Hackers, Pirates, Brats

The Afghanistan Wikileaks story has gotten progressively more interesting in the weeks since it broke.  Initial critics rightfully blasted Julian Assange’s outfit for endangering the lives of those who have collaborated with NATO forces.  When prompted in a July 28th  interview by Today‘s Merideth Vieira, the Australian-born Assange admitted (to his credit) the possibility that further killing could result from his leak campaign.   So in an effort to save lives from American “murder,” as Wikileaks alleged in their famous Apache helicopter video from earlier this year, the once prodigy hacker and his crew have wrecklessly endangered the lives of others.

The leaks also have the secondary effect of making cooperation with American forces less appealing to any potential partners in future conflicts.  For this, some observers have concluded that Wikileaks is basically an enemy of the United States.  Its no coincidence that Iceland happens to be a base for the site or that Pirate Bay, Sweden’s ridiculous information liberators, have extended a hand of complicity to securely host the leak documents.  It would seem silly to think that Scandinavians have been conspiring in enmity against America, but such a postulation is not far off the mark.  In terms of international relations theory, these countries are known as freeriders.  Iceland is a quintessential case.  During the Cold War, America operated bases there and since that time, Iceland’s military has been virtually nonexistent.  So its not surprising that there has come to be such contempt for the military, or the idea that outside of their sheltered paradise, there exists a brutal world that sometimes necessitates the use of force.

Swedish pirates and Icelandic scofflaws are just the tip of the iceberg of today’s self-indulgent wannabe hacker heroes.  Recall the modern day anarchist, who instead of hurling a bomb like a good nineteenth century revolutionary, thanked today’s finest industrialist by hurling a pie in his face.  This was the case for Bill Gates when he visted Belgium in 1998.  So if you aspire to invent new technologies, increase worker productivity, and bless humanity by single-handedly launching an information revolution, not only will governments seek to double tax your earnings and capital gains, you should also expect occasional vollies of pie as your just dessert.  While Assange aspires to liberate secrets from the vaults of the state, those like Pirate Bay seek to terminate copyrights and all intellectual property protections.  To these starry-eyed warrior geeks, no secret is worth keeping, and all information should be freely accessible.  But if we compelled all computer code to be open-source or all pharmaceuticals researchers to immediately disclose their formulas, the only ones who would produce these goods for us would be the spoiled hacker types who do this stuff on their spare time.  They have no comprehension of economic utility or value, or their necessary relationship to work and sacrifice.

Perhaps these hacker pirates are best seen as little leather-clad Neos who feel they have moral license to run around with their figurative guns blazing, reducing Agent Smith’s marble lobby to flying chips and plaster.  In a top-notch piece by the Christian Science Monitor, former CIA officer Jerrold Post explains that the same psychological motivations of spies holds true for the Afghanistan Wikileakers.  While some people betray secrets for money or sex, others are motivated by ideology or ego.  And whether we consider the American private who initiated the leak or Assange and Pirate Bay who obliged, its the confluence of ideology and ego that satisfies these bored, ungrateful, uncomprehending brats in their quest for significance and belonging.  How sad it is that so much energy and talent of youth are poured into counterproductive and downright dangerous channels.

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Markets, the Missed Opportunity

As President Obama’s health insurance reform becomes a reality, its clear that what’s missing is the one best opportunity to get things right: the free market.  Although the president dismissed the market in saying  “Well, we’ve tried that,” nothing could be further from the truth.  Throughout the year of debate on the health bill, repeated calls by conservatives to allow for interstate competition of insurance plans were roundly ignored.  But if we were to try this, as well as decouple the plans from employer benefits, we would lower the barrier to market entry.  Then many firms would rush to compete for each state’s population of savvy customers, offering plans at lower prices.  Instead of looking to unsustainable free lunch subsidies and depending on the guesswork of Washington bureaucrats, we could have a dynamic system not unlike our current auto insurance market.  Then even a 25 year-old Starbucks barrista would not need to stay on his parents’ plan,  and maybe would no longer need to shack up in their basement as is the rage in nanny states like Italy.

The twenty-something loafer subsidy is not the only incentive in the current insurance reform working against us.  A redistributive tax-and-subsidy transfer of wealth will now extend the entitlement ethic to families making up to $88,000 a year!  While these perverse incentives further undermine our collective sense of personal responsibility, we also must cope with a general rise in taxes resulting from the legislation’s inevitable cost overruns.  Gird your wallets also as progressive activists file lawsuits to expand the entitlement footholds established by this legislation.  All this trouble heaps on top of Medicare and Medicaid sustainability issues that went unaddressed in the current reform.

As we begin to see the impacts of the reform legislation around us, we will do well to return our attention to the promise of the free market.  Top-down solutions failed the centrally-planned economies of the twentieth century, but the free market brought unprecedented prosperity to people of all stripes in the West.  Even glorious nanny state paradises like Sweden have turned away from big government after a time of accepting high unemployment and economic dysfunction.  Instead of propagating the lie of the free lunch, we should accord respect to individuals and let them make the tough choices only they can make to improve their own lot.  If we let go of the temptation to tax and subsidize beyond the scope of our already-established obligations, we will be able to sustain our collective prosperity.  Real progress for those in need does not come from redistribution but through opportunities afforded only by the free market.

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