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Bureaucrats and Their Emails

August 16, 1999

President Clinton has been itching to find some way to make government a
major player on the
Internet. So he issued an executive order to establish a working group "to
address unlawful
conduct that involves the use of the Internet."

It is to "prepare a report and recommendations concerning: (1) The extent
to which existing Federal
laws provide a sufficient basis for effective investigation and
prosecution
of unlawful conduct that
involves the use of the Internet, such as the illegal sale of guns,
explosives, controlled substances,
and prescription drugs, as well as fraud and child pornography. (2) The
extent to which new
technology tools, capabilities, or legal authorities may be required for
effective investigation and prosecution
of unlawful conduct that involves the use of the Internet.."

The "prescription drugs" line is the tip-off. The government hopes to
crack
down on the myriad
ways in which the Internet is being used to circumvent established
channels
of government
authority, whether through ideas (Hillary complains there are no
"gatekeepers" on the web) or
goods and services (prescription drugs is just the beginning.

Interestingly, the one area wherein Mr. Clinton's intervention may well
make sense is not
addressed by the executive order, nor is the Working Group instructed to
deal with it: how
government employees may or may not use the Internet. The dot gov domain
is
his to supervise,
unlike the market. Instead, he wants the working group to advise on how to
meddle with other
people's business, how to behave like a vice squad.

In a recently posted column on mises.org I made some mention of how
government
ought to be strictly limited to adjudicating disputes about rights
violations.

A few days later I received the following rather garbled post from someone
at the Federal
Communications Commission ("fcc.gov"). From its tone I concluded it must
have been
someone whose liberal democratic sentiments are simply bubbling over with
excess passion.

Here is part of what the post said:

"Hi: It's no wonder that you and your ilk teach at the 'Ludwig von Mises
Institute' rather than a
real institute of higher learning (does the Institute even exist apart
from
the Internet?), and that
von Mises' work is not taken seriously by anyone with any sort of
intellectual or professional
competence, must less influence or real power. I am always amazed at the
amount of right wing
extremist crap one finds on the net, no doubt because the lonely,
isolated,
powerless proponents of
this sort of paranoid crap have few if any other social outlets, apart
from
their isolated computer
monitors. (I mean, what kind of a culturally illiterate philistine would
be
unable to see the good--
whether characterized as private, public, social or individual--in having
music programs in public
school?) On a happier note, we can rest assured that none of the von Mises
agenda will become
reality, so long as our human world is recognizable as such, i.e., as it
has evolved since
approximately the enlightenment. God willing, the von Mises people will go
the way of the neo-
nazis, anti-semites, luddites, UFO-believers, and so on, ad nauseum,
straight to the dustbin of
history. Have a nice day."

I might as well tell you my response:

"It is not, I suppose, very amazing, after all, that you fire off a note
without checking out any of
your facts. First, I do not teach at the Ludwig von Mises Institute; I am
an adjunct (unpaid)
scholar. Second, I have taught in the Cal State, UC, SUNY systems as well
as in several other
institutions, including the US Military Academy. Third, why are you so
sure
that such established
institutions are better at capturing the truth than those not funded by
the
government? For
example, in the former [institutions supported by the government] the
faculty isn't likely to
challenge the very basis of its own financial support, namely, the
institution of government. Just
goes to show you how reliable you folks in government are when you enter
the fray."

Of course there is much more to say. First, big government is not a
product
of the enlightenment
but of socialist ideology, which has not produced civilization but
barbarism. Second, if it is
cultural illiteracy and luddism you seek, look no further than the
bureaucratic class, which wars
against all genuine innovation. Third, it is an unreliable test of the
truth of idea to examine
whether people holding it have "real power" unless you are convinced and
even devout statist (as
this bureaucrat surely is).

Of course it is largely pointless to argue with a person who believes he
is
inherently superior
because he works in the government's bureaucratic machinery. This is one
of
many things I've
learned in the last several years of participating in fairly vigorously in
Internet communications. I
have 4 or 5 different e-mail addresses. I use one of the screen names on
my
daughter's AOL
account. I contribute some columns to various Web cites. I send posts to web masters of
various cites. I am part of some discussion groups and I fill out surveys
on political issues.

The Internet is a great place to communicate, although there are some
elements to it that aren't
easily adjusted to. One hardly knows the people with whom one is in
contact
and some of them
surprise one with their curious manners and mores, as the correspondence
from the regulatory
agency illustrates.

Usually folks remain polite even in the face of arguments on sensitive
topics, but certainly not
always. Even those who take part in friendly chat-groups often resort to
snide comments instead
of arguments to achieve some kind of satisfaction that's difficult for me
to fathom but must be of
great importance to them. Yet that, too, has its uses: one can decide
pretty quickly whether to
continue communication with someone who is more interested in landing digs
than in getting to the
heart of an issue and resolving it as well as possible.

In short, there is as much variety of humanity now on the Internet as
there
is variety of humanity,
period. Coping with it is a little easier than usual since one does not
have to hang around to be abused,
insulted, offended and so forth. One's terms are fairly easily insisted on
and the exit option can be
exercised without any difficulty.

But conversation and learning on the Internet presupposes a level playing
field of power. It is
somewhat scary to consider that here is an employee of one of the most
powerful regulatory
agencies of the US Federal Government firing off e-mail posts voicing his
statist
convictions, thereby coming mighty close to stepping outside the
boundaries
of his authority. Talk
about a chilling effect!

Maybe Mr. Clinton ought to do some house cleaning before he gets set to
wag
his fingers at the
rest of us for how we are making use of the Internet.

* * * * *

TIBOR R. MACHAN teaches at the School of Business & Economics and Chapman
University
and is an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, which is not funded by
government and has its
physical offices and library in Auburn, Alabama.


Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.

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