Freedom ‘20

1993

Many lifetimes ago, a young worker in the City of London watched as, in response to a large IRA bomb attack, armed police officers were deployed to patrol the streets and the road entrances to the area had permanent checkpoints installed and manned around the clock.

That young worker watched in horror as his fellow citizens happily accepted this radical change to the method of policing in response to a single event which, arguably, was a result of a multiple failures of policing and intelligence-gathering (for example; how did a purchase of 1 tonne of ammonia nitrate go unrecorded?).

2001, 2005, 2006

Eight years later, further radical changes were made to anti-terror legislation following the 911 terror attacks in New York and Washington DC. A further increase in powers was implemented in 2005 and yet again the following year as a reaction to the London attacks in 2005, including the ability to hold suspects without charge for 28 days and impose house arrest without a conviction.

Similar legislation was passed in other countries throughout this period.

Australia, for example, has passed 82 anti-terrorism laws since 2001. It might be argued that, given the comparative low level of attacks since 2001 (12 deaths, including the perpetrators) in Australia, this legislation has been incredibly successful. An alternate opinion might be that there’s been significant overreach relative to the low level of domestic threat.

2018

A decade following the financial crisis of 2008, Australia passed the Financial Sector Legislation Amendment (Crisis Resolution Powers and Other Measures) Act 2018 creating further powers to handle future financial crises.

The media scrutiny of this legislation was woefully shallow, otherwise you might have read somewhere, anywhere, that the legislation allows for “bail-ins”. That is, the funds in your bank account can be accessed by the Reserve Bank of Australia to bail out the retail banks.

2020

In response to the unclear threat of the China virus, legislative and policing precedents were overturned in a matter of days by governments around the world. In the largest abuse of Eminent Domain since 1066, businesses were ordered to cease trading, police were given powers to fine and arrest those who were not complying with highly dubious and contradictory guidelines for social distancing.

Social and tradition media has plenty of examples of police overreach as a consequence, from police drones buzzing hikers in the Derbyshire Peak District, to Yorkshire police threatening, “to make something up, who they gonna believe, me or you?”, and a lone swimmer manhandled and arrested in Bondi for the crime of exercising alone.

The Australian Prime Minister expressed a desire for a social tracking app to be made compulsory for all citizens (and then changed his mind after some horror was expressed by anyone with the IQ above a gnat).

Many of these emergency measures will eventually be challenged in the courts and will be overturned or reduced in severity. The precedent suggested by the chronology described above is the legislation will then be amended to a form less likely to fail in the courts. i.e. the powers will remain, just with tighter legal wording.

Bill’s Opinion

As far as I’m aware, none of this legislation has ever been wound back. For example, the UK’s prevention of terrorism acts were initially designed to be temporary and had to be frequently renewed by Parliament. These measures are now permanent.

Similarly, financial and taxation legislation has only moved in one direction since, well, since the creation of the concept of income tax to pay for the Napoleonic Wars.

It is looking increasingly likely the fatality rate of this virus is nowhere near that predicted by the experts (who’d have thought that multi-variable computer models might not give accurate results?). Potentially, the final fatality rate is going to fall within the range of 0.1 – 0.6%, or about as bad as strong version of the seasonal ‘flu.

In which case, the global governmental response is disproportionate and should be wound back immediately.

But that’s not the point. Even if this virus was as dangerous or worse than, say, the Spanish Flu (2.5% fatality rate), there’s a bigger question you need to ask yourself:

“Am I OK with all of this?”.

Well punk, are ya?

7 Replies to “Freedom ‘20”

  1. I’ll provide an early response.

    To your last question, “am I okay with all of this?”, my answer is typically no. For much of what is visible, and nearly all that is not, there is poor justification for the response. But the answer to the next most obvious question around “what do I do about this uncomfortable feeling” has a depressing answer. Because I am comfortable keeping to myself, and rocking the boat seems difficult. I prefer to not recognise the former answer, to reduce the dissonance found in cognition of the second. In possibly related news, my recycling bin appears to have shrunk recently.

    At work, the unprecedented forbearance being provided by banks and other funders is likely prove very difficult toothpaste to get back in its tube. Undoing all this will be very difficult, with moral hazard taking on new and different meanings.

    To bail-ins, I have some reasonable experience in these areas, which is now happily behind me. While the legislation does not appear to rule out retail depositors being bailed in, I suspect it will be partly left vague so that the regulators can, in the future, bail in wholesale funders, who choose to call themselves “depositors” and get around the definition. This done at the expense of vagueness for retail depositors. Having done this myself, for similar (and other) reasons, I am supportive of some built-in vagueness. I also have no sympathy for professional “senior unsecured” bond holders, or other hybrid investors being bailed in. They were fooling themselves anyway, and had for too long taken advantage of an implicit guarantee from governments that they would be bailed out, and often were. The changes are mostly welcome, and allow for nuance in response that would otherwise be exploited by the sophisticated. This is not likely to be unintended.

    Conspiracy may be found in the wording, in that the sophisticated run the system and will use it for their protection, but there are examples of bail-ins protecting retail and impacting wholesale already in Europe.

  2. As others have pointed out, some Western countries were freer before they became fully democratic. The government didn’t have much to do with ordinary people. Americans were freer under the British Empire than they are now, in terms of the taxes and regulations they rebelled against.

    These impositions on our liberty creep up and compound over time. There’s a big push for them during a crisis, but no corresponding push back once the crisis has passed.

    If George Orwell arrived here in a time machine, he’d look around and say, yup, about half way there.

  3. I think it’s important to note that there has been quite overwhelming support for these changes and very little resistance against them.

    I’ve posted elsewhere, there is a strong vein of the oedipal complex about this. It’s not the state forcing this, it’s people demanding an illusion of safety in exchange for dependency. The politicians are largely just following the tide.

    1. The overwhelming support is found in richer countries where individuals have savings, access to credit and a strong welfare safety net. All of which presume that banks won’t fail and governments have infinitely deep pockets (Spudda’s Magical Money Tree). In my less-rich country, millions have spent their last cent, scraped the last bean out of the tin and lingered over the last grain of rice. Support for economic suicide comes from those whose very lives are not at stake.

      1. Support for economic suicide comes from those whose very lives are not at stake.

        Largely so, yes. The hysteriocalypse has cemented in my mind that politics is civil war by other means. Our enemy lives next door, and always has.

  4. Support for economic suicide comes from those whose very lives are not at stake.

    Whose very lives are not at stake – yet. Once the fit hits the shan, and by then it will be far too late, I imagine they’ll change their tune. The schadenfreude of watching them suffer will be blunted by my own, presumably greater as I’m less well off, suffering.

    Largely so, yes. The hysteriocalypse has cemented in my mind that politics is civil war by other means. Our enemy lives next door, and always has.

    Trenchant truth there. In our virtual meetings I’m silently listening to people I work closely with who I now know would make great blockwarts come the revolution. That’s a happy feeling I can tell you.

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