Friday, January 19, 2018

What’s The Exchange Rate?

     I’ve been castigated for my quirky titling in the past, and I’ve been compelled to admit that it can be difficult to discern my subject for the day from my essays’ titles. Therefore, a prefatory warning: The following essay is not about money and currency.

     Students of monetary history can reel off the great monetary disasters of the past:

     Each of these events underscores a critical truth about money, its necessary properties, and the role of faith in supporting an irredeemable currency. Faith is probably the most important of all the requirements a fiat currency can possess: more specifically, the faith of those compelled to accept the currency that it will remain capable of buying what they need and want. When that faith evaporates, the currency bottoms out, and the relevant economy collapses.

     The most common clue to a runaway inflation in progress is an unstable exchange rate of the inflating currency against the currencies maintained by other governments. Of course, if the other governments are also inflating their currencies, it can be a difficult metric to assess. However, in the usual case there’s a still better “exchange rate” that will remain trustworthy regardless of the machinations of governments: the price of a physical commodity when purchased with the currency of interest. A “fully mature” hyperinflation is known by the utter unacceptability of the currency: its “exchange rate” against more stable currencies is infinite, and there are no physical goods that can be purchased with it.

     But a little thought will lead one to realize that every price, regardless of the item being purchased or the currency unit at issue, constitutes an exchange rate. A little more thought suffices to reach the insight that the concept applies to political goals and premises with equal validity.

     Just now, there’s a foofaurauw in progress over the “FISA court.” According to “national security correspondent” Sara Carter, a brief memo about the court is about to blow its lid off, exposing a great deal of political skullduggery whose perpetrators concealed it under the aegis of “national security.”

     That’s the end of the sneer quotes. Simply assume them henceforward.

     I don’t doubt that quite a bit of wrongdoing, some of it at felony levels, have been committed by our Surveillance State. Why, after all, should the intelligence agencies and their technological supports be deemed incorruptible, when corruption has permeated every other organ of the federal government? That the powers of the intelligence services were put to the political ends of the Obama Administration and the Democrat Party surprises me not at all. Nor do I expect to be surprised by its scope or its magnitude.

     To me, the important message behind this evolving scandal is about the exchange rate between freedom and national security.

     More than two years ago, I wrote:

     I have an ambivalent relationship with national defense and a great deal of difficulty with “national security.” To take the second matter first, I dispute whether Americans’ security – i.e., our protections against invasion, infringement of our rights, attacks on our material well-being, and general latitude of action both here and abroad – is truly advanced by the laws and regulations promulgated in the name of “national security.” It’s an expensive business whose return on investment is dubious. Nevertheless, our political elite persists in paying lip service to the concept even as high-profile violators of the security rules proliferate and are found in ever higher positions.

     Concerning national defense, I dispute that either our political class or Americans generally would agree on what we’re supposed to be defending ourselves from. The chaos at our southern border is an invasion by another name; it hardly matters that the invaders generally arrive unarmed, for the damage they do to our society doesn’t require weaponry.

     Concerning infringement of our rights, the 88,000 governments of these United States are doing a superlative job of reducing us to totalitarian subjection. We get no protection from them from our Army, Navy, or Air Force. Indeed, I’ve speculated that should our men at arms come to our defense, the mode will be convulsive in the extreme.

     The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under the provisions of which the “FISA court” was created, was supposed to apply to...wait for it...agents of foreign powers. Now, given that there are foreign powers that wish the United States ill and would like to see it brought low, that sounds like a reasonable provision for our national security. What could be less objectionable than allowing the FBI to wiretap people who want to hurt our nation?

     But all things have their price. The most obvious price of these new powers in the hands of the federal government was a reduction in the privacy of Americans’ communications. After all, if the FBI deems you a “suspected foreign agent” before the FISA court, and you’re not even allowed to know about the proceedings, how are you to oppose its demand for the power to wiretap and monitor you? A less obvious but far more destructive price would eventually be paid: the use of the surveillance powers by the party in power against its political adversaries.

     The exchange rate – how much we must pay in lost freedom and surrendered privacy for an increment in our national security – is unstable. It’s never been stable. This is only just coming to light.

     Any regular Gentle Reader will already know that I distrust government, regardless of who runs it or how it’s organized. A government that can snoop into its subjects’ personal communications and movement is well nigh unstoppable. That degree of power shouldn’t be trusted to anyone.

     But the great irony of the thing, the element that makes it a laugh-so-you-won’t-cry spectacle, is this: they who most fiercely defend FISA and the powers its grants can’t defend it on any objective basis. They’d love to show you the evidence, but it’s “classified.” We’re told we need to take it on faith.

     We have no material basis for establishing an exchange rate between our freedom and privacy and the increase in national security justly attributable to FISA. Indeed, we can’t even be certain we know all of the misdeeds committed with its provisions.

     All the usual boilerplate phrases have been deployed in FISA’s defense. “Espionage.” “Terrorism.” “Compelling government interest.” “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.” And of course, “national security.” As the scandals mushroom, I’m certain we’ll be hearing them all again, probably at eardrum-shattering volume. And I find myself wondering whether President Trump, who is only the most visible, most prominent victim of the Surveillance State, possesses the political and moral fortitude required to sweep it away.


pc-not said...

Thanks for the enlightenment, Fran. Over the coarse of the last year, more Americans are getting up to speed on this whole national security usurpation of liberty. A corollary to your explanation might be the re-thinking of the overused concept of "fighting for our freedom", when used to describe a member of the military stationed in some remote corner of the globe. Having served myself for a brief stint and talking to younger family members and friends currently in uniform, this is one of the last things they feel while being put in harms way in the shitholes of the world.

Bob T. said...

Some old chestnuts regarding "fighting for peace" and "whoring for virginity" come to mind.