Wikipedia and Google Will Bring Down Establishments All Over the World

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Back in the early 1990’s, I was told about a German economist with an American name: Paul C. Martin. He had written a book titled Paymaster Germany. Its thesis: Germany cannot send home its Turkish and other immigrants. They would break the German economy by pulling their money out of the country. Anyway, that’s what my German contacts told me about the book. It has never been translated

Recently, I did a search for “Paul C. Martin.” I got a page. The #2 entry was a Wikipedia article on him. It is in German. You can find the page here.

There is an option available on the Google entry: Translate this page. I clicked it. Within a few seconds, I had the article in English. Wiki knew I read English.

The article is readable. There are some minor grammatical errors, but I can easily get the gist of it. The author’s books are listed in English.

Wiki is available in dozens of languages. It is replacing all other general encyclopedias. The division of labor is working.

If you find a Wiki entry with an error, you can correct it using the Edit feature. I do this from time to time. I don’t get paid, but I want things right. This mentality is widespread among Wiki users. The articles keep getting better.

If readers of encyclopedias were evil-minded, they would deface the entries by adding lies. Yet this is not done often, and the errors are found and corrected rapidly.

Ideological wars do break out. Then the page is locked by a committee. You have to apply to update the entry. If there were many such disputes, it would be impossible to sort them out. There would not be enough volunteers to serve on the committees.

The Wiki system relies on volunteers. It works. It relies on honest intentions. This usually works. It relies on digital translation. This works well enough to allow the transmission of basic information — more than most readers can remember. Our minds are the weak links now, not the translation software.

The translation software will get better. In 20 years, it will probably rival the skills of a human translator who did not learn both languages as a bi-lingual child. It may take less time than 20 years.

This will increase the division of intellectual labor. It will vastly expand our horizons. Already, we can find out what other nationalities think about such topics as the origin of specific wars.

The way we learn about history will change for the better. Revisionist history will spread. The Establishments of all nations will suffer.

Wiki has dramatically increased the world’s intellectual division of labor by providing software and open access posting. It is self-policed. This lets decentralization find a central location on the Web. Type in any topic and then type “Wiki.” Click. You will find it on Google instantly.

Where did the creator of Wiki get this idea on the intellectual division of labor? From a dead economist, F. A. Hayek, who write a 1945 article on “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” one of the most important articles in the history of economics. Who told him about Hayek? Mark Thornton, staff economist at the Mises Institute. What organization makes spectacular use of the Web through posting free books in PDF? The Mises Institute.

Neither Google nor Wikipedia existed a decade ago.

Then there is the sheer volume of local historical materials. Think of American Civil War history if every small-town newspaper were on-line. Researchers could compare accounts of battles. The same goes for archives of letters.

On the top floor of the library at Louisiana State University at Shreveport, there is an astounding collection of antiquarian books. It was assembled by an eccentric millionaire. There is a full-time curator. I have seen this collection. It is mind-boggling. There is a large section on Civil War memorial books written by specific army units. Yet almost no one knows of this collection. In effect, it is closed to the general public because of a lack of publicity.

Let me provide another example. A prominent university in the South has the largest collection of Ku Klux Klan material anywhere. I was informed by a far-left Ph.D. historian whose grandfather was the first professor of psychology at that university in 1918 that if you were not a Klan member, you were not hired to be on the faculty. This is hearsay. I happen to believe it. He told me about the KKK collection. Almost no one knows it is there, except for Klan members who are interested in historical scholarship. This is a limited audience. The library does not publicize its existence. Why not? Because questions might be raised about the origin of the collection. Political incorrectness affects libraries.


Collection by collection, Google will scan tens of millions of books and post them. Probably 80% of the world’s pre-1923 books will be online in 50 years — maybe less. All it will take is manpower and cheap scanning machines, which keep getting cheaper.

It is possible to have a book scanned and converted to a Google-searchable PDF file for 16 cents a page if you allow the outfit to cut the spine of the book. It’s 36 cents if you don’t allow this. You can set up a website for $10 a year for domain name hosting, plus an extra $10 if you want your identity as the owner concealed from snoopers. Use Hostgator or Hostmonster to host an unlimited number of domains for $8 a month. You can post PDFs.

In every language these books will be online. They will eventually be translated digitally “on the fly.”

Then will come archive collections of letters. They will take longer to convert to searchable typeset words. But that day will come.

The cost of writing history will fall. It is costly to do research in a major research library. You must pay for the plane fare, overnight housing, and a rental car. This can easily cost $300 a day — or three times that in cities like London or Berlin. Only a few people can afford this, and only for short visits.

If the library’s pre-1923 books and archive materials were online, anyone could do it at home. The little guy would be able to compete.

Say that you want access to all academic journals. These are all on-line. It is expensive to access them. You must be an enrolled student or a faculty member to access them. Solution? Hire a student intern who has on-line access to the library. Then have the student look up the articles you want to read and send PDFs to you. Or just use his access code to do your own research. “That’s cheating,” says the librarian. But taxpayers pay for the library. I suffer little guilt.

Every time you find a Google link to a locked article on JSTOR, you contact your intern. Presto. Unlocked!

Some interns work for free to gain college credit. Do I have access to such an intern? To ask this question is to answer it.

Soon, brains and insight will rule, not bank accounts and official accreditation by state licensing bureaus. The Establishments will all be in defensive mode.

It is happening today. This is going to increase.

Truth will fragment. New paradigms will emerge from the competition. The quality of thought will improve when bank accounts are not major barriers to entry.


The gatekeepers can no longer control the flow of information. This has never happened in man’s history. Gatekeepers still control the gates. But the walls have holes in them. These holes are widening.

The gatekeepers control accreditation. They no longer control content except where it is very expensive to do primary research, such as nuclear physics. In the social sciences and humanities, it’s just about over.

When I think “Establishment,” my mind goes back to Rocky III. Mr. T’s character tells Apollo Creed, “you’re going down.”

If you find something worth posting, post it. Call this “post-it notes.” It beats armed revolution every time.

Make a free online YouTube or course out of your favorite controversial topic. Imitate Salman Khan: (Note: Khan graduated from MIT and the Harvard Business School.) He did it with these low-cost or free tools.

In short, if you find something evil that wobbles, push it.

August 18, 2009

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2009 Gary North