My twelve-year-old recently finished George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. When I asked her whether she had taken any lessons from the book, she airily replied, “The individual is powerless, so there’s really no point in trying.”
Alarmed, I tried to explain that the world was an altogether cheerier place than Orwell, writing in 1948, could have imagined. Unrepentant socialist as he was, he never overcame his belief that the free market was doomed. He would have been stunned by the way that seventy years of exchange and specialization have served not only to make us wealthier, but to make us more autonomous.
Instead of being watched by the state through telescreens, we carry our own screens—ones that put more information at our fingertips than an entire government department could have compiled in Orwell’s day. Big Brother has been defeated by capitalist technology.