Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Technology is Liberty, Part I: The Formula

You have complete personal liberty when you can make any peaceful choice available to you without any violent interference. Therefore, it stands to reason that you can measure your personal percentage of liberty by identifying the peaceful choices you are "allowed" to make (i.e. the peaceful choices that will not get you in trouble with the government) and dividing those choices by all the peaceful choices you could potentially make, regardless of the consequences. We can now make a formula to express your personal liberty:

Your personal liberty (L) is equal to the peaceful choices you are "allowed" to make (A) divided by the peaceful choices you can potentially make (C).

In a perfectly just world, A and C would be equal and then L would be 100%. But we don't live in that world. Right now, mostly because of government intervention, there are lots of potential peaceful choices we could make that we are not "allowed" to make (A < C). Because of that we do not have complete liberty (< 100%). So how do we increase L? One way is to decrease C relative to A, but that would mean somehow eliminating even the possibility of a number of peaceful choices. That is not a worthy cause. So the only other thing to do is increase A relative to C, or, in other words, increase the amount of peaceful choices we are "allowed" to make, relative to the total amount of potential peaceful choices. 

There are two ways to accomplish this. One way is to somehow beg the government and ask them to please not interfere with the peaceful choices that they are currently accustomed to interfering with. The problem with this is that the government has little to no incentive to comply with requests like this. Even though the government may make it appear as if it can change through "democracy" or some other mechanism, it is not in government's nature to let go of power. Additionally, even if such a request is granted, it could be only temporary, and the begging serves to legitimize the hold on power that government has. That brings us to the second, more permanent, way to expand the choices we are "allowed" to make, which does not require any begging and does not legitimize government authority. That second way is to simply create new choices that are impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to interfere with. With choices like this, it doesn't actually matter what the government "allows" you to do within the law. The only thing that matters is what the government can practically do to interfere. If the government cannot interfere with a new choice, that means A would increase relative to C. That means L would grow! How can we create new choices like this? That is where technology comes into play.

The term "technology" can be applied in many ways, but ultimately it is the creation or adaptation of tools for the purpose of solving problems and accomplishing things. I view technology as the creation of new choices. Before significant advancements in sailing technology in the late 15th century, an individual could not choose to go to the other side of the world. Before the development of locomotive technology, an individual could not choose to be transported rapidly across the ground without utilizing any efforts from humans or animals. Technology offers us more choices than we had before.

Technology brings about the ability to use many tools, and I believe you can separate those tools into two categories. The first category of tools does not allow the user to escape government interference. Examples of tools in this category are banks and automobiles. With banks, the government can influence the bankers, or vice versa, and suddenly it is difficult to make a distinction between the two. With automobiles, the government needs only to monopolize the roads in order to interfere. This category of tools, while still extremely useful, is still at the complete mercy of government and, depending upon the circumstances, may even decrease an individual's personal percentage of liberty. The second category of tools is quite different. It allows the user to make choices that bypass most, if not all, government attempts at control. Those are the tools that I wish to discuss. In this series I will identify historical examples, discuss current trends, and imagine the future possibilities of these tools, made possible by technology, that we can plug back into our personal liberty formula, L = A/C.

Next: History

Other Parts in the "Technology is Liberty" series:


  1. So I hate to make assumptions about another's writing but: If A and C were equal then L would be 1. so if you are expressing the formula in terms of percentages then you probably need to adjust for that. Also, it appears that the units of measure for A and C is one choice.. One might gather from that that in your formula all choices are equal - choosing which bread to buy would be equally ranked with choosing what career to pursue. You don't state that directly, but if not the formula would be very complex. It would also more closely reflect the problem with freedom today. Deciding whether to pay taxes is probably of more weight then deciding whether to buy a package of gum.

    If you adjust for "non-trivial" choices then some thresholding is in order. At what point does a choice become not trivial and become significant.

    So although your principle is pretty, it is only a principle, and lacks the clarity of a formula. If it were applied across other countries one might find that the chinese and the inhabitants of Borneo have the same degree (in percentage) of freedom, and the US and North Korea may also have the same degree of freedom. That is counter intuitive.

    You may find that a prisoner in a US prison is faced with 30 choices a day, and is allowed to make 20 of them, yielding 66% freedom, and a non prisoner may be faced with 1000 choices a day but is only allowed to make 500 of them, thus being less free than the prisoner.

    I will watch for the continuation with interest.


    1. Great comments! Allow me to respond.

      In the first paragraph I did say, "personal percentage of liberty". I didn't necessarily say that EVERY time but it was implied that L was to represented in percentage.

      You are certainly right that some choices carry much more weight than others and that you can think of prisoners as having a higher personal percentage of liberty. This formula is simply one measurement and not necessarily the be all end all of everything. The formula utilizes A which is the absolute number of "allowed" choices. That, in itself, is an important measure that each individual should take into consideration, not just as a part of this formula.

      Like I mentioned in the third paragraph, you should not seek to go to prison because "that would mean...eliminating even the possibility of a number of peaceful choices" which I said was not a worthy cause. You could also think of prisoners differently. You can think of a prisoner's C being unchanged since being put in prison but their A gets significantly reduced.

      The formula is important only for each individual and, no matter what situation you are in and no matter what country you live in, you can always strive to increase A relative to C.

      In the end, I basically want people to think about how technology offers choices that cannot be interfered with and I happened upon a formula to help people think about that.