It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Americans feel fine

When I was young, we would be assigned to read books like 1984 in high school.  These were viewed as dystopian novels, as cautionary tales.  We would have the usual earnest class discussions.  Some feared the outcome, some thought it unlikely.  But everyone agreed that it would be a really bad thing.

Robin Hanson points out that 1984 has arrived, albeit 27 years late.  And what’s interesting is that no one seems to care:

Soon the police will always be watching every public move you make:

“A vast system that tracks the comings and goings of anyone driving around the District. … More than 250 cameras in the District and its suburbs scan license plates in real time. ..

With virtually no public debate, police agencies have begun storing the information from the cameras, building databases that document the travels of millions of vehicles. … The District [of Columbia] … has more than one plate-reader per square mile, the highest concentration in the nation. Police in the Washington suburbs have dozens of them as well … creating a comprehensive dragnet that will include all the approaches into the District. … The data are kept for three years in the District. … Police can also plug any license plate number into the database and, as long as it passed a camera, determine where that vehicle has been and when. …”

As prices rapidly fall, this will be widely deployed. Unless there is a public outcry, which seems unlikely at the moment, within twenty years most traffic intersections will probably have tag readers, neighboring jurisdictions will share databases, and so police will basically track all cars all the time. With this precedent, cameras that track pedestrians and people in cars via their faces and gaits will follow within another decade or two.

If firms tried to set up camera networks to collect and sell similar info, I would expect an outcry and regulations to stop them. But police will be not only be allowed to continue, they’ll probably also succeed in intimidating citizens away from recording police interactions with citizens, no matter what the official rules say.

I’m not really sure what to say, so I’ll provide two endings to this post and you can choose the one you prefer.

Ending #1:   My fellow Americans have become a bunch of pathetic sheep.  We’ve been cowed by authorities with their phony wars on terror, drugs, and crime.  We meekly submit to all sorts of indignities.  We’ve lost the spirit of 1776.  We now prize security above liberty.  Soon it will be impossible to teach 1984 in classrooms, as students will wonder; “what’s the big deal?”

Ending #2:  Sumner, you’re just an old reactionary.  Time moves along, and the world doesn’t cater to your preferences, it reflects the desires of the next generation.  They grew up with computers, social media, cell phones, etc.  They are quite comfortable with the fact that there is no privacy in a technocracy.  Your childhood was just a brief interlude between millenia of village life, with no privacy about what you purchased or where you traveled, and the coming millenia of technocracy, where big brother will know everything.  You just happened to have been born in a time when big cities granted anonymity, but technology hadn’t yet advanced enough for bureaucracies to know everything about us.  You should just hole up in a hotel penthouse in Vegas and watch reruns of your precious 1940s film noirs.  Nobody else cares; indeed in a few more decades no one will even be able to understand those films.  Hire a detective to find someone?  What would be the purpose when everyone knows where everyone else is?



53 Responses to “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Americans feel fine”

  1. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    21. November 2011 at 09:12

    As long as there are legally protected rights, and a means to get legal action taken against anyone who tries to use the data unethically, I think it’s a worthy trade-off. I’d gladly prefer to have constant camera monitoring of all public spaces if it results in a great drop in crime.

  2. Gravatar of Cthorm Cthorm
    21. November 2011 at 09:26

    I’m not that concerned about cameras being ubiquitous in public places. I am very concerned about the indefensible practice of police intimidating people recording them. In public places I see this as less of an issue of Big Brother and more about watching the Watchmen. Even if the recordings go straight in the memory hole, the possibility that someone unseen is watching, or recordings used as evidence, will encourage better public behavior and protect civil liberties by providing ample evidence when it is infringed in public. At the same time I favor broad legalization of “sin” crimes like drug use, gambling, prostitution etc.

    Fewer laws, better enforced.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. November 2011 at 09:42

    Brett and Cthorm, No doubt I’m in the minority.

  4. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    21. November 2011 at 10:03

    “What would be the purpose when everyone knows where everyone else is?”

    That last sentence you wrote is what can make the future less 1984-like. With this type of information widely available, it is less capable for any individual entity or government to monopolize and abuse it. Everyone has cameras and camcorders now in their pockets – police and citizen alike. It is difficult for police to abuse authority without being called to tasks by video evidence.

    That said, I also like anonymity, and hope its existence will still be preserved.

  5. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    21. November 2011 at 10:20


    You persist in insisting that since nations are comprised of regions, the fallacy of composition does not apply. You seem to have missed the part of the Wikipedia article that reads:

    “In Keynesian macroeconomics, the “paradox of thrift” theory illustrates this fallacy: increasing saving (or “thrift”) is obviously good for an individual, since it provides for retirement or a “rainy day,” but if everyone saves more, Keynesian economists argue that it may cause a recession by reducing consumer demand.”

    A nation comprises individuals, so why can’t more aggregate saving be always good for the economy?

    As I said to you earlier, the spillover effects are easier to ignore at the national level because national boundaries almost always correspond with large frictions in the flow of goods, labour and capital. But the same rarely holds true for regions at subnational level. They may speak in undecipherable accents, but they still speak English after a fashion throughout the UK. Ignoring the effects of greater government spending in Scotland on the economies of Wales, Northern Ireland and England means the Scottish study has no implication whatsoever for the national-level multiplier.

  6. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    21. November 2011 at 10:21

    Oops, wrong post. Reposting in the right place.

  7. Gravatar of Martin Martin
    21. November 2011 at 10:23


    “As long as there are legally protected rights, and a means to get legal action taken against anyone who tries to use the data unethically, I think it’s a worthy trade-off. I’d gladly prefer to have constant camera monitoring of all public spaces if it results in a great drop in crime.”

    Rights don’t mean a thing when you increase and concentrate power in the hands of the very few. The great thing about 1776 is not that Americans got ‘rights’, it’s that power was dispersed over many instead of concentrated in the hands of the few.

    Liberty is a feature of the system, it’s not the result of benevolence.

  8. Gravatar of Lars Christensen Lars Christensen
    21. November 2011 at 10:26

    Scott, I am afraid we lost in both Europe and the US. The spirit of 1776 is gone in the US – the US government has declare war on everything. Monetary failure in both the US and Europe is just adding to the disaster. As draconian and totalitarian policies are increasingly popular and with both the US and European economies set to take another dive populists and extremists are likely to increasing take centre stage.

    So yes, you might be a old reactionary but I am afraid that you are right anywhere.

  9. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    21. November 2011 at 10:27

    What I should have posted here:

    As someone from the younger generation, I think both scenarios #1 and #2 miss something important. I don’t have any expectation of privacy in the public sphere (being outside in the city, posting something on a public website, etc.). But I do have an expectation of privacy in somewhere explicitly delineated as such, like my bedroom or my Facebook profile (assuming I have set up the correct permissions). I think this mental model may come from computing, since with *nix systems every file and directory needs to have explicit permissions set.

    To this end, I find 1984 horrifying because of the idea that someone can watch what I am doing at home. But I am not particular annoyed at the idea that someone can watch what I am doing in a space I don’t view as private.

    Maybe this is because I spent the first few years of my life in Singapore…

  10. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    21. November 2011 at 10:28

    This is something being worked out in courts as well:

  11. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    21. November 2011 at 10:46

    Lots of people protest against this. The Pirate Party got two seats in the EU parliament in part due to this kind of surveillance. But we need more people protesting!

    I don’t see the loss of anonymity as the main problem. It’s the risk of the state getting rid of democracy if it gains enough control of the people that’s my fear.

    Jason Odegaard: What if the state immediately noticed if anyone protested and could punish that person? What use do we then have of this information? The state will always win a gun fight.

  12. Gravatar of Liberal Roman Liberal Roman
    21. November 2011 at 10:51

    I am going to go with you Scott. I am going option #1.

    The same type of “security” logic is used to justify all types of economic freedom violations. Now that the technology is available, it’s just another power grab for the authorities. The fact that we just accept it is pathetic, but not unexpected. People have almost always fallen into line when it comes to freedom violations in the name of preserving security.

  13. Gravatar of Tom Tom
    21. November 2011 at 11:07

    Feel free to come and live in New Zealand any time you like – no surveillance cameras (almost) or liquidity traps here.

  14. Gravatar of dwb dwb
    21. November 2011 at 11:13

    travel by plane much lately, including the requisite shoe and belt removal and full arms-in-the air body scan and frisking?

  15. Gravatar of Kevin Bob Riste Kevin Bob Riste
    21. November 2011 at 11:15

    This to me is why democracy is not the end of history. As you always say, we will become more utilitarian over time and the less value this type of activity adds, along with the more useless government itself becomes, the faster the state will wither away, and all we’ll have to fear are creepers and Google Street Maps vans. Probably with opt-out policies.

  16. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    21. November 2011 at 11:20

    Here is one for you: The FBI, in a recent case, contended it had the right to put a “beeper” on your car, even if your car was parked on private property. As I recall, they lost that claim, but still have the right to put a beeper on your car if it is on a public street. I suppose any police agency can.

    Add on, your movements are easily tracked through your cell phone, even if it is off.

    My crime tip to fellow felons: Develop a false record. Have someone in a hat and sunglasses drive your car past a known camera, while they carry your cell phone, while you commit a crime somewhere else. Then you have a solid alibi.

    I doubt a jury would convict without some pretty solid evidence going against you.

    Remember, constant vigilance is the cost of successful crime.

  17. Gravatar of dirk dirk
    21. November 2011 at 11:50

    The growing police state is an issue where a pragmatic approach fails. Anonymity has a value for its own sake. Without it, we no longer feel we belong to ourselves in the same way. I don’t fear the state watching my every step because I’m doing something wrong; I don’t want it to watch me simply because the knowledge it is watching me changes my identity.

    But I guess massive changes in society always change the identity of individuals living in them.

    PS. TC just posted his favorite movies of the year. I like your taste in movies better. How about your movies of the year post when you get a chance?

  18. Gravatar of ChacoKevy ChacoKevy
    21. November 2011 at 11:50

    I, too, don’t want to draw any conclusions, but would like to just pass a few thoughts:
    1) The scenario Robin Hanson foretells is merely one projected 20 years out. I will accept Robin’s future as one possible trajectory.
    2) Why is it that every future dystopian society involves a large and invasive state? It’s a shame Robocop came out in ’87 and is hokey by today’s movie standards, because with just an ounce of seriousness one can create a dystopia of privitzation. It’s the fourth prime directive, man! (I love awful movies).
    3) Some of this strikes me as something that could possibly be welcome by conservatives. If the technology were truly limited, say to traffic enforcement like red light cameras now, then it provides a real way for technology to shrink the sizes of police forces. I want to know if this is the kind of thing that would be welcome in Morgan’s Gov 2.0. Obviously, I understand how much a leap of faith I took in saying the technology would be limited.

  19. Gravatar of JimP JimP
    21. November 2011 at 12:08

    What the Fed says is what matters.

  20. Gravatar of Turner Turner
    21. November 2011 at 12:15

    Ending #3

    This isn’t at all like 1984 and you must be going insane.


  21. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    21. November 2011 at 12:19

    Context is important here. Is there really ulterior motive behind all the cameras? Someone knows for certain, but we don’t know who that is. However, at least one can hope that some public places actually become safer by the presence of the cameras. It’s too bad that the first impulse now has come to be “don’t trust the stranger”. Plenty of TV shows and newscasts hammer that home every day.

  22. Gravatar of TravisA TravisA
    21. November 2011 at 12:42

    Novel uses of the data: catch your cheating spouse within an hour by putting out a missing person’s report.

    The entire news story has to be read. The cliff notes version that Scott printed doesn’t do it justice. 1984 is here. We’re just negotiating the details.

    For anyone who says, ‘well, if it lowers crime, i’m for it’. Consider the reductio ad absurdum consequence of that reasoning: Putting a camera in every room in every building in America. It would have stopped the Penn State child rape.

    What, you’re against cameras in every room?! You are for child rape!!!

  23. Gravatar of TylerG TylerG
    21. November 2011 at 12:43

    Many local/county agencies are still seeing large returns from the development of crime mapping technology and the implementation of more innovative intelligence-led ‘hot spot’ policing practices. I believe this paradigm shift in the policing sciences will dominate the status-quo long before more costly cameras are massively implemented in a dystopian ‘1984 scenario’.

  24. Gravatar of TravisA TravisA
    21. November 2011 at 13:11

    @TylerG: as I said, we’re just negotiating the details. It seems that most people are comfortable with an all encompassing policing/surveillance structure outside buildings. Do you really think that the line between ‘outside building’ and ‘inside building’ will hold up over the long term? Within another 50 years, our legal liability structure will have made surveillance mandatory inside commercial buildings. (No expectation of privacy there, right!) Once all commercial buildings are wired, any resistance to surveillance within the home will look like a quaint attachment to the bygone past. The vast majority of people will *demand* surveillance within homes. How else can you be sure that your children will be safe when they visit a neighbor? How do you know you will be safe when you go to a dinner party?

  25. Gravatar of Martin Martin
    21. November 2011 at 13:17


    “Context is important here. Is there really ulterior motive behind all the cameras? Someone knows for certain, but we don’t know who that is. However, at least one can hope that some public places actually become safer by the presence of the cameras. It’s too bad that the first impulse now has come to be “don’t trust the stranger”. Plenty of TV shows and newscasts hammer that home every day.”

    Motives are irrelevant. Defending such arrangements by assuming benevolence is a very weak argument as the outcome is very sensitive to that assumption. You cannot rely on benevolence for building the infrastructure of a totalitarian state to prevent one person for using that infrastructure for that very purpose.

  26. Gravatar of Jason Odegaard Jason Odegaard
    21. November 2011 at 13:37

    Hi Peter,

    If the state can punish anyone for protesting, then we are just deciding varying degrees of effectiveness at implementing authoritarianism. The freedom is already gone; without video cameras maybe more people can “get away with it”.

    What is more important is a focus on the laws defining criminal and lawful behavior. I am more concerned with what qualifies as a crime rather than the tools that the state has to enforce their laws.

    Focus on the laws, not on the tools. All this technical gadgetry may enable a more invasive state, but it is the laws that encourage and require such use of technology.

    Or to try and bring this back to Scott’s forte: don’t focus on the particular quantities of security purchases by the Fed (invasive technology), focus on the law’s goals (NGDP).

    That was quite a stretch, but I hope I made my point.

  27. Gravatar of PrometheeFeu PrometheeFeu
    21. November 2011 at 13:58

    I am definitely part of this new generation and I find this very scary for several reasons.

    First, the growing number of laws and regulations means we all break the law many times a day. (Many laws punish things that most reasonable persons find perfectly acceptable behavior) When you combine mass surveillance and Whren with the growing number of laws, the authorities always be able to find a pretext to arrest you and search your property at which point, they will most definitely find a way to throw you in jail.

    Second, if an authoritarian government was to take over, I would prefer they have to go through significant pains trying to develop a surveillance system as opposed to already having everything they need.

    Third, there is a significant difference between someone being able to see me when I walk outside my house and being able to assemble a vast mosaic giving them significant insights in my personal life.

  28. Gravatar of Dan Carroll Dan Carroll
    21. November 2011 at 14:23

    I think we are overestimating the ability of government officials. Just because it is recorded doesn’t mean someone knows how to use it. I fear less the idea that my car is being recorded at intersections – if someone wants to watch me drive around town, then they have too much time on their hands. I fear more the idea that someone else’s car is being recorded, that recording is altered and/or mismatched with my car (despite the fact that they’re driving a pick-up truck and I’m driving a minivan). It’s sheer incompetence by the government that is the greatest threat to our liberty.

  29. Gravatar of TylerG TylerG
    21. November 2011 at 14:26


    Interesting points about our culture of technology surveillance but I still disagree about its trajectory into widespread use for policing. That’s because, as per my comment above, modern crime mapping using geographic information systems (GIS) and other innovative practices -which have less potential to infringe on civil liberties- will be more cost-efficient in crime prevention for economic and obvious political reasons (you could argue surveillance technology and what I described above are complementary goods but again I would disagree and am assuming otherwise or the sake of my argument). Admittedly, I’m not aware of the various idiosyncrasies of Washington DC which led to heavy incorporation of this new police surveillance tech. For most agencies in the nation, I insist that GIS and hotspot policing will be the optimal substitute over more expensive and controversial surveillance technology. In my limited experience as a professional crime analyst, I feel pretty confident in assuring Robin, Scott, and you that we won’t have to engage in the classic utilitarian vs deontological debate of security anytime soon!

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. November 2011 at 14:29

    Everyone, I decided not to answer these individually. I read them all and appreciate your insights. But I really don’t have much to add. My point was that most people would have been horrified by the surveillance state that we are beginning to construct. I understand that there are arguments on both sides. My point was that there’s a sort of “frog being gradually boiled” aspect to this, which many people fail to see. I also thought there might be a generational split, but maybe not.

    BTW, don’t think the government will stop with cameras in public places–private spaces are next.

    Dirk, I didn’t see many films this year, but saw and enjoyed 1, 2, and 5 on Tyler’s list. Maybe I’ll do a post at year end.

  31. Gravatar of Winton Bates Winton Bates
    21. November 2011 at 14:37

    My main concern is use of such data bases for improper purposes. For example, some people might be tempted to use obtain access to check up on the activities of a spouse. There is also potential for extortion.

    I don’t think citizens have a right to privacy in public places, but it would be good to see police etc being prosecuted for unauthorized access to data bases.

  32. Gravatar of Peter Peter
    21. November 2011 at 14:42

    Jason, in my example it wont matter what the law says, since the state can ignore it and anyone who dares to protest can be punished immediately.

  33. Gravatar of Catherine Catherine
    21. November 2011 at 16:25

    “there is no privacy in a technocracy”

    Mmmm…. not exactly.

    We have extreme privacy in colleges and universities, which until recently refused to release to parents any information about their children at all (including the information that their child had, say, attempted suicide and been transported to a psychiatric ward), and in the medical realm, where every time you set foot inside a doctor’s office you’re required to fill out a HIPAA form stating that no living soul apart from authorized health care providers will ever hear a word about your case.

    I always turn the HIPAA form over and write a note saying that I authorize release of anything to do with my health to my husband, my siblings, my in-laws, and my next-door neighbors. I list their names and their relationships to me, and I sign and date the note.

    I’ve thought adding an addendum authorizing my Health Care Provider to post the details of my case on the internet for crowd-sourcing if the doctors find out I have something tricky.

  34. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    21. November 2011 at 16:32

    I’m glad to see the response to my argument, which I actually presented somewhat as a devil’s advocate. I am actively engaged in strategies to return such matters of public trust to the local arena where they actually belong.

  35. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    21. November 2011 at 16:47

    I disagree. We are much closer to Brave New World than 1984. But they didn’t make you read that one in high school because 1984 was so shallow that any pot smoking burnout could see the themes.

  36. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    21. November 2011 at 16:50

    They didn’t make us read 1984 or Brave New World in Scotlajd. Most of our mandatory high school reading was Shakespeare, metaphysical poetry, Priestly, Scottish 19th century psychological thrillers and (ugh) Seamus Heaney. When we did contemporary novels, they were elective.

  37. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    21. November 2011 at 16:51

  38. Gravatar of W. Peden W. Peden
    21. November 2011 at 17:51

    (As it happened, I read both books outside of school quite frequently in adolescence. A friend even tried to do a high school dissertation on 1984, Brave New World and Oryx & Crake- in less than 4,000 words!)

  39. Gravatar of dg dg
    21. November 2011 at 18:06

    In 1984, people were monitored in their homes, not just in public places. Furthermore, the individual had no rights, no free speech, no trial by jury, no habeus corpus, etc.

    Is the problem with cameras b/c it is the police taking the pictures, or are you claiming it is a violation of privacy for anyone to take your picture without permission? Is it wrong to look at another person without their permission?

    If it is only wrong for police to take pictures, then I have two questions: 1)why do we want to tie the hands of the police to greater extent than that of the general public? 2) To what extent are police to be limited from observing the public comings and goings of people? Is it just limited to photos they take, or are they to be barred using photos other take; what about tailing someone or keeping a log of written descriptions?

  40. Gravatar of dwb dwb
    21. November 2011 at 18:08

    BTW, don’t think the government will stop with cameras in public places-private spaces are next.

    see, i think we are already way past that. if we are going to do a full body scan at the airport, can they at least check polyps and lumps to as a service.

    If the police drive by your house and your window is open they can film, if they see something illegal happening. you have no expectation of privacy with your window open.

    on google, get down to street level on your house. I can see in my window and the details on the upstairs curtains. I can even tell you what time and day the picture was taken because I can see what was in the downstairs window, what is in the backyard, and where the car was parked. If they had not blurred the license plate i could read that too.

    try it.

    … and THAT is whats free on google.

  41. Gravatar of dg dg
    21. November 2011 at 19:18

    @Benjamin Cole. The “beeper” case was US v. Knotts, decided in 1983. The Supreme Court upheld a conviction in which police used a beeper to track a suspect. They believed Knotts was buying chloroform to make meth, so they hid a beeper in a can of chloroform, which was subsequently sold to him. They used it to track him and found the location where he was synthesizing the drugs. Since they could have obtained the same information by tailing him, the court decided that using technology did not change their precedent regarding “no expectation of privacy” in public.

    There is a pending case (United States v. Jones), argued 2 weeks ago, in which FBI secreted a gps unit on a car to track a suspect (for 4 weeks). During oral arguments, the US likened this case to Knotts in that only Jones’ car was tracked and that same information could have been gleaned by ordinary surveillance, albeit at a much greater cost. The justices did seem bothered by the 4 week duration of the tracking and seemed to invite Lecker (Jones’ attorney) to move his arguments in that direction, but I don’t think he was prepared for that. A decision is expected during the spring session.

  42. Gravatar of dg dg
    21. November 2011 at 19:43

    @dwb. If you leave your windows or doors open for all to peek in, then you have no more reasonable expectation of privacy than if you were on your front lawn.

    In the case of airport body scanners, you have a choice, you can opt not to fly and not subject yourself to the scan or pat-down.

    The Supreme Court decided a case last June (Kyllo v. US, 2011) in which they tossed out evidence obtain through the use of a thermal scanner to detect heat signatures inside a house. The court determined that the thermal scan amounted to an unreasonable search since they had no warrant.

    There was an interesting caveat in the wording; they said when “the Government uses a device that is not in general public use…” It sounds as though thermal scanners could be used if they became available for (legal) general public use.

  43. Gravatar of Dtoh Dtoh
    21. November 2011 at 19:53

    FWIW – Someone will figure out how to package and market anonymity and then it will gradually become impossible to sell anything without it. That’s the only road back to privacy.

  44. Gravatar of johnleemk johnleemk
    21. November 2011 at 20:12

    I think Dtoh is right. I am not particularly bothered by the loss of “public” privacy, and the only thing that would worry me is, as someone else said, technology advancing to the point that public and private are no longer indistinguishable (to some people, probably Scott included, we’ve already reached this point, but I don’t feel particularly perturbed yet).

    If the status quo itself is concerning, I still don’t see a good way to roll it back. Technology has come too far. Even an ordinary citizen can use Google Street View (or any number of other almost as mundane tools) to invade your privacy. The only way to preserve your privacy then is to take technology further.

  45. Gravatar of Mike Sandifer Mike Sandifer
    21. November 2011 at 23:05

    I’ll take the first ending. Unfortunately, Bush and Obama, along with Congress and some court decisions, have done incredible damage to civil liberties in this country. This may be very difficult to reverse, as most politicians may fear the political consequences of failing to prevent, at least in the eyes of voters, terrorist attacks or other serious negative events from occurring.

    Personally, I’m from the school that says that if we withdraw our forces from certain places overseas and end our interventionism and outright selfish aggression, we may decrease the incentives for those who would attack us. Of course, this means I’m considered a gay, communist, Islamist kook by conservatives.

  46. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. November 2011 at 05:45

    Catherine, Good point.

    Benny, I agree that we are closer to Brave New World.

    dg, It bothers me that the government would know where everyone is at each and every moment.

    Mike, I’m afraid they’ll attack us whatever we do (look at the Danish cartoons.) But I’m all for reducing our footprint overseas.

  47. Gravatar of James Oswald James Oswald
    22. November 2011 at 07:12

    I have been thinking about this trend for awhile. My basic answer is that while it is undesirable, it is inevitable based on technological advancements. When cameras cost a penny and are tiny and undetectable, everything will be recorded. If not by the policy, by an intelligence agency or even private individuals. We need to strengthen both tolerance and civil rights rather than privacy. If others don’t care about your behavior, you will be left alone just as much as if they didn’t know. I think you are right in that most voters simply don’t care. If they did, they would make a fuss about it, but no one is other than a few fringe people on the internet (myself included).

  48. Gravatar of mbk mbk
    22. November 2011 at 07:37

    I share your pain, but no one seems to care. I’ve lived in worlds that didn’t even use land line phones all that much. It was great.

    My only hope is that the data cacophony will be unmanageable even through technology. When you look at say, the US INS’s performance record, this is a distinct possibility. Plus, as others have pointed out, most people commit minor offences all the time. So in the end a lot of the knowledge gained through surveillance will be pretty useless – fine us all for picking our noses? The greatest danger here is that the data will only be used on a case to case basis for arbitrary punishment.

    One note on the side: the much vilified Germans, and other continental Europeans do have much stronger reservations to state surveillance than the average US citizen – or the British.

  49. Gravatar of Doc Merlin Doc Merlin
    22. November 2011 at 14:46

    “In Keynesian macroeconomics, the “paradox of thrift” theory illustrates this fallacy: increasing saving (or “thrift”) is obviously good for an individual, since it provides for retirement or a “rainy day,” but if everyone saves more, Keynesian economists argue that it may cause a recession by reducing consumer demand.”

    The problem is that for nominal assets (like money), there is no such thing as saving. There is only transfers between borrowers and lenders. This is obvious if you save by depositing in a bank but is also true if you save money in a mattress.

    Even if you bury your money, all you do is transfer the time value of that money from you to the central bank. They can then print more money in the short run and then use that to collect interest. Then they can pull the extra money back out of circulation when you dig up your stash and spend it.

    This is not true for real assets. You /can/ save real assets.

  50. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. November 2011 at 07:02

    James and MBK, Good points.

    Doc Merlin, You are using “saving” in a way that’s totally different from how economists use the term. By “saving” we mean creating real assets, not hoarding them.

  51. Gravatar of Claudia Sahm Claudia Sahm
    25. November 2011 at 16:33

    This is 2011 not 1984 and what exactly would be the point of trying to roll back the clock on technology? Sure we could manage the transition, but privacy is just taking a new form. In an avalanche of data, your personal bits of information floating around are going to be just as hidden as before…except when someone cares to know about you. But that was true before too. We should push for more tolerance instead of more privacy. The government has more important things to do than watch us, don’t you think?

  52. Gravatar of Becky Hargrove Becky Hargrove
    25. November 2011 at 17:07

    “By ‘saving’ we mean creating real assets, not hoarding them.” But one routinely hears that too much saving is going on now, and when I hear that I think of money being ‘parked’ rather than creating further assets (as would happen if further investment were taking place). What have I missed? Perhaps the issue I am looking at is just a matter of timing as normally money would immediately flow back into even the safest assets.

  53. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    26. November 2011 at 07:26

    Claudia, I certainly agree that the government has more important things to do than watch us. I wish they felt that way.

    Becky, People confuse saving with money hoarding. Saving creates investment, money hoarding doesn’t.

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