What Should Government Meddle In?
I’ll go out on a limb here and say, “Almost everything.” Now, before half of you go postal, let me rephrase that. The important question is not what government should be regulating, but how much. So rather than the usual right-vs.-left, all-vs.-nothing battle that only leads to shouting, what we need to discuss is a continuum, where some things, like traffic regulations, are agreed to be rather strict, and others, like what the nation does in its bedrooms, are off most limits. And for you “hands off” types, I challenge you to come up with an area of human interaction where there isn’t something that needs controlling. The bedrooms of the nation, for example, should be sacrosanct, shouldn’t they? Except for sexual abuse, of course. Oh, yes, and the protection of minors. See what I mean?
The theory of civilization that I base this system on stems from my vision of human nature and the laws of good old Mr. Darwin. Human groups tend to automatically stratify over time. Because of superior genes, nutrition, education, wealth, and just plain luck, a certain set of individuals is bound to rise above their fellows, just as a similar group will fall below. This spiral of increasing inequality is not good for either end of the scale or for the rest of us in the middle. Allowed to continue, the condition only gets worse, unless something controls it. Think about the Middle Ages.
This is where humans are unique. We can choose to circumvent the “Survival of the Fittest” law of Darwin in favour of the “Greatest Good for the Greatest Number” philosophy of humanitarians. And before you start quoting Mr. Darwin on how good the law of the jungle might be for the human race, look at recent history. The major accomplishment of every totalitarian regime in the last hundred years has been to destroy their environment for the financial benefit of their leaders.
That is the function of government. To even out the variables, so society gets to take advantage of the maximum abilities of everyone, not just the lucky few that happen to have clawed their way to the top. Equal advantages of education, health care, etc.
And that’s only talking about the legal part of society. 5 – 10% of our compatriots don’t care about following any rules at all and in fact consider it a challenge to get away with breaking the rules and take pleasure in victimizing their weaker brethren. After all, 90% of our laws are meant to regulate 10% of the population.
So, enough of generalities. What happens when we start discussing specifics?
Cell Phone Searches
The recent highly publicized instance of government meddling is the District Attorney-vs.-Apple on the topic of unlocking a terrorist’s cell phone. Both sides are pushing this to the max, because it’s a hot-button topic that everyone cares about: privacy vs. terrorism. While I applaud Apple’s supposed campaign for the freedom of the individual, I suggest that this could be a watershed case in the whole Wild West of the Internet.
Going back to our theory of the necessity of government, it is pretty obvious that the freedom to do what we like without restriction is the perfect milieu for that small number of vultures, both illegal and legit, who take advantage of the less fortunate on the Internet. In a modern, integrated society like we would prefer to live in, we are willing to give up certain freedoms in return for protection from these types.
In the case of unlocking cell phones, there are plenty of precedents. The normal search warrant, for example. If a judge deems that there is evidence to predict a reasonable possibility of criminal activity, then the police have a right to enter your house and search it from top to bottom. This includes the contents of computers and any storage devices. Forget the “back door key.” They can break the door down if they have to.
So why is a phone any different? It isn’t. Simple as that.
Oh, by the way, the argument that Apple shouldn’t be creating a “back door key” so the FBI can open any iPhone? A complete red herring. Do you expect me to believe that Apple created a security system that they can’t get into themselves? Don’t be ridiculous. Apple just doesn’t want to publicize that fact, which is why they’re protesting loud and long. As soon as government makes the presence of this backdoor key a law, Apple can stop protesting and go back to making better phones. And it doesn’t give the FBI a key to everyone’s back door. It gives a judge the right to decide when and where and how the key (the one that everyone knows is there) will be used. This is not rocket science. It isn’t even very complicated legal science. Even legislators can probably understand it.
So anyone like Apple should protest loudly at any government attempt to intrude into our privacy. A great deal of public debate is healthy. However, in the end, the usual rules should apply. Your right to keep evidence of your criminal activity ends where the fact of your criminal activity begins. You’ll get your chance to be proven innocent in court.
In the case of Uber, that means unlicensed, uninsured, unregulated taxi drivers. No wonder they can underprice the legal guys. The question is, does society benefit from having these guys operating?
Remember, this is not an example of individuals standing up for their freedoms. This is a rich multinational corporation, using the groundswell of easy money to get themselves past the revenue-negative startup stage that any business goes through.
But why does it work? Because the legitimate drivers are saddled with government meddling in the form of a restricted number of permits, which supply and demand boosts the price of to around $800,000 (in Vancouver). When you’re servicing the debt on over a half a million dollars, you can hardly keep your prices rock bottom. It’s the same with marketing boards, logging quotas and commercial fishing licenses. Attempts to regulate the market by restrictive licensing must be used with care, if at all.
BTW, I don’t think we can see the recent “Uber Rampage” in Kalamazoo as a condemnation of Uber format. I doubt if regular taxi companies make psychological profiling a priority, and there’s just as good a chance that a regular taxi driver could lose it. Having to drive all day in modern city traffic is enough to send anyone around the bend. Of course, with a dispatcher using GPS, one might expect a driver breaking from normal procedures might be noticed a bit earlier than with an unregulated system like Uber.
One of the biggest problems in any system is the number of laws, and the cost in time and money to keep them up to date. So governments don’t. So there are strange laws around that come from stranger times, and you could still get caught up in one. Laws against wearing snakes or dragging dead horses down the street abound in municipal bylaws
There is a statute in Canada that forbids selling comic books that depict crime. This law was based on 1940s psychological research that tied comic books with juvenile delinquency. There was actually a case in the early 1950s where a news seller was convicted of selling Dick Tracy comics.
Merely one of a hundred examples of how our Criminal Code needs desperate updating. When one of the tenets of the legal system is “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” having a complicated 700-page document laying out that law is not really serving the public that well.
One could go on, but the basic premise is this: society needs to balance the tendency of some people to take advantage of their neighbors against bureaucracy’s tendency to take advantage of everyone. All new situations need to be discussed freely (That’s what parliament and the media are for) to decide how much regulation is required.
That’s not “whether or not.” It’s “how much and where.”