Monday, December 06, 2004

Column on Crimes vs. "Crimes"

Perils of Meddlesome Public Policy

Tibor R. Machan

A clear case is drug enforcement. Since much of drug trade and use is
carried out in private, within the borders of someoneÂ?s own property, the
only way to detect this stuff is by invading privacy in the myriad ways
that can be done in todayÂ?s high tech culture.

The laws against drug use, as many other laws pertaining to victimless
Â?crimes,Â? plainly encourage law enforcement that is in blatant violation
of justice, of due process. That is to say, it violates the provision of
justice that requires that laws be enforced without violating individual
rights. A good constitution spells out those rights and the American
document does a creditable job of stating some of these.

When police officers must enforce laws that require violating such
rights, we witness the systematic debasement of the legal order we live
under. What is not fully appreciated is that this is nearly impossible to
avoid when there are so many laws regulating private conduct. Take a law
against sodomy, for example, or against hiring illegal aliens. To find out
that these laws are being violated is very difficult without breaking all
kinds of principles of justice.

The reason is that such victimless crimes involve mostly willing
participants. These laws, in other words, pertain to acts between
consenting adults. So they have no complainants, no one who is actually
hurt when the crime is committed. But then how is one to tell where itÂ?s
being committed, who is committing it, etc.?

The answer is you need to gain entrance to locations and the
Â?cooperationÂ? of witnesses, by intimidation, threats, spying, snooping,
breaking and entering and so forth. No way can the enforcement of such
crimes remain on the up and up.

One beauty of the free society is that when laws are being violated, it
must involve someone who is wronged. Rights violation wrongs people, even
if they might benefit from it in limited ways (say by writing a best
selling book after being assaulted or robbed). Limiting law enforcement to
laws that are truly in the business of Â?securing rightsÂ? makes it possible
to be guided by due process and achieve the objective sought.

But when the law, public policy or regulation gets involved in
regimenting how people should conduct themselves irrespective of whether
they violate or threaten to violate peopleÂ?s rights, then the standards of
police work get utterly confused. In the very act of doing oneÂ?s job as a
police officer, one is violating peopleÂ?s rights, which deprives the
entire system of moral standing. It also attracts the worst kind of police
officers, the bullies, those who love to harass people whose choices they
simply do not like, never mind whether they have done someone any wrong.

The situation is perilous for justice because it is very difficult to
extricate a legal system from these corruptions. For all the malpractices
there tend to arise vested interest groups. Unlike with the Draconian
tyrannies where once found out, there is sufficient resolve not to fall
pretty to pleas of special privilegeÂ?e.g., Nazi concentration camps did
not remain active because the guards had strong unions and lobbyistsÂ?with
the sort of malpractices involved in the meddlesome welfare state this
isnÂ?t so. Instead a tug of war ensues, with all parties insisting that
their meddlesomeness is vital to the quality of the society. (Just think
of all those righteous advocates of the war on drugs!)

My only hope here is education. In time enough folks could acknowledge
the superior value of respect for rights, even to trump their special
projects. Then, maybe, the system will get cleaned up. But until then
those in society who understand the gross injustices that are perpetrated
by the system must keep at it, even if immediate progress is unlikely.

Today a sheriffÂ?s organization called me to contribute to some retirement
program or something. I kept the guy on the phone long enough to give him
a lesson or two about what is involved in enforcing vicious laws. Who
knows, it might have taken.

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