Joseph S. Fulda
Joseph Fulda is a freelance writer living in New York City. He is the author of Eight Steps Towards Libertarianism.
At first glance, it would appear that governmental initiation of coercion is of a piece with the common criminal's initiation of coercion, where "coercion" is a catch-all term for "force, the threat of force, and various forms of fraud--which rely on deception, rather than the use or threatened use of violence." However, at second glance, there is a different and opposing dynamic also at play, which arises from the normal practices of most overreaching governments to also diligently seek to prevent, deter, and punish those crimes that are properly deemed criminal--the mala in se--namely those acts by private citizens who themselves use force or fraud to bypass the will of an innocent other.
Oftentimes, the business of preventing and deterring the wrongful use of coercion by criminals, however paradoxical it may seem, prevents the government from similar incursions.
The most salient and timely example concerns the privacy of records in databases. But for the curse of identity thieves, the federal government would have, I do not doubt, larger, more accessible, less secure databases linked by the ubiquitous social security number. Long ago, the government reneged on its implicit pledge--and I am old enough to have it printed on my own social security card--that it was "not for identification." Now, with identity theft a serious problem, both the government and ordinary folk have become increasingly reluctant to rely on this or any other one identifier. It is no longer preprinted on tax return labels, no longer used as driver license numbers, and most colleges have abandoned its use as the student and faculty ID numbers.
What therefore appears at first glance to be an unmitigated curse-criminal impersonation to perpetrate fraud--is, on further analysis, a mixed blessing. It is normally true that the best way to fight fire (including the "fire" of violence, force, and fraud) to which George Washington once famously compared government ("a dangerous servant and a fearful master," he said)--is to douse it with water--"water" being argument, persuasion, the political processes of representative government ranging from petitions to election campaigns, and the various, other volitive measures (boycotts, for instance) usually advocated by libertarians. Sometimes, though, fighting fire with fire works when absolutely nothing else does.
Identity thieves appear to have achieved what countless articles and speeches by libertarians, and numerous bills and measures duly put into the hoppers of the House of Representative and the Senate have not achieved. It is curious, but true, that in some cases, criminals may be able to control government's excesses when neither endless free speech nor the political process appears capable of doing what must be done. *
"He that complies against his will, is of his own opinion still." --Samuel Butler