Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How conservatives undermine economic freedom.

Previously I argued that advocates of social conservative views, by supporting liberty and depoliticized markets, are supporting a system that undermines the values they say they support. I have argued that what is called “liberal capitalism” is an engine for change and social experimentation as the profit system rewards entrepreneurs who ignore the status quo and find unmet needs or wants from consumers. Bluntly put, there is so much porn on the Internet because people have figured out how to make money from it.

The ties between economic freedom and social freedom are intricate and complex. Economic freedom encourages social freedom and when you try to destroy social freedom the only way you may do so is to destroy economic freedom. Conservatives fail to understand that—not that this is the only thing they fail to understand.

Consider their pathetic attempts to ban “sinful” substances or items, like drugs or porn. First, what is being banned is the manufacture, production, distribution and sale of a product between a willing seller and a willing buyer. They wish to control the marketplace because it produces goods they don’t care for. Second, they banning the ownership of a piece of property. So they are undermining a property right at the same time they are destroying a market transaction.

Finally, consider what is required to enforce such bans. A few years ago I was in a debate with the leader of a Christian, conservative, pro-censorship lobby. The man was having a rant about how the State had to step in and make it a crime for individuals to possess erotic magazines. I pointed out that there were literally millions and millions of copies of these magazines. He said they should all be made illegal. I noted that the magazines were already in the hands of the public. He said that individuals who owned them would be given the option of destroying them or go to jail.

Note how quickly he was willing to fill the jails with people who hadn’t hurt anyone. I noted that such a campaign costs billions in law enforcement, jails, courts, public defenders, prosecutors, etc. I asked my opponent exactly how much money he was willing to spend to enforce his moral views on others. His response was to the point: “Whatever it takes, whatever it takes.” My reply was just as short: “Of course you are, because it’s not your money you’re spending.”

Even if we ignore the cost to individual liberty in our calculation we can’t ignore the economic costs of social conservative legislation. Conservatives don’t seem to mind when non-violent individuals are jailed for smoking pot, even if they have never hurt another person. But the cost of that imprisonment comes out to billions of dollars per year. Those billions are confiscated from the productive sectors of the economy. People are taxed to fund such crusades. The money they pay in taxes is taken from them, as is the freedom to spend that money in ways beneficial to their own family.

Conservatives literally make life harder for the working families of America. They strip them of some of their wealth. They make it harder for them to feed their children, or find a good school to educate them. They force them to forgo spending that would benefit them so that the conservatives can arrest pot smokers. And they want to make it crime to own erotica, something that would cost billions more.

Consider how “to protect the children” the political classes pushed through legislation on sexting. A teen who takes an erotic photo of himself or herself is guilty of child pornography. A survey which I previously mentioned shows that about one out of four teens in America has done this and about half have seen the photos. That means that about half the teens in America are legally qualified for the sex offender registries. Just be glad we don’t get all the law enforcement that the politicians want us to have—otherwise about half our young people would be in jail or on parole as sex offenders. (That is for that one crime alone. Add all the other sex regulations in and the numbers are probably much higher. Any more “protection” from the State and there wouldn’t be any teens left outside the prisons to protect.)

These sorts of crusades can’t be limited to the “guilty” either. Consider how the Drug Warriors constantly fuck up and raid the wrong house. Consider how many innocent people have been shot to death by Drug Warriors who, in their zeal to go out and kill someone, attacked the wrong house and murdered the wrong person. Surely a government program that murders innocent people is worthy of some second thoughts by the Right? Drugs can sometimes kill, but in the rare cases that they do so, they kill people who decide to take them. The War on Drugs kills more indiscriminately. Drugs can’t harm you unless you choose to take them. The War on Drugs can kill you.

Look at the Right-wing campaign on illegal immigrants for another example How is this fought? They pass laws forcing private businesses to seek ID from all employees. The conservatives are basically pushing through a series of laws that make national ID necessary for everything. You must have government issued ID to open a bank account, to get a job, even to rent housing in some places. And the business that neglects to follow the regulations can be fined or closed down. Conservatives have pushed a series of Big Brother regulations that control private industry all because of their obsessive hatred for immigrants.

The costs for these laws run into the billions. Everyone is forced to pay those costs through higher taxes and higher prices. Because the Right has forced ID requirements on daily life, to stop the immigrants, they have created a huge underground market for stolen ID. Much of the Identity theft problem we face today is the direct result of stupid legislation from social conservatives meant to stop immigrants. Any economic analysis would tell you that if you require ID for daily living, and you deny that ID to millions of people, you will create a huge market in stolen IDs. That is simple economics which conservatives pretend to understand. If they do, that makes it even worse for them since you could then argue the damage they inflict on innocent people was foreseeable.

I try to use government ID as little as possible. Other than my passport I have no US issued ID. Now the ID craze is permeating everything. I tried to adopt a cat from an animal shelter but they refused to let me do so unless I had US issued ID showing my home address. So the poor cat was left without a home. I couldn’t open a bank account. And even one of the major video rental shops refused to let me rent DVDs because I didn’t have a US issued ID, having only a foreign drivers license. A second chain, however, did take that ID. Checking into hotels requires ID, even if you are paying cash. This paranoia about illegals permeates our society so that more and more things require ID. That means we each find life slightly more difficult. It increases the incentives for ID theft. And with everyone wanting a copy of your ID it is easier now to steal ID than ever before. You literally have millions of places where ID information is being stored and where it can be stolen.

Who actually benefits from that? It hasn’t stopped illegal immigration. It just made ID theft a national problem. It adds huge costs to the private sector, inconveniences every American, and can cause huge headaches for those who had their ID stolen. The only ones who benefit are government agencies trying to track what private individuals do. There are now more paper trails with which they can spy on the public.

The point is that conservative social crusades destroy individual freedom. Of course, conservatives don’t care about those kinds of freedom. They deny the validity of social freedom and only love economic freedom. Yet they must undermine economic freedom in order to fund their moral crusades. The great irony in all this is conservatives constantly prattle about individual freedom even while they are working so hard to destroy it. Conservatives are NOT opponents of Big Government. They merely want a different kind of emphasis for the omnipotent state and their actual voting records and history proves it. Socialists of the soul, which is what conservatives are, still yearn for Big Brother and all he entails—they just want him stifling liberty in ways different from what the Left wants.

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