Answering Jordan Peterson on low IQ productivity

Jordan Peterson is surfing on a wave of popularity. Within a very short time, the Canadian professor has managed to create a cult like following. This is not something he intended. All he did was to stand up for his own liberty in Canada. Nothing suggested that he would be very successful when he started protesting. In fact, he took some great personal risks. His timing, however, turned out to be very good. He evoked a silent mass, which, just like him, thought that political correctness had gone way too far.

I have a great deal of respect for someone who is fighting for his believes at the risk of personal costs. Not surprisingly, I also happen to agree with his fight for liberty. But since he is now an authority for so many people, he also deserves to be criticized whenever he gets somethings wrong. As an advocate of open debate, I am sure Peterson would agree with that.

And he does seem to get quite a few things wrong. His popularity puts him under a lot of pressure to always have an answer to everything. Because he was protesting against political correctness, he is now often interviewed about politics in general. Peterson, however, does not strike me to be particularly interested in politics. His real passion clearly is psychology and religion. This is something he shares with many of his followers. The major cause for his huge popularity appears to be his personal development advise rather than his political philosophy.

It is not necessarily a good idea to take someone as an authority on every subject, just because he is clearly smart. Like everyone else, Peterson is only an expert in things that he has spend enough time thinking about. Listening to him, I get the impression that one of the areas he knows little about is economics. I recently came across a video of an interview, in which he discusses the importance of IQ for productivity. His thesis is that people with a too low IQ are unable to contribute to the economy. This, according to Peterson, is a significant problem, because the group of people with relevantly low IQs is quite large.

This opinion is based on common misconceptions. In order to understand the mistakes in his reasoning, let us go through his argument systematically. He starts out by quoting a number of studies which show a clear correlation between IQ and success in life. In fact, Peterson claims that IQ is the most important predictor for long term success known to us. Consequently, people with a too low IQ seem to be doomed to failure.

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, so it is reasonable to assume that he knows what he is talking about. That is not to say that IQ is the only factor important for success – personality traits like high conscientiousness and low neuroticism are also important. But apparently, none of these can compensate for a low IQ. This is not just true for personal success, but is particularly true for economic success. People with low IQs apparently struggle to be productive.

Let us look at the relationship between productivity and IQ. The argument that people with low IQs struggle to succeed in a modern economy is based on the observation that intelligence helps us to complete complex tasks. In fact that is exactly what IQ test questions are all about. That means, the more complex a task, the more IQ is needed to complete it. Peterson claims that modern economies have already become very complex, with simple task being automated. And it is reasonably to assume that the trend towards more complexity is going to continue in the future. Therefore, people with low IQs will increasingly not be able to add value to such an economy. In other words “there is not a job for everyone”, as he puts it.

It is certainly true that there is not a job for everyone. Some people clearly find it difficult to produce wealth. Examples of these would be certain drug addicts or those with a mental disease like Schizophrenia. The latter distorts the view of reality and makes a person dysfunctional in the real world. However, is Peterson right that a low IQ on its own prevents people from adding value to the economy?

As proof that this is indeed the case, Peterson quotes a policy of the armed forces, to not allow recruits with an IQ lower than 83 to join. This threshold is based on long term internal studies which have apparently shown that people with such low IQs simply are incapable of performing any needed task in the military.

The reason why Peterson things this is relevant is because the military is in constant shortage of bodies, and has jobs that require very few skills. He also mentions that one of the purposes of the military is to lift people out of poverty, by giving them a good education. Therefore, he concludes, if the military isn’t capable of employing them, no one is. Having established these facts, he points out that about 10% of society have an IQ that low, clearly suggesting that 10% of society will therefore not be employable. If all of this were true, it would be a grim outlook indeed.

But there are a number of fallacies in this argument. First of all, it is questionable to take a centrally planned bureaucracy, like the military, as a good indicator of who can and who cannot be productive. For some reason, intellectuals love hierarchical bureaucratic structures, and even Peterson, who is not a socialist, does not seem to be able to resist that temptation. The real testing ground, however, should be the actual private economy. No central planner can know what is and what is not productive work. This is of course the fundamental flaw in socialism, and the reason why it can never work. Ludwig von Mises famously pointed this out in his groundbreaking 1920 article “Economic Calculation in the Social Commonwealth”.

The real economy often gives us surprising answers as to what is and what is not productive. And looking at real world economic data, we find that the free market does seem to find productive tasks for low IQ people. If it were true that people with an IQ below 83 are unproductive, and those are 10% of society, then we would not expect to find unemployment rates in any free market economy to be under 10%.

Unfortunately, we do not have any economies that are totally free of state intervention to test this. However, we can at least have a look at some of the most free and advanced economies. Two good examples for these are Singapore and Switzerland. Both, according to the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, have been among the most advanced and productive economies in the world for a very long time. They are also two of the most free and unregulated. Singapore, a city state, even has hardly any welfare state at all. As far as I can tell, neither of these two economies has had an unemployment rate even close to 10% in the last three decades. In fact, during that period of time, the highest unemployment rate has been a little over 5%. Today it is 2% in Singapore, and 3% in Switzerland.

From this alone, it is save to conclude that, if a low IQ is a growing problem in increasingly complex societies, then, at least at the moment, the economy is clearly not complex enough for this to have a significant effect. In fact, as far as I am aware, even people with seriously low IQs can be trained to be somewhat productive. People with Down Syndrome, for example, who have an average IQ of around 50, can be trained to fulfill productive tasks. And luckily they are often exempt from damaging protective policies like the minimum wage.

But to be fair, at such low levels, the productivity is indeed strongly reduced. This does suggest that Peterson is not completely wrong. There is some relationship between IQ and productivity. But at least at the IQ 83 level, this does not seem to be significant enough to make a person unable to contribute to a modern economy.

The next question is, is this going to change in the future? Will people with low IQs increasingly struggle to be productive as the economy becomes more complex? It sure looks like strong reasoning to suggest so. The argument, however, rests on a very questionable assumption. Is the economy really getting increasingly complex? Do we therefore need better skills to handle complexity in order to be productive in the future? What is the evidence that we are witnessing such a development?

I think this is a fallacy. The exact opposite appears to be happening. Sure, being able to handle complexity, unquestionably makes people currently more productive. That is why managers and engineers have a higher salary than cleaners or garbage collectors. But this is not a new development. Managers and engineers have always earned more than workers doing simple tasks.

In order for there to be a problem one would need to argue that simple tasks are disappearing completely. And in fact, many people would argue that we have seen a shift away from simple jobs to more complex ones. Historically, the majority of people worked in farm jobs, which mainly required physical strength, and were repetitive. Whipped, uneducated slaves were able to do these jobs. Nowadays, however, we have clearly moved towards thinking office jobs.

It is true that most people have stopped making a living through physical labour. This change came with the rise of machines which were able to do the physical for us. Throughout history, whenever we saw new technology been introduced, the assumption of most people, at all times, has been that this would lead to a rise in unemployment.

Yet, people have always been wrong to assume so. As we have seen with the unemployment rates of modern economies, their concerns have so far not materialized. There are still an enormous amount of very simple jobs left. That is as long as the government does not regulate these jobs out of existence. Almost every human being, even people with low IQs, have skills that machines are unable to perform. These skills include things like common sense or the enormous fine motor skills of the human hand. The latter is still unmatched by robotics.

Has all this new technology made our work more complex? Why would it? Technology is a tool. And the better these tools are, the easier it is to use them. Usually, technology is only complex in its early development stages. This is the stage when it is not widely used yet. A simplification for the user is usually a necessary condition for a technology to spread widely.

When computers first were invented, only the most highly trained engineers could use them. Today, my three year old niece can operate an iPad. The latter, of course, is orders of magnitude more complex than the first computers that needed to be operated by experts. Advanced tools do not make things more complex, they make them easier.

There does not seem to be much evidence that our jobs have become more complex. Sure, we now have more office jobs. But thanks to increasingly sophisticated tools, we also have more idiots doing office jobs. And there is absolutely no reason to expect the situation to get worse.

A lot of people are worried about the advent of AI and robotics. These, so they think, will create machines that will be able to beat us in any skill we have. Therefore, there will be no more jobs left for us to do. No more jobs, except for the highly complex task of coordinating these machines. This will lead to a society in which there is a great divide between a small elite in control on the one hand, and all the rest of us on the other, who will be left out of the economy.

This is an absolute fallacy that I have written about before. Machines are tools and not competitors. They are not competitors, because they do not have any interests on their own. Every tool makes us more productive, and most tools are even superior to us in some way. That is why we use them. Even a very simple tool, like a hammer, is used by us, because it is superior in certain ways to our hand. It is therefore misguided to thing that machines who are better than us are a problem. We cannot have too good tools!

And the better the tools, the simpler they will make jobs. Tools help us to complete tasks more quickly, and to a higher standard. That is another way of saying, they make us more productive. The more intelligent machines get, the more they can handle complexity themselves. That is why my niece can operate a highly complex iPad. The complexity of the computer is reduced to a very simple interface. Consequently, if machines are able to handle complexity, they can be used as a tool by people, who are bad in handling complexity. And those are the people for whom these machines will be most useful.

Think about it – when machines were invented to replace our physical labour, was it clever to argue that this was a disaster for the weak? Was it clever to argue that now only the strongest would be able to compete with these machines? Of course not. The exact opposite was the case. With the advent of strong machines, it was particularly weaker people who became more productive, because machines are not competitors, they are tools.

Just like a calculator has the biggest use for people who are bad at calculating in their head, and strong machines are best for weak people, intelligent machines will be best for the not so intelligent. If anyone will get to be disrupted by intelligent machines, it will be intelligent people, who will lose their advantage to produce. They will lose their advantage, because the economy will get a lot more simple rather than complex.

It is also a fallacy that the production of wealth can be concentrated in the hands of a few. This cannot happen, at least not without the use of force. Who would the minority of producers sell their products to? Already in the early 19th century, the economist Jean-Baptiste Say famously figured out that supply creates its own demand. There will always be an advantage of having a division of labour, no matter how advanced machines get. And it will always be better that more people produce rather than fewer, no matter which tools they use.

That means there will always be an economy, and we are not going to all become self-sufficient individuals. The only difference will be, that the more tools we have, the more everyone can potentially fulfill every part of that division. Peterson says that “not everyone can be trained to do everything”. That is true. But in the future, maybe everyone can have a tool which can do everything for them.

Life will not become more complex, but it will become easier, at least economically. That is not to say that it will necessarily be easier to find a purpose in life and be happy. That, however, is a different question from productivity. Economically, technology will be a great equalizer rather than a divider. So there is no need to worry about people with low IQs. The evidence shows that, if the state lets them, they are able to produce now, and they will be even more so in the future.

The Way Libertarians Should Get Involved in Politics.

 

Libertarian prodigy Adam Kokesh and the Anarcho-capitalist ‘zen master’ Larkin Rose have clashed recently and very publically. The reason these two well-known figures have had a heated exchange is over Adam Kokesh’s decision to run for ‘non-president’ of the united states in the next US general election.

My summary of the debate is as follows: Adam Kokesh wants to spread the message of liberty in the political sphere by running for president. Whereas, Larkin Rose believes that by simply taking part in the electoral process you justify the inertia of the government. On his blog, Larkin Rose has gone as far as calling Adam Kokesh a pompous fool in what he sees as a delusional campaign that will have no real results.

The discussion is very interesting to me because it reflects a shift in my own personal position on this issue. If you would have asked me a year ago which person I would have supported, I would undoubtedly have told you that I side with Larkin Rose. His logic makes sense; by engaging with the political system, you justify the state. Furthermore, he is right when he when he critiques of Adam Kokesh’s idea that you could even have a ‘non-president’ as insane. It would be highly illegal for someone to simply sign a document saying ‘I hereby abolish the government’. Throughout the discussion, Rose sticks to his guns by saying the transition from our current situation to a free society should be by ‘walking away from the state’.

However, my opinion has begun to shift. It sounds obvious but trying to engage with people politically in areas other than politics is rather difficult. Outside overtly libertarian circles trying to convince ordinary people to buy Bitcoin, stop voting for political parties and purchase a copy of Human Action is extremely challenging. This agorist rationale reminds me of a talk I went to about the British Missionary David Livingstone. Despite travelling widely across Africa, learning how to converse with the Africans he encountered, being a celebrity in Britain and having significant imperial support. He is said to only ever have converted one African to Christianity. Clearly, trying to enact change by persuading one individual at a time is an enormous task.

But what about the idea of a libertarian revolution? This is perhaps more realistic, there has been lots of enthusiasm around the attempt to create a libertarian(ish) enclave in Liberland and I have lost count of how many articles I have read about ‘sea-steads’. Yet, there are still good reasons to be sceptical about such an event. If there was indeed going to be a libertarian revolution, then there would already be audible murmurs of libertarianism reverberating around the country. Historically, revolutions or even protests tend to be flashes of anger that are picked up and channelled by more ideologically committed enterprises.  For example, (probably) the most successful organised protest group in the UK The Stop the War Coalition are able to hold massive demonstrations on a regular basis that have an effect on government policy. This isn’t because of their members wholesale swallow the ideological direction of the organisers, but because they work tirelessly to make sure that when there is anger, they have something ready to go.

It stands to reason then, that perhaps the most crucial issue with libertarianism (particularly here in the UK) is that we are disorganised. Libertarianism is a minority position. Therefore, unless people would be prepared to suffer a massive wage drop, it is understandable that we tend not to be full-time career radicals in the way that many Stop the War organisers are. All of the libertarians I have had the opportunity to meet are normal working people first and libertarians second. Again, this is understandable but it does mean that we suffer a severe organisation deficit. By the time we are organised any potential wave of indignation will have been and gone. I presume that there are clever ways to get around the fact that there are no full-time libertarians coordinating a potential action, but I have yet to see them.

To my mind, the worst idea that I come across is the ‘wait and see’ option. The idea that we should wait a few hundred years and wait for libertarianism to become popular on its own is nonsense. Forget politics, nobody has ever achieved anything by this logic. And if they have it is only the case in retrospect.

Although I sympathise with Larkin Rose and admire his patience. Although I am very much against the idea that any cultural shift can be imposed from above, I think that simply refusing to engage in politics is a mistake. My position on this issue has recently shifted in a more politics friendly direction. But the dark realm of established politics is far from risk-free.

The perils of getting involved with the political system present us with similarly enormous problems.There are several good reasons why this may not be the best course or action for libertarians. The first and the most obvious is that the odds of us ever winning an election are minuscule. It is understandable that come election time, many people who may wish to support us will vote for one of the more established political parties. In fact, some more committed and practically minded folk may make the decision that it would be better to get involved with a more established party and try to turn it in a more libertarian direction from the inside. So it is clear that under our current electoral system, competing in mainstream politics would be very difficult. And that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon.

But there is an easier way to build a following in mainstream politics. And that is by putting forward policies that are widely popular rather than principled. In fact, politics is often a delicate balance between sticking to one’s ideals and doing what is expedient. This is in itself a problem. By competing in the bear pit of politics libertarians will inevitably need to appear palatable to the general public. Furthermore, there will come a point where individual libertarians will be expected drop discussions about ideology and start talking about strategy. This will not be an easy shift to make. Why bother engaging in politics just to have your ideals diluted when you can stay out of things and spread ideas another way? There are no easy answers to this question, hence why many libertarians stay out of politics.

We should also consider the cost of getting involved in politics. Unlike a business venture there are considerable financial and time commitments attached to politics. Money will need to be raised, weekends spent campaigning and countless hours will need to be spent organising things. And what will come of it? Probably nothing. Getting a political party off the ground can take decades of commitment and sacrifice. No wonder lots of people think we should just bypass the established political system altogether.

As previously stated Larkin Rose is correct in his assertion that Adam Kokesh’s dream of abolishing the state is impossible, the government does not work that way. But in the debate Kokesh makes it clear that he does not expect to win, he merely just wants to highjack the political system to spread the ideas of libertarianism. In my opinion, there is something in this.

It sounds simplistic but mainstream politics is the language that most people use to talk about how to change the world. When I turn on my TV and watch Question Time, I expect to hear about politics. Whereas when I watch Countryfile I do not. Having spent the past four years as a libertarian I have noticed a lack of libertarians in our national debate. By refusing to engage with the political system at all we are locking ourselves out of it.

Most political debates (to use a polite term for it) I see on social media are rarely intense philosophical discussions. They are about people, policies and parties. If we remain outside the mainstream, we will remain outside the consciousness of most people. They will have no reference point for libertarianism, and we do not become part of the political lexicon.

To use an analogy: when everybody else is conversing in English we are speaking Japanese. Indeed some people can understand Japanese, but they are few in number outside a core of native speakers. Instead of trying to get others to learn our language, it’s time we started talking English.

This does not mean that we should abandon discussing ideas and trading opinions with each other, far from it. If you visit the social media pages of most British socialist organisations you will see that they bitterly amongst themselves about the real interpretation of some obscure paragraph in Das Kapital whilst still having a profound, and growing impact on our political landscape; how do they do it? The answer is easy, they play the game.

It is my belief that as libertarians we should be more willing to ‘play the game’. However, there is a middle ground to be reached here. If we abandon principles in favour of practicality then we would all join the Conservative party. Not a good idea in my book. Yet, if we put all principles over any sense of expediency then we go nowhere. There are practical things we can do that would introduce libertarianism to the British Public that don’t compromise what libertarianism stands for.Clearly, we must find a way of engaging with the political mainstream, without becoming absorbed by it.

I have ended this article guilty of doing something that I hate; claiming that people should ‘do something’ but not articulating what exactly I mean by that. There will be a follow-up post tomorrow outlining some things people could actually do.

 

Free Speech In The Age Of The Internet

Not too long ago, the internet used to be a very free space. It seemed out of reach from governments, and was almost entirely unregulated. Users felt free to publish almost anything they liked, and they could do so anonymously. The internet, therefore, was a hope for everyone with non-mainstream opinions that their voices could finally break through the protected consensus of the mainstream.

This hope was certainly justified. The internet still is very much a force for good. But like all forces for good, the government tends to hate them. And so Leviathan has been eager to jump on it. The state is trying to make the internet a force for its own good. The progress made in that endeavor during the last decade is very worrying.

Edward Snowden, who worked for the NSA, was the first to blow the whistle. His revelations revealed that western governments had very advanced programs to use the internet to control society. Before Snowden, few people had thought about the consequences that most of what we do these days leaves some traces on the internet. I certainly was not worried about it. But Snowden made the public aware that, by hovering up all these information, the government could potentially know about almost everything we are up to in our lives.

This is not just a problem for really bad guys, like terrorists. The secrecy of private lives has been an effective tool against a lot of government tyranny. Whenever the official rules of the state became too silly, a lot of people just secretly stopped following them. The state essentially needed to be good enough, so that most people followed the rules out of conviction. The prospect of the state being able to take away this kind of effective protest is truly frightening. For the first time, Snowden revealed that the internet did not necessarily have to be a force for good. If we are not careful, it could turn out as a tool for real enslavement.

Nevertheless, the fact that everyone can now publish their opinions cheaply, and on multiple platforms, remains extremely powerful. After all, in many western countries there are still laws in place which, at least formally, guarantee a certain amount of free speech. These laws date back to times, when it was significantly more complicated and costly to make one’s voice heard. The establishment therefore usually did not see free speech as too much of a threat.

In fact allowing people to express their opinions, while at the same time not giving them a platform, can be an effective tool for controlling opposition. The moment the government locks up dissidents, they can claim to be a victim of an oppressive regime. This tends to draw support to them. At the same time, leaving someone alone without platforming him, but giving him hope that his voice might be heard in the future, gives that person an incentive to not go too far with his opposition. As long as he believes he can make his voice heard in the future, he might still play along with the system, even though the system is very much rigged against him.

But with the internet, people now have a very real chance of finding an audience. The internet has indeed shown to be the game changer that it was promised to be at the beginning. Since the people in power often believe their own propaganda, they have been very late to realize, how much they have been loosing control over the narrative of debates.

The big wakeup call came with Brexit and the election of Trump. Both events were completely unexpected to the established forces. They were so hit by surprise that it took them a while to realize why voters had turned against them. A lot of people simply do not get their information from officially briefed sources anymore.

Since the establishment had this epiphany, we have seen frantic attempts to win back control. There has been an increase in legal speech prohibitions in almost every western country, with the possible exception of the US. Only last week we saw Scottish YouTuber Markus Meechan, who goes under the name Count Dankula, being convicted in a court of law for hate speech. His crime was to make a joke for his girlfriend, by teaching her pug to perform a Nazi salute to the words “gas the jews”. Meechan is not actually a Nazi. Far from it, he explains at the beginning of the video that he thinks Nazis are the most offensive thing he could imagine. The goal was not to spread hatred, but to teach his girlfriend wrong, who claimed that her pug could not possible do anything that is not cute.

None of that of cause matters. Free speech is meaningless if it is not allowed to offend people. Unless someone is issuing a concrete and believable thread, or is involved in planning a violent crime, everyone should be free to say whatever he or she likes. A Precedence like the Meehan case clearly shows that the government is trying to clamp down on free speech.

Last year, we saw the UK government even proposing punishments of up to 15 years in prison for people who merely watch “extremist” content online. This is allegedly targeted at supporters of terrorist groups. However, all it takes is a precedent from a judge to extend this law to cover all kinds of opposition to the government. True opposition can easily be portrayed as extremist. But if merely watching content online becomes a crime, punishable by multiple years in prison, we are truly in deep tyranny territory.

The bigger strategy to get back in control of the narrative, however, does not seem to be outright speech prohibitions. Especially in the US, these would face some serious legal hurdles. Instead, the strategy seems to be to somehow go back to the good old days of being able to deny someone a platform.

After the Trump election, a narrative has been spun to make alternative news sources look like tools for evil forces. The phrase ‘fake news’ was introduced to differentiate between legitimate, meaning establishment, information, and uncontrolled news sources. Introducing the label ‘fake news’ would be little more than amusing if it had stopped there. But unfortunately, we are seeing an outright criminalization of everything that is not approved media content.

This would usually look like a cause doomed to fail, giving how easy it is to publish anything on the internet. But unfortunately, the way the online distribution of information appears to work at the moment does give the government a chance of succeeding. While it is true that everyone can publish anything easily on the internet, that is not to say that it is easy to find an audience.

Social media has a huge effect on which content people consume. What does and does not appear in the news feed of Facebook and Twitter, or in the search results of Google and YouTube, very much influences opinions. And these few companies very much control a huge amount of the distribution, and advertisement of alternative media.

From a libertarian perspective this could sound like good news. If distribution is in the hands of private companies, then there is little to worry about, right? Private companies, for the most part, do not have political agendas. They just want to make a profit. That means, they have an economic incentive to make as many customers happy as possible.

Unfortunately, this is only true in a free market system. What we have today, however, is crony capitalism. In today’s system, whenever a company reaches a certain size, or whenever a company crosses political interests, a collusion between the government and that company can be observed. After all, the government can make business very difficult for pretty much anyone. It is therefore difficult to say no to the mob.

How do we know that this is happening? Well, first of all, it is naïve to believe that the state would simply stand bank when one of its core interests is threatened. Many people have long suspected that the reason google is the best search engine is because they get help from the intelligence community in the US.

But we don’t even need to go into conspiracy theories. The collusion is happening very overtly. Governments simply have declared the media platforms to be responsible for the content that its users post. As a result, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, who have a quasi monopoly, have started to censorship user content. And they are not just censoring posts that are against some laws. They are keenly censoring anything that even remotely might get them any negative criticism from the establishment, just in case.

There clearly is no will to resist government influence. These companies are more than happy to go along with an established agenda. On the other hand, the pressure they are put under by the government is certainly huge. Campaigns to demonize content are being lounged very aggressively. Anyone who is on the wrong side of the news, is attacked as being an illegitimate actor.

The most prominent villain has been made out to be Russia, who is accused of “interfering” in elections by simply talking to people on social media. I wrote about this here. But there are other scapegoats. The latest scandal is the use of Facebook data by the company Cambridge Analytics. As already in the Russian scandal, there is a lot of noise, but it is actually not so easy to find out what the exact accusations are. I might be wrong, but as far as I can tell, Cambridge Analytics is not actually accused of breaking the law. Instead, the company is accused of unethically collecting user information on Facebook, by burying the agreement to share these information in the terms and conditions of its apps. And we all know that no one reads those. It then used these information to provide a superior advertisement service.

If this is true, than it is not clear what the huge scandal is about. Sure, Cambridge Analytics might have got some information about users that the users were not really happy to share. While that would not be very good, the harm done in this case does not seem to be huge. After all the company did not use these information to steal or harm users in any other way. It simply used it for tailor made advertisement.

The fact that Facebook excessively collects its user’s data, and uses it to influence people on the network, has been well know for a long time now. Many users feel uncomfortable about it. I know a number of people who have left the platform for that reason. I myself have a ‘strictly no private stuff’ policy when it comes to using Facebook. As a consequence, user numbers are declining, and the average time spend on Facebook is down 24%. That is huge. If the Cambridge Analytics scandal will turn the psychology of users against using Facebook even more, than that is certainly a net positive as far as I am concerned.

Still, one has to ask why this particular case sparks so much outrage. One cannot help but get the impression that the real “crime” of Cambridge Analytics was to work for the wrong team in the last US election. What if they had worked for the Clinton campaign, or to promote an officially accepted cause, like climate change? I am willing to bet anything that in that case, we would have never heard much about it. And if we did, the media would have presented Cambridge Analytics in a very different, much more positive, light.

In fact, we don’t really have to wonder about this. As a number of commentators have pointed out, Obama employed very similar advertisement tactics in the 2012 election. This was not a big scandal at all. No one seemed to have be bothered by it. And the difference between the two cases is clear – advertising the election of Obama is officially approved, while advertising Trump is not.

All of this makes it increasingly obvious that the domination of distributing content online by a very few big players is a real problem. It gives governments a handle on attempting to control the narrative. Making distributers of information responsible for the media content on their networks is a quite clever stroke of genius. That way, we will likely overshoot on the censorship side, without the government having to formally make it look like they are clamping down on freedom of speech. But this strategy would not be so easily possible if it wasn’t for the fact that we have quasi social media monopolies.

What can be done about it? I have heard a lot of people suggesting that we need to get the government involved in controlling these monopolistic platforms. This would apparently guarantee more fairness. At the very least there should be strict regulations.

Unsurprisingly, this seems like a really bad idea to me. I really do believe that the government is the real villain in all of this. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were not too bother censoring information before the state threatened them, and made a lot of noise about it. Putting the state officially in charge of these platform would only make things a lot worse.

It seems that the only possible answer to this problem is more consumer responsibility. Users need to demand less interference, and move to alternative platforms if possible. This is certainly easier said than done. The reason why there are so few players in this field is, because one of the major benefits of big platforms is a network effect. As consumers, we want to have as easy as possible access to all information. More importantly, content providers want to use platforms on which they can reach a maximum amount of people. If, however, all information are in the same place, we are necessarily talking about a quasi monopoly.

So the only solution seems to be to make a compromise to reduce one’s benefits of a network effect in exchange for having fewer interferences. But this could turn out to be a too big compromise for many people to make. Still, with the degree of interference that we are seeing at the moment, it seems likely that a large enough number of people will eventually make that compromise and move to alternative platforms.

In fact, this is what we are seeing already in the last few months. As mentioned, user time on Facebook is down 24%. Market monopolies don’t tend to last forever. Very few of the biggest major companies from a century ago are still around today. I shell be very surprised if Facebook will still be the dominant platform 20 years from now. At some point users will have enough of it. If nothing else, Facebook will at some point become old and not hip anymore. All the cool kids will be on the new popular platform X.

I witnessed the speed with which such change in psychology can happen myself when I was still living in Germany. Before there was Facebook, another social network called StudiVZ was very popular there. Within a very short time, it was so popular that one had to be on it in order to maintain a normal social life. Then, suddenly, people liked Facebook more and an exodus from StudiVZ began. Within a year, the network went from being so popular that no one could afford not to be on it, to being completely dead. That is how quickly it can go. Something similar happened of course to myspace.

Meaning, if there is any major shift in psychology against Facebook, the social network could very well go from having a quasi monopoly to being out of business very quickly. This seems inconceivable to most people now, and I am not predicting this to happen within the next year. But it seems almost certain to me that social media platforms will be subject to fashions. And that means that at some point in the future the network effect will work against Facebook.

In free markets, consumers have powers and responsibilities. Simply complaining about the policies of a company, without being willing to take action and move to the competition, is usually not very effective. On markets, everyone acts according to incentives. And the big companies have no incentive to resist the influence of governments. An institution that has a monopoly on physical force has the ability to make offers that no one can refuse. We therefore need to educating internet users about their responsibilities as consumers in order to change the psychology against companies that have become too powerful. I am not saying it is easy, but it is the only way, and it can clearly be done.

Video: What is the Libertarian Movement For?

There a few people in the world of libertarianism that require as little an introduction as Brian Micklethwait. As somebody who has been involved in promoting the cause of liberty for a rather long time there is no wonder that when he speaks, people listen.

Brian began his talk with a short exhibition of different books written by libertarians. Including Tom G Parker, Innes Bowen, Alex Singleton and Dominic Frisby. This is one of the great things about listening to Brian, he is an enthusiastic promoter of not just his own ideas but of the British libertarian community. An idea that we would do well to adopt if we are to move forward.

After this impromptu book review, Brian began his talk with the assertion that the libertarian movement is alright. A surprising and welcome vote of confidence given the small number of libertarians in the UK.

When did the libertarian movement begin?

The first point Brian made was that libertarianism in Britain has deep roots. All the way back to the seventeenth century in fact. His reasoning for this is that although many later thinkers of the Enlightenment eschewed the levellers as somewhat embarrassing zealots their ideas this was a mistake. There are many reasons for this. The first being that the questions that people in the seventeenth century were trying to answer were profoundly different to the sorts of questions we are asking now. Whereas in modern Britain we are trying to figure out how much power should the state have, the levellers were preoccupied with the conundrum of ‘who should the state be comprised of’. This profound difference along with the role religion played in that era make it seem distant and incomprehensible but it is not.

Brian went on to say that the ideas of the Levellers came to fruition during the Industrial Revolution. The concept that one has property, and It can be used as the individual sees fit was not invented by the industrialists of the nineteenth century, they inherited an already old and noble tradition.

History aside, Brian makes an important point here.  Libertarianism is an ideological tradition that stretches far back and has greatly improved society. He brings us up to the present day by saying that somewhere in the early 1960s Marxists stopped believing in progress. Instead, they opted for environmentalism and anti-consumerism.  Libertarians are still arguing the case for progress hundreds of years after the smoke began to rise out of Brian’s factories.

How to do libertarianism

Brian’s second point is that in order to do libertarianism well we must avoid the pitfall of ‘we must’. In order to make the movement progress, we should understand that our morals are not for somebody else to follow, but for ourselves. The focus should be on how we plan to make libertarianism better. These combined acts of devotion to the libertarian cause make more of an impact than simply commanding other activists to do as you wish.

He also makes a point about the shape of British Libertarianism. Brian is a decidedly ‘big tent’ libertarian. Willing to embrace others who do not subscribe to his own particular worldview. Having had the opportunity to speak to Brian on many occasion, I know he is not somebody that shies away from expressing an opinion. Yet there is a certain ethos of ‘stop blabbering and just get on with it’ that is rather refreshing.

Conclusion

Ultimately Brain’s talk ended on an uplifting note. He stressed that people should at least enjoy themselves while doing libertarian things. Although applying yourself is important, ploughing all of your life savings into founding a radical anarcho-capitalist magazine and then complaining endlessly when it goes bust after three issues is not going to help the cause of other libertarians. Brian makes the important distinction between bread and babies; bread, when sliced into smaller parts, is still valuable. Whereas babies that are sliced into small chunks are not so valuable…

Essentially make sure that your long-term goals are divisible and achievable by small individual acts. Rather than investing your time and energy on a once in a lifetime splurge. And you might as well have fun while you are doing it!