Our economic lives.

A local libertarian group showed the movie, “The Lives of Others,” at the Marina Public Library last night. The group invited me to give a few remarks after the showing. What motivated them to show the movie now is the revelations by Edward Snowden of NSA’s spying on “the lives of us.” I was asked if I could make a connection between the Stasi’s actions and the NSA’s. I figured I could and so I said yes.

When it came time to make my comments, though, I realized that the connection between the two sets of actions–the NSA’s and Stasi’s–was not close. Stasi spied on East Germans and the NSA spies on us. So they’re similar in that way. But Stasi spied in order to exert extreme control over the lives of East Germans. NSA isn’t even close to doing that–yet.

So I pointed that out. The main lesson that I pointed out, though, was different. I asked the audience, of about 12 people, who had read Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Disappointingly, only one person stuck up his hand. So I gave a little background and pointed out that one of Hayek’s main points is that a government that has a large amount of control over our economic lives has a large amount of control over us. That is why the Stasi was so scary.

Spoilers ahead.

Think of the playwright’s neighbor who seemed like a decent woman and who saw the Stasi setting up the wiretaps and listening devices in the playwright’s apartment. The Stasi official warns her that if she squeals, her daughter will not be able to go to university. Who controls who goes to state-funded universities? The state. Think about the play director who got out of line before the time in which the movie’s events occurred. In a society where the state funds all art, who controls who gets to be a movie director? The state. Etc.

One of the people in the audience noted that, ironically, there was one person whose livelihood did not depend on the state: the prostitute who came to the Stasi employee’s apartment.

Then I quoted from Hayek’s Road to Serfdom the great quote he had from the Communist Leon Trotsky. Trotsky said:

In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: he who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: he who does not obey shall not eat.