Sunday, December 8, 2019

Taking a Look at Scott Adams's Argument Against Privacy

By Robert Wenzel

Scott Adams, the Dilbert comic strip artist and host of the Periscope show "Coffee with Scott Adams," recently appeared on the "James Altucher Show."

Adams is an interesting and quirky thinker who often makes unique enlightening observations but one comment he made fell very wide of the mark.

Altucher asked him about the growing loss of privacy in the advancing technological world.

Adams pretty much shrugged and suggested that privacy was overrated. He stated that there may come a time when there is no privacy and it wouldn't be a big deal.

He argued that once something becomes public that most people just shrug.

He used the gay community as an example. He pointed out that the community back in the day was almost fully in the closest and one of the wisest things they did was to go generally public about their gay identities.

But this is looking at the aggregate instead of the individual. There are still some gays who for their own personal reasons prefer to be in the closest. For example, a prominent libertarian is in the closest. Indeed, I have been told by a close friend of this person that the individual is probably being blackmailed in a very big way over his homosexuality. But his private life is more important to him than shrugging and allowing his sexual preferences to come out.

But this type of individual privacy issue (We all rank our value scales differently) is only one problem with Adams's argument.

Adams is really framing the issue in a very limited matter. He is arguing that if knowledge is public, in an objective sense it can't do harm. He may, for example, argue that the fears of the individual in the closest are unfounded and that if he was outed he would realize the consequences would be of no importance.

But, again, this is narrow framing. There are objective situations where privacy is important. If a person is trying to negotiate a big contract and how much he has in the bank, $10 or $10 million, becomes public, it could severely hamper the individual in negotiations because it would be easy for the opposing party to get a sense of his staying power in negotiations and how important the contract is to him.

But the most dangerous situation for our full life becoming public is when a totalitarian government rules. How could we disclose our anti-government views if they become general public knowledge and the totalitarians would punish us for such? How could we secretly meet to plot against a totalitarian government if our meetings, and who we meet with, and what is said, become public?

The privacy question is not just about the issues where the public would generally say "Who cares?"

The privacy issue becomes very important when it is the evil parts of the world that want to use public information against us.

Keeping the privacy instinct alive and well in the general public is very important. Someday it may save our lives.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.comand Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bankand most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.


  1. Bob, can you expand on this more please? I notice you never say “right to privacy” which is consistent with the view of not believing in “rights”. But for the general commoner, what do you say to them?
    The republican pro life people say that the Supreme Court made up the “right to privacy” to make abortion legal. They say there is a right to life. My opinion is whether a person has a right to privacy or not, killing a innocent human is wrong.
    I’ve talked to good hearted conservatives who argue about the Supreme Court creating right to privacy for abortion “rights”, but I think they use this arguing a short sighted way, as in unintended consequences, much like they wanted marriage licenses from the state to keep blacks from marrying whites, so the state gladly became a third party to marriage, now these same folks are whining that the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage cause they are granting marriage licenses to gays. Sort of the same thing with the creation of business licenses. Unintended consequences.
    So, without using the term “right” to privacy , how do you argue with a conservative that privacy is very important?

  2. So Adams wouldn't mind if we installed webcams all throughout his house(s) and watched his every action?

  3. His argument only works IF people shrug about all of the personal details of other, something that will never happen. Adams must know that.