Monday, November 25, 2013

Move Review: "Terms and Conditions May Apply"

I just viewed the movie "Terms and Conditions May Apply". While it doesn't seem to be a film produced by libertarians, it does a decent job highlighting how extensive the collection, permanent storage, and use of information about us has become. And it is alarming, even to those of us who were quite aware of the situation: nothing - nothing - you share online is really private. No matter how long you have known this, it remains a stunning fact.

A large amount of this information sharing is something we agree to without fully realizing it. This, of course, does not violate libertarianism; we just sign contracts without reading them. Dumb, but not illegal. (I might add, a lot of this legalese garbage is only required because of a vast number of absurd, anti-libertarian lawsuits that are allowed in today's society). Of course, I do not argue that all information should be private. 100% privacy and 0% privacy would both be unnecessary, impractical, and destructive. It should be up to the individual to strike the right balance. Unfortunately, many people- due to ignorance and/or laziness- are not making these decisions for themselves as they should, and end up giving businesses vast quantities of data under conditions that allow it to be used differently than they would expect. It's good to see efforts to educate others about the situation as this film does.

I do not agree that "privacy legislation" is the solution to businesses collecting, storing, and sharing our data, as this film seems to suggest at a few points. First of all, it's impossible to believe any legislation coming out of Washington D.C. would actually restrict data collection, storage, and sharing valued so highly by politicians and large corporations (which donate to politicians). Secondly, it's not a legitimate role of the state, and would be unconstitutional, for the government to control the contracts people make with businesses about their data.

The other entity collecting, storing, and using our info is the government. As noted at the end of the film, the Snowden leaks have revealed a trove of additional details about what’s really going on, but there is still a lot we don’t know. However, we know enough to say there’s a gigantic surveillance state that fundamentally violates the 4th Amendment. While government does directly collect information about us, most of the time it does so indirectly, by forcing businesses like Verizon, Google, or Facebook to turn over data. Shamefully, there has been little resistance to this by corporations.

Governments possessing our private information are a much greater concern than business possessing it. Businesses cannot obtain your information by force; you have to give it to them. Business cannot use the information for much more than improving marketing, which is actually a good thing (if we are going to see an advertisement, its better if it provides us with useful information). Governments, on the other hand, can abuse the information (inadvertently or not) and do anything with it, including entering your home, detaining you, and throwing you in jail, or worse.

The film takes on the common argument "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide". It also provides the correct answer, that's garbage nobody really believes and puts to practice. (Next time someone offers that argument, see if he is willing to turn over all his passwords, keys, etc. or have cameras installed in his home.) There are plenty of activities that are not wrong yet may need to remain private. Humans act different- self-censoring- when they are being watched, and the end of the film brilliantly demonstrates this, when the crew meets Mark Zuckerberg, who asks to not be recorded and then acts differently when the cameras are "turned off".

It may be possible for all this to change, but all the powerful business and governmental interests are lined up behind the status quo, meaning the only hope is changing the minds of millions of Americans. It is hard to see a widespread recognition of the value of privacy trump the lazy convenience of going with the flow. Whatever happens, all we can do now is be prudent with what we share, knowing that whatever we post online or do in public view is likely recorded, analyzed, and permanently stored by someone else.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Some "Free Country": Why is it Illegal to Trade with an Employer?

One of the most basic components of liberty is freedom of trade. Yet in this "free country", it's illegal for me to make numerous trades with an employer. Back in the days when I was young and unskilled with no work history, I looked for months before I could find someone willing to hire me. There was plenty of work to be done at hundreds of businesses around me, but I wasn't allowed to do it and build the skills and reputation needed to start climbing the ladder. All because I wasn't productive enough, or at least could not prove that with a work history.

Why wasn't I productive "enough"? I was productive- just about anyone can do hundreds of basic jobs with no significant training costs. But I wasn't productive enough because there was a barrier that neither I nor my potential employers had any control over. I had to be worth a specific amount of money per hour- something north of $8 once all employer costs are counted. Sounds bizarre, arbitrary, and unjust, right? It is, and it is called the minimum wage. And it's still outlawing jobs today, and many people that want to raise this barrier even higher. Worse, they actually think they are being helpful and caring.

But the minimum wage doesn't increase anyone's productivity. It only outlaws the employment of anyone who doesn't have the ability to produce whatever arbitrary value is set by the state. As a result, those people, which I was one of, earn a wage of $0.00. They miss out on an income, the chance to build their skills, and establish a work record; and our economy loses out on their production and is that much poorer as a result.

Though I eventually made it past that barrier, I continue to face others just as arbitrary and unjust. Where I'm currently employed there is no shortage of work to be done, and by supervisors are very happy with my productivity. Meanwhile, my budget is tight and I'd be happy to trade additional hours of labor to increase my income. It's another trade that benefits both of us, but it's illegal.

The same federal legislation that started the minimum wage barrier is also outlawing other trades. I can't work more than 40 hours a week without my employer being forced to pay an "overtime" rate of 150%. They can't afford to do this right now, so I do not have the opportunity to easily increase my income and they do not have the opportunity to benefit from the extra labor of an experienced employee.

As a result, I and many others in my shoes are forced to look for a secondary job elsewhere to get the same number of hours per week (say, 60) without overtime pay rates. Overtime pay law does not actually give us extra pay, it only instead limits choices for workers like me. Choices I would certainly make- just consider the extra costs I face by working for two employers instead of one. Upfront, I'll have to hunt for the job, interview, deal with training; and then daily face an extra commute and uniform changes, all while balancing the schedules between the two. The math quickly becomes clear: I'd be much better off doing over 40 hours with just my current employer - but once again people that think they are helping workers are just making life a whole lot harder for them.

If you're the average reader, you're supportive of the web of regulations in place today, including minimum wage and overtime pay. Do you realize the harm you are causing with these policies you support, which limit choices for employees, reduces our productivity (and thus the whole economy's), and violates our most basic liberties such as freedom to trade? How can you possibly justify this? Let us make our own choices, and you make your own. Everyday issues like these is why I am a libertarian, the only ethically, economically, logically sound political philosophy I can find.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Government Worker's Day, Again

As Laurence Vance points out, "Veteran's Day" is the third holiday (after Memorial Day and Independence day) Americans celebrate and honor certain government workers that make up the military and increasingly, police and firemen and such:
 This holiday began as Armistice Day – a day to commemorate the signing of the armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month that ended fighting on the Western Front in World War I, "the war to end all wars." A few years after World War II, the holiday was changed to Veterans Day as a tribute to all soldiers who fought for their country. Veterans Day has now become a day to honor, not just those who have served in the military during wartime, but those who have served during peacetime or are serving now. It is now just a day to honor all things military.
Unfortunately, these government workers working in the military are some of the most expensive, unnecessary, and destructive of the bunch. Why? Instead of serving as only a means of self-defense,  most everything they do is a boondoggle, and it involves exploding property and killing innocent people- activity that would be criminal in any other situation. What is possibly honorable about that? Nothing. To the contrary, it is dishonorable. I would be ashamed if I were a military veteran. We should not honor them or thank them for their service to the state its corporate benefactors. They should not accept our thanks, but rather apologize to us for helping to further destroy our freedoms and possibly putting us in greater danger by provoking blowback.