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Welcome Aboard, But First US Marshals Will Scan Your Retina – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Welcome Aboard, But First US Marshals Will Scan Your Retina – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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For some 15 years, airport security has become steadily more invasive. There are ever more checkpoints, ever more requests for documents as you make your way from the airport entrance to the airplane. Passengers adapt to the new changes as they come. But my latest flight to Mexico, originating in Atlanta, presented all passengers with something I had never seen before.

We had already been through boarding pass checks, passport checks, scanners, and pat downs. At the gate, each passenger had already had their tickets scanned and we were all walking on the jet bridge to board. It’s at this point that most people assume that it is all done: finally we can enjoy some sense of normalcy.

This time was different. Halfway down the jetbridge, there was a new layer of security. Two US Marshals, heavily armed and dressed in dystopian-style black regalia, stood next to an upright machine with a glowing green eye. Every passenger, one by one, was told to step on a mat and look into the green scanner. It was scanning our eyes and matching that scan with the passport, which was also scanned (yet again).

Like everyone else, I complied. What was my choice? I guess I could have turned back at the point, decline to take the flight I had paid for, but it would be unclear what would then happen. After standing there for perhaps 8 seconds, the machine gave the go signal and I boarded.

I talked to a few passengers about this and others were just as shaken by the experience. They were reticent even to talk about it, as people tend to be when confronted with something like this.

I couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen something like this before. I wrote friends who travel internationally and none said they had ever seen anything like this.

I will tell you how it made me feel: like a prisoner in my own country. It’s one thing to control who comes into a country. But surveilling and permissioning American citizens as they leave their own country, even as they are about to board, is something else.

Where is the toggle switch that would have told the machine not to let me board, and who controls it? How prone is it to bureaucratic error? What happens to my scan now and who has access to it?

The scene reminded me of movies I’ve seen, like The Hunger Games or 1984. It’s chilling and strange, even deeply alarming to anyone who has ever dreamed of what freedom might be like. It doesn’t look like this.

Why Now?

I’ve searched the web for some evidence that this new practice has been going on for a while and I just didn’t notice. I find nothing about it. I’ve looked to find some new order, maybe leftover from the Obama administration, that is just now being implemented. But I find nothing.

Update: a reader has pointed me to this page at Homeland Security:

As part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) border security mission, the agency is deploying new technologies to verify travelers’ identities – both when they arrive and when they leave the United States – by matching a traveler to the document they are presenting. CBP’s goal is to enhance national security and protect a traveler’s identity against theft through the use of biometrics.

Biometric information (such as finger, face, or iris) measures a person’s unique physical characteristics. CBP incorporated fingerprints for biometric identification and verification in 2004, and is now testing facial and iris imaging capabilities to help improve travelers’ identity protection, the integrity of our immigration system, and our national security.

I happened to be on the “one daily flight” that gets exit scanned.

Another change has to do with new rules for Homeland Security just imposed by the Trump administration. They make deportation vastly easier for the government. I have no idea if these rules are the culprit for intensified emigration checks.

What people don’t often consider is that every rule that pertains to immigration ultimately applies to emigration as well. Every rule that government has to treat immigrants a certain way also necessarily applies to citizens as well.

Chandran Kukathas is right when he says that “controlling immigration means controlling everyone.”

Regulating immigration is not just about how people arrive, but about what they do once they have entered a country. It is about controlling how long people stay, where they travel, and what they do. Most of all, it means controlling whether or not and for whom they work (paid or unpaid), what they accept in financial remuneration, and what they must do to remain in employment, for as long as that is permitted. Yet this is not possible without controlling citizens and existing residents, who must be regulated, monitored and policed to make sure that they comply with immigration laws.

To be sure, there might have been some tip off that security officials received that triggered these special measures for this flight only. Maybe they were looking for something, someone, in particular. Maybe this was a one-time thing and will not become routine.

The point is that it happened without any change in the laws or regulations. Whatever the reason, it was some decision made by security. It can happen on any flight for any reason. And who is in charge of making that decision?

On the plane, finally, my mind raced through the deeper history here. Passports as we know them are only a little over a century old. In the late 19th century, the apotheosis of the liberal age, there were no passports. You could travel anywhere in the world through whatever means you could find. Nationalism unleashed by World War I ended that.

And here we are today, with ever more controls, seeming to follow Orwell’s blueprint for how to end whatever practical freedoms we have left. And we are going this way despite the absence of any real crisis, any imminent threat? The driving force seems to be this: our own federal government’s desire to control every aspect of our lives.

Think of it: there might be no getting out of the country without subjecting yourself to this process. It’s a digital Berlin Wall. This is what it means to put “security” ahead of freedom: you get neither.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

P.G. Wodehouse Knew the Way: Fight Fascism with Humor – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

P.G. Wodehouse Knew the Way: Fight Fascism with Humor – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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One of my favorite characters from 20th century pop fiction is Roderick Spode, also known as Lord Sidcup, from the 1930s series Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse, and hilariously portrayed in the 1990s TV adaptation starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. He perfectly captures the bluster, blather, and preposterous intellectual conceit of the interwar aspiring dictator.
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Back in the day, these people were all the same, whether George Lincoln Rockwell in the US, Oswald Mosley in the UK, or more well-known statesmen in interwar Europe. They were nativists, protectionists, longed for dictatorship, and believed that science had their back.
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Rather than a tedious denunciation, Wodehouse gives us something more effective. He created a composite and caricature of all of them and turned it to hilarity.
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Books about Nothing

Like Seinfeld, Jeeves and Wooster was “about nothing” but managed compelling cultural commentary that shaped the way a generation saw the world around them. It chronicled the amusing superficial lives of third-generation English upper class, lovable people with declining financial resources but too much dignity to take on the task of actually earning a living. There is a strong liberal spirit running through the whole series.

Roderick Spode is a character who makes appearances at odd times, making speeches to his couple dozen followers, blabbing on in the park and bamboozling naïve passersby, blowing up at people, practicing his demagogic delivery style. A handful of people take him seriously but mostly he and his “brownshort” followers are merely a source of amusement and annoyance to the London scene.

Why shorts? It seems that by the time he started ordering uniforms for his followers, there were no more shirts left. Red, brown, and black were already taken. Plus the company he contacted only had affordable shorts, so brown shorts it would be. So the required eugenic theory of his group naturally surrounded knees. He wanted everyone’s knees compulsorily measured:

Not for the true-born Englishman the bony angular knee of the so-called intellectual, not for him the puffy knee of the criminal classes. The British knee is firm, the British knee is muscular, the British knee is on the march!

The television series made him less British than German in aspiration. Here is his first speech in the television series, in which proclaims the “right, nay the duty” of every Briton to grow his own potatoes.

And here he is proposing mandatory bicycles and umbrellas for all free-born Britons. A fellow standing around says, “I say, I’ve never quite thought of it that way.”

Spode is also secretly a coward. In his other life, he is the owner, by virtue of family inheritance, of a shop that designs intimate clothing for women. He is desperate to keep this a secret, believing this profession to be incompatible with the career ambitions of an aspiring dictator. Anyone who knows this secret about his life has deep control over his psyche, with only the threat of revelation keeping him under control.

They Are Ridiculous

The entire caricature was a humiliation for the fascists of the period because it spoke truth. Their plans for economic life are ridiculous. Their eugenic theories are pseudo-science. Their pretensions to command a massive following are completely wrong. And in their private lives, they are just like everyone else: they aren’t demigods or elites or superior in any sense. They are just dudes who are exploiting public curiosity and fear to gain attention and power. They are trolls.

Humor is a great method for dealing with clowns like these, as Saturday Night Live has recently rediscovered. At the same time, we are mistaken to think they are not a threat to civilized life. In real life, Mosley in the UK and Rockwell in the US were a serious menace, as much as the establishments they opposed.

The statist Left and the statist Right play off each other, creating a false binary that draws people into their squabble. People need to understand, as F.A. Hayek emphasized in Road to Serfdom, that the fascists and communists are really two sides of a split within the same movement, each of which aspires to control the population with a version of a central plan.

It’s a question of how best to deal with them. Ideally clowns like this would be ignored, left to sit alone at the bar or at the park with their handful of deluded acolytes. That’s how Wodehouse presented his fascist – just as a silly distraction whose only value is a good joke. However, this is not typically how people do deal with them. They are so offensive to people’s ideals that they inspire massive opposition, and that opposition in turn creates public scenes that gain a greater following for the demagogue. This cycle continues to the point that the entire political landscape becomes deeply poisoned with hate and acts of vengeance.

When thinking of how genuine lovers of human liberty should deal with such settings, I always fall back on Ludwig von Mises from 1927.

It is often maintained that what divides present-day political parties is a basic opposition in their ultimate philosophical commitments that cannot be settled by rational argument. The discussion of these antagonisms must therefore necessarily prove fruitless … Nothing is more absurd than this belief … Rhetorical bombast, music and song resound, banners wave, flowers and colors serve as symbols, and the leaders seek to attach their followers to their own person. Liberalism has nothing to do with all this. It has no party flower and no party color, no party song and no party idols, no symbols and no slogans. It has the substance and the arguments. These must lead it to victory.

It can be the hardest thing in the world to remember this in the midst of political upheaval and antagonisms. People tend to believe they must join the Left to defeat the Right or join the Right to defeat the Left, forgetting that there is a third option: rule by no party and no one, but rather by universal self-rule and the society of freedom first and always.

It’s the tragedy of real-world politics that we keep moving through these phases, trading one style of central plan for another, one type of despot for another, without understanding that none are necessary. True defenders of liberty get it. That should inspire us to smile from time to time.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

The New Renaissance HatRyan Miller
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I recently finished Anthem by Ayn Rand. In this short novella she tells the story of Equality 7-2521 (later called Prometheus), a man living in a dystopian collectivist society which has eclipsed the individual to such a degree that words such as “I” and “my” no longer even exist. The story is about Prometheus’ discovery of himself as an individual and of the world as it was before.

In this society babies are taken immediately from their “parents”, who were assigned to one another by the Council of Eugenics for the sole purpose of breeding, raised in the Home of Infants and then in the Home of Students, and then finally assigned their life-long profession at the age of 15 by the Council of Vocations. Everything is done for the supposed benefit of your brothers, preference is not allowed, superior ability is not allowed, and back-breaking toil is praised as such and not as a way to improve your own or humanity’s situation.

Dictatorship Means Poverty

But what is striking about this story is how accurately it portrays how the world would look under such life-throttling conditions. The Home of the Scholars is praised for having only recently (100 years ago) (re)invented marvels such as candles and glass. Since the times before the “Great Rebirth” and the discovery of the “Great Truth”—namely, “that all men are one and there is no will save the will of all men together”—humanity has, in reality, lost the progress of thousands of years and has reverted back to a time before even such basic utilities as oil lamps or clocks.

But Ayn Rand’s genius is that this is exactly what would happen to the world should it ever discover and truly act upon this “Great Truth.” Yet this is not typically how dystopian stories portray this type of society. Stories such as Brave New World1984The GiverDivergentEquilibrium, and many others, all love to show some type of ultra-technologically-advanced world in the backdrop of total or near total oppression, suppression of the individual, and enforcement of conformity.

Despite the almost total (and often drug-induced) destruction of individual will, drive, and creativity, these societies have reached unprecedented levels of technological competence. This is especially true when one considers when many of these stories were written.

In Brave New World, written in 1931, everyone has a personal helicopter, science has advanced to such a degree that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary parts of the breeding process, and everyone is kept docile and happy by the apparently side-effect lacking drug Soma.

In 1984 (published in 1949) there are two way telescreens, miniscule microphones and cameras, and speak/writes which turn whatever you say into text. In the other stories technology is advanced enough to, among other things, control weather (The Giver), give kids serum-induced psychological aptitude tests (Divergent), and to completely suppress emotions (Equilibrium). In addition to these there are countless other inventions or practices in these stories and the many others of the dystopian future genre.

Invention Requires Freedom

The question that needs to be asked, however, is who invented all these things? These marvel feats, which in the stories are often used for the end of some malevolent goal, are really all potentially awesome, or at least highly complex and complicated, inventions or innovations. Their conception and ultimate realization would have required years of thought, testing, failure, tinkering, and then success—things which all require individual ingenuity, creativity, and the incentives arising from the prospect of individual pride and gain.

Every great break-through in history was achieved by some odd-ball going against the grain or traditionally accepted view of things in their particular field. If they had done things the way people had always done them, they would never have had the ability to think outside the box and discover or create a unique solution to the problem at hand. Inventors and innovators need their quirkiness, eccentricity, social awkwardness, or will and ability to stand up to the existing order. And they need that coupled with the idea that they have something to gain.

But all of these stories, to different degrees, have built societies that destroy our differences, our emotions, our passions, our ability to think differently, and our incentives to create if were even able to.

So where do these advanced societies come from? Sure they could drink from the well of wealth created by the society that may have preceded it, but only for a while. It would eventually dry up. And without new generations of ambitious and intelligent dreamers, tinkerers, outside-the-boxers, there would be no one around to rebuild the wealth. This is the world that Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. The hopeless world without individuals.

The existence of advanced societies in many dystopian stories is reminiscent of the problem with the thinking in our world today and in the past: the thinking that things “just happen”—that innovation, invention, and progress are phenomena which occur naturally, regardless of conditions. Though the worlds portrayed in these other novels are far from desirable, the progress alone that the societies in them have reached is a reflection of this idea that most people, at least passively or unknowingly, buy into.

In reality the world would look much more like that of Anthem.

 

ryan_miller

Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Waking Up to the Reality of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Waking Up to the Reality of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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The great extant threat to liberty is nativist authoritarianism

Donald Trump is on a roll, breaking new ground in uses for [centralized] power.

Closing the internet? Sure. “We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people… We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some ways.”

Registering Muslims? Lots of people thought he misspoke. But he later clarified: “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems.”

Why not just bar all Muslims at the border? Indeed, and to the massive cheers of his supporters, Trump has called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Internment camps? Trump cites the FDR precedent: Italians, Germans, and Japanese “couldn’t go five miles from their homes. They weren’t allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents.”

Rounding up millions of people? He’ll create a “deportation force” to hunt down and remove 11 million illegal immigrants.

Killing wives and children? That too. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

Political Vocabulary

This litany of ideas has finally prompted mainstream recognition of the incredibly obvious: If Donald Trump has an ideology, it is best described as fascism.

Even Republican commentators, worried that he might be unstoppable, are saying it now. Military historian and Marco Rubio adviser Max Boot tweeted that “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.” Bush adviser John Noonan said the same.

The mainstream press is more overt. CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Trump point blank if he is a fascist. The Atlantic writes: “It’s hard to remember a time when a supposedly mainstream candidate had no interest in differentiating ideas he’s endorsed from those of the Nazis.”

There is a feeling of shock in the air, but anyone paying attention should have seen this last summer. Why did it take so long for the consciousness to dawn?

The word fascism has been used too often in political discourse, and almost always imprecisely. It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf. You warn about wolves so much that no one takes you seriously when a real one actually shows up.

Lefties since the late 1930s have tended to call non-leftists fascists — which has led to a discrediting of the word itself. As time went on, the word became nothing but a vacuous political insult. It’s what people say about someone with whom they disagree. It doesn’t mean much more than that.

Then in the 1990s came Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100 percent.” This law provided a convenient way to dismiss all talk of fascism as Internet babblings deployed in the midst of flame wars.

Godwin’s Law made worse the perception that followed the end of World War II: that fascism was a temporary weird thing that afflicted a few countries but had been vanquished from the earth thanks to the Allied war victory. It would no longer be a real problem but rather a swear word with no real substance.

Fascism Is Real

Without the term fascism as an authentic descriptor, we have a problem. We have no accurate way to identify what is in fact the most politically successful movement of the 20th century. It is a movement that still exists today, because the conditions that gave rise to it are unchanged.

The whole burden of one of the most famous pro-freedom books of the century — Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom — was to warn that fascism was a more immediate and pressing danger to the developed world than Russian-style socialism. And this is for a reason: Hayek said that “brown” fascism did not represent a polar opposite of “red” socialism. In the interwar period, it was common to see both intellectuals and politicians move fluidly from one to the other.

“The rise of Fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period,” wrote Hayek, “but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.”

In Hayek’s reading, the dynamic works like this. The socialists build the state machinery, but their plans fail. A crisis arrives. The population seeks answers. Politicians claiming to be anti-socialist step up with new authoritarian plans that purport to reverse the problem. Their populist appeal taps into the lowest political instincts (nativism, racism, religious bigotry, and so on) and promises a new order of things under better, more efficient rule.

Last July, I heard Trump speak, and his talk displayed all the features of fascist rhetoric. He began with trade protectionism and held up autarky as an ideal. He moved to immigration, leading the crowd to believe that all their economic and security troubles were due to dangerous foreign elements among us. Then came the racial dog whistles: Trump demanded of a Hispanic questioner whether he was a plant sent by the government of Mexico.

There was more. He railed against the establishment that is incompetent and lacking in energy. He bragged about his lack of interest-group ties — which is another way of saying that only he can become the purest sort of dictator, with no quid pro quos to tie him down. (My article on this topic is here.)

Trump is clearly not pushing himself as a traditional American president, heading an executive branch and working with Congress and the judicial branch. He imagines himself as running to head a personal state: his will would be the one will for the country. He has no real plans beyond putting himself in charge — not only of the government but, he imagines, the entire country. It’s a difference of substance that is very serious.

The rest of the campaign has been easy to predict. He refashioned himself as pro-family, anti-PC, and even pro-religion. These traits come with the package — both a reaction to the far left and a fulfillment of its centralist ambitions.

The key to understanding fascism is this: It preserves the despotic ambitions of socialism while removing its most politically unpopular elements. In an atmosphere of fear and loathing, it assures the population that it can keep its property, religion, and faith — provided all these elements are channeled into a grand national project under a charismatic leader of high competence.

Douthat’s Analysis

As the realization has spread that Trump is the real deal, so has the quality of reflection on its implication. Most impressive so far has been Ross Douthat’s article in the New York Times. As he explains, Trump displays as least seven features of Umberto Eco’s list of fascist traits:

A cult of action, a celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, an intense nationalism and resentment at national humiliation, and a “popular elitism” that promises every citizen that they’re part of “the best people of the world.”

In this, Trump is different from other American politicians who have been called fascist, writes Douthat. George Wallace was a local-rights guy and hated Washington, whereas Trump loves power and thinks only in terms of centralization. Pat Buchanan’s extreme nativism was always tempered by his attachment to Catholic moral teaching that puts brakes on power ambitions.

Ross Perot was called a fascist, but actually he was a government reformer who wanted to bring business standards to government finance, which is very different from wanting to manage the entire country. And, for all his nonsense about jobs going to Mexico, Perot generally avoided racialist dog whistles.

Why Now and Not Before?

Why has genuine fascism been kept at bay in America? Why has the American right never taken the final step that might have plunged it into authoritarian, nativist aspirations?

Here Douthat is especially insightful:

Part of the explanation has to be that the American conservative tradition has always included important elements — a libertarian skepticism of state power, a stress on localism and states’ rights, a religious and particularly Protestant emphasis on the conscience of an individual over the power of the collective — that inoculated our politics against fascism’s appeal.

Douthat singles out libertarianism as an ideological brake on fascist longings. This is precisely right. Libertarianism grows out of the liberal tradition, which is about far more than merely hating the ruling-class establishment. Classical liberalism has universalist longings, embodied in its defenses of free trade, free speech, free migration, and freedom of religion. The central-planning feature of fascistic ideology is absolutely ruled out by libertarian love for spontaneous social and economic forces at work in society.

As for “energy” emanating from the executive branch, the liberal tradition can’t be clearer. No amount of intelligence, resources, or determined will from the top down can make [central planning] work. The problem is the apparatus itself, not the personalities and values of the rulers who happen to be in charge.

(I’m leaving aside the deep and bizarre irony that many self-professed libertarians have fallen for Trump, a fact which should be deeply embarrassing to anyone and everyone who has affection for human liberty. And good for Ron Paul for denouncing Trump’s authoritarianism in no uncertain terms.)

Can He Win?

Douthat seriously doubts that Trump can finally win over Republicans, due to “his lack of any real religious faith, his un-libertarian style and record, his clear disdain for the ideas that motivate many of the most engaged Republicans.”

I’m not so sure. The economic conditions that led to a rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Franco in Spain are nowhere close to being replicated here. Even so, income growth has stagnated, middle-class social ambitions are frustrated, and many aspects of [federal] government services are failing […] Add fear of terrorism to the mix, and the conditions, at least for some, are nearly right. What Trumpism represents is an attempt to address these problems through more of the same means that have failed in the past.

It’s time to dust off that copy of The Road to Serfdom and realize that the biggest threats to liberty come from unexpected places. While the rank and file are worrying themselves about the influence of progressive professors and group identity politics, they need to open their eyes to the possibility that the gravest threat to American rights and liberties exists within their own ranks.


If you want to understand more about fascism and its history, see this chapter from John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

The Dawn of the Surveillance State – Article by Gary McGath

The Dawn of the Surveillance State – Article by Gary McGath

The New Renaissance Hat
Gary McGath
September 18, 2014
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We think of mass surveillance as a product of modern technology—applying computing power to scoop up communications and metadata in bulk. But large-scale spying on Americans got its real start in 1917, when the United States entered World War I. The government wanted to build up an apparatus to crush all criticism.

In his 1917 Flag Day speech, President Wilson claimed that Germany had “filled our unsuspecting communities with vicious spies and conspirators and sought to corrupt the opinion of our people in their own behalf.” He warned, “Woe be to the man or group of men that seeks to stand in our way in this day of high resolution.” The next day, Congress gave teeth to his warning with the Espionage Act, which criminalized opposition to the war. In 1918, the Sedition Act made prohibitions on dissent even broader.

The apparatus for searching out people with supposedly disloyal tendencies was already in place. The Council of National Defense, created in 1916, had begun urging the states to create their own Councils of Defense. Some of them paid close attention to everything people were saying and promoted persecution of anything sounding disloyal or foreign. In Iowa, elderly women were jailed for speaking German over the telephone, and a pastor was imprisoned for giving part of a funeral service in Swedish.

In Oklahoma, Governor Robert L. Williams formed an extralegal state Council of Defense, which in turn created an Oklahoma Loyalty Bureau, employing secret service agents to find sedition in communities. The Tulsa County Council of Defense formed a secret organization to look for dissidents.

The Bureau of Investigation (later called the FBI) got into the act, creating the American Protective League (APL)—a private, quasi-official espionage organization. The APL boasted that it was “organized with approval and operating under the direction of the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation.” Because it was nominally private, the government didn’t have to take responsibility for its actions. Its 1,200 branches put local public schools under surveillance, checked on people who didn’t buy war bonds, and investigated Lutheran clergymen who didn’t express public support for the war. APL members detained over 40,000 people, opened mail, and raided factories, union halls, and private homes.

The federal government did its own share of outrageous searches and seizures. A 1918 pamphlet, “War-time Prosecutions and Mob Violence,” by the National Civil Liberties Bureau, cites numerous raids, with vast amounts of printed materials confiscated, from September 1917 onward. The International Workers of the World (IWW) and the International Bible Students’ Association—a branch of what’s now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses—were targeted repeatedly.

The Feds also took control of all radio stations when the United States joined the war. Amateur radio was shut down, along with many commercial stations. In 1918 the federal government nationalized telephone and telegraph service, an act that Postmaster General Burleson declared necessary “to prevent communication by spies and other public enemies.”

Most of the surveillance apparatus was dismantled after the war was over, and communications returned to private hands. However, the Sedition Act, which made it all possible, still remains on the books, though in a more limited form. In 1971, it was used to indict Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the government had been systematically misleading the public about the Vietnam War. In 2013, it was the basis for bringing charges against Edward Snowden.

And even if most of the organizations created during this wave of hysteria are now defunct, as historian Lon Strauss has written, we can “see the foundation that influenced subsequent decisions…. There’s a direct connection with the type of surveillance state that produced the NSA; that foundation was created in the First World War.”

Mass surveillance might be grabbing headlines, but unfortunately, it’s nothing new.

Gary McGath is a freelance writer and a former editor of the Thomas Paine Review.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.
To Those of You Who Are Indifferent, This Bell Is Ringing for You – Article by Tatiana Chornovol

To Those of You Who Are Indifferent, This Bell Is Ringing for You – Article by Tatiana Chornovol

The New Renaissance Hat
Tatiana Chornovol
February 4, 2014
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Original Publication: Ukrainian Pravda
Translated by Olia Knight
Edited by Isis Wisdom
Source: http://blogs.pravda.com.ua/authors/chornovol/52ed347c55539/
Reprinted with permission
***
Editor’s Note: The Rational Argumentator is reprinting this article by Tatiana Chornovol in order to continue giving readers an understanding of the horrendous violations of human rights and human dignity by the regime of Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine. The scale and tactics involved in the repression orchestrated (sometimes through informal means) by Yanukovych are unprecedented in their extent and brutality for any Slavic post-Soviet republic, and, indeed, one would have to look back to the Stalin era to find more widespread atrocities committed even during the time of the USSR. For civilization to return to Ukraine, the Yanukovych regime needs to be removed from power.
                                               ~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator
***

Don’t you agree that no one is safe when there is a maniac in a city? The situation in Ukraine is much worse – we have a maniac running our country and he is served by a repressive state machine that has the ability to create death squads in every city.

Maniacs are usually difficult to detect since they lead normal lives, and often have families and children. But our maniac is worse, since he does not even find it necessary to hide. In only the third year of his presidency, Yanukovych started giving orders to abduct, torture, murder, and freeze ordinary people to death with their hands tied up. For him, this is just political technologies. Besides, he plans to reign for at least two presidential terms and then hand over power by inheritance. What, then, will happen to Ukraine and us?

Those of you who are indifferent, ask yourself, are you ready to live in the country of a maniac who doesn’t even try to look like a healthy person?

If not, then you’re already late. Because we already live in this country. You just haven’t noticed it yet. Because it has not reached your turn yet, but it definitely will, even if you don’t care.

I know what I’m writing about, because I’m among those whose turn has come, I am with the people who are next in line, and I stand in this line again deliberately.

Recently, I witnessed a conversation at Automaidan headquarters. One of the participants was Yaroslav Gonchar, who escaped Berkut. He is the one of the daredevil activists who, with his own car on Obolon [district], stopped Berkut [special riot police forces] buses that were going to Maidan from Mezhyhirya [President Yanukovych’s estate residence]. Tens of Berkut officers first destroyed his car, then started beating Yaroslav and his partner. Yaroslav’s seatbelt helped him stay inside the car, in the heat of their sadistic attack Berkut could not pull him out, and beating him through the smashed windows proved ineffective. That is why he was “not completely beat up.”

The second participant is Volodymyr Maralov, who is “not completely shot up.” He is an activist from the “Road Control” group who was seized from the street by unknown thugs: they interrogated him, and then shot him through the heart. The bullet miraculously turned into the muscles and did not touch the heart.

So, the conversation was as follows: the person who was “not completely beaten up” was interested in what the person who was “not completely shot up” felt when he got shot.

The reply was interesting to me too. I admit, I was really interested, because getting shot with a bullet is now more real than going to the movies, for example. Volodymyr’s response calmed me down a bit because he said it had not hurt him much. At first it pushes you, and then you pass out. I told Volodymyr happily that when you get hit on the head, you feel something similar. Loss of consciousness saves you from the pain.

So, this is how our happy conversation went, since today in our value system, a painless death is good.

Those of you who are indifferent, just imagine what interests us, so if you stay indifferent, because of it, someday indifference will come to you too.

Understand what a terrible parallel reality we suddenly got ourselves into, we, innocent children, who played in peace and love all our lives, had ordinary responsibilities, raised children, maybe were a bit more romantic and idealistic than the majority of the population, maybe believed in dignity, honesty, and patriotism a little more… That’s why our turn came first, and in our lives it’s become commonplace, when by the order of one sadist, the maniac Victor Yanukovych, death squads beat our friends, shoot them, leave them to freeze in the forests, and buried them in graves as unidentified bodies.

In this reality it’s already perceived as a miracle, like proof of God’s existence, that Ihor Lutsenko remained alive, and that Dmytro Bulatov – is alive.

I will be honest, I had already buried Dmytro. When I went outside and felt the cruel frost, my imagination constantly drew the picture of him freezing to death in the forest. When I was told that maybe “he is in hiding,” I still imagined his frozen body covered by snow, because in my memory sounded his sincere: “I am ready to go all the way to the end,” when he came to visit me at the hospital.

That is why after Bulatov was found, I was happy and was not upset that he was tortured: “What’s important is that he is alive.”

But deep down, I am not sure about it. I do not know what is good now. Since in our reality being alive after torture might mean that the torturers will get you later. It is easy to die for the first time…

I remember when I was at Borispyl highway, experiencing numerous blows to the head, moments before I passed out I realized that it was the end. But, I was not scared, because I was ready to die in a somewhat similar manner long before this event. But I also remember thinking happily that I did not feel a strong pain from the beatings and therefore I did not risk being on my knees unconscious before the executioners. Also, it was a joyous awareness that I had done enough to get to Yanukovych even after my death.

But it is hard to die a second time…

Because everything has changed now, it is not enough to die today. It is irresponsible. We must win, which is much more difficult.

Besides, you keep worrying about friends, acquaintances, and strangers from Maidan. Because they are so valuable. This country (your children, those of you who are indifferent) needs those people who are out on Maidan alive, because these are the best people in the country. Whoever has been on Maidan knows that, there, are concentrated the most moral, responsible, intelligent, and brave, who know they cannot entrust their country and their own children to murderers, rapists, and the mafia.

And we have to win because it is our responsibility, because we are strong, because we are not afraid to sacrifice ourselves. It is widely known that people who are ready to die are worth many of those ready to kill.

However, our victory does not depend so much on our qualities but primarily on the number of those who are concerned. So, I appeal to the indifferent and the apolitical – hear, and join us.

I appeal to the military: how can you be indifferent when you gave an oath to serve Ukraine?

I understand that our officers are not always men of honor (in the army corruption and bullying are rampant), and to ask them for help is ridiculous. However, I am asking. I ask the military – realize your responsibility, and that your indifference empowers the maniac. Protect the country to which you swore an oath. Maybe this is your calling. Maybe you were born and joined the army not to take small bribes and die from alcoholism, but to save the country from the maniac and save your children (adults, young, or not-yet-born).

Indifferent people, please understand this faster and start to care. Because our numbers matter the most for a victory.

What to do? What is the plan of action?

In essence, the most important thing is to care. In this, there is work for everyone.

For example, the police tried to arrest tortured Bulatov yesterday. Is this not a good reason for masses of Kyivans to come and support him at the hospital?  However, there was a small group of people at Borys clinic yesterday. We are grateful to them, since the weather was brutal. This small group of concerned citizens looked strange against a background of lit windows in a Kyiv suburb of Poznyaky. Why don’t those who live nearby come for support? Because of their work, because of their kids, because they have to pay their rent, and because they really do not care about what’s happening on Maidan?

Thousands and thousands of indifferent people…

Recently, I used public transportation from Boryspil to Maidan for the first time since I got beaten and walked around the village. It’s a habitual route I used to take hundreds of times. However, this time I was already in a different country – anxious. I looked around at the crosswalks uncomfortably.

I was alone, since my husband and father took my friend Oleg to a hospital. “Titushky” [hired thugs] beat him on the head with baseball bats.

It happened at Cherkasy. “Titushky” jumped out at us from three cars not far from the Regional District Administration. They first attacked the men, since I was dragging my feet.

I grabbed a small cudgel from building materials by the dumpster and helped my husband to fight them off. I must confess, for the first time in my life, I was aggressive and fought the attackers with all my strength.

Then I ran to help Oleg out, three men were trying to strangle him, but I did not have enough strength for an effective attack. They grabbed me. My husband got me away from them. Oleg was on the ground. We were ashamed to run. Literally, we left our friend to his death. He was tortured. They beat him with the bat to kill, targeting his head and body. It was a miracle he survived. He had a 10 centimeter stitch on his head.

Imagine I left my friend! I left the person who protected me with his body…

I became a worse person. When criminals exploit a brutal animalistic rule of life in the country, we all become worse, much worse. We become ready for horrible things.

That is why those of you who are indifferent should not stay away when the bells are ringing. When there is still time to stop the most horrible.

Indifferent people: imagine if Yanukovych’s repressive machine breaks Maidan, then what will his caste of executioners, the death squad, do?

They will continue doing what they always do – kill. It’s a repressive machine that will only become stronger, it always needs more meat and fear.

Then you will envy us, the activists of Maidan. Because in that terrible country of Yanukovych the maniac’s, in the country of terror, thugs, cattle, and watchful eyes, we will no longer exist. We, the happy ones, will not be there.

And you – indifferent ones – will. You will be the torturers, the victims, and the majority of you will be the cattle.

Can you survive as cattle? Sure. But then you would always risk  your children’s wish to not be cattle. Then, you will lose your children, since no one else will protect them, and then you will be all alone in your indifference.

Think about it now. Then it will be too late.

How late was it in 1933 when people who did not care to fight for their independence, ate their children?

Tatiana Chornovol is a Ukrainian activist, investigative journalist, and leader in the Euromaidan protest against the regime of Viktor Yanukovych.
The Eyes Watching You: “1984” and the Surveillance State – Article by Sarah Skwire

The Eyes Watching You: “1984” and the Surveillance State – Article by Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance Hat
Sarah Skwire
June 19, 2013
******************************

George Orwell. 1984. New York: Plume, [1949] 2003. 323 pages.

In the kind of horrifying coincidence that surely would have prompted one of his more acerbic essays, the news that various U.S. government surveillance agencies have been gathering data from millions of citizens’ phones, email accounts, and web searches broke during the week of the 64th publication anniversary of George Orwell’s 1984. As the news reports poured in, and as sales of 1984 surged by an astonishing 6,884 percent, a friend asked me whether the PRISM story strikes me as more Orwellian or more Kafkaesque.

My response? We’d better hope it’s Kafkaesque.

No one wants to inhabit a Franz Kafka novel. But the surveillance states he describes do have one thing going for them—incompetence. In Kafka’s stories, important forms get lost, permits are unattainable, and bureaucrats fail to do their jobs. Like the main character in Kafka’s unfinished story, “The Castle,” if you were trapped in Kafka’s world you could live your whole life doing nothing but waiting for a permit. But at least you could live. Incompetence creates a little space.

What is terrifying about Orwell’s 1984 is the complete competence of the surveillance state. Winston Smith begins the novel by believing he is in an awful, but Kafkaesque world where there is still some slippage in the state’s absolute control, and still some room for private action. Winston says that Oceania’s world of telescreens and Thought Police means that there are “always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed—no escape.” But he follows that by saying, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” He also believes that while the diary he keeps will inevitably be discovered, the small alcove in his apartment where he writes his diary puts him “out of the range of the telescreen.”

The feeling that some tiny space for private thought and action can be found leads Winston into his relationship with Julia. Though they know they will inevitably be discovered, Winston and Julia believe that, for a time, their relationship and their meeting place will remain secret. They could not be more wrong.

One day after making love to Julia in their clandestine room, Winston, prompted by a singing thrush and a singing prole woman who is doing laundry, has a vision of a future that “belongs to the proles.”

The birds sang, the proles sang. The Party did not sing. All round the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil, and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan—everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body.

 

In this very moment, just as Winston comes alive to what feels like hope and possibility and the dream of some kind of a future for humankind, the telescreen that has been hidden in the room all along speaks to Winston and Julia. The Thought Police break down the door. The couple is taken off to be imprisoned, tortured, and broken.

There has never been any private space for Winston or Julia—not in their “secret” meeting places, not in their sexual rebellion, not even in the few cubic centimeters inside their skulls. “For seven years the Thought Police had watched him like a beetle under a magnifying glass. There was no physical act, no word spoken aloud, that they had not noticed, no train of thought that they had not been able to infer.” Winston should have taken more seriously the description of Oceania he read in the forbidden book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein:

A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected.
***

The Orwellian surveillance state is terrifying not because—as in Kafka—you might be arrested because of a rumor or a mistake, or because despite your innocence you might be caught in the surveillance state’s unnavigable maze. It is terrifying because it never makes mistakes. It does not need to listen to rumors. And it knows that no one is ever innocent.

Sarah Skwire is a fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

 

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013, showed all too clearly that totalitarianism does not need decades of incremental legislation and regimentation to come to this country. All it needs is the now-pervasive fear of “terrorism” – a fear which can give one man the power to shut down the economic life of an entire city for a day.

This video is based on Mr. Stolyarov’s recent essay, “Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston“.

References

-“U.S. Cities With Bigger Economies Than Entire Countries” – Wall Street Journal – July 20, 2012
– “Adding up the financial costs of the Boston bombings” – Bill Dedman and John Schoen, NBC News – April 30, 2013
– “United Airlines Flight 93” – Wikipedia
– “Richard Reid” – Wikipedia
– “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab” – Wikipedia
– “Homicides decrease in Boston for third straight year” – Matt Carroll, The Boston Globe – January 1, 2013
– “List of motor vehicle deaths in U.S. by year” – Wikipedia
– “How Scared of Terrorism Should You Be?” – Ronald Bailey, Reason Magazine – September 6, 2011
– “Terrorism Risk Insurance Act” – Wikipedia
– “Business Frets at Terrorism Tag of Marathon Attack” – Associated Press – May 13, 2013
– “TIME/CNN Poll Shows Increasing Number Of Americans Won’t Give Up Civil Liberties To Fight Terrorism” – Tim Cushing, TechDirt – May 6, 2013

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2013
******************************

Everyday life in the United States is still semi-free most of the time, if one goes about one’s own business and avoids flying or crossing the border. Yet, the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013, showed all too clearly that totalitarianism does not need decades of incremental legislation and regimentation to come to this country. All it needs is the now-pervasive fear of “terrorism” – a fear which can give one man the power to shut down the economic life of an entire city for a day.

The annual Gross Domestic Product of Boston is approximately $326 billion (based on 2011 figures from the Wall Street Journal). For one day, Boston’s GDP can be roughly estimated as ($326 billion)/365 = $893.15 million. Making the rather conservative assumption that only about half of a city’s economic activity would require people to leave their homes in any way, one can estimate the economic losses due to the Boston lockdown to be around $447 million. By contrast, how much damaged property and medical costs resulted directly from the criminal act committed by the Chechen nationalist and Islamic fundamentalist brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev? An NBC News article detailing the economic damages from the bombing estimates total medical costs to be in excess of $9 million, while total losses within the “impact zone” designated by the Boston Police Department are about $10 million. To give us a wide margin of error again, let us double these estimates and assume that the bombers inflicted total economic damage of $38 million. The economic damage done by the lockdown would still exceed this total by a factor of about 11.76 – more than an order of magnitude!

It is true, of course, that the cost in terms of the length and quality of life for the three people killed and the 264 people injured by the bombings cannot be accounted for in monetary terms. But I wonder: how many years of life will $447 million in lost economic gains deprive from the population of Boston put together – especially when one considers that these economic losses affect life-sustaining sectors such as medical care and pharmaceuticals? Furthermore, to what extent would this lost productivity forestall the advent of future advances that could have lengthened people’s lives one day sooner? One will most likely never know, but the reality of opportunity cost is nonetheless always with us, and surely, some massive opportunity costs were incurred during the Boston lockdown.  Moreover, one type of damage does not justify or excuse another. However horrific the Boston bombings were, they were not a reason to further hinder innocent people.

Bad policy is the surest and most powerful ally of malicious, hate-driven miscreants like the Tsarnaev brothers. On April 19, the day of the lockdown, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the sole surviving Boston Marathon bomber, hid inside a boat in a private backyard, incapacitated and nearly dead from a botched suicide attempt. Dzokhar wanted only to end his own life, and yet he could never have caused more trouble than he did during those hours, because, while the lockdown was in place, bad policy was inflicting more economic damage than the Tsarnaev brothers’ crude and clumsy attack could ever have unleashed on its own.

Only after the lockdown was lifted could a private citizen, David Henneberry, leave his house and notice that his boat had a loose cover. As Thomas Jefferson would have told the Bostonians, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Virtually every time malicious plots against innocent civilians are actually foiled – be it the takedown of United Airlines Flight 93 or the arrests of attempted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – it is the vigilance of ordinary but courageous individuals that truly enhances the safety of us all.  Policies that create martial law, prevent people from leading their lives, and result in SWAT-style “sweeps” of people’s homes in search of a single individual not only do nothing to actually help capture the violent wrongdoer, but also subvert the liberty, prosperity, and quality of life for many orders of magnitude more people than any criminal cell could ever hope to undermine on its own.

Would any other dangerous condition, one not thought to be “terrorism,” ever provoke such a wildly disproportionate and oppressive reaction? Consider that Boston had 58 homicides in the year 2012. Many cities’ murder rates are much higher, sometimes reaching an average of one murder per day. Was a lockdown initiated for every third homicide in any American city? Traffic fatalities claim over 30,000 lives in the United States every year – or 10,000 times the death toll of the Boston Marathon bombing, and ten times the death toll of even the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Are entire neighborhoods shut down every time there is a deadly car crash? If this were the accepted practice, all economic life – indeed most life in general – in the United States would grind to a halt.  Yet, while the most likely and widespread threats to our lives come from very mundane sources, bad policies and distorted public perceptions of risk are motivated by fear of the unusual, the grotesque, the sensational and sensationalized kinds of death. And yet, in spite of fear-mongering by politicians, the media, special interests, and those who rely exclusively on sound bites, the threat to one’s personal safety from a terrorist act is so minuscule as to safely be ignored. In fact, as Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine discusses, the odds of being killed by a lightning bolt are about four times greater!

 Ironically enough, the very act that precipitated the Boston lockdown might not even officially be designated a terrorist act after all. If you thought that this was because politicians are suddenly coming to their senses, think again. The real reason is somewhat less intuitive and relates to insurance coverage for the businesses damaged by the attacks. Most commercial property and business-interruption insurance policies will cover losses from criminal acts, but explicitly exclude coverage for acts of terrorism, unless the business purchases special terrorism coverage reinsured by the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Program. However, for the terrorism exclusions in many ordinary commercial insurance policies to apply, an act of terrorism has to be formally certified as such by the Secretary of the Treasury (and sometimes other officials, such as the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security). (For more details on this turn of events, read “Business Frets at Terrorism Tag of Marathon Attack” by the Associated Press.) The affected businesses really do not want the bombings to be formally classified as terrorism, as this will impede the businesses’ ability to obtain the insurance proceeds which would be integral to their recovery.

 I have no objection to the federal government refraining from certifying the bombings as a terrorist act in an effort to avoid needless bureaucratic complications that would impede recovery. However, I also detest Orwellian doublethink. If the bombings are not terrorism for one purpose, then they cannot be terrorism in any other sense. If they will not be used to justify depriving businesses of insurance proceeds, then surely they must not be used to deprive the rest of us of our freedom to move about as we wish, to pursue our economic aspirations, to retain the privacy of our homes, and to otherwise lead our lives in peace. If the bombings are not certified as terrorism, then all fear-mongering rhetoric by federal politicians about the need to heighten “security” in response to this “terrorist” act should cease as well. The law of non-contradiction is one type of law that our politicians – and the people of the United States more generally – urgently need to recognize.

I certainly hope that no future bombings of public events occur in the United States, not only out of a desire to preserve the lives of my fellow human beings, but also out of grave concern for the possibly totalitarian reaction that would follow any such heinous act. I enjoy living in peace and relative freedom day to day, but I know that it is only by the grace and perhaps the laziness of America’s political masters that I am able to do so. I continue to hope for an amazing run of good luck with regard to the non-occurrence of any particularly visible instances of mass crime, so that the people of the United States can find the time to gradually become enlightened about the real risks in their lives and the genuinely effective strategies for reducing those risks. There is hope that the American people are gradually regaining their common sense; perhaps they will drag the politicians toward reason with them – however reluctant the politicians might be to pursue sensible policies for a change.

Is Serfdom an Executive Order Away? – Article by Sheldon Richman

Is Serfdom an Executive Order Away? – Article by Sheldon Richman

The New Renaissance Hat
Sheldon Richman
July 7, 2012
******************************

Sometimes a step back helps to provide perspective on a matter. President Obama provided such a step with his March 16 Executive Order, National Defense Resources Preparedness. In it we see in detail how completely the government may control our lives—euphemistically called the “industrial and technological base”—if the president were to declare a national emergency. It is instructive, if tedious, reading.

President Obama claims this authority under the Constitution and, vaguely, “the laws of the United States,” but he specifically names the Defense Production Act of 1950. As Freeman columnist and Independent Institute Senior Fellow Robert Higgs observed, “Under this statute, the president has lawful authority to control virtually the whole of the U.S. economy whenever he chooses to do so and states that the national defense requires such a government takeover.”

We shouldn’t assume this is merely an academic exercise or that a third world war would need to break out. In the last decade, under circumstances representing no “existential threat” to our society, the executive branch has exercised extraordinary powers.

Reading the Executive Order, I was reminded of a quotation of Leonard Read’s: “[A]nyone who even presumes an interest in economic affairs cannot let the subject of war, or the moral breakdown which underlies it, go untouched. To do so would be as absurd—indeed, as dishonest—as a cleric to avoid the Commandment ‘Thou shalt not steal’ simply because his parishioners had legalized and were practicing theft.”

The Executive Order begins by authorizing executive-branch officers to “assess on an ongoing basis the capability of the domestic industrial and technological base to satisfy requirements in peacetime [!] and times of national emergency, specifically evaluating the availability of the most critical resource and production sources, including subcontractors and suppliers, materials, skilled labor, and professional and technical personnel.”

But these officials are to do more than assess. They are to be prepared to “ensure the availability of adequate resources and production capability,” to “improve the efficiency and responsiveness of the domestic industrial base to support national defense requirements,” and to “foster cooperation between the defense and commercial sectors. . . .”

Further, the President’s order notes his authority to “require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders (other than contracts of employment) to promote the national defense over performance of any other contracts or orders, and to allocate materials, services, and facilities as deemed necessary or appropriate to promote the national defense” (emphasis added).

That is, the executive branch is first in line for whatever it wants (except civilian labor—perhaps).

Under the section titled “EXPANSION OF PRODUCTIVE CAPACITY AND SUPPLY,” the heads of agencies engaged in procurement are authorized to “guarantee loans by private institutions,” “make loans,” and “make provision for purchases of, or commitments to purchase, an industrial resource or a critical technology item for Government use or resale, and to make provision for the development of production capabilities, and for the increased use of emerging technologies in security program applications, and to enable rapid transition of emerging technologies.”

Think of the potential for corporatist rent-seeking.

In the section on personnel we learn that the secretary of labor shall “collect and maintain data necessary to make a continuing appraisal of the Nation’s workforce needs for purposes of national defense and upon request by the Director of Selective Service, and in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, assist the Director of Selective Service in development of policies regulating the induction and deferment of persons for duty in the armed services.”

So along with the commandeering of private resources, there will be a draft, the commandeering of military (and other?) labor—that is, slavery by another name.

Advocates of the freedom philosophy have a dual concern: that the executive has virtually unchecked authority to declare an emergency and that in an emergency the private economy would be commandeered by government officers. The Executive Order is a breathtaking reminder that, as Higgs put it, “private control of economic life in the United States, to the extent that it survives, exists solely at the president’s pleasure and sufferance.”

Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman and TheFreemanOnline.org, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America’s Families.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.