Freedom vs. Security cost benefit analysis
March 11, 2003 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Civil liberties and privacy may be priceless, but they may soon have a price tag. In this NYT article, describes efforts by the White House Office of Management and Budget to quantify the cost of enhanced security and lessened liberties. "As long as they're going to deal with monetary evaluations, I told them they should start asking about the cost of destroying democracy," said Mr. Nader.
posted by Birichini (10 comments total)
You tel, 'em, Ralph. Now how would you fight what clearly is a growing menace here and world-wide?
posted by Postroad at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2003

posted by muppetboy at 8:35 AM on March 11, 2003

well, tell that to the Supremes
posted by matteo at 8:52 AM on March 11, 2003

The idea of cost-benefit analysis has always had a sort of wonkish, science-lite appeal. My libertarian friends all love it. For people not slavishly enthralled by the supposed infallibility of market forces, I think the problem has been the one-sidedness of the costs that are assessed, and the low valuation of human health, long term availability of natural resources, etc. Many costs are skipped on both sides.

Here's an interesting article on True cost pricing, probably not the best solution at this point, but interesting.

And I think these articles from Bruce Tognazzini show an interesting angle on some of the kind of questions that should be considered when public policy, engineering, and regulatory decisions are being made. Is a single requirement that eliminates 90% of a problem preferable to multiple, less convenient requirements that eliminate 93% of the problem better.
Slate did something on this a week ago, but I can't find it.

Also, I find TRIZ interesting as a system of problem solving that is directed at best / simplest solution.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:16 AM on March 11, 2003

One could make the point here that dead humans are absolutely devoid of liberties, civil or otherwise. But everyone knows that, right?

The historical case has been made that, in times of political upheaval, civil liberties are temporarily curtailed and later come back stronger than ever. I believe this to be the case. Americans are a freedom-loving people, and we have never known tyranny. While we might temporarily abrogate civil liberties in times of trouble, when that trouble is gone we will return to normalcy. Americans have always traded security for freedom. it is why we were such an easy, and dramatic, target.

Personally, I will temporarily allow the government to reduce certain elements of my rights to help ensure the safety of my fellows during the current political chaos. There is a real danger now - people do actually die - and I'm willing to, for example, be searched and even detained at the airport, have my begs checked and swabbed for explosives, if it helps to make sure that, until things calm down again, no more planes go crashing into buildings.

I like Ralph, though I disagree with him, because he states his case and doesn't apologize for his beliefs. I wish more were like him, and I gave him my vote last election, because he didn't deserve the smug condescension he got from Bush and Gore, a couple of scumbag aristocrats that would sell their moms for a vote. That said: Bush is hardly destroying democracy here, and more hyperbole thrown onto the fragrant mountain of it that has already been stacked on this and related subjects is hardly needed. Reasoned, reasonable discussion in times of trouble is what's needed, not wild accusation followed by equally wild response.
posted by UncleFes at 9:19 AM on March 11, 2003

UncleFes -

Wow - and I thought I knew some history. Enlightening stuff, that piece.

For me, however, the worry is that:

1) there will be no end to the "war on terror", and thus the liberties being given away (or taken away, depending on your POV) will never be restored, and

2) that even if they were restored, it would take decades to happen. I dont want my kids growing up under some kind of Orwellian regime.
posted by Irontom at 9:40 AM on March 11, 2003

Neither do I! At the same token, we have a very effective way to turn back these sorts fo encroachments - the federal election every four years. If Americans think that civil liberties have been too much encroached - ZAP! out goes Bush and Co., in come [insert Dem candidate name here] and Co., and they can proceed with dismantling what Ashcroft hath wrought, regardless of the current state of the War on Terror.

And we will. You and I have never known anything but freedom, and we - like all Americans - would chafe under the burden of tyranny. We are chafing under even these light touches of it now! It simply cannot last.
posted by UncleFes at 9:52 AM on March 11, 2003

How far is too far?
posted by homunculus at 10:01 AM on March 11, 2003

Americans are a freedom-loving people, and we have never known tyranny.... Americans have always traded security for freedom.... we - like all Americans - would chafe under the burden of tyranny.


UncleFes, as the descendant of American slaves (most of whom lived and died without any rights ever) and a member of the first generation of my family not born under some form of federally sanctioned discrimination (parents from the "separate but equal" early 50s) I strongly disagree with that assessment. If anything I'd take the exact opposite position: America has a long history of its people cheerfully tolerating oppression so long as the bulk of the burden finds someone else. The United States doesn't stand for tyranny and mistreatment? Tell that to an Indian-- if you can find one. Jefferson got talked into removing his criticism of slavery from the Declaration of Independence and we've been knuckling under-- putting security/profit/comfort ahead of freedom at the slightest hint of difficulty-- ever since.

Indeed, our democracy can, and has, outlived temporary restrictions and continued to thrive.

That's an optimistic take on things. I look at it this way: luckily, despite our idiocy, we haven't really doomed ourselves yet. Just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it can't. We've been pretty consistently wrong, too. Who'd we end up at war with after the Alien and Sedition Acts? Did Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus keep him alive? Eugene Debs was never a threat to democracy: who really suffered? What would've happened if the Japanese-American soldiers fighting in our military decided to stop and protest the unfair treatment they and their families faced?

Harvard law students surveyed were more willing to accept profiling of airline passengers if it meant they could save time in security checks.... While 44 percent of students said they favored profiling if it saved them 10 minutes, 74 percent were in favor if it saved them an hour.

Nice. How many were in favor of profiling if it brought them the occasional inexplicable arrest and/or torture session? The question never came up-- possibly because they take it as an implicit fact that the true costs will inevitably fall on other people. Very magnanimous.

The best thing about our constitution (in my opinion) is that it's based on paranoia. The founders looked around and realized that all unchecked governments tend to grow corrupt and usurp the rights of people under their control. That's why they put so much emphasis on the Bill of Rights: those are things that individuals are always supposed to have, and that flawed governments are constantly impinging upon. Nothing can remove them.

Look, I have a hard time giving up physical possessions to friends unless I reconcile myself to the fact that, once gone, I may never see them again. Now you want me to offer my rights up to the government and have faith that they'll be returned someday?

Sure. Just as soon as I forget everything history taught me.
posted by tyro urge at 10:55 PM on March 11, 2003 [2 favorites]

If anything I'd take the exact opposite position: America has a long history of its people cheerfully tolerating oppression so long as the bulk of the burden finds someone else.

I'd disagree, the evidence to that being you are not now a slave. As the caucasion descendant of Northerners, abolitionists and at least one soldier who died in the Civil War, I would say that the reason you are not bound by the same cultural restrictions as your parents, or physical restrictions as your ancestors, is that people DID chafe under those tyrannies, and fought to erase them. The history of America is, I believe, a history of exactly that - continued advancement of freedom, albeit with periods of trouble. The history of freedom in this country is not a straight line, but it does go upward.

Tyro, this thread is dead, but I'd be happy to discuss via email, my address is in my profile if you want to respond.
posted by UncleFes at 9:19 AM on March 12, 2003

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