Dangerous laws, incoming.
As he sailed from the port city of Antwerp back to his homeland in 1815, thoughts of the future disturbed the calm within Henry Hetherington’s mind.
Hetherington was returning to England after a three-year stint working as a printer in the Belgian city of Ghent. A decision he’d made due to the lack of opportunity in London following the end of his apprenticeship several years earlier.
He felt anxiety over the possibility that he might still not find employment, or that he would find too much competition amongst printers in the city. One eventuality he did not consider however, was that he would be returning to take part in a war. Nevertheless, that would be exactly what would lay ahead.
London in the early 19th Century was politically tumultuous. And like all those who have held political power through the ages, the sitting government didn’t want anything to interfere with the continuation of their authority.
To prevent those in the working class from accessing knowledge that could foster “dangerous” free thought, Lord Liverpool’s Tory government attempted to make absorbing news unaffordable for the masses. So between the years 1815 and 1819, the stamp duty on newspapers and periodicals—a tax levied by the government—was increased fourfold to four pence per paper.
This act ensured that only the most affluent Londoners could now afford to read the news, blocking out the average man. Almost immediately wiping out the sales of independent publications, effectively making new ideas unavailable to the common folk.
Thus began the War of the Unstamped.
Printers in opposition to the government’s new mandate began unlawfully publishing news for the masses, challenging the monopoly of the stamped press only the wealthy could afford. Among the defiant was Hetherington, whose underground periodical The Poor Man’s Guardian became a sensation, with each edition being read by possibly close to five percent of London’s population at the time.
Among others, Hetherington was helping to win the information war. However, his actions would inevitably and predictably attract the ire of the establishment. For allowing the citizenry to freely access so-called “radical” ideas, Hetherington was punished on a multitude of occasions. He was thrice imprisoned, had his printing presses seized by the authorities, and was heavily fined.
All-in-all during this period, thousands more like him were handed financial penalties, or otherwise incarcerated, for defending Londoner’s rights to unrestricted access of information. But despite the efforts of those in open rebellion against the government, this conflict of intellect would continue for decades to come, until newspaper duties were finally abolished in 1861.
Fast-forward 160 years, and it seems we’re again embroiled in a similar battle today.
Just a few short weeks ago, a document was published on Paypal’s website, informing users of upcoming changes to the company’s Acceptable Use Policy. Scheduled to come into effect on the 3rd of November this year, the policy outlined the usual legal mumbo-jumbo you’d expect from a multi-billion-dollar platform like Paypal.
Except for one glaring proviso.
Standing out like the flaming eye of Sauron rising over a barren volcanic field, Paypal suggested that any violation of its new policy would result in a fine of $2,500 USD being levied on a user—including for infringements such as posting content the company deems “harmful” or “objectionable”, and also for spreading “misinformation”.
In short, if you said something Paypal disagreed with, they could hypothetically punish you via your bank balance.
Obviously, this discovery triggered a huge segment of the internet to go into full-blown rage mode, directing a torrent of criticism at the payment processing company. The backlash was so severe, that within days the upcoming policy changes had been retracted. Paypal then swiftly apologised, saying sorry for any confusion it may have caused, but that fines for misinformation and other similar information-sharing breaches weren’t meant to be included in its AUP.
In short, it was all one big accident—as if someone at the company just slipped and fell on a keyboard that somehow typed out these new policy changes.
Obviously, I don’t believe that story for a second.
Companies as large as Paypal have entire harems of lawmongers who scrutinise the minutiae of every policy change they put out into the world. So to believe this intrusive edit to its terms was nothing more than a simple accident would be the height of naïvety.
Now of course, if you disagree with a company like Paypal wanting to punish you for freely expressing your own views, you could simply stop using its service. However, this is a much more difficult prospect when penalties for straying outside the accepted narrative are enforced by your government.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau’s regime has set up a special task force to stifle the spread of “false, misleading and inflammatory disinformation”. One of the task force’s main aims is to “strengthen citizen resilience against disinformation”, which to me sounds like a cleverly worded way of describing an effort to make people think what it wants them to think.
Across the Atlantic in France, the strengthening of an 1881 law designed to shut down “false news” has granted the administration tough new powers. Passed by Macron’s government in November 2018, it allows for the removal of anything it deems fake by “any means”, even to completely block the news or social media sites that publish offending content.
In Singapore, the law is even more severe. A citizen who shares so-called “false information” online can be fined up to SG$100,000 (approx. $70,000 USD), or find themselves living in a prison cell for up to a decade. It’s legislation that human rights groups, as well as publications as large as the New York Times, have publicly criticised.
The list goes on. Other nations—including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom—either already have existing task forces in place to combat misinformation, or are discussing the implementation of laws that could penalise people for sharing incorrect views online. Laws with punishments that could include financial penalties, or incarceration.
It’s not hard to foresee immense problems arising from our overseers taking these kinds of actions.
As we all know from the last couple of years of history, yesterday’s “misinformation” can quickly become today’s truth. The myriad of examples surrounding the efficacy of lockdowns and “the V” are perfect markers of this, where people were removed from social media in 2020 and 2021, for saying things that are now accepted to be true in 2022.
A perfect example of this is Alex Berenson’s then-permanent ban from Twitter in August of last year, for breaching the platform’s “misinformation” rules. A ban that at least in some way, appears as though it was enforced with the blessing of the US government, which seemed to want Berenson ousted from atop his digital soapbox.
Berenson sued Twitter and subsequently won. He’s since been reinstated to the platform by a judge’s order—the first such instance of a mandate enforcing the return of a person to a social media platform. And as you might expect, what Berenson was saying at the time that the mainstream narrative considered “misinformation” has now been proven to be accurate.
Personally, I don’t care whether the information in question is about politics, health, finance, sport, or which Targaryen has the best claim to sit on HotD’s Iron Throne. For me, the human right for a person to consume whatever information they choose, or to question or oppose commonly-held views, is a right that should be inviolable—especially when it pertains to authority.
Sure, this means that sometimes stupid things will be said online. And people will share stuff that’s incorrect. But this is immensely preferable to allowing governments and corporations to become the arbiters of what is or isn’t acceptable to say. Inevitably, that kind of power will be misused, as it has at any point a person or organisation has wielded it in history.
They say misinformation is harmful. I say their laws are dangerous.
As I’ve spoken about many times in this newsletter, if your nation is going down a path you don’t agree with, there are always actions you can take. For example, the acquisition of new passports or residencies that will allow you to live elsewhere, or the creation of an independent income that will offer you the ability to call another place home.
But even better? To me, that would be the act of resisting any company or nation-state that believes they have the power to decide what is or isn’t true.
Another who shared this outlook was Richard Carlile. A man who alongside Henry Hetherington, was a defiant London printer that distributed thousands of pamphlets and periodicals in direct violation of the British government wanting a more docile, submissive, and uninformed population. I believe we should remember his words today.
“The most virtuous patriotism of the present day is a resistance to bad laws.”
» SPONSORED BY MASTERWORKS
Whenever investing, I don’t trust rumours: I trust numbers. And that’s why I know something is seriously wrong with our current financial system, because no matter where you look, the numbers are bad.
The worst inflation in 40 years. Soaring mortgage rates. And a withering stock market. And yet, there are always real assets that weather storms like this incredibly well.
By now, you know that Sorelle and I love investing in fine art. One of the reasons is that the numbers back it up; a recent study showed that a portfolio with real assets like fine art and gold—versus stocks and bonds—has outperformed since World War II. For this reason, we’re continuing to invest with Masterworks. And our fine art portfolio so far includes a Banksy, a Picasso, and a Kusama.
There’s usually a waitlist to join Masterworks. But as a trusted partner, you can skip the queue with our private referral link.