Skip to comments.Yes, You Have Something to Fear, Even if You’re a Law-Abiding Person
Posted on 07/11/2013 11:13:20 AM PDT by Kaslin
Whether we’re talking about NSA spying, cross-border collection and sharing of private financial data by tax-hungry governments, pointlessly intrusive money-laundering laws, or other schemes to give the state more power and authority, we’re often told that “if you’re a law-abiding person, you have nothing to fear.”
But that assumes government is both competent and trustworthy.
You don’t have to be a crazed libertarian like me to realize that those two words are not a good description of Washington.
The IRS scandal is just one recent example of politicians and bureaucrats behaving badly. Heck, this blog is basically just a collection of examples illustrating the incompetence and venality of the public sector, augmented by my snarky comments and economic evangelizing.
That being said, while we may get irritated by government waste, senseless snooping, and onerous taxes, we’re actually lucky.
The people who really suffer are the law-abiding folks (like Martha Boneta) who wind up in the crosshairs of less-than-savory folks in government, which includes not just politicians, but also some law enforcement officials and oftentimes ambitious prosecutors.
And you could be next, even if you’re a goody-two-shoes type who actually obeys speed limits. Simply stated, government is so big and has so many laws that every one of us is probably guilty of something.
And if we cross the wrong bureaucrat, our lives may be ruined – particularly since there are very few checks and balances to restrain these petty tyrants.
Professor Glenn Reynolds (a good guy despite teaching at the University of Tennessee Law School) addresses this issue in avery good article for the Columbia Law Review.
Here’s some of what Professor Reynolds wrote, starting with a brief explanation of the underlying problem.
Prosecutorial discretion poses an increasing threat to justice. The threat has in fact grown more severe to the point of becoming a due process issue. …prosecutors’ discretion to charge—or not to charge—individuals with crimes is a tremendous power, amplified by the large number of laws on the books. …If prosecutors were not motivated by politics, revenge, or other improper motives, the risk of improper prosecution would not be particularly severe. However, such motivations do, in fact, encourage prosecutors to pursue certain individuals, like the gadfly Aaron Swartz, while letting others off the hook—as in the case of Gregory, a popular newscaster generally supportive of the current administration. This problem has been discussed at length in Gene Healy’s Go Directly to Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything and Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day. The upshot of both books is that the proliferation of federal criminal statutes and regulations has reached the point where virtually every citizen, knowingly or not (usually not) is potentially at risk for prosecution.
I’ve already written about the unfairness of giving David Gregory a free passwhen ordinary citizens are punished for similar offenses, so I’m in full agreement that this is a problem.
More specifically, we can’t trust that prosecutors are motivated by justice.
In many cases, we’re talking about deeply flawed individuals motivated by a lust for political power (such as my former debating opponent Elliot Spitzer).
Self-aggrandizing prosecutors seem more than willing to deliberately target certain individuals for unfair persecution, so we need some way of clipping their wings.
Glenn mentions the approach that you might find in a Civics 101 textbook, but he also notes that it’s not an effective check on government abuse.
Traditionally, of course, the grand jury was seen as the major bar to prosecutorial overreaching. The effectiveness of this approach may be seen in the longstanding aphorism that a good prosecutor can persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Grand jury reforms—where grand juries still exist—might encourage grand jurors to exercise more skepticism and educate them more. But grand juries are not constitutionally guaranteed at the state level, and reforming them at the federal level is likely to prove difficult.
"The purpose of government is to reign in the rights of the people.
Heck, I’ve been blaming the elected officials for everything. They make the policy, they fund it, they’re accountable. Yet, they sit on their hands.
The prevailing issue is representation. Blowing steam at the agencies does nothing more than make vapor while Congress sits by and observes if it cares to.
They are the downfall of this country. Just call yourselves closet liberals, for pete's sake.
“Yes, You Have Something to Fear, Even if Youre a Law-Abiding Person”
If you don’t believe it, just ask Mr. Zimmerman.
I read the author referring to himself as a “Libertarian” and I lost all interest.
They are the downfall of this country. Just call yourselves closet liberals, for pete’s sake.
And to think that conservatives can’t understand why their numbers are dwindling. Good thing they aren’t so openly hostile to the only group of people who will stand with them on gun rights, lower taxes and restrained, limited government.
“Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against... We’re after power and we mean it... There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be much easier to deal with.”
- Ayn Rand, 1957 -
Not by choice.