McAfee’s Miscalculation

John McAfee is a well known technologist and member of the liberty movement. He invented McAfee anti-virus software, so his tech of choice is security, and he was a Libertarian Party candidate for President although he was bested in the primary by Gary Johnson.

McAfee’s approach to security is essentially opposite my own: He takes the approach that more secrecy is better. I take the approach that free information is better. It strikes me as obvious that my approach is more consistent with libertarianism, but many libertarians are understandably given to McAfee’s fear-driven approach. Fear, as students of behavioral economics know, is among the most powerful components of subjective valuation.

McAfee recently tweeted a series of “5 truths of privacy and information flow.” His 5 points essentially criticize Google as a monopoly on all information with a questionable relationship to the government. Discounting the significantly and importantly wrong exaggeration that Google actually monopolizes all information, I largely agree with his 5 points, but then he issued this, I guess summary, tweet which was like an incorrect summary of his earlier 5 tweets:

So our libertarian Wizard-looking leader sneaks in a logically incorrect emotional appeal at the last minute. His basic fallacy? Loss of privacy != loss of control.

He is essentially arguing that public information benefits only the government, thus they can control us. That is a massive miscalculation.

Free information benefits the understanding of both the government and the markets. Indeed, it will asymmetrically benefit markets according to economic theory and empirical measurements on the effects of technology. Think of how the internet has leveled the playing field of individual vs collective, for example. Or the gig economy, IOT, etc. Even old-school tech changes like guns, printing, etc.

Did you know that regulation actually increases positively with GDP? That could be evidence that the economy grows faster than the political system, driving need for new regulation which is created in a lagged way by necessity.

Bitcoin is an example of the alternative I would suggest: It operates as a so-called trustless technology. This approach of trustless security works exactly because every transaction is publicly broadcast. No individual needs to trust another individual because any individual or group can in principle go check the public ledger for themselves. The system is provably fair and transparent. I think this sort of approach when adopted system-wide is more compatible with economic growth / social flourishing.

So I would propose, as replied to him above, that we unleash the floodgates of information instead of fostering secrecy, where the latter actually benefits concentration of power:



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