08 September 2013


It's a familiar, but disastrous, train of thought: government perceives a problem, government thinks it knows the cause of the problem, government pumps resources into the agencies that allegedly deal with the alleged cause of the problem. So we have, for instance, not-very-effective overseas aid agencies, bloated militaries, corrupt farm support policies and, now, Stalinist surveillance bodies on which the US spends $80 billion a year. These agencies are self-entrenching. They have in common the power to resist reform that lavish government funding gives them. But the security industry has another weapon it can deploy to keep enriching itself: fear.

Only forty years removed from the blackmail-tinged reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA [US National Security Agency] has developed an image which implies the agency is vacuuming up more than enough incriminating phone records, emails and text/sext messages to politically torpedo any rank-and-file congressman, should that congressman step out of line. And here's the thing: for all the agita intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of governement surveillance. That doesn't weaken the NSA - on the contrary, it serves to politically strengthen the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA 1) probably has absolutely everything on them and 2) could use that stuff against them. Saying Boo To A Ghost: It's No Secret Why Congress Fears Crossing The NSA, David Sirota, NSFWCORP, 22 August (link expires in 48 hours)
Here's another idea: why not decide what we really want to achieve - not as a government, but as a society - and target that? If we want to reduce the number of people killed by random acts of violence, why not issue Social Policy Bonds that target such a metric and reward people for working within the law to reduce terrorist acts. Perhaps we might think more broadly, and decide that we want to reduce all premature deaths, however caused. In which case, we could issue Health Bonds. Either way, we'd have a debate about exactly what we want to achieve, without having every aspect of our behaviour surveilled and recorded by government and its private sector contractors. Something which is quite possibly illegal, and which no ordinary people actually want.

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