The Power to Abuse

Harry Browne liked to quote Michael Cloud saying "the problem is not the abuse of power, it is the power to abuse."  This is important to understand.  There will always be good guys and bad guys working for the state.  At top levels, it tends to be more bad guys.  There is a lot of power to be had, so it tends to attract the worst elements of society.  Bad people want to exercise power over others.

You should never judge a policy or law based on who is currently holding office.  In fact, it is rather naive to do so.  I wrote yesterday about Edward Snowden and how many Republicans want him to be prosecuted for divulging government secrets.  Aside from some of these evil people, there are many Republicans who are criticizing Obama and his administration for using these vast powers to spy on the American people.  They are right to a certain extent in calling Obama a hypocrite because he spoke out against these civil liberty invasions when he first ran for president.  But it is naive (or worse) for these people to criticize only the Obama administration.

This was one of the key points that libertarians tried to bring up when Bush and Congress were passing legislation (or simply doing it without legislation) to invade civil liberties.  It was libertarians who pointed out that it didn't matter what the Bush administration was going to use the so-called Patriot Act for.  It mattered that it was giving the government expanded powers that could one day be used against innocent people.

I don't mind anyone criticizing the Obama administration who also criticized the Bush administration for the same things.  Actually, I don't even mind anyone who has simply evolved and changed their position on the matter.  But if you are criticizing Obama now, then I hope you are also criticizing what Bush and most of his fellow Republicans in Congress did.  If you are upset at Obama spying on Americans, then you should be repudiating most of what Bush did as president.

I was not surprised to learn that the government is tracking phone records and other communications.  I already assumed it was happening.  I am pretty sure I had already read several articles saying what is now news.  But I am glad it is a top story in the news now.  Edward Snowden did not have to become a martyr for the cause of liberty.  He made that personal choice.  I would not blame anyone who would do otherwise, as long as they walked away from their job of doing evil.  Snowden's life will never be the same.  I hope for his sake that he is able to live a life outside of a prison cell.

I think this is somewhat of a symbolic issue.  I am glad that at least some people are upset about it.  I would be outraged except that I already pretty well knew this was happening.  I guess Snowden has provided documents to substantiate it.

I figure that the government can take down anyone that they want.  They can collect billions of phone records, but it is not like they have enough bureaucrats to go through even 1% of them.  They can look for key words in emails and Facebook posts, but even here it has to number in the hundreds of millions.  I figure that the worst things I have said about the government are already in the open on my blog.  This is not to say that I approve of what they are doing or that I don't care.  I am just saying this to let people know that they shouldn't lose sleep over this issue.

While the government data collection is real, they will be mostly overwhelmed with useless data.  This really is more of a symbolic issue, much in the way that the gun control debate is.  I think more and more people are realizing that the people who work in the government, particularly those at the very top, are not their friends.

At some point, there might be enough Americans who become outraged enough that they will actually withdraw their consent.  They will realize that any good things that the government provides are not nearly enough to justify all of the bad things that the government does.  Eventually, there may actually be a reduction in power.  The coming economic trouble ahead might help push public opinion further against the federal government.

The only way we will ever see a significant reduction in the abuse of power is when we see the overall power reduced.  This will come through budget cuts.  This will come as a result of a financial crisis or because more people are withdrawing their consent.  It might be a combination of both.