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Thia essay is about privacy.  As background I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature.  I will be concise so this review won’t take long.

All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill.  Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort.  Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money.  This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money even though it is the most important truth about money.  The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated.  What follows are some of the consequences of that physical object nature.

First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against that owner’s will; by force, fraud, or stealth and it can also be lost or destroyed.  This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.

Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral.  Even animals are amoral, in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money.  You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.

Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.

Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties.  Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense.  It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.

Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control.  In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.

Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions.  Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages.  This is particularly true of money.  The old saying “them as has, gets” is true.  Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier.  Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction.  Thus the relationship is unstable.

Keeping that review in mind, let’s consider privacy.

Back in the old days, privacy was almost unheard of:  Even kings slept in a large room with up to a score of people present.  Housing was small, cramped, and had few interior walls; so people did not expect privacy nor value it to any great degree.  One spent most of one’s waking hours within earshot of others.  Both in hunting and gathering societies and in the majority of agricultural societies one lived life in close proximity to other people.  With the coming of industrialization, wealth increased and people began to live isolated from their neighbors.  Added to that we have high rates of migration within each nation being common today in the developed world.  Our interactions with others were once dominated by primary relations, by close, personal interaction with people we knew well.  Today, most of the people we know, we know rather little about.  Only a few of those we are acquainted with do we know well and that only if we are lucky.  We move from one town to another and one job to another and one set of neighbors to another so frequently that most of the people we interact with are people we don’t know.  Those relations are called secondary relations… as opposed to primary relations.

The division of labor has become extreme by historical standards.  There are hundreds of thousands of different occupations.  We are far more specialized than ever before by a huge margin.  This means that we must deal with many people whom we do not know and most of those we know, we do not know well.  Among those we know well, we have a good idea of which of those people we can trust.  But we have to deal with all those people whom we do not know well.  Can we trust them?  Clearly, some we can trust and some we should not trust.  The problem is to determine which are which.

To allow someone whom we should not trust to have detailed knowledge of our private lives is to take a considerable risk.  Such knowledge makes us vulnerable to those others.  And why does that matter?  One huge reason is that the nature of our physical object money, our POM, makes those with whom we transact money interactions into rivals, competitors, or enemies.  So to protect ourselves and our POM, which can be taken from us against our will, we need to keep secret our private lives.  Just ask any politician.  In self-defense, we need to prevent others from gaining intimate knowledge of our affairs.

The increased wealth of the industrialized nations made it possible for middle class people to have a house separated from other homes, to have separate rooms for sleeping and work from which others could be excluded.  But POM also is amoral and uncontrollable.  What does a person who has privacy do with that privacy in the context of an amoral and uncontrollable money?  Privacy has temptations as well as providing protections.  There are few people who would feel comfortable with the general public being able to watch and hear them live their lives 24 hours a day every day.  Are there any among us who’s every action is noble, laudable, and virtuous?  I certainly don’t qualify.  Privacy encourages sin, as the Christians would say.  There are good reasons why 200 years ago families so restricted their daughters and required chaperones.

Technology has increased the opportunities for privacy over the last several hundred years.  But that trend has reversed in the last few score of years.  The telescope with attached camera has permitted photos to be taken from great distances without the knowledge of the subjects.  Both telephone and telegraph messages can be intercepted.  The size of cameras and microphones has been so reduced that they can be placed almost anywhere.  And these so-called “improvements” were all available last century.  In the twenty-first century, the technology exists to overhear conversations by reading the vibrations of window glass.  Darkness cannot hide one from infrared cameras.  Drones can fly undetected above and watch happenings below.  Anything one does on the internet can be observed.  One’s financial records can be compromised by hackers.  Where can one go to be unobserved?  What activities can one be confident will never come to public attention?

Is this modern version of a lack of privacy a good thing or a bad thing?  Does this increase in the knowledge about the behavior of every citizen reduce crime?  Does it protect us from harm?  Does it get us help when we fall and cannot get up?  Those could be good things.  Does the loss of privacy threaten us with absolute government control (or corporate control) and oppression?  Does a lack of privacy make us vulnerable to vengeful former lovers and spouses?  Does it allow our nosy neighbors and peeping Toms free reign?  Those could be bad things.  As things stand, do we gain more from the former or suffer more from the latter?

It seems to me, a biased observer, that the threats appear to be far worse than the advantages.  So let’s assume that I am correct (a dangerous thing to do) and examine the reasons for and the possible responses to the threats.

Given that technology is almost always more advanced than we realize, let’s assume that everyone is vulnerable to virtually complete loss of privacy.

The peeping Tom and nosy neighbor problem is annoying, possibly horribly embarrassing, but hardly fatal or greatly harmful.  Shame kills few people.  Shame does not make your children ill or crippled.  Shame does not impoverish anyone.  So we can put that threat to one side as a minor though very emotional issue.

Skipping lightly over to the other extreme, picture a government able to watch and listen to everything you do at work and at home.  Imagine the power to control of such a government.  Try to think of a way to overthrow a government with such power.  If you’ve read “1984” or some of the other dystopian literature you should have a pretty good idea of what life in such a nation would be like.  I don’t think any of us would like living in such a nation under such a government.  Does the technology exist to bring about such a government?  Yes, it does.  Are the devices needed to implement such a government being manufactured presently in large numbers?  Yes, they are.  Will the government actually use these means of spying on the general public?  In the U.S. the government is currently using these means of spying on the general public.  Will the government be tempted to continue using them even after there’s a public outcry against such use?  Of course it will be tempted.  At least some parts of the government will always yield to the temptation to use whatever technology exists at the time to spy on the public, especially any members of that public who are seen as some kind of a threat to that part of government.  The information on the activities of the F.B.I. during the 20th century that has come out should make it obvious that any administration will continue the illicit spying practiced by its predecessor.

The solutions to this that have been proposed by politicians always depend upon passing laws against abuses of the capacity to spy.  When in the history of government around the world has passing a law stopped any practice that either made money or gave more power to some segment of the government?  The government officials may be more careful if a law is passed against their behavior, but they will continue those practices.  The F.B.I., Homeland Security, and the C.I.A. will all continue to spy on the public. The law won’t matter; it’s the nature of government.  When presented with temptation, many members of any government will yield to that temptation.  So there will be no solution from politicians.  There may be sound and fury, there may be great arm waving and sincere assurances; but there will be no solutions, and the invasions of privacy will continue unabated.

Why is this possible?  Why can’t making some behavior illegal stop that behavior?  In the case of government and privacy, the government has hired a lot of people to invade your privacy.  The government is able to purchase the equipment needed to invade your privacy.  Physical object money, or POM, is amoral so the government can use it to do immoral things like invading your privacy.  POM use seems to eliminate responsibility.  The lines “I’m just doing my job” or “my boss told me to do it” seem to make people ignore their ethics, responsibilities, and their obligations as citizens.  So long as government uses POM, government will be able to do these things, if the top officials of government want to do them they will be done.  And it won’t matter in the least whether that spying is illegal or not.

Why does government want to do these things?  What’s the motivation for these officials to spy on us?  Simple curiosity is one fundamental reason.  It’s the same motivation your nosy neighbor has.  It’s only human nature.  But for many officials, there’s more than mere curiosity.  It seems to them that it will be much easier to do their jobs if only they can do a little spying.  You may recall that a lot of what government does is data collection and enforcement.  The IRS could both detect and prevent tax evasion if it had a lot more information on just exactly what the public is doing.  The various enforcement agencies in their zeal to detect wrongdoing would like to be able to watch everyone since that would make their jobs far easier.  One can picture a movie hero who has figured out who the bad guys are using stealth and spy technology to defeat their dastardly plots.  But for a real life policeman to use those same techniques and methods is against the Constitution.  He’s not allowed to break into a bad guy’s rooms and search them for evidence without a warrant, but he is surely tempted.  And those are just our governmental “good guys” attempting to enforce reasonable laws.  There are also government employees who are not so good or who are presented with temptations they cannot resist.  The government has lots of opportunities to collect and organize information that can be very useful for making money.  It’s no wonder that some government officials yield to that temptation.  There are also government officials who have strong ideological beliefs.  For those officials, it’s ever so easy to justify going a little beyond what the law allows in order to defend liberty and the Constitution and the “American Way”.  After all, we can’t let the (insert name of radical group here) operate with impunity.  We have to know what they are planning to do that will harm America so we can defend American values.  If that means ignoring the Constitution, so be it.  Sometimes you have to violate the Constitution in order to protect it, right?  It’s like having to spank a child to show that one should not hurt anyone else, especially someone weaker than yourself.

So there are lots of motivations for government officials to spy on the public.   When you put that host of motivations together with the availability of the human and material resources for spying, it is inevitable that spying will happen and on a large scale.

Now let’s consider invasions of privacy intermediate between the nosy neighbor and the “Big Brother.”  They exist as well.  One might even find that those invasions are the most common.  We all know about the records kept by credit card companies concerning our buying habits.  We also know about those cards businesses ask us to use which keep track of what we buy from them.  Most of us have heard that Google and the other Internet search engines can, and perhaps do, keep track of what we click on.  I know Amazon pays attention to the types of books I buy and I suspect they even keep track of what books I consider buying; so if knowledge of this level of snooping into our lives is common, don’t you just know that corporations are doing a lot more data collection and database building than that?  Don’t you know that they must see all sorts of ways to profit from the information gathered about you?  And then there’s those credit rating agencies.  You know about them because some advertise.  Where do you think they get all that information about you, some of which is most likely wrong?  They get it by snooping into your life.  And those surveillance cameras in stores…  We know some of those cameras are in the changing booths where you go to try on clothes.  In the office buildings there are also cameras, some of which may just be in the rest rooms.  Of course, there are perfectly good justifications for putting those cameras all over the place.  It’s just that regardless of the good intentions, collected data can be used for all sorts of things.

But perhaps worst of all is the data we reveal about ourselves.  We put all sorts of things on Facebook and other social media.  We store pictures on our computers and in the cloud.  We write things about ourselves in email.  Our lives are an open book in many cases because we thoughtlessly open the book for anyone who cares to look.

Are you feeling suitably exposed, revealed, and public?  Feeling like privacy may be a think of the past?  Would it make you feel any better to know that all that information about you makes possible lots of things that can greatly improve your life?  Well, loss of privacy does have a silver lining.  If you live alone and something happens to you and you can’t call for help, wouldn’t it be nice to have that be noticed by others who send help or who come themselves?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have any restaurant you patronize know that you are lactose intolerant or don’t like raw onions or that you like only real cream in your coffee?  Wouldn’t it be nice to have the clothing store know your sizes without having to ask you?  If you have a favorite NFL team wouldn’t it be nice to be notified when they are about to score a touchdown so you can watch on your phone?   Wouldn’t it be nice to have your phone realize that you’re driving so it would not accept any calls until you are stopped?  I mean there are a million ways information technology can be convenient or even life-saving which can only occur if lots of information about you is in the databases.

So am I trying to sell you on accepting the loss of privacy?  No.  I value the privacy I am fast losing, and I am confident that you value your privacy too.  What I am trying to sell you on is realizing that it might just be possible to have all those advantages of massive amounts of data about you being in the computer system data files and still have privacy as good as, or better than, the privacy one could attain 100 years ago.

Let me begin my pitch by noting that the data on you will be collected more and more as time goes by unless our economies around the world collapse and our level of technology reverts to the level of the dark ages.  That’s going to happen because the information technology will continue to improve.  Data collection devices will improve.  Data storage and access technology will improve.  Software and apps to employ such resources will be generated.  Just like having a pet look at you, the computer system and network will be watching and listening and keeping records on you and your activities.

The trick will be to control who can view what data about each person.  We know that no law specifying what may be revealed and what data may be gathered will work.  So that approach is hopeless.  We need to eliminate the motives to spy and create motives to protect privacy, where needed.  That sounds difficult or impossible.  We have already, in this series of essays, discovered that POM provides all sorts of motivations to do bad things to people and that non-POM eliminates motivations for such behavior.  Perhaps non-POM will provide some help with the motivations aspect.

Non-POM is earned by actions whose consequences provide net benefits to others.  Doing harm reduces one’s future earnings.  Therefore, given that losing privacy is considered harmful to the individual, actions which result in a loss of privacy for others would cost the actor possible future earnings.  This provides a motivation to protect privacy since that would be considered to be a benefit.  Thus non-POM could be expected to provide appropriate motivations with respect to privacy.

That does not eliminate all motivations to invade one’s privacy, though, does it?  Curiosity and “need to know” to do one’s job would still provide a motive to spy.  Neighbors will still be nosy.  With all the data being collected, one may accidentally come across information that should not have been available.  Accidents will happen no matter what.  There’s no way any human system could provide any absolute guarantee of privacy.  But perhaps we can devise a system that so reduces invasions of privacy that the benefits from the data collection and processing outweigh the harm done by loss of privacy.

But what can be done to protect privacy?  We have an advantage in that the technology is computer-based and computers have, almost from the beginning, fought against inappropriate access to data which needed to be protected.  Thus, there are many known techniques which can be used to protect data from the collection point to long term storage.  A camera, if it’s a so-called smart camera, can encrypt the images it collects as it captures them.  That encrypted data can be transmitted to the computer which controls the camera.  The data can there be decoded, processed, and re-encrypted.  Obviously, long term storage, itself, can be a further encryption of the encrypted data stored there.  There are also means of writing software such that it leaves no trace of the data it has processed in memory or CPU registers for other programs to find.

Now nothing human is perfect but the chances of data breeches can be substantially reduced.  If we couple that with powerful motives to devote resources to protecting collected data we can see that our privacy with respect to such computer-collected data can be quite good, far better than our privacy from overheard conversations or peeping Toms 100 years ago.

With non-POM we get no money motivation for invading privacy and considerable money motivations for protecting the privacy of others.  Though this cannot be perfect, it’s far better that the situation with POM.

With regard to private individuals seeking to spy with modern technology, we find that they are operating under a severe handicap with non-POM.  With POM they could buy the equipment they desired, but with non-POM they cannot do so:  Spy equipment is capital goods.  With non-POM you cannot buy capital goods, you can only request that others give them to you.  Also, with non-POM one is held responsible for the consequences of one’s actions; therefore, those who develop and produce spying equipment will not give it to just anyone.  The person asking for such equipment would have to make a good case for their getting it.  They would also have to show their reputations.  The producers of such equipment would be extremely careful about the character and psychology of those whom they entrust with such equipment because they are taking a huge risk by giving it to them.  Also, the person who accepts such equipment will have to allow others to observe not only what they do with the equipment but what they do with the information collected using that equipment.  They cannot work alone with such devices.

With non-POM, what one does in public is likely to be observed and recorded.  Take for example those cameras the British have all over many cities in their attempts to prevent terrorism and crime.  Things people do on the city streets are public, not private.  So the data collected in such public places, like stores; is sure to be gathered, recorded, and processed.  This data also can constitute an invasion of privacy if the behavior of an individual is singled out.  Stalking via high-tech devices and a comprehensive data base is also a form of invasion of privacy even though the individual’s public behavior is all that is recorded.  Again, this form of assault on privacy is very unlikely with non-POM.  For one thing, it can be considered harmful and thus cost those who participate future earnings.  For another thing, there is no money motive with non-POM for such an invasion.  As with the spy equipment, the database access will be jealously guarded.  Are there are means by which the software employed can be arranged to protect the identity of those whose persons and voices are being recorded?  I’m sure you have seen video on TV in which the faces of those on the video have been distorted or blurred so as to protect their identity.  Similar things can be done automatically by the software which processes the video for display.

Imagine, if you will, a high-ranking government official in a non-POM economy ordering a subordinate to invade the privacy of some individual.  In a POM economy the subordinate would feel no responsibility and just do his job, thereby destroying any privacy that individual may have had.  This would be something like J. Edgar Hoover ordering his F.B.I. agents to spy on Martin Luther King.  But in a non-POM economy, that high-ranking official would not have any control of the pay of his subordinate.  If the subordinate obeys that command, his pay would be reduced for months or years to come.  So the subordinate would refuse to obey and would alert others as to what he had been asked to do.  That would increase his pay for months or years to come.  Similar reactions to suggestions or requests by others to spy would prevent cooperation and coordination of spying in the invasions of individual’s privacy.  Therefore, high-tech spying would be limited to a few individuals using homemade gear which they must keep secret from everyone else.  (Good thing for them their privacy is protected.)

Whereas POM encourages the invasion of privacy and provides ready means to gain equipment and assistance in spying, non-POM discourages the invasion of privacy and makes it extremely difficult to gain equipment and assistance in spying.  As a result, the scale of denial of privacy with POM is huge and the scale of denial of privacy with non-POM is tiny.

It’s still not a case of non-POM eliminating threats to privacy.  But it is a case of non-POM greatly reducing those threats.  Does it reduce them enough to make the benefits of having all that data about individuals collected, organized, stored, and readily accessible at need?  I think it does and I think that as technological progress is made that the benefits will grow quite rapidly.  I will take a carefully selected example to support my case.

Remember what it was like ten or more years ago when you traveled far from home on unfamiliar roads?  If you were unlucky you got lost.  One of the claimed differences between male and female drivers was that men would not ask for directions and women would.  Today, such a distinction hardly matters because so many people now have GPS systems which can not only tell you where you are, but also how to get where you want to go – by talking to you – and if you miss a turn, they can adjust and give you a new route.  This is because the smart phone system keeps track of where you are and you have told it where you are going.  Of course, you had to give up some of your privacy in order to gain that benefit but almost everyone thinks it is worth that loss.  I suspect, expect, and predict that such advantages will increase greatly even in as little as 5-10 years.  Just as we take for granted that we can make or receive a phone call at any time even if we are away from home, so we will take for granted the conveniences and protections of the computer system/network knowing all sorts of things about us.  For example, if the system knows what we have eaten, it may be able to warn us of food allergies.  If the system knows what people we have talked to, it may be possible to warn us that we have been exposed to the flu or other illness.  If the system knows our DNA it may be able to warn us of things to avoid or things we need to do to protect ourselves.  You see, so long as we are a “black box” to the world, the world cannot accommodate us optimally.  We only need to be a “black box” to the world if the world is our enemy.  If the world is our friend, then the more the world knows about us the better off we are.  POM makes the world our enemy.  Non-POM makes the world our friend.

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