Free Markets to the Rescue
By David Henderson
One of my biggest disagreements with fellow libertarians is on the issue of optimism versus pessimism. I tend to be an optimist, while some fellow libertarians–I have in mind my friend Robert Higgs as an extreme example–tend to be pessimists. So, for example, in observing the same glass with water up to the halfway point, he will notice that it’s half-empty and I will notice that it’s half-full. Of course, that’s not a difference in our observation of a factual issue–it’s a difference in how we talk about it and what we emphasize.
But there is one other factor that makes me an optimist that is not just a matter of perception and observation: the fact that free markets and the innovation that they lead to often undercut and counteract the oppressive state.
One example from a few years ago before I get to an example involving the federal government’s intrusive surveillance of our private lives.
A few years ago, I was going through the TSA line at the Los Angeles International Airport. There was a well-dressed Japanese couple ahead of me. The man in the couple took out a beautiful jeweled lighter to put in the tray. A TSA employee spotted it and I swear his eyes lit up. He confiscated the lighter. The man who had just had his lighter filched looked crestfallen. My guess is that the lighter was in the TSA guy’s house that evening.
I had a thought: wouldn’t it be a good idea for UPS or FedEx to locate a box right near the TSA line so that if you arrive at the line and realize you have something valuable that the TSA workers are going to grab, you could instead FedEx or UPS it to yourself. Only months after that thought, sure enough, I started seeing such boxes. Not everywhere, to be sure but, still, in some airports.
You probably have to have lived under a rock not to know that the federal government has been aggressively invading in our phone calls and e-mails since Bush Jr. was president and continuing on through Obama’s presidency. Parenthetical note: wouldn’t it be great if we had a president who understood the Constitution from, say, having taught Constitutional law at one of our major law schools? Oh, wait.
Probably, when you hear about this overreach, one of your reactions is a feeling of helplessness. Some of us might forget about saying anything confidential on a phone or in an e-mail. But free markets are coming to the rescue. There are already technologies out there, and widely available, to make it harder for the federales to violate your privacy. Here’s a blog post that reviews them.