May 22, 2013

On Prosperitarianism

I must thank blog brother jg for dredging up my old post "On Prosperitarianism." And saying some kind words about it. I think it holds up pretty well from 2008 -- far better than Senator McCain's liberty bona-fides from the same year. (Now, that was just plain mean!)

A quick Bing® search shows the unwieldy neologism has not caught on. Three of the four links returned are ThreeSources (or The other is a deeply hidden joke. But a preference for solutions which optimize Prosperity and Liberty seems worthy of a few more hits.

I offer it not as special philosophy but as a branch in the complex ontology of Libertarian thought. Some revel in privacy, absolute property rights -- any one of the ideals of a free society. I certainly like them all -- but I most like the ones which will promote innovation and prosperity. And more controversially, I am more willing than some to trade some absolute and abstract liberty for prosperity. A real Prosperitarian (of which it seems I am still -- like Tigger -- the only one) must concede this point. That's the dark side and we all must be willing to be honest.

I bring this up in the context of an exciting innovation which intrigues me to no end: the self-driving car.

I was only slightly surprised to hear that Greg Beato of Reason is less than enthused allowing Google to track our motion as well as our thoughts. Randall O'Toole denies it, much as I appreciate O'Toole, not totally convincingly.

Timothy B. Lee links to both arguments today and makes a Prosperitarian summary:

Beato is right: Self-driving cars will make it easier for the authorities to track you everywhere you go. But the benefits of self-driving cars are likely to be so enormous that American consumers will sign up in droves, regardless of the privacy implications.

I fear the tort bar will not allow driverless cars. The technology would save tens of thousands of lives every year. But it would completely extirpate the responsibility case law. We can somehow handle 40,000 deaths caused by culpable actors with insurance and sleazy lawyers who advertise on daytime TV. But will Google or Microsoft be sufficiently indemnified if somebody dies for the lack of a closing brace in version 2.04.22? We'll have laws named after victims and coders in prison before we go back to the numerous but litigable fatalities.

If Wally "The Killer Harp Seal" Ventricle, Esq. can be contained, however, I am -- like Lee -- ready to trade privacy for lives saved, fuel saved -- and a sudden billion man-hours of new productivity as commuters can truly focus on their texting and emails.

Philosophy Posted by John Kranz at May 22, 2013 1:28 PM

If the trade "liberty for prosperity" that you acquiesce to is real, and I'm not prepared to agree that it is so, at least not universally, then let it be a trade made by each of us, individually, with a marketplace of choices.

Both descriptions of driverless car technology are correct. There are networked versions and self-contained versions, or evil Googlecars and modern mechanical "Silvers" to carry the road going Lone Rangers. I'll just call them Blue Cars and Red Cars. So as long as America remains the land of the free and the home of the brave, free men and sheep can coexist on the same motorways.

Who knows, maybe Subaru will finally get some competition from "Blue Car."

(And if ours ceases to be "the land of the free" then the roads will again roar with the sound of "V8 Interceptors."

Posted by: johngalt at May 22, 2013 2:57 PM

We've serious overlap. I am far less circumspect trading "privacy" away to Google than giving it to government. One can say that's a distinction without difference and they'll certainly fold like a house of cards under the slightest pressure. Yet I hold that it is a choice.

The meaningful comparison here was the cell phone -- it is a huge-to-potentially-devastating infringement on privacy, but we have negotiated acceptable limits.

That is a trade. One can be Mr. or Ms. Pure Privacy and forego the benefits of wireless. I will not join.

Posted by: jk at May 22, 2013 3:35 PM | What do you think? [2]