Wednesday, July 3, 2013

John Stossel versus Mrs. Ludwig von Mises

John Stossel is out with a column stating that NSA spying is no big whoops. He writes the following in the column:
Many libertarians, outraged by how our government spies on us, call me a "traitor" because I'm not very angry. I understand that the National Security Administration tracking patterns in our emails and phone calls could put us on a terrible, privacy-crushing slippery slope.

But we're not there yet.

Some perspective:

We are less closely watched by government than citizens of other countries.[...]

Thinking about the NSA revelation, I also thought about other things my government does that I really hate. Within a few hours, I had a list of 100 -- it was surprisingly easy[...]

NSA spying seems less horrible than these other abuses, especially if data mining might prevent terrorism.

I suspect people are outraged by the NSA in part because new threats seem scarier than old, familiar ones.
But is government spying a new threat?  And is the fact that we are not closely monitored now, though the data is collected, a real point of comfort?

I consider the most important point that the curious Edward Snowden has made to date is when, in his video interview with Glenn Greenwald, he warned that the NSA has created a "turnkey tyranny" program.  It may not be used now on a broad base against Americans, but it appears that the data gathering is very efficient and, as Snowden warned, in
the months ahead, the years ahead it's only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather then a stipulation of law. And because of that a new leader will be elected, they'll find the switch, say that 'Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.' And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.
Mrs. Ludwig von Mises in her 1976 memoir, My Years with Ludwig von Mises, offered the best rebuttal to the Stossel view. First she made clear that spies were everywhere, when she lived in Austria as the Germans moved in. Spying on citizens is, thus, far from a "new threat." The Germans didn't have the NSA technologies. It was a cruder and less efficient era, but, nevertheless it was simply an earlier method of what the NSA is now doing. And, she discussed how quickly tyranny overtook Germany/Austria:
There were spies everywhere, spies who watched you, misinterpreted the simplest of your actions, and reported you. Household employees who had grown old with families they lived with, suddenly became enemies. Children were taught to observe parents and report them. The Germans had organized everything so thoroughly beforehand that it took only a few days for freedom to turn into tyranny. 
Stossel may have a list of 100 things about government that he really hates, but none of the things he lists come close to being as scary as the building of a massive spy structure that is for all practical purposes as Snoden tells us a turnkey program that could turn a country in "only a few days" from a free country into a  tyrannical one.

That's something Stossel doesn't seem to understand, but which Mrs. Mises experienced first hand and thankfully noted in her memoir so that we all can be forewarned.


  1. Stossel still has a show on Fox Business Network that is also shown on Fox News. He appears weekly on O'Reilly. Judge Napolitano used to have a show on Fox Business Network which was cancelled. The judge never held back in attacking the surveillance state.

    Maybe Stossel wants to keep his job.

    1. This is the mostly likely explanation. I was very disappointed in Stossel when I first heard his justification for the surveillance state.

    2. Stossel doesn't exactly reach across the table and grab O'Reilly by the throat:

  2. I seems pointless to try and perform a ranking here of what evil is worse than the other.

    The fact is when the government spies on you, they are by default treating you as a suspect in a criminal or "terrorist" investigation. It's utterly unacceptable, regardless of the ease and lack of inconvenience with which it can be done.

    I have no idea what John Stossel is talking about here.