Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

State to Young People: You Belong to Me

Under the benign headline “Turning Apathy Into Good Deeds,” former secretary of defense Melvin Laird endorses a strikingly authoritarian proposal: “a system of compulsory universal civil service for young people.” Laird recognizes that the military doesn’t need all the recruits a draft would produce and that today’s high-tech military needs longer-term training and commitment. But the drawn-out war in Iraq threatens to discourage future enlistments. So “universal service” might pressure just enough young people to join the army, while also producing a bumper crop of slave labor for schools, Head Start, Peace Corps, hospitals, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the State Department.

Laird thinks such a program would “foster a culture of responsibility for our democracy.” Not among free and responsible people, it wouldn’t. It may be no accident that Laird repeatedly mentions democracy, but the words freedom and liberty–the fundamental values of America, which our constitutional republic was created to protect–do not appear in his piece.

Laird does not address how you square compulsory service with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Laird’s proposed “service” is clearly involuntary.

For generations and centuries, old people have complained that today’s young people just don’t appreciate the sacrifices of their elders. They talk too loud and they don’t care about the community. They need, in the words of William James, “to get the childishness knocked out of them, and to come back into society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideas.”

And meanwhile, they can do a lot of useful things that we older taxpayers would like to have done but don’t want to pay for. After all, in a market economy, if you want more people working in hospitals or day-care centers, you can pay them to do so. And if you don’t think $2.9 trillion is enough to pay for all the useful services of the federal government, you can propose a tax increase. But how much easier it might seem just to commandeer four million free or cheap laborers.

Of course, they’re not really so cheap. You do have to pay them something. And you’ll need massive new layers of bureaucracy to manage four million people (the approximate number of Americans who turn 18 each year).

And then there are the opportunity costs.  Workers will be allocated to government make-work jobs instead of the jobs where the market demand is strongest. The economy will be less efficient and less productive. As Doug Bandow writes, “paying young people to sweep floors entails the cost of forgoing whatever else we could do with that money and the cost of forgoing whatever else those young people could do with their time. An additional dollar spent on medical research might be a better investment than one used to add an extra hospital helper; an additional young person who finished school and entered the field of biogenetics might increase social welfare more than one more kid shelving books in a library.”

What kind of message does compulsory service send to young people? It tells them that they are national resources, state property, that they do not own themselves. That’s not the message the Founders thought they were sending in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It’s not an attitude appropriate for citizens of a free society. It’s a collectivist, authoritarian concept. It says, with much less charm than the old song, “You belong to me.”

Melvin Laird should be ashamed. So should John Edwards.

Announcing: Harper’s Law

Mine is a simple — dumb, even — adaptation of Metcalfe’s Law.

“The security and privacy risks increase proportionally to the square of the number of users of the data.”

— First quoted in this eWeek article about the electronic employment verification system included in the current immigration bill.

(I actually suspect that Briscoe’s et al’s refinement of Metcalfe’s law is more accurate, but that’s just so complicated.)

Senate Amendment Guts Immigration Reform

The Senate’s vote yesterday to cut the number of temporary worker visas in half knocks a big hole in the comprehensive immigration reform proposal now being debated in Congress. As I’ve written in a recent Free Trade Bulletin, allowing a sufficient number of foreign-born workers to enter the country legally to meet the obvious demand of our labor market is absolutely necessary if we want to reduce illegal immigration.

Ignoring our policy advice, the Senate voted 74-24 to adopt an amendment by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that would cut the number of annual temporary “Y visas” from 400,000 to 200,000. That number is almost certainly too low to provide the workers that our growing economy needs to fill jobs at the lower end the skill ladder for which there simply are not enough Americans available to fill them. The result, if the lower cap stands, will be continued illegal immigration.

The irony is that many of the senators voting to drastically reduce temporary visas are the same senators who warn that we should not repeat the mistake of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. That bill legalized 2.7 million illegal immigrants but was unable to stop more immigrants from entering the country illegally despite beefed-up enforcement. The real flaw of the 1986 law, however, was its complete lack of any temporary worker program to provide for future, legal workers.

By adopting the Bingaman amendment, a majority of senators have turned the current reform effort into something much more like the failed 1986 law. They have kicked the illegal immigration can down the road, leaving it to a future Congress to find a lasting solution.

Abortion Restrictions, Desperate Women, and Children Without Smiles

Moebius syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes facial paralysis, impaired speech, limb deformities such as club foot, difficulties eating, autism and an inability to smile. Moebius syndrome may have genetic roots but is also caused by misoprostol, a drug commonly used to induce abortions. In Brazil, where elective abortions are illegal, misoprostol is cheap and readily available. Moebius syndrome appears in 20% of children born after failed misoprostol abortions. Unfortunately, misoprostol abortions are also not very effective and 80% result in the pregnancy going to term. “Since the mid-1990s, dozens of cases of Moebius syndrome have been linked to misoprostol.” See the May 11, 2007 issue of Science [pdf].

Defining Misconduct Down

When the police search an innocent person, there will be no criminal case.  So no criminal court judge will review the legality of the search.  Even putting aside the airport searches, there must be tens of thousands of such ’innocent searches’ each year.  In this category of cases, the only real “check” on unlawful police conduct is a civil lawsuit.  As a practical matter, in most cases, the party aggrieved is not going to bother to hire a lawyer to sue the police because he was roughed up or whatever.  In a small percentage of cases, the party aggrieved will incur legal expenses and pursue the case.   But the Supreme Court is increasingly hostile to such lawsuits.   Excerpt from today’s LA Times:

In December 2001, Los Angeles County sheriffs were looking for four black suspects in an identity-theft scheme. One of them was known to have a gun. When the deputies set out to raid a home in Lancaster, they did not know the suspects had moved three months earlier. Rettele had bought the home in September and lived there with Sadler and her 17-year-old son.

At 7 a.m., seven deputies with guns drawn came to the door and were let in by the teenager. He was ordered to lie face down.

The deputies then entered the bedroom and ordered Rettele and Sadler to get up and to show their hands. They protested they were not wearing clothes, but the officers insisted they stand naked next to the bed for a minute or two.

After a few minutes, the deputies admitted they had made a mistake, apologized and left. …

Without bothering to hear arguments in the case, the Supreme Court agreed and ruled for the deputies. …

John Burton, a Pasadena lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said his clients had left California and were living in Kansas.

“I think this means we are in a dark period for the Supreme Court,” Burton said. “This was a case of incompetent officers finding themselves in the home of completely innocent people, and knowing they are not suspects, orders them out of bed stark naked. This is bullying, and it needs to be reined in.”

I agree.  The government lawyers say the deputies “didn’t know” the suspects had moved three months earlier.  Well, they should have.  This is the distressing trend–too often the police are skipping the investigative work and raiding homes.  Conservatives usually say, “well, if the police run amok, people can sue.”   Here, the Supreme Court said the couple’s claim is so weak that it should not even be argued before a jury.  And the high court did not even bother to have attorneys fully brief and argue this matter before them.  This action sets the tone for future lawsuits.

As I said, most innocent people will let police misconduct (non-severe) go.  They will not even consult an attorney.  After this ruling, the subset of aggrieved individuals who do meet with an attorney may be told that they would just be wasting their time and money … that their case will very likely just get tossed out of court. 

Bottom line: if police misconduct goes unchecked, we will get more of it.