American domestics at the bottom to middle of the spectrum mostly don’t want to work in restaurant kitchens, construction jobs and all the other unsavory jobs that keep this economy rolling.

I think the comments to the Caplan piece are mostly proving his point. Populists and socialists are just angry-outraged people who will stop at nothing to make us poorer and less free as people in order to “save us.”

The next populist and socialist politician who uses the power of the state to “save us” will be the first.

The idea that socialist and populist politicians will get together and write the kind of privacy regulation that will protect the people is so laughable that I can’t believe that some of you call yourselves intellectuals.

Like Donald Trump is Bernie Sanders are going to make this country better and somehow craft the precise policies that will make America a better place-LMAO!

In the meantime I’ll keep having my groceries and almost all other life purchases delivered same day by Amazon and Instacart.

"The US government actually doesn’t care about you."
Not until you do something to upset them and then they have a nice stack of data on you and your relations already assembled by Amazon, et. al. You don't notice your fetters until you move. Sure if you keep your head down and don't make trouble the US government doesn't care about you. But that's just a form of servitude.

Caplan doesn't have to deal with any of the negative consequences of his preferences. Others need to. He is an enemy of American society and libertarianism is a political view with basically zero support outside of academic departments and Washington D.C. think-tanks.

Some valid comments about mostly *potential* surveillance state abuses and some actual privacy losses from doxing. However, there is a contradiction between the sentiment that most people don't realize how much privacy they've already lost and saying that the surveillance state is already here. If all sorts of tech-enabled surveillance was already being used to obtain illegitimate criminal convictions contra the 4th Amendment, then why wouldn't most people realize it? Those illegitimate convictions would be making headlines, and we would all be sharing stories about people we know that were wrongly sent to prison. We do know about the surveillance state in China, for example. We don't know yet which surveillance evidence Courts will allow or disallow so the potential for narrowing of 4th Amendment rights is there certainly, and we shouldn't discount that risk. However, that seems mostly like a cultural and legal issue --- do we have a strong enough culture of civil liberties to select legislators and judges that will sufficiently limit government powers --- rather than a problem of Big Tech innovating new products per se. A culture that does not value civil liberties is in trouble regardless of how primitive its technology. That's why the Founding Fathers felt the need for a Bill of Rights even with 18th Century technology!

The rest of Caplan's points hold up pretty well, especially the ones rebutting the complaints about "monopolies" "killing competition" only for the "benefit of the 1%" by giving everyone lots of free and cheap stuff.

Of course there's a long road of repression and self-censoring behavior short of blatant and aggregious 4th amendment violations.

Meanwhile, the Bundy family, given the dearth of convictions, could argue that the surveillance used in the lead up to their trials was in fact the example you seek.

Not to mention the dirty tricks, provocations and entrapment, and trumped up pre-emptions used by authorities to meddle with protest groups and to manufacture terrorist wanna-bes out of hapless losers.

The point is, it is risky to allow Red China to freely weaponize information technology against the West. I think a preventive strike would help.

Big tech has already proven themselves willing and able to further intrusive government surveillance. Notice how they all play ball with the Chinese surveillance state in some fashion ... even as said state literally places people in concentration camps based on their religion.

Further, I see no reason to believe that we will know about tech intrusions before things come to a head. Tech has already decided to start tipping the scales on politics; Google for instance opted to "protect" Irish electoral integrity by banning outside ads during their repeal campaign. Yet somehow Google elected not to do this in Ecuador or Taiwan. Nor did they give advance notice that this was going to be their policy. I am not convinced that the public needs protection from foreign bought ads, but even if you think they do, it makes a lot more sense to have the rules be known, in advance, and preferably legitimated by government influence.

Nor do I suspect that things will eventually see the light of day. Pinterest, for instance, began censoring links to various pro-life groups. Videos discussing this censoring were then pulled by YouTube. Follow-up discussions about all this behavior have then been censored. When asked about this sort of behavior, under oath before congress, tech companies basically lied.

This is not the behavior of companies believing in freedom and free enterprise. This is the behavior of power brokers attempting to strengthen their position and enforce their will.

When you look at how much of our information runs through some tech company filter and how so much of public discourse is driven by what is able to snowball, I have little faith in any claim that "well we don't hear about it" is sufficient to believe in the harmlessness of tech.

I mean seriously, the entire social media model has about the same evidence for "causing suicide" that cigarettes had for "causing lung cancer" in the 60s. Maybe its a spurious correlation, but I see little reason why we should ignore the potential dangers of tech's policies and operating procedures any more than we should do so for newspapers or any other industry.

Caplan is on record not caring about the news. Populists are up their eyeballs in news all day, every day, and are massively swayed by it.

If you're above being manipulated by the news, you're an elitist. And people won't like you.

Caplan writes an essay that I largely agree with. Tech advances over the last 15 years have been positive.

But it's also a massive strawman post in that he doesn't address a lot of the concerns & legitimate concerns many (most?) people have and tries to claim that everyone who has that concern is a "populist". I expect populist to him is a bit of a dirty word, so he's just lumping people who don't completely agree into one large category with a negative label.

At least to the extent that we distrust the techno-populists, we should also distrust this brand of techno-utopianism. We are creating vast surveillance networks that create essentially permanent, fine grained records of our behaviors, locations, habits, beliefs and health, accessible at various times to corporations (ones that say, price my insurance), governments, and "bad actors" (via security breaches). Simply "not signing up for Facebook" is certainly not opting out of this. The idea that these processes could not possibly have any undesirable consequences, or that they are the same conceptual realm as historical village gossip (however oppressive) just because of the association with the word "privacy" seems a little bizarre to me. The impulse to break up large tech monopolies doesn't sound all that crazier than the impulse against intense scrutiny and a default position of distrust of these processes. Perhaps the benefits outweigh the costs, but surely de-emphasizing the costs does us no favors, and at the very least, we may be able to mitigate these costs by drawing attention to them.

Setting aside privacy, the near-monopolistic nature of large tech companies in important realms of exchange surely deserves scrutiny. If you control a focal point that draws a significant portion of a certain activity, there is legitimate public interest your behavior, even if you created that focal point. If the market square of a premodern town, through which most town commerce flows, is created and owned privately by a wealthy burgher, the decision by the burgher to ban someone from participating in the market surely deserves scrutiny, even if this platform would not exist without the burgher.

Why wouldn't these things make a libertarian wary? How distinguishable is a private institution from a coercive, public one in the limit of power and centralization?

If our purchase of an embarrassing product is in a data set, that isn't privacy. It's pseudo-private by being between a good actor who maintains that privacy. But as hacks happen, as data gets sold, there is no expectation that my recent purchases are not going to end up being public and easily searchable, just as the public homeowner and phone information of everyone has become accessible and searchable online.

"Populism" seems to be entering the cognitive elite's pejorative lexicon with "racism" and the hilariously anachronistic "fascism."

The cognitive elite promote their platonic ideal of democratic rule, but when the majority disagree with them, it becomes "populism."

In a just society Bryan Caplan would be sitting in a padded cell wearing a straitjacket.

“I had to log in [to software] at the start and finish of my shift and declare any breaks, including going to the toilet,” former employee at an online retailer, Sara McIntosh says. “They would count how many investigations I had done in a day on their system, then divide them by the working hours minus breaks to check I had reached my daily target.”

Yeah, I don't see why anyone would have reservations about advances in technology, data tracking, and surveillance.

For the full story, see:

As long as data was being used for illicit Progressive ends - always justified on moral grounds - it was a boon to humanity. The Progressive attitude toward data privacy changed overnight when Trump used it to get elected. :) Suddenly Big Tech was Big Evil, greedily selling your poor little innocent data to work as a minion for the Great Satan.

Okay, but none of those things are actually secret. If it wants to, your ISP knows all of those things. If you used Amazon, Amazon definitely knows. If you used Chrome, Google likely knows. Facebook likely knows too.

Thus far, maybe it hasn't mattered much that those companies know. Thus far, they've only used what they know to ham-handedly try to sell us what we already bought (and to sell an election). To the extent they remain focused on the big data set instead of the vast amount of data they have on individuals, maybe it won't matter all that much. But it's not hard to see how it could.

Comments for this post are closed