“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
People tell me that I get overly worked up about small government regulations. But small matters. The building of civilization is revealed in small steps, tiny, bit-by-bit improvements in the things we have and do. In the same way, seemingly small government regulations can cause a reversal of the magnificent world that enterprise has built. Under the right conditions, these can create human catastrophes.
So I offer the following scenario, based on real events very recently in the northeast of the U.S.. It is a composite of cases where government regulation is more than just a menace; it becomes absolutely life threatening.
A summer storm comes and kills your electricity for days. A tree falls on your deck, and you need to cut it away just to get out the back door. You find your chainsaw, but it is out of gas. You reach for the gas can, but the new federal regulations make it nearly impossible to pour. You hack the can with a knife because the drill doesn’t work, and you transfer the gas to another bottle and adding the gas to the saw.
Still, the saw won’t work. The gas seems no better than water. Then you remember what you had read about the new gas. The ethanol mandates, stemming from 2005 legislation, have made gas difficult to store. The corn-based additives absorb water, and the mixture loses its ability to burn after a time, depending on climate. You had heard of buyrealgas.com, but you had thought that was a kooky service for preppers, maybe useful for boaters but not you.
So you hop in the car and set out for new gasoline. The storms have caused the usual anti-gouging mania. Station owners have been hauled before Congress in the past just for having raised prices in a storm — a time when they should be raising prices. Stations fear bad PR and even laws against the practice, and so they can’t properly ration supplies.
You drive and drive, but every gas station in a 10-mile radius of your house is out of gas. In fact, after all this driving, you are nearly out of gas. You creep home and beg the neighbor for some gas, but he has the same problems: bad can, and the stored gas doesn’t work right.
Fortunately, he has another can left over from the old days with good gas in it. Together, you empty out the old gas from the saw and put in new gas. The engine starts, but only in fits, and the sound is uneven. Finally, it sputters to a halt.
What is it this time? It’s the carburetor. Just then, you remember another sad fact about corn-based ethanol. It leaves a sticky residue in your engine, kind of like corn syrup, which is not surprising given the makeup of ethanol. That’s why all the stores sell so many tank additives that promise to clean out the muck from your engine. But it’s too late for this one.
All these gas additive products weren’t even around 25 years ago. Why are they necessary now? It’s the same reason there are so many cleaning additives for laundry. The essential stuff that makes things work, whether gas or detergent, has been despoiled and degraded by federal regulations that mandate certain ingredients. Never mind performance: It’s all under the guise of saving the environment.
But your environment isn’t being saved right now. You have a tree all over your back porch, your electricity is out, you are nearly out of gas in your car and there’s no gas to be had anywhere. You can’t even charge your phone, and you have only 40% of its power remaining.
Forget the Internet. You have the ability to get online through a 3G network, but doing that would waste scarce power. You have about eight hours remaining on your phone at best, and that needs to be used for a more-serious emergency. Facebook, which would be a wonderful way to communicate with people you love, has to wait.
You look around and realize something ghastly. In a matter of hours and without much warning, the whole of your life has collapsed. There is no way out. You are completely dependent on city workers coming around to fix things. But they will fix only so much. Why? Because the city hopes that the federal government will declare the place a “disaster area” so that the city can get federal aid — aid you will never see. So the mess has to stay just as it is for days, maybe for weeks.
The kids are screaming. Fortunately, no one needs immediate medical help. You long ago stopped stocking up on medicines, because the regulations don’t allow it. Not even medicine to unclog noses can be hoarded. The federal government keeps a list of how much you have bought in the last month. And forget painkillers. Those are barely even available through prescription.
True, the aged person living in your house is lacking essentials. You hope that oxygen isn’t necessary, because the machine doesn’t work. You might have bought a generator, but that wouldn’t have helped. You have no fuel, little food and your means of communicating with the outside world are dwindling down by the minute.
You know that the pools of water in your backyard could quickly breed killer mosquitoes in a day, especially in this heat. But you also know that the insecticides you can get at the store now are weak and just short of worthless. The strong stuff was pushed out of the marketplace by more regulations some 10 years ago. You will just have to stay indoors, even though the temperature is hotter and hotter.
There’s only one thing left to do. Embrace your despair, and be happy that you can light a candle and read a physical book. You wait and hope to be saved.
Now consider all the ways in which the above scenario might have been different absent the central plan that has been imposed, allegedly with the goal of saving you. Without anti-gouging regulations, gas would have been more expensive, but at least it would have been plentiful. Even then, you probably wouldn’t have needed it, because both the gas line and the gas in the can would’ve worked (since it would have a vent, just as gas cans always had until the new mandates wrecked them).
This way, you could have used the gas in your car to keep your cellphone charged and working. You could have used Twitter and Facebook all you wanted, and everyone would have known your whereabouts and well-being.
The chainsaw would have been fully functional, with an engine that stayed clean and worked every time, even when not used in years. You could have cut your tree and helped your neighbors with theirs. City workers would have already been out on the job helping to clean things up. The absence of federal aid would have made them alone responsible for the results, and they would have a mayor breathing down their neck, rather than a mayor with his hand out to Washington.
All these seemingly small regulations may not seem like much in ordinary times. But in extraordinary times, they can make the difference between life and death. A natural disaster we can deal with. A man-made disaster such as that imposed by thick layers of crufty, enterprise-destroying regulations are a far greater problem because they are permanent, cumulative, and imposed at the point of a gun.
The regulators play with our products and our lives as if they know better than we do what’s good for us. To the political class, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as managing the lives and property of others. But when the unexpected happens, the mischief they do begins to reveal terrible things. Suddenly, the denial of our freedom to manage our own lives matters a great deal.
This is the point at which we slap our heads and ask ourselves, “How and why did we let them do this to us?” They wrecked our home appliances. They ruined the paint on our walls, making it dingy and unstable. They degraded makeup, detergent and unclogging agents. Insecticides don’t work. They ruined our toilets, our refrigerators, our lawn mowers, our water heaters, our showers and even our furniture by declaring sofa cushions to be too flammable.
Small things, right? They all add up to a giant thing. They set out to make an environmental utopia for us, a world of perfect safety that leaves no human footprint, and instead they created a hell of dependency in which we have no choice but to join the rest of the drones who sit and wait for the bureaucrats to bail us out of our troubles. And the bureaucrats take their own sweet time, unless you own a gun, in which case they will be right over to take it from you.
We look for someone to blame. The politicians who passed the laws are all out of office, while their legacy lives on in the concrete palaces inhabited by lifetime bureaucrats, who are never subject to any election and who make more money living off your income than you do by actually producing things that people want. The predatory class is destroying the host, yet no one has a clue about what to do to make it stop.
But there are things you can do. You can become aware. You can stop trusting them and stop deferring to them. If enough people do, history can turn on a dime. We can all decide that man-made catastrophe need not be our fate.