I caught part of a news broadcast on the radio as I was buying the paper this morning. The announcer was talking about the election in Taiwan and how the Chinese mainland government had been unable to keep the details of the election from their people primarily because of the Internet. The announcer, I think it was Daniel Shorr so it must have been public radio, mentioned that he had been able to talk with a number of senior Chinese officials and the word was they were moving their children and big sums of money overseas just in case things got very nasty. Not that China was going to invade Taiwan, you understand, but that their own citizens had heard about the Taiwanese elections, the fact they had taken place, the fact that they seemed to have been fair and the fact that the government had been peacefully changed through an electoral process. Somehow this seemed significant, at least to Daniel Shorr.
This got me to thinking. The upheaval in Russia had occurred under similar circumstances when fax machines and the Internet had been used to move real time information in and out and around the country and people had used it essentially to peacefully overthrow their government. Same thing happening, one day perhaps, in China and I sit here thinking, somewhat smugly, that all this is right and proper.
It's just that I'd heard another interview last evening with the editor of a book of essays that included a number of presentations made at a conference sponsored by the Cato Institute about the Web and the coming electronic transfer of money revolution that was about to roll up around our feet and knees and shoulders and head. And wallets. The Cato Institute is a Libertarian think tank that was once located down the peninsula somewhere south of here, as I seem to remember, and is now located in Washington D.C., so you may think, well, Libertarian, what do you expect from Libertarians? Still, thinking about the Russians and maybe now about the Chinese and how the Web has changed the very nature of their government through this flow of information, maybe this money flow business will make for weird and unexpected changes in our own political system through changes in the ability to tax and that kind of stuff. (I finished and filed my taxes today. Well, tomorrow, I'll file tomorrow once I research the one little glitch my tax program doesn't like.)
Anyway, their essays talked about the flow of money in the same way Daniel Shorr today talked about the
flow of information and how the Internet essentially took away the controls that governments have traditionally used to control access to information. Money, like information, will soon make similar moves over the Internet, flowing in encrypted streams in and around the world without impediment. Without anyone knowing where it's from or where it's going. Where it's from, who owns it and where it's going are necessary conditions to collect taxes. If you don't like the tax structure in one country, you can move your income and assets to another country with, say, lower capital gains rates. And not mention the fact to the IRS. And governments, US, Chinese or Bolivian, can't do anything about it. Money that isn't paid through a traditional paycheck by a big company with worries about the IRS (and the legal consequences) can go anywhere without trace (there was a discussion of encryption and the mechanics of the transactions which sounded nice, but who knows?), no need to worry about laundering it or knowing how to launder it, just put it where you want it and the government will be none the wiser unless you write them a nice email.
Hard to say if any of this is true, you get lots of predictions about life after the Internet, but maybe this coming mystery money will make for all sorts of changes that make piddling beginnings like trading stock on line for your own account just the first whisker of the camel's nose, the big eight thousand pound camel, pushing his way under the tent. This business of sitting back and chuckling over the antics of those crazy Russians and Chinese (economies blasted, people hungry, scrounging for food), tripped and tottering as they are into the bigger world, may come home sooner than we think, so keep that Y2K closet folks and hang on to those cases of tuna fish.