The Road To Serfdom is a trenchant warning of how a western nation built on principles of freedom can easily and swiftly descend into collectivism, socialism and totalitarianism. All it takes is the abandonment of principles. Our politicians and bureaucrats do that every day, cheered on by some segments of the commerce and culture complexes.
Brittany Hunter has made clear the continued – indeed heightened – relevance of F.A. Hayek’s book, written in 1944, by live-blogging each chapter on www.centerforindividualism.org. We’ll shortly offer an e-book of every one of Brittany’s posts, with added Preface and Conclusions sections, as a free download.
Today, we can take a different road. The new direction would constitute The Road To Individualism. We see the roadsigns and we are able to interpret them.
Increasingly, individuals are charting their own courses.
On the road to serfdom, authorities tell us what to do and where to go. In education, religion, culture and government (via its octopus reach into legislation and regulation, money and banking, business and commerce, the environment, agriculture, housing, transportation, energy, health, trade, and security), there are ever-present and ever more powerful institutions who claim authority to direct us in our everyday activities and our life direction.
Individuals can recognize the myth. There is no such thing as authority, at least not legitimate authority. And the institutions who claim authority have pointed us in the wrong directions. The entire structure and process of education is questionable. Religious institutions are losing their supporters because the promise of religion has failed. And the same is true of government – the level of trust is at rock bottom because government has actively abandoned its principle of “for the people, by the people”.
Each of us is free to make our own decisions, and we look less and less to institutions for guidance.
New tools are becoming available to augment individual capability.
The prospect of charting one’s own course may sound formidable, but there are plenty of new tools to help. These tools will become universally available in short order, because the tools are technological and the tech industry has mastered the vertical adoption curve, along which deep global penetration is achieved at a fantastically rapid rate.
Technologies Of Individualism.
Artificial Intelligence can be made to sound ominous. It’s better to think of A.I. as Augmentation for Individuals. Each of us will be granted connection and access to unlimited knowledge, classified by our field of expertise and our areas of need. The interface will be voice-based natural language – ask a question and receive an answer. One term for our own personal A.I. is cognitive assistant, our own little software robot. These robots have already emerged as Siri, Alexa, Bixby and OK Google. They’ll evolve and grow through machine learning (which means figuring out what is most useful to its human partner).
The augmented individual will enjoy greater capability and self-efficacy.
Global exchange platforms enable individuals to connect to anyone and any organization in the world, to sell and to buy, to trade knowledge, to assemble project teams and to enter into any kind of collaboration. The individual can be an enterprise of one, with global scale, a customized supply chain and personnel team, and all the business tools and metrics that corporate managers use. The individual will have more control and flexibility than any corporation ever dreamed of.
Cloud computing supports this scale by making access to effectively unlimited computing power available via the internet in the precise units the individual enterprise requires. The apps and services embedded in the cloud alongside the server capacity can activate any business model instantaneously and reliably.
Blockchain technology cuts out the intermediaries who make commerce slow and expensive. There will be banking without bankers, contracting without lawyers, settlement of asset exchanges without brokers, visual design without designers, and 3D printing without factories. All of these decentralized and distributed processes will run at high speed, low cost and complete efficiency. All of the cost of intermediaries – both financial costs and efficiency costs – can be eliminated, making the individual as effective as the corporation, and releasing untold resources back into the productive economy.
These are technologies of individualization. They all place more power in the hands of the individual for self-reliance and self-management. Here are some of the implications.
An open market for capabilities.
An individual entrepreneur, managing his or her own work life and revenue streams, can refine the offering of their unique skills by finding just the right client, project and assignment on platforms like Upwork. On the other side of the platform, hirers can engage better talent for their jobs. Everyone can be an entrepreneur. The culture of dependency on employers for jobs will change to an open system of matching the best individual talent to the right project.
In the emerging new world of Individualism, the formula for advancement is knowledge + networking. We each will be responsible for continuously adding to our unique store of individual knowledge, and we will need to network to the right collaborators, partners and project owners to apply our knowledge through sharing and working in teams. LinkedIn is building the economic graph that aims to assemble smart profiles of every individual, every project and every hiring company, and to enable its automatic matching to place the right individual in the right job on the right team throughout the global economy.
Run your self-scaling business on a mobile device.
Every day, many more businesses are being created to run entirely on mobile platforms. Alibaba provides all the infrastructure for these kinds of businesses, from web support to cloud storage, to supply chain assembly, to payments services and inventory management. Alibaba is not just a company, it’s an economy – an economy of independent entrepreneurs setting up their digital storefronts and trading all over the world on mobile devices.
Self-learning rather than education.
Our institutions tell us that education is a passage for the first quarter of our lives, and that we must attend school, learn, pass exams and then, armed with the institution’s certificate of intellectual fitness, pass into the world of work never to return to the halls of learning. Technology is changing that view. Learning is something we will administer for ourselves. We’ll learn continuously throughout our lives. We’ll learn on-demand, creating knowledge when and where we need it. Applications like Udemy will give us our learning consumption choices, and platforms like Google For Education will provide support for teachers and content originators.
Traditionally, the access to financing for entrepreneurs has been a bottleneck. Institutions control the financing supply, and dictate the conditions and the price. Today, crowdfunding sites like Ourcrowd can match willing individual investors directly to eager innovators with bright ideas in an efficient market for investment funding. No need for intermediaries.
Peer-to-peer contracting and settlement – law without lawyers.
The evolution of smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain will disintermediate the legal structures and make law a distributed system. When law is software, there will be less call for judges and legislation, and less need for the pretentious buildings that house them and the outdated robes they wear.
In his book, Adam Thierer defines permissionless innovation as entrepreneurs being free not to seek the blessing of public officials when experimenting with new technologies and business models, or before developing and deploying new devices and services. This freedom will become the standard for interconnected entrepreneurs and our political institutions and protected special interests will not be able to stand in the way of innovation.
Crypto-currency competing with monopoly fiat currency.
In the 1970’s, F.A. Hayek published a pamphlet under the title of Denationalization Of Money. He could not have anticipated blockchain, bitcoin, ether or litecoin. However, he did anticipate competing private currencies, and a distributed exchange system to let the market decide on which private issuer of currency would earn the market’s trust. We have known for a long time that it is the government monopoly on money, and it’s profligate creation of more money, as well as the illegal fractional reserve banking of its licensed subsidiaries that create all the boom and bust problems of state capitalism. It is now possible that Hayek’s vision for competing private currencies will emerge into the forefront of a new private entrepreneurial economic system.
As more and more of us follow the signposts on the Road To Individualism, we will find that the old institutions crumble and we will open up the possibility for new systems and better lives.
Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash