Society, Technology, and the Libertarian
I’m interested in the statistical overlap between the tech industry and the libertarians. It makes sense. My friends in the tech industry have commercially valuable skills in high demand. If the part of the American Dream where you generally work hard and life generally works out is true in any industry, it’s true in tech. There are plenty of open jobs that pay quite well in the industry—and it’s easy enough to forget that this isn’t true for everybody.1
Except … libertarianism only makes sense if you have a strong notion that your property is yours and you deserve it. It requires a strong notion of both property and individualism. That’s a curious thing to believe in an industry where value is primarily linked to intellectual property and the ability to do clever things with other people’s data. Afterall, intellectual property only becomes valuable because other people think it is important. The Coca-Cola trademark has value because it lives in the minds of billions of peole around the world. A social network like Tumblr is only valuable because it has millions of users. Google is only valuable as a search engine because it connects its advertisers to its users and its users to the things they are actually looking for. Remove the users, the advertisers, or the third party content and it’s nothing.
If you’re a subsistence farmer, you might be able to make a solid case for self-reliant individualism. But the technology industry is as far from subsistence farming as you can get. Everything depends on somebody else—and on having a full complement of laws, regulations, standards, and social norms to endure that all those interactions with others go smoothly.
The internet is a giant collection of connected computers that only works because of communally agreed protocols. You can’t invent a better metaphor for the way that society and the rule of law allow individuals to band together and become more than the sum of their parts. It’s kind of ironic that the world’s largest metaphor about functional government spawns so many libertarians.
Somebody, no doubt, will want to argue that people in other industries should just go back to school and learn to be a sys admin or something. This could be a very reasonable career path for a handful of people. It doesn’t scale. ↩