For most of human history, people lived in abject poverty. What little wealth existed was concentrated in the hands of a very small ruling class. Then, during the 18th century, Enlightenment philosophers advanced the notion that the ruling class receives power not from divine right, but from the consent of the people. These philosophers believed that human beings and society could be improved through a combination of individual rights, equality under the law, the ability to reason, and the right of self-determination.
When philosophers replaced dogma, tradition and authority with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking, the world’s great parallel experiments in liberty and prosperity began. These ideas were first codified into law here in the United States, and quickly spread to Western Europe and the rest of the world. This experiment in liberty for the first time enabled common people to rise above poverty and achieve prosperity. From the 1700s to the early 2000s, this experiment was for the most part a runaway success. While geopolitics led to ups and downs for individual nations or groups within nations, the world’s prosperity as a whole rose on an unchecked trajectory, with global combined GDP rising from near zero to near $9 Trillion.
But in 2018 there are troublesome signs of entropy. Economic equality is on the rise, productivity is plateauing or decreasing in nations around the world, and nations seem increasingly predisposed toward nationalism, protectionism, mercantilism, and other behaviors that will reduce growth in our global prosperity experiment. What has happened?
The rise of a new ruling class: The small handful of business and government oligarchs who control what we see online, control what we say online, and control the gateways the scrape our personal information every time we log on.
Sad to say, in 2018 individuals online have lost their freedom, privacy, and choice. And if history teaches us any lesson, it is that without the liberty to be free and make individual choices, societies become soulless and die. Economic catastrophe results.
In 2018, we have a choice to make. Do we give people more of the same (centralized control of the internet, monopolies, and high prices that restrict their choice)? Or do we give them a new internet, one that emphasizes individual ownership, self-determination, and privacy? I argue that if we give them the latter, we will see the economic growth curve right itself. An internet of liberty is also an internet of prosperity—and it has the power to lift the whole world further from poverty. Isn’t this the original promise of the internet?