Until now, freedom of thought and speech–real freedom–has eluded every society that ever sought it. Even a free market requires defenses against theft, trespass, and coercion. In the marketplace of ideas, that means keeping the peace between the quiet and the loud, the retiring and the intrusive, the decent and the vulgar. It means maintaining some sort of control over the noisy and the nosy. Free speech is a right shared by two individuals simultaneously. Mutual consent is the key. Consent spells the difference between nudity in the bedroom and in a public park, between pillow talk and dirty words on the public radio, between courtship and sexual harassment.
But half a loaf of consent is much easier to find than a whole. My handbill is your litter, my political sound truck your interrupted rest, my radio broadcast your static, my street art your ugly graffiti, my cross burning your intimidation, my inept wooing your sexual harassment, my copyright your right to publish denied, my privacy your inability to pry, my pillow talk your vulgarity, my auto-erotic flashing your indecent exposure. Every right to speak collides with some reciprocal right not to listen, not to speak, not to watch, not to give away your own words, thoughts, or privacy.
And so, to maintain a fair balance between those who wish to watch or listen or speak and those who do not wish to be watched or heard or bothered, to protect the public against perverts who like to inflame and psychotics who react violently to inflammatory expression, even the most liberal governments have always relied on the city hall to license parades, on the courts to enforce copyrights, on employment commissions to prevent sexual harassment, on public censors to suppress indecency, hate, and incitement, on the police to suppress fighting words, on the state to protect the softly spoken from the loud and the retiring from the nosy. Who then stood up for the individual? The Party. Who protected privacy? Big Brother. Who protected free thought? The Thought Police.
Imagine now the world that awaits–a world shaped by perfect communication over any distance, between any pair, or any cluster, of "telescreens," a world in which records can be maintained and manipulated, combined and merged, moved and processed, effortlessly and at almost no cost.
In a telescreened society, free markets will be irrepressible. The genius of a market is that it elicits information about what people have and what they want. That information, however, becomes powerful only when it is communicated to others. The invisible hand has no power unless guided by visible eyes and ears. Guided by telescreen, the most powerful eye and ear ever imagined, nothing can stop it.
After all, what are the essential ingredients of a market? Communication, to connect together the willing buyer and the willing seller. Promises, so that trades begun today can be consummated tomorrow. Memory, so that promises will be kept. Memory, to record what belongs to whom. Promises again, to create all other rights beyond property rights, because all social norms depend on a shared commitment to enforce them. Promises again, by which honest traders agree to ostracize cheats, deadbeats, and thieves. Promises and memories, trust and loyalty: These are the essentials on which all else in the marketplace is constructed. And the telescreen is the greatest of all communicating machines, an electronic scribe of records and memory, a laser-light weaver of trust and loyalty.
Yesterday's Party abolished private property. The telescreen will recreate it. Private property is an idea, built around a memory and a promise. The old capitalists maintained vast records to track who owned which parcel of land. That was the memory. And they committed among themselves to defend each other's claims and possessions. That was the promise. Now we have the telescreen, the most powerful machine ever imagined for recording memories and communicating promises. With private property resurrected, and the telescreen at hand for trading it, the market will create prosperity beyond anything ever before imagined.
The giant trusts and corporations that evolved in the early days of capitalism will not reappear. The old corporation operated in the image of Big Brother, as a homogeneous, collectivist autocracy, dominated by a single, all-powerful leader. In the age of the telescreen no such structures can survive; independent yet tightly interconnected business groups, linked by telescreen yet disciplined in all their relationships by market forces, will replace them. In the telescreened world, people will he paid because they work, not because they show up daily on the factory floor or in some glass-walled office. Services delivered over the new network will be metered with absolute precision. Specialists will specialize as never before.
Labor supplied over the network will be valued with scrupulous care. People who really produce will be in high demand, and no one will care at all about their race or religion, their sex, their social graces, their physical appearance, or how they smell. Quality services will be purchased wherever they can be found, across the street or across the ocean. Inferior services will be priced accordingly, and incompetence will not be purchased at all, however much employment commissions may protest. No government agencies will even be able to keep track of what is being supplied where, still less dictate who should be employed or on what terms.
The factory will be irrevocably changed. A car manufacturer will become a truly efficient assembler of parts provided by hundreds of independent suppliers. Secretaries, accountants, designers–most of the enterprise's support services–will be replaced by independent outsiders, knitted together into an efficient whole by the network. Suppliers, assemblers, distributors, and customers will be coordinated with meticulous precision. Even the largest factory will operate with no inventory, no warehouses, no fitful starts and stops caused by shortage of supply or excess of output. A customer's order will be conveyed instantly up the chain of production to the assembly line, and back further still to the factory's suppliers of paint, tires, and radios, and hence back to their suppliers of rubber and steel.
There will be little waste, few unsold goods, almost no friction. Industrialism no longer requires collectivism. In every collectivist society of the past, the aim was to make men resemble insects in the hope that they would cooperate as effectively. With the telescreen, the insect-men are dead. An almost anarchistic form of society is now completely compatible with industrialism and a high level of technical development. Freedom and organization can be reconciled. Cooperation will be by consent.
The old systems of marketing will be transformed beyond recognition. In primitive societies, the market operates with tiny stalls and without reliable currency; trading extends only as far as goods can be carried. In a barter economy, the seller exchanges the pig directly for a dozen chickens. Payment is assured, but the process is terribly cumbersome. In societies that are stable enough to issue currency and imbue it with value, money marks a great advance. It records value in a standardized form that is widely understood; it conveys value without any need to transport pigs or chickens. The paper itself is worthless, except for the information it conveys. Money, then, is just another network–a system of communication, a record of past effort and a promise of future return. With money, the record is on paper, a primitive, inefficient, and vulnerable medium of communication. And a single, master record keeper, the government treasury, with a single, centralized printing press, has absolute power to determine value.
But there is ultimately only one valuable currency: the currency of reputation, of stable, honest, reliable loyalty. Once it is established of a man, or a leader, or a nation's central banker, that his word is his bond, he can issue currency at will. Once it is established that he is a chiseler, a deadbeat, or a thief, no amount of currency will do him much good, for his paper will be shunned wherever he tries to peddle it. The value of money thus depends on trust and promises among the people who control the records. If the network is powerful enough, nobody controls the records, or at least no central authority does. Trust begins among individuals; then it coalesces among larger groups; then it coalesces in larger groups still.
At their peak, the old capitalists trusted a thousand different private currencies in varying degrees: personal checks, stock certificates, bonds, credit card slips, futures contracts, green stamps, patronage accounts of every kind. Even the primitive network at their disposal enabled them to confirm that an account had assets, that a business was functioning, or that an individual faithfully paid his bills. Private enterprises were already issuing countless private currencies, by verifying credit, clearing checks, evaluating investments, dealing in futures, and insuring risks. All this was done on a network that was pitifully slow and unreliable.
All the while, yesterday's capitalists knew that governments could never be trusted, that even in the best of times the Treasury was corrupt and melted down the official currency a little bit every year, and that in the worst of times governments would simply repudiate their debts, deny their memories, and disclaim their bank-note promises. But with perfect memory and communication, the government bank is no longer needed–currencies of every imaginable description will be created by the market itself, like all other goods. With the telescreen, virtually every kind of good can become the equivalent of a bank note, available for inspection, conveyance, and storage at any distance. The telescreen spells the end of ration books, coupons, and degraded dollars.