Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are We All Snitches Now?

by Tibor R. Machan

Periodically I go shopping, like many other people. And I have even hired some folks to do cleaning at my house. There is even a handyman in my neighborhood who does extensive work on my house.

Now in none of these cases have I ever asked the people with whom I engage in commerce for any kind of identification, proof of citizenship, nada. If they are well recommended, if I am convinced their track record is fine, I'll take my chances. And the last thing I would want is for the government to force me to check up on these folks.

It is bad enough that government forces employers to do the dirty work of extorting money from employees, by means of the withholding process—it kind of hides the nasty business and makes it look like government isn't really perpetrating the crime. But then to force businesses to do the government's job of crime control, that's quite over the top.

In the last several days I've been hearing how Bank of America, with which I do some little business—checking, savings, etc.—hasn't been insisting that its customers prove whether they are American citizens. So what? Unless these customers are doing something wrong, why should the bank butt in with such detective work? That's not what banks are supposed to do. They are supposed to make sure that they do business profitably—that's what they are on record doing for their owners and investors.

In a free country people are innocent unless proven guilty and that is how they are expected to treat one another in many endeavors. The people I may bowl with or with whom I may shoot baskets or play tennis or do all kinds of other things—worship, attend school, travel, and so forth—who haven't done anything untoward to me will be left in peace by me and I would expect the same treatment from merchants. Accordingly, when I take my clothes to the cleaners, or my car to the mechanic or purchase a phone at Circuit City I am not asked for an ID. So long as I pay up, do what I promise, I expect to be left in peace about who I am, where I come from, what my religion is, whom I date, etc., and so forth.

So I am baffled ... why all this hostility toward Bank of America when all the bank is doing is following the spirit of due process? Do not bother people unless there is some kind of case against them you are aware of.

Some argue, not surprisingly, that it is because bank deposits are backed by the FDIC—which is another body the government ought never to have established and funded from taxes—banks may be coerced to act as snitches. This is bunk; it is also yet another move toward the creeping police state—people are “given” another subsidy only to have it accompanied by all sorts of restrictions and demands.

So perhaps all this brouhaha about the bank isn't really about what they are doing wrong but rather about what doesn't please those who are eager to catch illegal aliens. OK, I am not in favor of illegal aliens but neither do I believe it is a bank's or anyone else's business outside of law enforcement to chase them down.

Maybe if our government didn't get involved in millions of other tasks, it could concentrate its energies on what it was instituted to do by America's founders, namely, secure our rights—protect us from criminal conduct. But no. It seems to be more and more farming out that job to private citizens and organizations, ones not trained in the proper methods of law enforcement.

But then the business of making employers collect taxes, social security and other monies the government extorts from us, has habituated too many of us into thinking that everyone is part of the government, everyone must act like a cop, like an enforcer of the laws. This reminds me of when back in communist Hungary we were all expected to report on everyone around us who didn't toe the government's line about innumerable matters. We were all snitches there. Maybe this is happening in America now, too.
Why Skepticism is Sound

Tibor R. Machan

In the global warming debate the big issues is whether what human beings do contributes significantly to global warming. That global warming is occurring is not much in dispute, although some scientists do make a good deal of the point that there have been warming periods in the past, some of them far greater than those being recorded in our time. There has of course been steady global warming, on average, since as the earth evolved it was at certain early times, following the initial cooling, covered with ice and quite uninhabitable by anything alive. Warming was a precondition to the emergence of life. But the warming never increased steadily and there have been periods of both, warming and cooling all along. Even after serious warming had commenced, there were long periods during which cold spells reemerged. (The most up to date picture of this can be found at and indicates a volatile history, with coolings as well as warmings throughout the last 500 millions years, with a huge span of cooling during the last 4 million, the renewed warming.)

At this time, however, there is discernible warming, although the actual records—as distinct from computer projections—show only very small increases in the temperature of the earth. And in some places no warming is occurring at all. However, the history of temperature rise is not what concerns many of the skeptics about climate change. Nearly everyone agrees that there has been a rise recently. What is in dispute is (a) how much of an increase is likely to occur in the future and (b) whether human activities have had, are having, and will have a significant impact on global warming.

As to (a), the evidence is mixed and the more dire predictions are all based on several computer models combined with other computer models. And as the saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out." Here is the first place where skepticism occurs. Are those doing the modeling doing it right and can they actually be trusted to do it right? Is the science and technology on which modeling is based itself—and the scientists themselves—reliable?

Given that global warming research now consists of a mostly government subsidized industry across the globe, including the United Nations, with millions of dollars in grants going to those doing work in the field, there is understandable concern about whether those involved are stacking the deck in favor of a Doomsday scenario. It is often noted by private industry research critics that profit can corrupt research but the same is hardly ever noted in mainstream circles about government subsidized research. Furthermore, skeptics well understand that without a scare, there are fewer funds forthcoming. Government funding requires, ultimately, political support and such support relies heavily on a concerned, even frightened constituency. No Doomsday scenario, no concerned citizenry, and no allocation of funds obtained via taxation.

But there is more. In my own community the rangers put warnings out each day about fire hazards, ranging from "moderate" to "extremely high." Interestingly, the "moderate" sign is displayed even if it is pouring rain. In the ten years I have lived here, there hasn’t been a fire. Yet the "extremely high" has been displayed (by my assessment) routinely roughly 70% of the year. It is a tendency of those assigned to be on the lookout to exaggerate hazards. Vigilance calls for it, as they see their jobs.

As to the human factor, here the skeptics are often concerned about what may be dubbed (following a book by that title by Jonathan R. T. Hughes) the governmental habit—if global warming were unrelated to human activity, there isn’t a lot that politicians and bureaucrats could promise to do about it. Or, alternatively, if the best approach to encouraging responsible human conduct would be to leave politicians out of the picture and simply deploy various measures banning or containing what economists call negative externalities—bad side effects from normal productive processes—that, too, would leave the politicians out of the picture. And then what would they do, how would they gain the power most of them hunger for? There is, then, a strong probability that Doomsday scenarios will be projected by government officials and all those who work for them—get financial support, appointments to prestigious committees, invited to plush conferences, etc., etc.

So when one puts together the lack of solid science and technology behind the claim that global warming is imminent and that human conduct significantly contributes to the probable global warming, the attitude of skepticism is most reasonable. Or, to put it differently, how reasonable is it to trust politicians about their need for increased powers over the rest of us?