Note from Nicholas Vardy: I want to welcome you to Liberty Through Wealth – the new e-letter our team at The Oxford Club has been working on for many months.
For me, this marks both the beginning – and end – of a long journey.
Long before I joined The Oxford Club as its ETF Strategist, I’d been an avid reader of Investment U… for almost 20 years.
I was always impressed by the pithy and relevant financial advice offered by Chief Investment Strategist Alexander Green and Investment U‘s other contributors.
At the same time, I’d also been a follower of Oxford Club founding member Mark Ford’s (oops, did I spill the beans on the new surprise contributor?) life advice columns in Early to Rise. (Mark’s the reason I won’t spend money on a new car but will splurge for an expensive mattress.)
So today, it is a great honor for me to write to you as a contributor to Investment U‘s spinoff, Liberty Through Wealth.
Liberty Through Wealth takes Investment U‘s mission to the next level by offering you proven financial advice to help you grow and protect your wealth, as well as advice on how to enjoy your life while doing so.
At Liberty Through Wealth, we know that a rich life is not just about having money…
It’s about a life well-lived.
It was the winter of 1988.
I was studying at the Karl Marx University of Economics in Budapest, then still behind the Iron Curtain.
I had just received another long letter (remember those?) from my parents.
I glanced down and saw the familiar red stamp on the back of the envelope.
It confirmed that an apparatchik from the Ministry of Interior had already read my mail.
This invasion of privacy was hardly an isolated incident.
I never knew for sure whether someone was listening to my phone conversations, though a faint clicking sound on the line hinted just that.
When I traveled to the Soviet Union later that year, every hotel room I stayed in had a “radio” that didn’t work, no matter how you twisted the nobs.
The contraption turned out to be a primitive microphone so that the staff could monitor all hotel guests’ conversations.
Such was life behind the Iron Curtain.
There was neither freedom nor a right to privacy.
By today’s standards, the surveillance by communist governments during the Cold War seems almost coy.
Fast-forward 30 years. Silicon Valley-based Google tracks all of your movements through your smartphone, no matter where you are on the planet.
In London, with more than half a million cameras scattered across the city, the average Brit is captured on more than 70 of them every day.
Nor do you necessarily have a right to privacy when you’re home.
The British authorities have the right to hack into all parts of your digital life – without your permission – and without your having a clue.
The U.N. called this power “worse than scary.”
The Police State of Xinjiang, China
Technologies developed in the West that once allowed dissidents in dictatorships across the world to communicate and organize more easily have also made George Orwell’s “Big Brother” a real possibility.
Today’s autocrats watch potential troublemakers much more closely than East Germany’s secret police – the Stasi – ever did.
The world’s largest communist country – the People’s Republic of China – has taken this to another level.
It started by banning Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook and eBay.
Then it prompted its army of homegrown rivals to help turn a police state into an omniscient one.
Consider the example of Xinjiang, China.
China’s officials have used artificial intelligence (AI) and mass surveillance to impose total control over millions of Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority.
The government has installed CCTV cameras every few yards, recording each passing driver’s face and license plate.
All mobile phones must run government-issued spyware.
ID cards must include relatives’ details, fingerprints, blood type, DNA information, detention records and “reliability status.”
Here’s the shocker…
Western democracies are doing the same thing.
Their methods differ in degree… but not in kind.
Police and intelligence agencies employ the same technology and methods China uses to oppress the Uighurs…
Except they claim to use it to solve and deter crimes and prevent terrorism.
Liberty and the Right to Privacy
The rise of technological totalitarianism has broad implications for liberty.
That’s because privacy is the guardian of liberty.
The reason is simple…
If no one knows what I do, when I do it and with whom I do it, no one can possibly interfere with it.
Only when I have privacy am I completely free.
The threat to privacy (and by extension, liberty) comes from both criminals… and the government.
Just as we do not want criminals to invade our personal space, we don’t want the government to know about the intimate details of our daily lives.
That right to privacy extends to your right to achieve financial independence without the prying eyes of the authorities.
It’s a value that we embrace here at Liberty Through Wealth.
Today, technology has opened a Pandora’s box of privacy loss.
That’s why we must set rules to restrain governments and private companies from collecting our personal information.
First, we need to make the right to privacy more explicit. Surprisingly, the U.S. Constitution addresses the right to privacy only indirectly. Today, we rely on a combination of amendments and court rulings to enshrine what you’d think would be an “inalienable right.”
Second, we must limit who has access to personal information and penalize abusers.
Third, we must monitor the use of AI. Yes, AI is often impressive in predictions based on big data. But its methods and algorithms should be open to scrutiny.
John Stuart Mill argued that liberty is the freedom to do anything as long as you don’t harm another.
Today, that definition seems incomplete.
We understand now that there is no liberty without privacy.
Yes, it seems unlikely the Western countries will go down the road of the Eastern bloc during the Cold War or China in Xinjiang today.
But the creeping erosion of privacy through technology already makes it possible.
And that alone should scare all lovers of liberty.