Posts tagged ‘asset seizures’

No Matter What They Actually Say, the Public Trusts Private Corporations More Than Government, And I Can Prove It

As a libertarian, I find myself constantly saying to folks something like:  "private actors (corporations, businesses, individuals, etc. are inherently more trustworthy than government because they cannot legally interact with you through force or fraud -- the government is free to do both.  If you don't like what a private actor is doing, you can simply refuse to interact with them further, an ability one does not have with the government."  This seems like such an obvious point but few people, particularly on the Left, will ever agree with me.  But I have recent proof that in their hearts, most people understand this perfectly.

What is my proof?  The universal, bipartisan freakout over the man who was dragged off by force from a United flight.  People are focusing on this event for the very fact that this example of a private company deploying force against its customers is so incredibly rare.  The Internet is filled with similar or in fact much worse examples of the government abusing its authority -- false arrests, petty harassment, asset seizures without due process -- but people just yawn and these videos gets 236 views  vs. millions for the United video.  Because, presumably, people have come to expect such abuses from the government but not from private companies.

And to a large extent, this particular example of private violence is the exception that will prove the rule.  Because United is going to experience real accountability.  It is already getting a firestorm of bad press that will cost them current and future business.  They will face lawsuits and possible government action.  But the average police officer or government official (or VA or IRS administrator) who abuses their power retain their jobs for life with no negative consequences from their actions.  Also, we should note that it was a government agent in this case who was the one who actually used force and dragged the passenger off, not a private United employee.  Almost every time one looks deeply at an abuse by private companies, at the end of the day that company is enabled or protected in doing so by so some sort of crony relationship with the government.

So I suppose we should ask, if people really in their hearts understand that private "power" is much less menacing than government power, why do they still support increasing the power of government over private actors?  And the answer must be that they believe (or hope, or expect) that use of this government power will achieve some end they want that they cannot achieve without force.  The problem with this of course is that it is naive -- it assumes that once you give great power to the government, government employees will use this power in the way you would use it, for the same goals and ends.  But this is seldom the case, certainly over the long haul.  I argued for years that the Left under the Obama administration was supporting Presidential power on the assumption they would hold the White House forever and thus get to wield all this power.  Which is why, I suppose, there has been so much freakout over Donald Trump's victory.

Postscript:  Here is an example video of government brutality just from my news feed today.  It will get no real traction because everyone has come to expect the government to act in this manner.

Brink Lindsey Proposes a Growth Plan with Appeal Across The Political Spectrum

It turns out that small government libertarians like myself and large-government progressives actually have something in common -- we both fear accumulations of unaccountable power.  We just find such power in different places.  Progressives fear the accumulation of power in large corporations and moneyed individuals.  Libertarians fear government power.

I won't try to take Caplan's ideological Turing test today, but will just speak from my own perspective.  I wonder how Progressives can ignore that government has guns and prisons while corporations just have the ability to sell you something or hire you (though perhaps not on the terms you prefer).  When pressed to explain why the Left is more comfortable with government power, their explanations (to my taste) depend too much on assumptions that competent versions of "their guy" pull the levers of power, and that power itself and the vagaries of government incentives will not corrupt this guy.

On the other hand, progressives ask me all the time, "how can you trust corporations so much" and then list off a justifiably long list of examples of them acting poorly.  This, I think, is where the real difference comes in, and where the confusion often comes int he public discourse.  I will answer that I don't trust anyone, government or corporations.  What I trust are the incentives and the accountability enforced in a market where a) consumers can take their money elsewhere if they get bad products or services; b) employees can take their labor elsewhere if they are treated poorly; and c) entrepreneurs can make a fortune identifying shortcomings in incumbent businesses and offering consumers and/or employees a better deal.

Unfortunately, when a person or organization finds itself very successful in this game, there is a natural tendency to want to protect their winning position.  But nothing in the market can stop a challenge from a better product or service, so successful entities tend to turn to the government (which has a monopoly on guns and prisons and asset seizures and the like) for protection against upstart challengers.  If successful, these restrictions tend to hobble growth and innovation -- imagine if IBM had successfully used government influence to halt the PC revolution or if AT&T had blocked the growth of cell phones.

This dynamic is at the heart of Brink Lindsey's new white paper at Cato (pdf).   As has been his wont in several past works, Lindsey is looking for proposals that bridge the gap between Left and Right.  So, rather than stake out the 98th salvo in an area where there seems to be a hopeless ideological divide (e.g. minimum wage or low-skill immigration), he focuses on four areas one could imagine building a broad coalition.  Lindsey focuses on attempts by successful incumbents to use government to cement their position and calls them "regressive regulation" because they tend to benefit the already-successful at the expense of everyone else.

In the following sections, I examine four major examples of regressive regulation: (a) excessive monopoly privileges granted under copyright and patent law; (b) protection of incumbent service providers under occupational licensing; (c) restrictions on high-skilled immigration; and (d) artificial scarcity created by land-use regulation. In all four examples, current government policy works to create explicit barriers to entry. In the first two cases, the restriction is on entry into a product market: businesses are not allowed to sell products that are deemed to infringe on a copyright or patent, and individuals are not allowed to sell their services without a license. In the other two cases, actual physical entry into a geographic area is being limited: on the one hand, immigration into the country; on the other, the development and purchase or rental of real estate.

One can immediately see how this might appeal across ideologies.  Libertarians and market Conservatives will like the reduction in regulation and government scope.  Progressives should like the elimination of government actions that primarily help the wealthy and powerful.**

I said "cross ideologies" above rather than bi-partisan because things get messy when actual politics intrude.  All of these protected constituencies wield a lot of political influence across both parties -- that is why the regressive regulation exists in the first place.  And they all have finally honed stories about how these restrictions that prevent new competition and business models are really there to protect the little people (just watch the battles between Uber and the taxi cartels and you will see what I mean).

Never-the-less, this strikes me as a pretty good list.  For whatever barriers there may be, it is a hell of a lot easier to picture a bipartisan agreement on any of these issues than on, say, low-skill immigration.  I haven't finished reading to the end -- I have to get on now with my day job -- so I have yet to see if there are any concrete proposals that look promising.


**The ideological problem here, of course, is that libertarians think that these restrictions are the primary way in which the wealthy unfairly benefit while most Progressives would (I suppose) see it as a side issue given that they believe that even the free-est of market capitalism is inherently unfair.

Another Fallout From the War on Drugs: Asset Seizures

One of the least-discussed but quite important fallouts from the war on drugs has been the incredible power we seem to have handed police authorities to seize assets.  While theoretically, it should be impossible to be fined or punished without being convicted, in fact it is perfectly possible for police to shut down businesses and impose enormous fines without trial through this confiscation authority.   Here is just one recent example that came up this morning:

The FBI on Tuesday defended its raids on at least two data centers in Texas, in which agents carted out equipment and disrupted service to hundreds of businesses.

The raids were part of an investigation prompted by complaints from AT&T and Verizon about unpaid bills allegedly owed by some data center customers, according to court records....

According to the owner of one co-location facility, Crydon Technology, which was raided on March 12, FBI agents seized about 220 servers belonging to him and his customers, as well as routers, switches, cabinets for storing servers and even power strips. Authorities also raided his home, where they seized eight iPods, some belonging to his three children, five XBoxes, a PlayStation3 system and a Wii gaming console, among other equipment. Agents also seized about $200,000 from the owner's business accounts, $1,000 from his teenage daughter's account and more than $10,000 in a personal bank account belonging to the elderly mother of his former comptroller.

FBI agents displayed their usual level of competance when it comes to technology-related matters:

Faulkner says the FBI appears to have assumed that all the servers located at Crydon's address belonged to him, and didn't seem to understand the concept of co-location.

This is over a private billing dispute?  The FBI claims its a much bigger matter - since there was fraud involved as one of the target companies faked some credit references.  Oh, OK, then go right ahead and seize all the family's iPods.