Tuesday, September 21, 2021


We have been talking covid, covid, covid, and the thought of mandates - which doesn't mean holding people down, BTW, whatever else happens - but issues of liberty have been coming up in libertarian and conservative circles for years.  This just pushes them over the top.

It's not crazy.  We have had liberating technologies, but governments have moved in to try and "make sure people use this right" just as often.  We have many more restrictions, but I actually think we are in a net gain.

When I was a young man, the federal government could draft you and send your ass* overseas to get killed.

Tax rates in the 60s hit 90% for the highest incomes - which were not all that high - until Kennedy and then Reagan pulled them down. We roll our eyes at the fanatics talking about "confiscation" now, but really, look at that. How is that not a serious limitation on all your business actions, when nine parts in ten are going to DC?

Because we have made transactions less restricted, there are lots of things that are no longer an obstacle.  You can buy a drink at a restaurant everywhere, including the south and midwest. You don't have to go to that one store, sometimes in the next town, to buy Playboy, if anyone is still interested in that. You can buy lots of things without your neighbors knowing. You can buy things on Sundays, and if the store isn't there you can order it online.

Plus, you might ask Black people about restrictions on their lives compared to pre-1970, and women could explain to you about some of the de facto vs de jure restrictions of their youth.

Much of what we object to is the government or large corporations knowing things about us that IBM or Eisenhower never dreamed of.  It is new territory for freedom, but much of it immediately captured in worrisome ways. Counting credit cards, retirement and investment accounts, credit unions and banks, and online purchases that are essentially an account kept in records, how many more accounts do you have than your parents? Faceless entities know more because there is more information to be had.

Surveillance does alarm me.

*That construction is actually a pronoun now, according to linguist John McWhorter, and I think he is right.  Think about it, and try to separate your thinking from its origin and look at what its usage is now. You might call it a synecdoche, but I think it has even gone beyond that at this point.  "My ass," "Your ass," "Her ass" is just a coarse, dramatic, colloquial version of my/your/her


Mike Guenther said...

Surveillance should alarm everyone. Hidden in the 3.5 Trillion funding boondoggle is a requirement for financial institutions to report all transactions over $600 bucks to the IRS, much like the current regulation to report over $10,000 deposits and withdrawals. Whether it goes through or not is another story.

They say it's necessary to make the rich pay their fair share. That means that you, me and every other American who has Direct Deposit, will have an IRS microscope shoved up our asses.

It doesn't have anything to do with making the rich pay more. It will only hurt retirees with pensions or monthly SSN payments, and low and middle income people.

The rich can afford CPA's and lawyers to circumvate these potential new rules, just like they already do now.

Mike Guenther said...

"circumvent" not circumvate...doh.

Grim said...

I would point out that the draft still exists, though it hasn't been invoked in a while; but I was registered for it at 18, not that I needed to be as I was only too happy to volunteer.

Likewise, note the prison trend:


There's been a substantial loss of liberty since 1980, if liberty can be reasonably judged by your likelihood of being thrown into prison. Now a lot of that has to do with drugs, and the 'war' on them; but it's still a big negative for liberty.

Or consider the size of the Federal Register, whose regulations act as if they were laws and restrict your life and everyone's business. In 1970 it was 20,000 pages long; last year it was 87,351.


You're right about surveillance, but in addition to the online there are also now nearly universal camera-based surveillance in cities. Good luck doing anything in town without someone watching, recording, monitoring.

America is objectively less free by several standards over the course of our lifetimes. Nor do the courts seem especially interested in providing a formal defense against the encroachments on our liberty; and the executive is writing new regulations, and Congress passing new laws, just every year.

Gavin Longmuir said...

There is a huge difference between mandates and surveillance.

Surveillance -- back in village days, there were no secrets. Now we live in a global electronic village, and there are no secrets. Silly people use pseudonyms on the web, as if FedGov has any problems identifying who they are. If FedGov employees have nothing better to do than comb through my records, their lives really must be pitifully pathetic. What is annoying about surveillance is that FedGov and their running dogs in the media pull a curtain over anything negative to Democrats, such as Hunter Biden's corruption.

Mandates -- they have their place. Drive on the right hand side of the road is a mandate, and North America is a better place for it. But, as usual, Government types screw it up. Most States have a mandate that vehicle owners must buy certain kinds of automobile insurance to compensate others in the event of an accident; fair enough.

But then those politicians also mandate we have to buy "Uninsured Motorist" insurance. Why? There should be no "Uninsured Motorists", and any driver caught with no insurance should lose her vehicle and be forced to work on a chain gang for long enough to discourage others from disobeying the mandate.

However, up to one third of motorists do not obey the mandate, and the Democrat Establishment turns a blind eye. There is no enforcement, no significant punishment even when caught red-handed. Why? Because the uninsured tend to be seen as Democrat voters.

Why support mandates when the Political Class applies those mandates in a discriminatory fashion?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Grim - prisons. Thanks for reminding me. The rise in prison population mirrors the decline in psychiatric population pretty closely, not only nationally but in each place. I have worked on secure units and both sent and received many patients from various jails, but never prison units, so I know less about those. From what I have heard and read, there are many psychiatric patients in prisons. (The quality of treatment there varies enormously. That I know.) Those overlap considerably with the drug offense prisoners, because my people abuse a lot of drugs and do so incautiously, drawing attention to themselves at all stages. Their offenses tend strongly to losing their tempers or getting in people's faces with terrible consequences, or the type of just-not-getting-life-done crimes like driving unsafely with no license and an unregistered car. It goes without saying that they have unsafe behavior around firearms, motor vehicles, fire, and pretty visible about it, even after the police arrive. Not a recipe for staying out of jail very well.

Even I keep forgetting that all the statistics about drug crime and punishment overlaps with the psychiatric population quite a bit. If I keep forgetting it, who had it as part of my career for decades, I can't expect others to keep it straight. But there it is, it's a big part of the prison stats.

So prison is less free than being in the state hospital, but not enormously so.

Also, WRT surveillance and record-keeping. The comments clarify for me that if we have 30% more freedom because of our technology and even more permissive laws but only 20% more restriction, it still might be a net loss of liberty because of your increased vulnerability to pressure from a variety of corporations and departments. When you couldn't buy something controversial in the old days, you just couldn't but it. You didn't get into any trouble for that. Now you can buy it, but someone has a record of it somewhere. That doesn't matter most of the time. I can't think of any negative consequence to ease of anonymous purchase other than having mild identity theft that I rapidly closed down. But the potential for loss of freedom is sitting there.

Aggie said...

The distinction in this modern age is that unjust actions that arise from both pervasive surveillance and the action in social media cesspits have become institutionalized. In an extreme case, one can lose their employment, their professional standing, their societal credibility with friends and family to the social media mob in the course of a day or two, often as an unintended consequence for a single unfortunate lapse in judgement. We've seen it happen - these unfortunate characters become our modern Object Lessons. I think it is often undeserved.

Never in history has the destruction of character been so comprehensive and efficient. Reputable institutions are swayed to contribute their power, often illegitimately, in support of such efforts. The anonymity that attends this reckless empowerment, when the mob is involved, is an attractive nuisance for people with psychopathic tendencies.

Cranberry said...

Have you lost freedom if you aren't aware of it?

Corporations are already using big data to make decisions about the services you may access, including health insurance. https://techbullion.com/use-big-data-health-insurance-potentially-dangerous-consequences/

The data available about you may not be accurate. The conclusions AI algorithms reach about you may be wildly off. You don't even know they exist, so there is no avenue to correct inaccurate assumptions made behind the scenes by companies you don't even know exist.

Such decisions can impede your access to credit, to healthcare, to education, to employment, to the ability to open a bank account with a particular bank. I bet it serves to herd people into little boxes; who gets the invitation to a special event held in the next town? Everyone? Or those people the AI of the publicity company think are the most likely to attend?

The information is not neccessarily accurate, either, especially if you have a very common name.

Grim said...

@AVI: "prisons. Thanks for reminding me."

You are welcome.

I grant the point that at least some of the prison population comes from deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. That said, the population has exploded to a very great degree -- while our cities are also covered up with swelling homeless encampments that are also said to be explicable by deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. Either there are a lot more mentally ill (which is possible), or the war on drugs is also capturing a lot of people who might have been left alone once upon a time to smoke a little grass and make a little moonshine.

But then that last example brings us around to Prohibition, a great loss of liberty that was finally regained. A door that swings one way may sometimes swing another. Reclaiming old liberties is as important as jealously guarding the remaining ones.

I return to the regulations in your follow-up post.

james said...

The surveillance, as I've said before, is asymmetric. In that village, I would know the busybody's business as well as he knew mine. If somebody kept crossing the line, there were remedies--sometimes unlawful, but remedies. There are none against the anonymous systems.

random observer said...

I think James just made a hugely important point- I wouldn't want to live in a traditional village either, or even a small town today, exactly because of the lack of anonymity in such places. But at least the problems would be by kin and neighbours, plus there would be some information symmetry and some recourse available against them. Modern surveillance not only subjects us to busybodyism on an international scale by anonymous entities, it takes away the personal anonymity that once was a great liberating joy of living in cities. I'm only 50, and I find debit cards, credit cards, and alas now vaccine passports useful and necessary, and cash inconvenient and scarcely to be carried. But I remember when one could walk alone through one's city, unwatched by cameras, unrecorded, and unknown by strangers, and go untracked by monitoring devices most of one's life. The thing that troubles me most is that I think many younger people believe those to be inherently frightening dangers to be mitigated, not glorious. Yes, I know something of the dark side too, and I'm a fan of Edward Hopper, but still it was marvellous to walk the world seen, but unrecorded and unknown, yet still able to perform all functions.