As tech executives continue to be grilled in front of Congress, the growing Bernie Sanders-wing of the Democratic Party is preparing to push its misnamed “Medicare for All” into the political mainstream after its political gains in the midterms. While these two stories seem to have very little in common, it’s not difficult to imagine a not-so-distant future where the two are dangerously connected. After all, so long as the scope of government grows, the continued politicization of all aspects of life will follow – the inevitable consequences of which could be quite horrific.
The State’s Shadow over Silicon Valley
First let’s consider some of the overlooked causes behind the increased censorship from Silicon Valley.
While Republican politicians relish in collecting cheap soundbites railing against the censorship practices of widely despised tech executives, few are willing to point out the obvious influence of government in Big Tech’s growing hostility to free speech.
For example, just recently Facebook announced it was following the lead of Tumblr by cracking down on “sexualized content” on its platform. While both decisions were widely ridiculed by users and pundits alike, largely ignored was the role that recent Congressional laws aimed at cracking down on sex trafficking played in sparking the new policy. Similarly, “anti-hate speech” laws from Europe had very real consequences for American social media users as mechanisms designed to police speech oversees are inevitably used to manage content throughout their global communities.
While tech censorship began with isolated bans on individual social media platforms, it has evolved over time into a far more sinister crackdown of modern-day thought criminals. Alex Jones, for example, saw multiple social media accounts closed in a coordinated campaign earlier this year in what’s been likened to a modern version of Orwell’s “unpersoning.” Increasingly we are seeing financial services platforms, such as PayPal and Patreon, become another particularly effective form of censorship for those found guilty of violating the norms of political correctness.
The traditional libertarian response to these issues is to simply build another platform, but that seems increasingly impotent in the face of the union between Big Tech and state.
Gab, for example, is a product that arose in direct response to increased censorship on Twitter. The app has found itself deplatformed from both major phone app stores, even before user Robert Barnes killed 11 people at a Pennsylvania synagogue earlier this year and heightened law enforcement’s attention to the site. It’s worth noting that Facebook, a prolific donor to America’s political class, did not receive similar treatment when it was used to broadcast torture and murder. Similarly, cryptocurrency exchanges have faced backlash from government officials, traditional financial services companies, and tech companies in their effort to build alternatives to state-controlled financial networks.
Of course the answer to this new era of Big Brother (Sister?) isn’t government regulation, as many on the populist right advocate. The history of government involvement in communication platforms has been one of increased censorship. Instead, the best way to confront the Silicon Valley’s censorship is to recognize the inherently perverse influence of government and pursue a separation of tech and state. For example, attack all forms of state privileges enjoyed by companies that don’t recognize freedom of speech: such as government contracts, and liability waivers. Additionally, allow private citizens to sue when companies violate their terms of service or mislabel themselves as “open platforms.”
Socialism and Political Correctness are a Dangerous Mix
Unfortunately instead of working to depoliticize tech, it’s far more likely that we will see increased politicization of other vital parts of American life – and perhaps none is more dangerous than that applied to healthcare.
While it is easy to mock the economic illiteracy of politicians like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, there is no question that her brand of democratic socialism is growing in popularity – and not just on the left. It’s worth remembering that only a few years ago candidate Donald Trump gave his own endorsement to a healthcare vision similar to that held by AOC and Bernie Sanders.
Consider the troubling potential of a progressive government that drops all pretense of valuing free speech, and then giving that government complete control of the healthcare system.
While this perhaps sounds like the makings of an outlandish dystopian novel, imagine the sort of policies we’ve already seen come from the executive branch. Under the Obama Administration, we saw the use of the IRS, Department of Homeland Security, and even intelligence agencies to target and punish political opponents. Meanwhile, the progressive left has increasingly identified those who believe the “wrong ideas” – such as skeptics of anthropogenic climate change – as dangerous threats guilty of the crimes equivalent to murder.
In an age where a new generation of doctors increasingly rejects the Hippocratic oath, a government take over of medical care – as the honest advocates of “Medicare for All” propose – could inevitably lead to politicized regulators making life and death decisions for Americans.
Now does this mean I think it's likely that a President Ocasio-Cortez would instruct a "political death panel" to not provide Alex Jones with life saving treatment? Not necessarily. The issue, however, is that the greater control the state has on medicine, the more decisions are influenced by the concerns of government, rather than the needs of patients. In such a dark timeline, if socialized healthcare forced America to face the sort of medical rationing that Britain’s prized National Health Service has been reduced to, it would be fair to wonder if Gavin McInnes would receive the same sort of treatment as an Ezra Klein.
At the end of the day the more socialist a country is, the greater the danger in opposing the narrative of the state.
As Mises warned in Omnipotent Government:
Within a socialist community there is no room left for freedom...There can be neither freedom of conscience nor of speech where the government has the power to remove any opponent to a climate which is detrimental to his health.
Now obviously the US is far away from such a terrorizing future, and there are far more immediate threats than the specter of political death panels. Can we be so confident about China, with its new social credit system? Or even the UK with the previously mentioned stress placed on its health system, and its own growing political polarization? It's fair to wonder.
No matter where you are in the world, the danger is the same. Grow the scope of government and expand the weapons of the state that can be deployed against its political enemies.
It’s Big Tech today. Let’s not allow it be healthcare in the future.