I’ve been noticing something lately that worries me. And to make matters worse, I think I might be on the other side of this one from my hero Ron Paul and even the great Murray Rothbard! Disagreeing with Ron Paul doesn’t worry me – I disagree with him from time to time – he’s my hero more because he has the courage of his convictions than because I share those convictions (though I usually do), but disagreeing with Murray Rothbard is a much bigger deal for an anarcho-capitalist!
Fortunately, the disagreement is about tactics more than principles, but still it worries me. Rothbard and Paul both tend toward the “take what you can get” approach to political gain, and I’m not one to refuse libertarian inroads anywhere I can find them, but I do feel that an eyes-wide-open attitude is increasingly in order and events unfolding as I write are about to demonstrate exactly what we libertarians need to keep our eyes open to. The powers that be are picking and choosing our liberties for us not as a compromise but as a trap—a trap not only to play into their hands to increase power at the top, but even worse, to make libertarian principles look utopian and irresponsible. Here are a few examples…
The “legalize pot” movement
I am 100% for decriminalizing everything that isn’t a crime – that is, anything that does not have a victim, anything that is merely mala prohibita (bad because forbidden) rather than mala in se (bad in itself). I am, however, against redistributing wealth which is a crime, except when the government does it.
In a free society, drug abuse would not go rampant because people have to work to eat or buy drugs or whatever, and who’s going to support a druggie one-on-one? But in today’s society where every 18-24-year-old (prime pot-smoking age) gets to live on deferred loans just for showing up, and food stamps and other forms of social largesse are available to many tens of millions of people, drug use can get out of control. So when I read more than once that George Soros is funding the legalize pot movement, I smelled a rat.
My suspicion is that like so many other misguided approaches to public policy from immigration to education, this is not a botched attempt to get it right or a yo-yoing from Democrat to Republican rule and back, rather I believe these policies are a sort of social engineering designed to further the goal of poly-archic government (i.e., putting another layer atop nation states such as a UN but with the power to tax and to enforce laws). The strategy being to disconnect succeeding American generations from an understanding of and a dedication to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the last bulwarks against the rising tide of world government. If a meaningful proportion of the population is sedated during their most energetic and independent years, they might lose their vigilance in defense of the American experiment.
Our bizarre immigration policy
I am 100% a defender of the rights to work and to travel. I don’t believe my neighbor should be able to prevent me from having my cousin from Ireland live in my guest room and help me around the house in return for pay. Private roads and non-coercive social aid rather than the welfare state would mean no one around me would have to contribute against his will to my cousin’s lifestyle. But we don’t have private roads or safety nets, they are public, so newcomers can force my neighbors to pay for what they use. This is why even libertarians can disagree about how to approach immigration policy in a non-libertarian society – it’s a competing rights issue and can be debated.
Unfortunately, however, immigration policy has an even more serious implication than merely who is on the dole. Our political system has begun to devolve from a republic governed by objective law as laid out in our founding documents to a mere democracy where our country’s basic principles can be and often are violated by our representatives and the principled minority’s objections are drowned out by the victory cheers of the mob. Who can vote and how they vote has become a potential threat to our very liberty.
Policies through which Facebook gets cheap high-tech labor or Chinese investors and foreign students can buy their way into citizenship at the top while at the bottom poor migrants risk life and limb slithering through the mud of the Rio Grande creates a system in which all new citizens are either co-opted by cronyism or desperately poor and beneath the law.
Those at the bottom are often the least educated of their own societies with the least to lose even in the third world, so much so that they are willing to live in this country without status for the privilege of doing menial labor wherever they can get it, drawn in by the vacuum created by the welfare floor that deters American citizens from taking such jobs. Every ten years or so, this group gets amnesty (by Republican and Democrat alike) and eventually become voters. Ultimately they become legal immigrants, but unlike those who have come in the past, openly embracing the risks, rewards and responsibilities of the American Dream, these are a targeted group who might not fully grasp the sublime beauty of the American experiment or be able to convey it to their children. I believe this too is part of the plan to prevent the next generation of Americans from being equipped to man the ramparts in defense of the US Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights.
Ebola’s Civil Disobedience Moment
This is the one that is unfolding now and seems to be designed not only to use our civil liberties against us but to use them to make civil liberties themselves appear dangerous.
It’s obvious to me the Ebola crisis is being rolled out for a purpose. (For more on that, check out my latest podcast here.) This is yet another crisis that the political class will not let go to waste, of course, but I think it’s even worse than that. The more the powers that be make laughably stupid decisions, the more it seems like it’s a crisis they are trying to get going rather than merely to exploit.
The fact is, our government addresses issues much larger than this all day long and there’s no press and no problem. For example, agricultural controls into California and Hawaii; dog screening for international travel; hoof and mouth and mad cow disease controls at airports; banning travel into and out of Cuba; declaring and enforcing martial law in Boston overnight in a failed effort to catch a lone, wounded teenager; violating private property to institute smoking bans on much shakier medical ground than an Ebola threat; randomly stopping innocent drivers to check for alcohol use . . . you get the idea.
The World Health Organization or even the American CDC could have nipped this in the bud in April when Sanjay Gupta and CNN presciently went to West Africa and sounded the alarm, at which point only 100 or so people had died, all of whom were in Africa. Banning travel into and out of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea back then (or even now) wouldn’t have made a blip anywhere unless it was meant to. But still, with all their botching, the Ebola crisis will fade away as pressure mounts to take normal precautions (like screening or quarantining extremely high risk patients or banning travel), unless there’s opposing pressure not to take normal precautions.
That’s where Nurse Kaci Hickox comes in. She recently returned from West Africa where she was treating Ebola patients and, despite the fact that a doctor in New York who had been doing the same was recently diagnosed with Ebola after riding the subway and going bowling in Brooklyn, Nurse Hickox is resisting any kind of compromise with health authorities. She is creating a “civil disobedience moment”–making a point and standing on principle–with the effects of not only stalling the implementation of effective precautions against Ebola here (which would end the crisis and the opportunities crisis brings), but also, I fear, of making civil libertarians seem idealistic and irresponsible.
Just as in the cases of legalizing drugs and the freedom to work and travel, I am 100% with my anarcho-capitalist brothers in arguing that the free society would check any uncontrolled outcomes more effectively than the controlled society does, not only because capitalist society is self-ordering but because the controlled society always ends up serving the controllers and exploiting crises such as these, making the crises worse for self-serving reasons and making ideological arguments purely academic.
However, when the government takes total control over an entire sector and precludes any private decision-making or responsibility through hyper-regulation as it has with healthcare (and security and nuclear power and so on), there is an argument to be made that the controlling entity has an obligation to meet the basic function of that sector – in this case to protect the public health, at the very least to the extent it has endangered it in the first place by totally controlling airlines, airports and air security. Allow airlines to set their own rules, or better yet to be legally culpable for introducing sick passengers into otherwise disease-free communities, and you can bet Ebola wouldn’t get within three thousand miles of the US, but that’s not how it works, so a quarantine (or even simply a blood test such as suspected drunk drivers undergo daily) of incredibly high-risk people might be justified.
Unfortunately, in Ms Hickox’s civil disobedience moment, I find a suspiciously perfect example of an otherwise normal-seeming person unable to live up to even the most fundamental responsibility of liberty (i.e., “you are free to do anything that does not infringe on the rights of others”), while serving what is clearly the government’s purpose in prolonging the Ebola crisis as long as possible. I hate to say it, but fighting tooth and nail for this woman’s right to go bike-riding instead of being monitored for Ebola to which she voluntarily exposed herself and to which she is knowingly risking others, is an opportunity to take a stand for civil liberties on which I’m going to pass.
For the record, I’m not actually worried about Ebola here and have real suspicions about the motives of the press and the government in hyping it out of all proportion. For more on this view, click here.