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30 June, 2011

How Blessed Is the State That Thus Destroyeth the Car

Published in the Mises Daily: Thursday, June 30, 2011 by Jeffrey A. Tucker. Republished with permission.

The modern state was born and built with the idea that it would bring material progress to the world.

How things have changed! Now the same state works to reverse progress in every possible way and even brag about the glorious things it is doing to make our lives more miserable.

It even has the chutzpah to tout that it alone can beat back our constant struggle to have a better life, and it expects us to thank our masters for this — and pay for the privilege.

These are thoughts that hit me as I read the New York Times report "Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy." Yes, that's right: policies are not trying to make driving easier and less of a problem but harder and more of a problem so that people will abandon their cars and hoof it just like life before the invention of the wheel.

Now, truly, the ability to hop into a driver-directed steel contraption that can take us wherever we want to go at 200 miles per hour has to count as one of the great accomplishments in the history of mankind. The unleashing of human volition! For 100 years now, wherever we find progress, joy, and human fulfillment, we find the car. The car has very nearly conquered the great problems presented by the existence of scarcity of time and space, and made us able to achieve essential tasks. We work, live, shop, and travel where we want and get to each place in a fraction of the time it took our ancestors.

So what does the state do? It tries to stop it all. European governments are "creating urban environments openly hostile to cars," says the Times. "The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation."

Are European leaders even aware that they are merely reviving Chairman Mao's transportation plan? When he came to power in 1950, he declared China to be zixingche de guo, the Kingdom of Bicycles. The bike was one of three items that every citizen must own (the other two: a watch and a sewing machine). It was supposed to be a great symbol of equality and of the citizen's willingness to use their own muscle power to work for the triumph of socialism.

And so it is all over Europe, where streets are being closed, parking lots torn up, and fuel taxed to the point where it is unaffordable. In many places, speed limits are being reduced to a walking pace, and, in others, cars are being banned completely. The idea is not to build the great socialist utopia but rather to "save the environment" — and to heck with the actual well-being of human beings who pay the bills that make these states live and thrive.

And all of this for the environment? That's not the only reason. They also say that the roads are too narrow to handle high car traffic, since most date from before the car age. That's strange: city roads in the United States are also pre-car but Americans, like entrepreneur Brigham Young who built Salt Lake, thought to make them wide enough for covered wagons to make U-turns. Mostly, the real reason is that "urban planners" just don't like them and so they "generally agree that a rise in car commuting is not desirable for cities anywhere."

"These planners are secretly horrified by the sight of millions of people living well and doing their own thing."

The problem with "urban planners" — as Jane Jacobs saw — is that they do not think of people as individuals with interests who act according to their own plans with a resulting spontaneous order that makes cities great. Instead, they want to plan with a bird's-eye view of the place and force everyone to comply whether it makes people miserable or not. In the worst case, these planners are secretly horrified by the sight of millions of people living well and doing their own thing, and, like Chairman Mao, cry out for what they believe should be a more orderly system.

Armed with the power of the contemporary state — which is destroying prosperity and civilizational advance because, as it turns out, doing this is the only thing it is good at — the urban planners are accomplishing their goal, but to what end? Is reversing a century of progress a good way to make life better? The planners think so, because they have a different idea of what life should be like. They want the city to be more like an ant farm than a place for choosing, dreaming, and accomplishing. The static existence of workers and peasants under communism seems much more to their liking.

The NYT story suggests that it is very different in the United States, where the planners think cars are just fine. But this is not so. The war on the car dates back a half century. Not even the interstate highways were really built for cars. They were built for military trucks to roll around the country and control it in the event of an invasion or an uprising. The car has never really had friends in government. The car is a product of private markets, used by individuals to accomplish individual goals.

In talking about my new book, It's a Jetsons World, I've mentioned that if government didn't own the streets and so heavily regulate transportation innovation, we might already have flying cars by now. The claim can't be proven or disproven, but that's the way it is in a world lacking in verifiable claims about what might exist in the absence of government controls and punishments on innovation and production.

But think of how little progress is actually taking place even where the car is mildly tolerated.

A new Honda Accord zipped by me the other day, and I confused it for a Lexus, and a new Lexus zipped by that looked pretty much like my 1995 Accord, and then it occurred to me: is the car really improving or are we cycling through body styles the way we cycle through tie widths? That's what companies do in sectors in which consumers want only innovation in style but not structure (men's clothing). But that's not true in transportation. Yes, there are new safety features and cool built-ins in the new models. But why do the "concept cars" of the main carmakers never make it to the roads? And why do some people claim that the car has never been better than it was some 50 years ago? What innovations are we missing out on?

A vast central plan really does govern the production of cars for sale in the United States. There are Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, regulations on everything from tires to air conditioning, federal mandates on safety and engine size, and many thousands of other issues. There's not a part of the car that isn't subject to something or other, all the way down to the exact shape of the error lights in the dashboard. How much room for innovation really remains?

"They want regress and they are giving it to us good and hard."

It is as Bastiat said of the mixed economy. We will never know for sure what innovations never became a living part of our economic world because regulations hamstrung the innovators. We will never know for sure what kind of material blessings might have come our way had it not been for the daily looting of capital and creativity that takes place under the rule of Leviathan.

The government has always been the enemy of progress, even when it claimed to be its friend. In more recent history, we are hearing increasingly honest statements from the people in charge. They want regress and they are giving it to us good and hard. If this keeps up, the only land with real progress will be the one created in the digital universe, where the planners are either too slow or too stupid to regulate us back to the Stone Age they envision as their ideal.

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03 June, 2011

Get the Guestroom Ready

Another one I wish I'd written...from alt-market:

An Agent Of The King In Every Home

The legal concept of citizen privacy from government intrusion is unfortunately a very new one in the long strides of human history. The idea that government can be limited, or restricted in its powers by the people, and that certain realms of life can and should be off-limits to the prying eyes of bureaucracy, is rarely applied in any culture of any era. This is because most civilizations have been founded and ruled upon the principles of military dominance. There was no separation between the government and the armies it fashioned; the government WAS the military. That is to say, martial law was a way of life for society, privacy was a foolish dream, and daring to contest the fact usually led to one’s death.

The Magna Carta of 1215, which King John was essentially forced to support, established a foundation for civil liberties which would then be fought over for the next several centuries. Beginning in 1627, and the ‘Petition of Right’ in Britain, common citizens began demanding a separation between military and civilian life, as well as the dismantling of standing armies which at that time were being used by the corrupt oligarchy as a means to subdue the populace. The aristocracy called it “royal prerogative”. The masses called it tyranny. However, as we all know, such breaks in the suffocation of despotism are few and fleeting. Fractures in the Petition of Right were frequent, and the aptitude of government to make war (even when there is no call for war) became the common excuse for the rulership to degrade civilian legal protections and hurtle them back into the dark ages, where property is a novelty that the authorities violate at their leisure.

During the years leading up to the American Revolution, the British attempted to stifle the growing independent nature of the colonies by issuing laws such as the ‘Writs of Assistance’, bypassing rights to privacy and allowing officials to search homes and businesses at will without probable cause, supposedly in the name of “capturing smugglers”. Not fully satisfied with this intrusion on the lives of the colonists, King George and his cronies issued the ‘Quartering Acts’, which required all colonists to welcome soldiers sent to subjugate them into their homes and to their dinner tables. According to law, early Americans were not only forced to allow warrant-less searches of their homes, they also had to show hospitality to the goons sent to dirty their doorsteps!

The purpose of these actions by governments is to assert their control over a population. THAT – IS – ALL. Rationalizations are always made; usually in the name of “protecting the public from harm”, but the real name of the game is imperialism, and fear. When the establishment violates the line of citizen privacy, and gives its agents the legal free reign to enter your home at will, the message they are trying to send is: “Your property is our property. Your life is our business. The law does not protect you. The law is our weapon.” In other words: Resistance is futile.

The Revolutionary War and the U.S. Constitution should have been the final word on the matter of limited government and the inherent rights of individuals. But, the Founding Fathers only thwarted the elites for a time, and as long as such powerful minorities of men exist, there will always be new methods of tyranny, and new battles to be endured. Some may respond skeptically, claiming that our society today is a far cry from the age of British oppression and soldiers storming our living rooms and our pantries. I would have to disagree of course, after I stopped cringing at their ignorance.

The 4th Amendment A Fond Memory…

Last month in a 3-2 decision that has shocked the independent media community but gone mostly unreported in the mainstream, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that citizens have no right to block an officer’s entry into their home, even if the officer does not have a warrant. The officer also does not have to give any clear indication as to why he wishes to enter your home, meaning he can enter without cause. Justice Steven David, one of the supporting judges stated:

“We believe … a right to resist an unlawful police entry into a home is against public policy and is incompatible with modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence…”

“We also find that allowing resistance unnecessarily escalates the level of violence and therefore the risk of injuries to all parties involved without preventing the arrest.”,0,5143977.story

Keep in mind, this is the same Indiana court that decided in a previous case that an officer serving a warrant is not required to knock (make his presence known) before entering your home if he feels circumstances require it. So, to clarify; if an officer wishes to walk into your house, for any reason, he may do so, without a warrant, and without even knocking. You cannot block his path. You cannot close your door and lock it. You cannot kick his ass. You can’t even discuss the matter calmly with him before hand. He just walks in, and, he is legally protected.


While the Indiana Supreme Court did follow the decision by pointing out that a homeowner may protest an officer’s wrongful search through the courts after the fact, this is hardly any solace, and is almost adding insult to injury, since these are the exact courts that have decided our 4th Amendment rights no longer apply. Obviously, once you allow authorities to savage your Constitutional freedoms, they are hardly going to let you punish them later through their own court system.

Indiana Sheriff Don Hartman Sr., in response to the court ruling, stated in an interview that he believed the decision gave him the power to conduct house to house warrant-less searches, an idea which he still defends:

This is just the latest of a string of court decisions across the country which expand the definitions of applied law. That is to say, there is a concerted and widespread effort by courts (especially federal courts) to broaden the accepted language of the law, so that, in fact, authorities can interpret the law to mean whatever they wish it to mean for whatever purpose fits their specific needs at the time.

Cell phones are fair game, according to courts in California, and police now have the ability to search your personal data when taken into custody, even if you have not been officially charged with a crime:

The Supreme Court has ruled that cops are allowed to search your premises without a warrant if they “smell marijuana” and “hear evidence being destroyed”. Just out of curiosity, what does it sound like when evidence is being destroyed? Does the Supreme Court have the sound on file somewhere? Without a doubt, certain not quite-so-honorable police will take advantage of this ridiculous decision:

New Mexico has ruled that officers may confiscate firearms from your vehicle during a traffic stop even if they have no reasonable cause to do so, trampling the 2nd Amendment as well as the 4th. Also in New Mexico (as in many states), if you have a conceal carry permit, you are supposed to announce to the officer that you have a weapon on your person. Meaning, now you have to let the traffic cop know that you have a firearm in the car and hope he doesn’t decide to take it away from you:

We saw the broadening tactic with the passage of the Food Safety Bill S. 510 and the immensely heightened powers of the FDA to regulate even the most minute farm activity. We also saw it in the railroading of Liberty Dollar founder Bernard von NotHaus by the Department of Justice when they used an obscure and loosely worded statute, essentially comparing the coinage of ANY alternative currency, no matter how distant in appearance to U.S. legal tender, to counterfeiting. Now, we are seeing the tactic applied to the 4th Amendment itself, as law enforcement agents are given extreme prejudice to interpret their rules of engagement however they see fit. Such corruption has occurred despite the application of the 4th Amendment, to be sure, but now, the ease at which it can occur and the lack of any redress by citizens is so pronounced, there can be only one outcome; police abuse on an incredible scale.

What we are witnessing is a time honored process exploited by autocrats the world over, now being utilized right here in America. What began with the passage of the FISA Bill and the expansion of government power to tap and monitor any American’s communications without a warrant, we are now seeing in our very neighborhoods. The law is being fogged and obscured until it is no longer clearly defined, which allows police and courts to operate within a vast grey area of legal chicanery. All social structures become warped in the wake of this process until we are no longer able to recognize that which is lawful, and that which is unlawful. In the end, we will discover that almost ANYTHING can be labeled “illegal” by the establishment in such an environment, and that no one, no matter how harmless and abiding, is safe from the storm.

Going Down In Flames…

I see where this is heading, and the destination is grim, but don’t take my word for it, just simply look at what is happening around you. The divide between law enforcement and the citizenry is growing. With the Department of Homeland Security now actively placing local police and sheriff’s departments in military training regiments, in military style gear, and even arming them with tanks and heavy machine guns (yes, tanks and .50 cal machine guns), it is becoming much harder to qualify local law enforcement as a civilian entity, rather than just another extension of the Department of Defense:

Even if military outfits like Northcom are not used openly as a standing army within the U.S., we already have a standing army in the form of men who were once called peace officers, whose mandate was once to “protect and serve”. Now, the words “to protect and serve” are disappearing from police cars nationwide, and we have a law enforcement community gearing up for war! The economic breakdown has exacerbated the situation even further. As states lose more and more funding due to the crashing municipal bond markets, they are now becoming completely dependent on federal cash. And, with federal cash, there are many unfortunate strings attached…

If you have been paying attention to police brutality cases over the past few years, then you have noticed a blatant trend towards swift and immediate unprovoked violence resulting in terminal consequences. When law enforcement is trained for combat, for attack, rather than defense, when they are conditioned to believe that the public is the enemy, and that they are somehow separate, or superior, very bad things begin to happen. Let’s take a short walk down memory lane…

Oscar Grant, 22, was shot in the back by police in Oakland, CA, while restrained and laying on the ground, pleading with officers that he had a four-year-old-daughter. The incident was caught on at least three separate cell phone cameras (which may have been one of the reasons why courts in CA are so keen on allowing warrant-less search and seizure of cell phones). The shooting officer, Johannes Mehserle, was eventually charged with involuntary manslaughter (???) serving a two year sentence and eligible for parole by the end of this year. If his actions had not been caught on video and disseminated across the web, who knows if he would have even been charged at all:

John T. Williams, 50, and nearly deaf in one ear, was shot by Seattle police for whittling a piece of wood while walking across the street. Officer Ian Birk exited his vehicle, claiming Williams was “acting strangely”, yelled at him to drop the knife, then giving him less than ten seconds to comply, fired several rounds from his weapon, killing the man. The officer later claimed that Williams walked towards him in a menacing fashion. Witnesses argued to the contrary. Note that Birk had already drawn his firearm as he exited the vehicle. Also note that Birk did not identify himself as a police officer as is required by law. Williams’ knife was also found folded shut by responding officers to the scene. Birk resigned due to public pressure, but was not charged with a crime:

And most recently, Jose Guerena, 26, and a former marine, was shot 60 times (a sign of undisciplined fire) in Pima County, Arizona, by a SWAT team entering his home also occupied by his wife and four-year-old son. Guerena’s wife stated that she had seen men through the window with guns, but that they could not be identified. Guerena grabbed his rifle (as most marines would) and told his family to hide. The Pima Sheriff’s Department has changed their story on this incident several times now, but this much is clear; the department claimed Guerena fired at them with his AR-15 as they entered the home. This was a lie. Guerena’s weapon had the safety still on after his death. When this fact was made public, Pima admitted that he never fired a shot. Pima claims that they have a warrant for the Guerena home, but have obtained a court order which had it sealed from the public. Why they had it sealed is unknown (did they even have the right house?). The Guerena raid was part of a neighborhood action, supposedly to bust a drug dealing operation in the area. No drugs were found in Guerena’s home. The reason why SWAT was necessary to serve the warrant in the first place is also still unclear:

My purpose in showing you these disturbing videos is not to make you hate cops. It is to illustrate a dangerous trend amongst our civil servants. Where we once had a few “bad apples” to contend with in our police departments, now we have official training handed down from the DOD which practically requires law enforcement officials to undergo a combat mindset, a psychology of aggression. In many cases, I believe, these officers are not doing what they do out of malice or ill intent. They are doing what they do because they are being TRAINED to do it. This is what happens when a society becomes militarized. It cannot be avoided, and it will only get worse from here on. Now imagine a violent element like this being given unlimited power to decide which homes they wish to enter and how they will enter them…

Why I Will Not Submit To A Warrant-less Search…

Constitutional values cannot defend themselves. They require the people to stand firm, and to never yield. Americans today have yielded far too much already, and at some point very soon, we’re going to have to make the hard choice on what is more important; our general safety and personal comfort, or our freedoms and the freedoms of future generations. Like the American Colonials, we have a system that does not serve our best interests, but the interests of an elite few. We are quickly losing our ability to dictate the terms of our own society, and our own destinies. Sadly, we are not yet presenting the determination that the colonials held in the face of this danger. Today, we are a nation mourning its own demise before it has even occurred. We have turned to reluctant compliance and submission. We are, frankly, whiny and pathetic.

This does not have to be.

While fantastic organizations like Oath Keepers are working hard to educate police and military on their sworn duty to uphold and defend Constitutional liberties, we as the citizenry must also show our support and resolve to see that the values and principles outlined in that historic document are not tarnished by apathy. The proverbial line in the sand must be drawn now, or not at all. This means, at the very least, non-compliance with unjust laws that defile our conscience, as well as our heritage.

The common response to this by naysayers would be: “You’ll comply when you have a gun in your face…”

That’s what naysayers throughout history have always said, though. They said it to the Founding Fathers, to Gandhi, and beyond. There will always be another gun to put in the faces of men who fight for the truth of a thing. There will always be men to point those guns at us. The question is, who will be more steadfast? Is the will to dominate really stronger than the will to be free? Can you ever control a people who do not fear you, even at the barrel of a gun? This is the mindset that brought this country to life, and it is a mindset we must rediscover, if we are to have any chance of survival.

You can contact Brandon Smith at: brandon@alt-market.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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