Monday, February 18, 2013

Will the Internet Help Us Extend Our Liberty in the Battle Against the Expanding State?

Robert Higgs has certainly gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Given the seeming ever growing expansion of the state, I can understand why. I reprint below his recent post, which reveals his thinking on the internet.
Many of my freedom-loving friends have great confidence that communication via the Internet and the World Wide Web will prove to be a game-changer in the fight against the disinformation and propaganda disseminated by the state and its running dogs, and that the greater ease of spreading the truth will shift the balance in favor of those who seek to protect and extend liberty. I have always had my doubts.

For one thing, the state continues to have a preponderance of physical power, and should its domination ever be brought into genuine challenge, it can always resort to sheer violence. The Internet has intrinsic strengths, to be sure, but the state’s goons can always smash in your door, crush your computers to shreds with sledge hammers, and haul you off to one of its dungeons. At present, the state is not challenged seriously, and therefore it need not resort to such primitive, though effective, measures. Moreover, it needs to preserve the use of Internet communication in order that industry and commerce will thrive, and thereby provide a great volume of wealth for the state to plunder.

A second reason for my doubts is that although the Internet and the Web lower the cost of disseminating the truth, they equally lower the cost of disseminating the state’s lies. Perhaps more important, today’s technology permits users to create many forms of distortion and illusion, so that when we encounter information on the Web, we must always ask, “Is this real or fake?” We simply cannot believe everything we see with our own eyes. Some hoaxes are easily revealed; others require great expertise to expose; and few of us possess such expertise. The masses therefore remain vulnerable to what governments and their key supporters have done for millennia—namely, fool most of the people most of the time.

Finally, unless the friends of liberty can bring about a significant change in the dominant ideology, none of our communications will matter, however much they reveal the state’s deceptions and offer truth as a substitute. Ideology is not simply ideas; it has a powerful element of values as well. If people do not place much value on freedom and prefer, as many Americans now do, creature comforts, entertainment, and the illusion of security, then their ears will be deaf to our efforts to spread the truth, regardless of the technology we employ.

A few thoughts relative to the Higgs comments. First, it is encouraging that despite his overall negative tone, he does say:
[The state] needs to preserve the use of Internet communication in order that industry and commerce will thrive, and thereby provide a great volume of wealth for the state to plunder.
To the degree the state calculates that it is too dangerous to shutdown the Internet, the better. The Internet does provide superior methods of communications, including for freedom advocates.

Second, Higgs writes that:
Ideology is not simply ideas; it has a powerful element of values as well. If people do not place much value on freedom and prefer, as many Americans now do, creature comforts, entertainment, and the illusion of security, then their ears will be deaf to our efforts to spread the truth, regardless of the technology we employ.
There is some truth to this. However, the ever expanding state will ultimately result in the shrinking of creature comforts and a declining standard of living. It must be remembered that the state is not a producer, it only lives off of what is produced in the private sector. As Mises reminded us, this draining of the private sector doesn't last forever:
An essential point in the social philosophy of interventionism is the existence of an inexhaustible fund which can be squeezed forever. The whole system of interventionism collapses when this fountain is drained off: The Santa Claus principle liquidates itself.
As the interventionist system collapses, more and more of the curious will seek answers to why the collapse is occurring. Indeed, we can see this now in the way it has become difficult for many college students to find jobs beyond those offered by restaurant chains. This difficulty results in some taking to the Internet to learn about the system and what may be causing the lack of high paying jobs.  For sure, they will not all end up at to find the explanation of the situation, but some will. Without the Internet, it is very difficult to see how this would occur in the numbers it now does.

Higgs also raises the problem of misinformation, and there is no question that misinformation exists on the web. But, is this any different from misinformation in the past that has been spit out by MSM? Yes, misinformation exists on the Internet in many different forms, but truth is much more available because of the Internet. It has not turned everyone into a fountain of wisdom about liberty, but it does provide the opportunity for some to do become such, in a way that did not exist before the Internet.

As we all know, the world is a very complex place, and it is difficult to know for sure how events will unfold, but it is clear that the more second hand dealers in ideas that are out in the world promoting the importance of liberty, the better are the odds that we will all be freer. The Internet, though it provides an outlet for communicating misinformation, is a also very important mechanism for spreading truth about how the world works and why freedom should be valued.

This is not a time to be pessimistic about the Internet. It is not, by any means, the device that will automatically turn the world into freedom lovers, but it is an important tool of communication and the only hope freedom lovers have is to communicate clearly the importance of liberty, by using the communication tools available. We need to plant the seeds about the importance of freedom in as many minds as we can, now. No one knows what battles may have to be fought in the future for freedom, It is unclear whether the state will at some future point smash with sledge hammers  our computers, or whether technology will be able to stay ahead of the state. But we have the tool now and it should be used now to aggressively explain the importance of liberty.


  1. Bitcoin is the small mammal that will take the place of the dinosaurs. The centralizers can't fight a decentralized currency.

  2. IMO I would not be as libertarian as I am without the internet. I might have a notion that government sucks but not that it is inherently evil. I would not have the well thought out resources that are on,, your site (unless we are talking about natural rights ;) etc. Friends/acquaintances who are statists on facebook are exposed to laissez faire arguments, the whole frame of debate seems to be different in the online world compared to MSM and I believe that to be because of the exposure to truth.

  3. There are two main problems with the internet.
    1) ICANN - A government sponsored entity. It is a private company in name only created to control internet naming. This company is subject to the US government's whims. Without internet naming (DNS), we'd have to know servers by their IP address.
    2) The TCP/IP protocol was created by the state (DARPA) to decentralize communication in order to potentially survive a nuclear attack in which some routing servers would go down some 40 years ago. This protocol has inherent issues (as well as strengths!) due to its origins. Since it was created by the state for the state, the government can easily monitor / control all internet traffic (see NSA Data Center Utah).

    There is a reason it is so easy for places like China, and the Middle-East to censor the internet.

    A private internet built from the ground up may better address these issues.

    1. Those are not the only problems. Aside from the root server issue, ICANN is responsible for allocating IP blocks and gets to decide who is qualified to receive IP address space.

      However, the IP protocol is not the reason the US government can easily capture Internet traffic. What is responsible is a law the government passed post-9/11 that requires all US network equipment manufacturers to include a government backdoor in their equipment.

    2. ICANN only assigns blocks of IP addresses to regional registries, it has no control down the line:
      "Both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are generally assigned in a hierarchical manner. Users are assigned IP addresses by Internet service providers (ISPs). ISPs obtain allocations of IP addresses from a local Internet registry (LIR) or National Internet Registry (NIR), or from their appropriate Regional Internet Registry (RIR)" So you have every open wi-fi hotspot {including standing outside the Apple store) to get a temporary lease on a valid IP address, every ISP in your geographic reach (concast, fios,Direct TV, dozens of independents), hotel guest networks, your workplace. You can stand outside the dorm room of any campus and ask a passing student for the password to their wifi and your on.

      They may have a backdoor and can see your tcp/ip packets, but if you encrypt your communications there is no backdoor to PGP (pretty good privacy). The entire source code is available on the Internet so a backdoor would be viable.

      TOR can hide the source IP of communications.

      This stuff is complicated. The great firewall of China dose most of its work by blocking Google search terms, not by actually denying IP resources or blocking particular servers.

  4. Without the internet, we would have never learned that there isn't a single Keynesian in the galaxy who understands even the basic Austrian concept of economic calculation much less our analysis of how it is impaired by funny money. And we didn't have to spend a cent on a public opinion survey.

  5. There is no single point of failure for the Internet. you can poiint your computer/web browser to any nameservers you desire - pointing to the ICANN approved ones is simply a matter of convenience. If ICANN politicized their nameservers, alternate root nameservers would spring up. they could have a clone of the official zone files (so connecting to your bank would resolve or email to a friend still using the official nameservers would work) but they could contain additional zones (such as .freedom) which would resolve also. They alternate nameservers could be offshore; I'm sure Russia would host free unmolested nameservers to annoy the USG.

    1. This might interest you, Anon715pm. Pardons if you know it already:

    2. Ya can't stop the signal!!

  6. I had my doubts in the past about how citizens would do in some sort of armed conflict with the government if it ever came to that. After witnessing one fatass mediocre cop in LA bring terror into the entire LAPD and basically paralyze them, I have changed my mind. That guy was a typical halfass trained cop who decided to ambush a few cops, and the cops were terrified and the LAPD was basically shut down to a large extent while looking for him.

    Now imagine several thousand people do the same thing.

  7. One of my libertarian fantasies is being a part of millions of dissenters who peacefully drop out of the system and work to make America as inhospitable as possible for as many politicians/corporate-crony-capitalists as possible:

    I'm talking about millions bullhorning their homes at all hours of the night, shouting them down at town hall meetings, pulling kids out of public schools, frequenting local farmers, walking the streets armed in dangerous high-crime areas, forming local associations of freedom-minded people to preach to the choir and expand little fiefdoms of freedom and morality, rejecting federal money to start, forming county leadership to reject state funding, supporting businesses that are peacefully opposed to government, spreading ideas to end foreign aid to all, etc. Basically millions of people behaving like Tom Green. Of course, two problems I see with my plan (of which there must be many more) is keeping productivity up and refraining from annoying other people who might otherwise join the cause. Haha.

    Millions of pissed-off people with nonviolent means, willing to "hang their balls out" and basically annoy the crap out of the real 1% could accomplish a great deal. We don't need no stinking armed revolution. We just need to send it home to the crony-capitalists that they're worthless, we don't need them, and they better leave us alone if they want another good night's sleep before they retire or leave the country.

    This can start with the Bloombergs of the world. That little Satan gets so much attention as one single crappy mayor. Nothing would make me happier than breaking his will, having him cry on camera and apologizing to the people of New York for acting like the Nurse Ratched of NYC.

    I can think of nothing better than giving all these idiots the worst stress-related illnesses possible. They deserve it.

    (Great fantasy scenario: Bloomberg goes to his doctor. Doc says,"Mike you better retire if you want to see your health improve. While your at it, why don't you and the city council abolish the city government so I can make a better living too. By the way, that's free advice, your money is no good with me." {Everywhere these politicians go, they're made to feel like a huge shit-stain fouling up humanity, which is true}

    (Dr. Higgs, if you happen to read this, I support you and your great work, and I hope this made you laugh)

    1. Funny- I've had the exact fantasy for years! I think people all over the USA are doing much of this on a smaller scale. Anyway, Great article, gives me hope.

  8. "We need to plant the seeds about the importance of freedom in as many minds as we can, now." I have recently published my book "Lao Zi Philosophy of Liberal Government" and it is now available at:

    It is my small way to contribute to the fight for freedom and liberty.