Tag: ElCato

New: Spanish-language Library of Liberty

Today we are pleased to launch the Spanish-language Library of Liberty, a project of the Cato Institute—through our website in Spanish, Elcato.org—and Liberty Fund. The library will allow people in Latin America, Spain and beyond to have access to classic works on liberty in Spanish and in various online formats covering a range of topics including economics, law, history, philosophy and political theory.

The first books in the collection include:

  • Bases and Starting Points for the Political Organization of the Argentine Republic by Juan Bautista Alberdi
  • The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek
  • Essay on the Nature of Trade in General by Richard Cantillon
  • Essays on Freedom and Power by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton
  • The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others
  • Freedom and the Law by Bruno Leoni
  • Selected Works by Frédéric Bastiat
  • Planning for Freedom by Ludwig von Mises
  • On Power by Bertrand de Jouvenel
  • Theory of the Cortes or the Great National Congresses of the Kingdoms of Leon and Castile by Francisco Martínez Marina

This project is especially important in the Spanish-speaking world, where the predominant texts on the market and in academia promote ideas and interpretations of history that are hostile to free societies. The vast majority of students and lay persons in Latin America or Spain, for example, have never been exposed to classics such as The Road to Serfdom by Nobel laureate F. A. Hayek, much less had the ability to access the book. Indeed, even if one knew and wished to read these books, it is typically hard to find them in a Spanish-language bookstore. 

It should be no surprise that Spain and its former colonies, burdened with a centuries-long legacy of mercantilism and absolutism, would prove a difficult terrain for the dissemination of classic works on liberty. This is the case, for example, of the Essay on the Nature of Trade in General by Richard Cantillon and of many other texts that demolished arguments for mercantilism. Even the writings of many Latin American founding fathers are still unknown within the Spanish-speaking world, like those by the Argentinean Juan Bautista Alberdi. In his book Bases and Starting Points for the Political Organization of the Argentine Republic, Alberdi states:

“The Spanish colonies were formed for the Treasury, not the Treasury for the colonies. Their legislation was consistent with their fate: they were created to increase tax revenues. In the face of the fiscal interest, the interest of the individual was non-existent. Upon beginning the revolution, we wrote the inviolability of private law into our constitutions; but we left the enduring presence of the ancient cult of the fiscal interest. So, despite the revolution and independence, we have continued to be republics made for the Treasury.”

That text and others in this collection examine the challenge of liberty against power. As David Boaz states in his introduction to Libertarianism: A Primer:

“In a sense there have always been but two political philosophies: liberty and power. Either people should be free to live their lives as they see fit, as long as they respect the equal rights of others, or some people should be able to use force to make other people act in ways they wouldn’t choose.” 

We hope that this Library of Liberty, to which we will continue to add works, will contribute to the spread of the ideas of liberty in the Spanish-speaking world so that societies pursue, in words of Lord Acton, freedom as “the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for the security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life.”  

The Spanish-language Library of Liberty can be accessed through Elcato.org and LibertyFund.org.

The Internet Is Not .gov’s to Regulate

Imagine that Congress passed a law setting up a procedure that could require ordinary citizens like you to remove telephone numbers from your phone book or from the “contacts” list in your phone. What about a policy that cut off the phone lines to an entire building because some of its tenants used the phone to plot thefts or fraud? Would it be okay with you if the user of the numbers coming out of your phone records or the tenants of the cut-off building had been adjudged “rogue” users of the phone?

Cutting off phone lines is the closest familiar parallel to what Congress is considering in two bills nicknamed “SOPA” and “PIPA”—the “Stop Online Piracy Act” and the “PROTECT IP Act.”

Julian Sanchez has vigorously argued several points about these bills. Here, I’ll try to describe what they try to do to the Internet.

Simplifying, every computer and server has an IP (or “Internet Protocol”) address, which is a set of numbers that uniquely identify its location on the Internet. The IP address for the server hosting Cato’s Spanish language site, elcato.org, for example, is 67.192.234.234.

Now, these numbers are hard to remember, so there is a system that translates IP addresses into something more familiar. That’s the domain name system, or “DNS.” The domain name system takes the memorable name that you type into the address bar of your computer, such as elcato.org, and it looks up the IP address so you can be forwarded along to the IP address of your choice.

One of the major ideas behind SOPA and PIPA is to cut Internet sites that violate copyright out of the domain name system. No longer could typing “elcato.org” get you to the Web site you wanted to visit. Much of the debate has been about the legal process for determining whether to strike out a domain name.

But preventing a domain name lookup doesn’t take the site off the Internet. It just makes it slightly harder to access. You can prove it to yourself right now by copying “67.192.234.234” (without the quotes) and plugging it into your address bar. (The Internet is complicated. Some of you might be directed to other Cato sites.) Then come back here and read on, por favor!

The government would require law-abiding citizens to “black out” phone numbers—or Internet service providers to do the same with domain names—for this little effect on wrongdoing? It doesn’t make sense. The practical burdens on the law-abiding Internet service provider would be large. “Blacking out” an entire building—just like a Web site—would cut off the lawful communications right along with the unlawful ones. It’s through-the-looking-glass information control, with enormous potential to obstruct entirely lawful communications and impinge on First Amendment rights.

Which is why many Web sites today are “blacking out” in protest. In various ways, sites like Craigslist.org, Wikipedia, and many others are signaling to their visitors that Congress is threatening the core functioning of the Internet with bills like SOPA and PIPA. And threatening all of our freedom to communicate.

The Internet is not the government’s to regulate. It is an agreement on a set of protocols—a language that computers use to talk to one another. That language is the envelope in which our communications—our First-Amendment-protected speech—travels in hundreds of different forms.

The Internet community is growing in power. (Let’s not be triumphal—government authorities will use every wile to maintain control.) Hopefully the people who get engaged to fight SOPA and PIPA will recognize the many ways that the government regulates and limits information flows through technical means. The federal government exercises tight control over electromagnetic spectrum, for example, and it claims authority to impose public-utility-style regulation of Internet service provision in the name of “net neutrality.”

Under the better view—the view of freedom behind opposition to SOPA and PIPA—these things are not the government’s to regulate.

Cuban Agents Beat Up Young Dissident (and ElCato.org Contributor)

A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba and meet with a group of young dissidents. Despite their early age, these guys had already suffered enormously the rigors of their totalitarian government. One of them had been imprisoned four times for his political activism. Constant official harassment was their daily life. But they remain unrepentant about their desire for liberty.

I’m still in touch with one of the guys I met that day, a young independent journalist. Every week he sends me articles and newsletters reporting instances of human rights abuses, lack of opportunities for young people, and how life is in general in the Castro prison-island. We have published several of his articles on ElCato.org.

Last Sunday, my friend was headed to a meeting of young dissidents when he was intercepted by government thugs. This is how Reporters Without Borders reported what happened next:

An attack by State Security agents on 5 April left Alvaro Yero Felipe, a young Havana-based dissident journalist, with a badly bruised face, a broken nose and a split lip. He was on his way with two friends to a meeting in support of prisoners of conscience when members of the political police intercepted him, took him to a nearby park and gave him a beating. “Yero’s experience is unfortunately representative of the mixture of harassment and brutality used by the authorities to crack down on dissent,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As the government has signed UN human rights conventions, it should logically punish officials who violate the international undertakings it has given.

This incident happened the same week that several U.S. Congressmen met with the Castro brothers in Havana and lavished praised on the eldest dictator, Fidel, to whom one of the congressmen described as the “ultimate survivor.” However, the ultimate survivors are the dissidents like my friend Álvaro Yero, who every day risk their life and limbs in pursuit of liberty. He’s my personal hero.