Freedom (of Information)

I remember reading once that the downfall of the Soviet Union began with the Xerox machine. Totalitarian governments require control of information as free thinking is inimical to dictatorships and xeroxing allowed anyone to copy and distribute forbidden materials. Orwell’s 1984 portrays this clearly. In his dystopia, not only is current content carefully controlled, but history is constantly rewritten to fit current needs. Stamps fit into this discussion in this way. In 1840, political freedom was a scarce commodity worldwide. Beyond the United States and a few areas in Western Europe, most nations were ruled by some form of monarchy, dictatorship or oligarchy. Easily over 90% of the world’s population had no political freedom and usually no economic freedom. Stamps were an integral part of the lessening of the restrictions on communications (these restrictions were both technological and economic). Cheap communications meant that the people in one part of the world began to know what was going on in other parts. Just as its not easy to keep the kids back on the farm after they’ve seen the big city, knowing about better living standards and freedom elsewhere causes the discontent that produces change. Certainly stamps weren’t responsible for the fall of the iron curtain. But the same economic and technological forces that produced stamps and then which were further facilitated by stamps are the reason that the world has become wealthier and more free today than it has ever been.

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