‘One cannot critique the surveillance state without critiquing the rest of the existing political apparatus’Posted: January 26, 2014
Big Government Fans Rally Around the Surveillance State
Sheldon Richman writes: If I understand Princeton historian Sean Wilentz correctly, progressives ought not to be grateful to Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald for exposing government spying because they are not card-carrying progressives. (“Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange If You Knew What They Really Thought?”) Apparently they have either hung out with libertarians, praised or supported a libertarian, or said something sympathetic to some part of the libertarian philosophy — which cancels out anything they might have gotten credit for. (Wilentz is no stickler for consistency, since he criticizes Greenwald for taking libertarian positions now and also for making anti-immigration statements in the past. So is he too libertarian, Professor, or not libertarian enough? For an analysis of Wilentz’s McCarthyite tactics, see Justin Raimondo.)
The problem for Wilentz is that when guys like these disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
Patents and copyrights are government monopoly grants with nothing in common with the notion of property at the heart of libertarianism.
Sheldon Richman writes: The modern libertarian case against so-called intellectual property (IP) has been building steadily since the late 1980s, when I first encountered it. Since then, an impressive volume of work has been produced from many perspectives: economics, political economy, sociology, moral and political philosophy, history, and no doubt more. It is indeed a case to be reckoned with. (Roderick Long has put together a web page with links to some of the best anti-IP material written over the last quarter century. My own contributions include “Patent Nonsense,” “Intellectual ‘Property’ Versus Real Property” and “Slave Labor and Intellectual Property.” A brief spontaneous debate that I participated in is here.)
I won’t try to recap the whole case here, but I do want to answer a question that will occur to many advocates of liberty: How can someone who supports property rights in physical objects deny property rights in intellectual products, such as the useful application of scientific principles or patterns of words, musical tones, or colors? Suffice it here to quote from “Patent Nonsense”:
There is a distinction between physical objects and ideas that is crucial to the property question. Two or more people cannot use the same pair of socks at the same time and in the same respect, but they can use the same idea — or if not the same idea, ideas with the same content. That tangible objects are scarce and finite accounts for the emergence of property rights in civilization. Considering the nature of human beings and the physical world they inhabit, if individuals are to flourish in society they need rules regarding thine and mine. But “ideal objects” are not bound by the same restrictions. Ideas can be multiplied infinitely and almost costlessly; they can be used nonrivalrously.
If I articulate an idea in front of other people, each now has his own “copy.” Yet I retain mine. However the others use their copies, it is hard to see how they have committed an injustice.
Practices respectful of private property in physical objects and land emerged spontaneously over millennia, embedded in customs that served to avert conflict in order to create space within which social beings could flourish. (See John Hasnas’s “Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights” [PDF].)
In contrast, “rights” in ideas — patents and copyrights — were government monopoly grants having nothing in common with the notion of property at the heart of libertarianism. In fact, such artificial rights undermine genuine property by authorizing IP holders to enlist government power to stop other people from using their justly acquired resources and ideas. For example, if Jones (having committed no trespass) observes Smith’s invention or artistic creation, Jones could be legally stopped from using his own physical property in conjunction with ideas obtained through that observation. That sure looks as though IP bestows on Smith purported rights over Jones’s tangible property and even Jones himself. One might ask, Isn’t the idea Smith’s? But I can’t see how an idea in Jones’s mind can possibly be Smith’s, even if Smith had it first — unless Smith owns Jones, an unlibertarian notion indeed.
Five years after the housing and financial meltdown, self-styled progressives are still peddling the Glass-Steagall pseudoexplanationPosted: October 14, 2013
One wonders if Warren et al. ever bother to look at the facts, particularly the passage of Glass-Steagall and what, if any, role the repeal actually played in the crisis. Since they never say anything specific, it’s hard to know if this is anything more than an incantation designed to blame the “free [sic] market” and to bolster their case for bureaucratic management of our lives (which they call “the economy”). It takes Herculean ignorance or dishonesty to claim that America had free banking before 2010. Hence, this is a classic confirmation of my observation that no matter how much the government controls the economic system, any problem will be blamed on whatever small zone of freedom remains.
According to folklore, Glass-Steagall was passed because of rampant conflict of interest and abuse among banks that both served savers and borrowers (commercial banking) and underwrote and sold securities (investment banking). But this is a case of the victors writing the history.
The Internal Revenue Service has been caught engaging in political profiling while processing applications for tax-exempt status. In this case it was against organizations with “tea-party” or “patriot ” in their names and other right-wing groups. Next time it could be libertarian or left-wing antiwar and pro-civil-liberties groups. No dissenter can ever rest assured he is safe from the arbitrary power of the IRS.
Nothing will have been learned from this scandal if all that happens is the firing of some IRS administrators and the issuance of new guidelines on 501(c)(4) applications. That is not nearly enough.
Obviously, tax exemptions exist only because individuals and some organizations are subject to income and other forms of taxation. Congress levies a tax on incomes, then in its “wisdom” chooses to exempt certain activities but not others. This is social engineering, with Congress seeking to encourage some kinds of organizations — while not forgoing more revenue than necessary. The IRS then writes rules to carry out the directions of Congress.
Where possible, people will naturally strive to qualify for exemption by pushing the boundaries of the regulations. That incentive will always be strong because a nonprofit organization that is exempt from taxation will have more resources with which to pursue its mission. Since the language of statutes and regulations is inevitably vague, the IRS will have room to interpret when ruling on who qualifies and who doesn’t qualify for exemption. The line between vigilance and harassment is not bright, and the potential for abuse is great.
It should be apparent that this power, which is inherently arbitrary, ill suits a society that sees itself as free.