No, a myriad of new silk roads will not rise up to replace the old one

The State’s war on Dark Net marketplaces will result in previously trusted marketplaces being replaced by riskier and less trustworthy ones. Honest people operating on a reasonable risk/reward calculation will increasingly abstain from using them. The likely consequence is that the confidence level of DarkNet c-to-b transactions will begin to resemble that of traditional c-to-b transactions, with the additional negative repercussions of being more riskier to the buyer than the traditional c-to-b model.

By now, I’m sure anyone reading this post is aware of the sentence handed down to Ross Ulbricht(aka,”Dread Pirate Roberts”). The purpose of this post is not to extend a commentary on the barbaric character of the sentence.1 That will be for another time. Instead, I want to counter the conventional postscript that concludes virtually every postmortem of the drug war.

“Just another example of an irrational,failed drug war. Take one down, fifteen will rise up to take its place…”

Nope. Not the case. Particularly, in this instance.

First, we should accurately report the full sentence Ulbricht received. It was life imprisonment and a 185 million dollar fine. The State rolled up money laundering charges in the conviction, in no small part because the United States government now “recognizes” bitcoin as a legitimate medium of exchange.2The financial penalty of bitcoin money laundering appears to be the total transactional value that can be pieced together through a forensic analysis of the public blockchain.

Secondly, public court documents and testimony regarding the fed purchases of product from the original silk road marketplace indicate an abnormal level of reliability in a c-to-b(consumer to business, or, if you prefer, user to dealer) drug transaction. Documents indicate you had about a 95% level of confidence that you were actually getting what you thought you were buying. Trust me, that level of confidence is not the norm in traditional c-to-b drug transactions. That’s the real story. The “reduction in violence” argument is not. Frankly, if you made the argument, it is a good indication that your only knowledge of the drug trade comes from watching tv/movies and reading state media sources.

Unfortunately, the effect of barbaric sentencing and draconian money laundering penalties will serve to introduce quite a bit of fraud into Dark Net drug marketplaces. Yes, knock one down, and perhaps fifteen will rise up to take its place. But the level of confidence of a c-to-b transaction confidence will begin to approach the traditional level and indeed may even fall below what you can expect on “the street.” In addition, the confidence level of “dealing with a narc,” on either side of the ledger(consumer or supplier), begins to exceed what you can expect “on the street.” So while there will be replacements, they won’t be exactly the same version as the previous ones.

Frankly, anyone who engages in a repeated pattern of buying or selling on Dark Net sites can only expect to be busted. You may as well just send out an email to the pigs for all intent and purposes. This is opposed to the traditional model where only the dealer following a repeated pattern faces a probable certainty of being prosecuted.

Bitcoin has its uses, but in terms of buying contraband, you are better off sticking to the old-fashioned human p2p network of your reasonably trusted inner/outer circle.

Unfortunately, that conclusion doesn’t exactly make for a “failed war on drugs,” now does it?

1 I’ve read many characterizations that described it as “tragic.” Its not tragic. Its barbaric.

2 Another demonstration why the dipshit “libertarians” at George Mason University campaigning for a “bitcoin regulatory regime” are mortal enemies of libertarianism. The argument that a “regulatory regime” carves out a “legitimate space” in a space that would otherwise be treated wholly as “criminal” actually introduces a far more punitive criminal sanction regime.”Legitimacy” allows the feds to wield the weapon of “money laundering.” And the blockchain is not anonymous. It is only pseudo-anonymous. The crime of operating a website can now carry the financial penalty of any applicable transactional value of the duly recorded transactions in the public blockchain.

Political Science IV: Hacked Knowledge Problem

If I was the NSA, I would target the same thing – all the crypto keys. I do the same on pentests, so why not? One target, huge ROI.

Kevin Mitnick

Again, as a reminder, The Hayek Knowledge Problem has been hacked. “The Use of Knowledge in Society” has different implications in 2015 compared to 1945. Economic science, like all sciences, is not written in the staid stone of theological scripture. But live on it will–in the classical liberal turf wars…

Political Science II

The Tor Project has issued a warning that the United States government may soon start seizing core nodes of the Tor Network under the pretext of investigating the “Sony Hack.”1

Of course, Pravda, Inc disseminates the Sony breach as being the handiwork of the North Korean government. LOL. Even if we concede the claim for the sake of argument, there is the conspicuous omission of any argument why bad movies and George Clooney gossip fall under the purview of national security. Then again, the hallmark of a national security state is that “national security” is what the national security state says it is. This, of course, is classic doublethink.

It is worth pointing out that the FBI seizing Tor Direct Authority nodes seems suspiciously consistent with the FBI’s internal objective of an internet wiretap regime by whatever means necessary. Very convenient, but as discussed in the previous “political science” posts, quite predictable. Perhaps the illustrative point here is that political science reducible to “the conspiracy without the conspiracy”2 not only makes for bad church, it also makes for bad Hollywood.

1 Reading is more or less a useless skill if you can’t read between the lines

2 “Conspiracy without the conspiracy” means conspiracy is the rational/scientific pattern…hence no subversion

Political Science

Political science is not moralizing. It is not liturgical recitation from sunday school scripture. Nor is it mere statistical interpolation of voting patterns to predict elections. Predicting elections may be a type of science but there may be a more fundamental science to be had if the outcome repeatedly proves irrelevant to the policies enacted or enforced.

Political science, like all sciences, applies a specific methodology(the scientific method) to explain and predict rational patterns within a specific domain of study. In this case, the specific domain of study is the organization and exercise of political power. There may be some that try to divine a type of justice that animates such an organization of power, but such musings preponderate on the side of prescription(“the ought”) and not description(“the is”). Hence, they are the stuff of political church, not science.

In a previous post,The FBI pwns you, I gave an assessment of an observed phenomenon of state security organs defeating network layer obfuscation. The official explanation claimed only innocuous investigative exploitation of “criminal stupidity.” I, however, offered a competing explanation: the FBI was resorting to application layer exploits to thwart network(IP layer) anonymity. I then advanced a prediction: the FBI and other organs of state security are seeking to bundle application layer exploits under an extended legalized wiretapping regime.

Recently, from Boing Boing FBI secretly seeking legal power to hack any computer, anywhere:

But under the proposed amendment, a judge can issue a warrant that would allow the FBI to hack into any computer, no matter where it is located. The change is designed specifically to help federal investigators carry out surveillance on computers that have been “anonymized” – that is, their location has been hidden using tools such as Tor.

The amendment inserts a clause that would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain “remote access” to computers “located within or outside that district” (emphasis added) in cases in which the “district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means”. The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.

Were the amendment to be granted by the regulatory committee, the FBI would have the green light to unleash its capabilities – known as “network investigative techniques” – on computers across America and beyond. The techniques involve clandestinely installing malicious software, or malware, onto a computer that in turn allows federal agents effectively to control the machine, downloading all its digital contents, switching its camera or microphone on or off, and even taking over other computers in its network

Note, I also offered a corollary to the prediction: the extended wiretapping regime would effectively allow unfalsifiable data laundering from the NSA’s three-hop graphical dragnet. If the “wiretap” failed, the likes of the FBI could make a request up the “corporate intelligence ladder” to the NSA for the mother of all wiretaps: the 3-hop graphical dragnet. The information gleaned from that data could be “reversed-engineered” to fall within the “legal wiretap.” Once the network devices are seized, it is trivial to ex post facto plant a “vulnerability profile” that would “launder” the evidence collection. From a forensics standpoint, it would be difficult to falsify such after-the-fact subterfuge. The only circumvention of this totalitarian “law enforcement technique” would be to have redundant snapshots of the devices in question outside the jurisdiction of any one intervening authority. If the FBI could seize the device but couldn’t get all the redundant snapshots, then a comparative forensic analysis could take place that would expose the subterfuge.

Now, in these two little posts of mine we have seen an actual example of political science. An observed phenomenon: an explanation of the phenomenon, a prediction, a confirmation of the prediction, a prediction corollary that demonstrates the importance of jurisdictional differentiation to stymie the totalitarian pattern of exercised political power.

Of course, for my statement to be a scientific statement, the statement itself has to be subject to falsification. But who is going to falsify it? The political scientists? Let me know when you actually find one…1

1 Death of the Liberal Paradigm

What Is Free Trade?

Terms like “free trade” and “free markets” are ubiquitous spout from the lips of libertarians. Occasionally, it is helpful to review what these terms actually mean. “Free” specifically refers to free of any encumbering moral ends other than the ends of the exchanging agents. So it is a matter of liberty. Practically, it means no contravening authority standing between supply and demand. The only justice promised is one of mutual advantage.

Here is what “free” does not mean(in terms of a sufficiency condition): (i) efficiency (ii) self-regulation (3) un-regulation (4) de-regulation (5) perfect competition (5) pareto optimality (6) nihilism (7) justice ….

Yes, “free trade” is not even a sufficiency condition for mutual advantage in the sense that if we show “free trade” we necessarily show “mutual advantage.” Otherwise, there would be little need or demand for that thing called the law.

The point is that “free trade” presumes liberty but implies little beyond that other than an implicit(sometimes explicit) promised mutual advantage. We fashion “free trade” into a social theory(spontaneous order, invisible hand, etc) from experience and attempt to model this experience by economic analysis of rational (marginal)utility calculating agency. While I have no quibble with this per se, it remains important to be cognizant of the distinction between a social theory(predicated on a justice of mutual advantage) and methodology of economic modeling.1.

For example, the notion of “market failure” is in need of a curious bit of deconstruction. “Free Trade” presumes liberty but implies little beyond that. “Free Market Failure” is really a bit of a non sequitur. What we really have is “model failure.” This justifies all sorts of government regulatory intervention to enforce a model outcome. Of course, when we apply an economic analysis to the regulatory agency itself we end up with a predictive model error of correcting the original “model error.” This, of course, is termed “government failure, the distinction here being that the “regulatory agency” is actually promising everything.

Frankly, I think the above example demonstrates why laissez-faire doesn’t comport very well with the neoclassical economic method. That which treats “free trade” as a matter of liberty is always going to spit out model error by something that treats it instead as a regulatory model of a rational pattern.

The incongruity between liberty and regulatory efficiency can be profound. To see this, consider “comparative advantage.” We all should be familiar with how opportunity costs explain patterns of trade. Even if, say, A is superior in productive skill and efficiency to B for every produced item in a given economy, there are opportunity costs involved in A dividing time and labor to self-produce all items of our given economy. So rather than dividing the time up proportionately to produce everything, A specializes in those things which it does relatively best at(compared to what A does less best at, or earns less from), leaving an opportunity for B to produce the other things for trade exchange.2

No doubt opportunity costs explain trade patterns. But comparative advantage also implicitly suggests something else: namely, refusing to trade imposes external costs on trading partners. In our A-B model, if B refuses to trade with A, B imposes costs on A. Essentially, refusing to trade not only hurts yourself, but it also hurts others.

Now I won’t dispute the external costs implication of comparative advantage. However, I will dispute that these costs are a form of injustice, or more specifically, that these costs are something that need to be enforceably corrected(in the legal or regulatory sense). “Free Trade,” after all, must include the freedom not to trade. Otherwise, it is just another form of “freedom to obey.”

However, within the purview of neoclassical economics, “enforcing” Free Trade is entirely consistent with a regulatory model of a rational pattern.

This brings us to a consideration of these “Free Trade Agreements” such as TPP. The public arguments for these trade pacts–supported by many libertarians–essentially reduce to correcting the external costs implied by comparative advantage. The rationale is that despite any “flaws” these pacts are an improvement. An ancillary argument is that if the US doesn’t take the lead in forging these agreements, it opens the door for less savory countries(read: China, Russia) to forge something far less agreeable.

Frankly, these Free Trade Agreements demonstrate why sometimes it is better(perhaps always) to think like a philosopher and not like an economist. In lieu of thinking about the pareto efficiency of trade models, one perhaps may be better served contemplating the philosophical implications of a social theory that implies one bad actor playing a bad strategy forces everyone to play a bad strategy. Au contraire, “justice of mutual advantage.” More like a suicide pact.

Perhaps only after such consideration is it then profitable to dissect the problem from an economic point of view.

From a public choice perspective, these “free trade agreements” are essentially trading decison-making costs for external costs. Recall decision-making costs are “the price we pay for civilization.” These type of costs are imposed by a decision-making rule whose legitimacy–at least within the purview of liberal political theory–is delineated by some condition of unanimity.

A trade-pact is rent-seeking bargain. But the decison-making cost of this bargain results in a disclaimer that the price we pay for civilization–in this case, trade–is the loss of geo-political differentiation. In other words, unitary jurisdiction. Or more descriptive yet, oligarchical collectivism.

When the United States declares the entire planet a battlefield or issues talking points asserting global jurisdictional reach, it is not grandstanding on an explicit or implicit threat of military invasion. Instead, it is relying on a presumption of organs of a unitary political economy serving as an agency of enforcement. Wherever you are on this planet, there stands an authority between supply and demand that is hierarchically intertwined with the regulatory jurisdictional reach of any government. The price of dissent is that you do not trade. Or another way to put it: you can trade but there is nowhere to run.

A rent-seeking bargain that imposes decison-making costs is the negation of Milton Friedman’s famous aphorism regarding capitalism and freedom: showing freedom is sufficient for showing capitalism3. Friedman’s aphorism fails because capitalism as an economic treatment translates to a regulatory model of a rational pattern. And an economic analysis of this regulatory model suggests the potential for an intractable agency problem. If trade entails a decision-making cost attached to the enforcement of the regulatory model, then capitalism trumps “liberal trumps,” with the latter defenseless against an agency problem in our rent-seeking bargain.4

This agency problem is why I reject the notion of markets as any instrument of social justice, a la bleeding heart libertarianism. To treat it as such an instrument is to treat it as a regulatory model of a promised rational pattern. Enforcing the promise is what introduces the agency problem. Markets serving in the role of a type distributive justice may indeed by an observed pattern, but justice without an enforcement mechanism/agency is a trifle thing indeed. Distributive justice as an enforceable outcome is not a free market.

I conclusion, I am bit flummoxed at the extent many libertarians endorse “free market” as a regulatory model of a rational pattern. Whether cognizant of it or not, this endorsement more or less substitutes “free trade” with “conscription to the market.”5

Interestingly, the most recent cinematic work of the Wachowski brothers(actually now brother/sister since Lana now identifies as a trans-gender), Cloud Atlas(which is a cinematic adaptation of a novel and not an original screenplay) illustrates my point quite dramatically, demonstrating that if a picture is worth a thousand words, a good film is certainly worth a million.

In the futuristic corporate state, Neo Seoul6, fabricant AI subordinate themselves to indentured contractual servitude to the efficient functioning of consumer society. In exchange, the fabricants are promised a retirement nirvana(operating under their own agency with no wants) at the conclusion of their contractual obligation. The fabricants are indoctrinated into a religious catechism oriented around the sanctity of the consumer.

In reality, the fabricants are not given their promised nirvana. Instead they are duplicitously decommissioned and recycled as a cheap source of protein to newly “manufactured fabricants.” The underground rebellion to the corporate state places its hope in the emergence of “free will fabricants,” in the story dramatized by sonmi-451. When sonmi-451 is given the “liberty to read,” she rejects the present bargain of indentured servitude in exchange for a future payoff of agency. This is before she learns that the promised future is actually a sham. The immediate consequence of her decision, of course, is her own execution7.

Just as “unpluggable” perhaps conveys more immediate meaning than any lengthy tome against the standard liturgy of political obligation, to those who insist on intoning the free market as some type of regulatory model, whether it be efficiency, trade deals or social justice, perhaps the best response is simply: sonmi-4518

1 economics is certainly useful as a positive science in describing observed patterns but I find it often suffers from an Is-Ought problem in making unjustifiable prescriptive statements. I believe this view is substantiated by Tullock’s little-referenced work, “Efficient Rent-Seeking: Chronicle of an Intellectual Quagmire,” which establishes the apparent quagmire of prescriptive reasoning in economics. As I would say, Free Trade is little more than a statement about “free agency” or “free will” and not a logical condition for any model outcome.

2 Absolute advantage/superiority of A over B in everything is not real-world. It is merely an illustrative device to demonstrate how opportunity costs trump the historical notion of “absolute advantage” in explaining trade patterns.

3 Freedom is understood to mean in the “liberal” sense.

4 Richard Stallman’s classic parable, “The Right to Read,” is an excellent example of this point.

5 Free Trade is contingent upon a free agency or free will. However, this should be distinguished from the libertarian meaning of “free will” in metaphysics, which is contingent upon path independency(in determinism, similar to mechanics in physics, knowledge of initial conditions of a path is sufficient to know the path at any future state). The question of whether one has a choice in preferring A to B is an interesting one, but not germane to the discussion. Free will in our discussion is perhaps better interpreted as “free preference,” i.e., the liberty to act according to preference.

6 The ideological party of this corporate state is “unanimity.”

7 The Buddhist-Existentialist theme of the story is that we are a product of each other’s stands that ripple throughout time, so the future consequence of her decision is a better outcome down the line within “the cloud.”

8 451 is obviously a nod to Fahrenheit 451, specifically the auto-ignition point of paper books.

The State is its Own Agency

That the NSA has now commenced with overt pressure campaigns to countermand any legislative effort to curtail its vast surveillance enterprise cements an obvious liberal dilemma regarding the agency of the State. Make no mistake, totalitarian spying exemplifies an agency whose ends are in competition with the ends of its own citizens. This is a fatal violation of the liberal paradigm out in the open, staring you right in the face.

The germane question which moves to the fore of consideration hence pertains to the extent of government surveillance. Is it indeed totalitarian? If we were to constrain the scope of consideration strictly to the NSA itself, then the answer would probably be no. It’s modus operandi does not follow the traditional taxonomy of the textbook totalitarian spymaster. However, thanks to the documentation leaked by Edward Snowden, what we have now is confirmation of the cypherpunk dystopian model, which in a real sense, is much worse, for it portends a sustainable template of planetary social control. The NSA in and of itself is one thing. However, in the larger context of its coerced “strategic partnerships” with the top US internet & software companies–as means to facilitate/execute the data collection requirements–what we end up with is quite another: the equivalent of a libcap library on every one of your network devices persistently cataloging your “matrix” in the well-connected social graph, built and maintained under the “legal auspices” of a three-hop dragnet.

In light of the Snowden revelations, the NSA has embarked on the aforementioned pressure and information campaign to countermand the PR damage. Just yesterday, the NSA released two documents that purport to dispel the notion of it being an agency of totalitarian collection. Having just read them , I can say that the 1.6% statistic of “touched traffic” and 0.025% statistic of “reviewed traffic”, on a daily basis, are highly misleading. The first hoodwink is to point out that out of the exabyte daily traffic volume, roughly 60%-70% is ip video traffic1, which shrinks our “basketball court” down to the size of a racquetball court. The second hoodwink is to infer the sampling follows a pattern of independent random trials–in the classic stats model, proving or disproving a hypothesis drawn from such a random sample–instead of what it actually is: the accumulation of a graph-based document store enabling a traversable, retrospective query system. The whole thing is just plain subterfuge.

By now, it should be apparent that I consider the cypherpunks to be the most relevant social scientists of our day. In no small part because they are at the forefront of the battle-lines of 21st century political economy. Assange, for one, has been singularly confirmed on a number of points. In particular, the US reaction of “Insider Threat” has to count as spectacular confirmation of his thesis of “conspiracy and networks.” The kernel of differentiated political and economic jurisdiction that always lurked beneath the rationale of wikileaks now seems obvious in light of what is required for secure and autonomous cloud computing platforms going forward2. Assange’s contention that legal and regulatory entities were engaging in data-laundering–that is, ex post manufacturing legal reconstructions of “evidence” gathered from the NSA dragnet spying enterprise–has since been confirmed by Reuters with respect to two agencies: the DEA and the IRS.

In contrast, the “liberal” political and academic establishment are dinosaurs. No better example of this than this piece at “Bleeding Heart Libertarians,” The United States is not a Police State. The entire piece is a confirmation of my (quite prescient, as it turns out) old post, Free Market Fairness: A bridge to nowhere. Fernando Teson’s entire argument boils down to the position that truth should never stand in the way of mainstream recognition. Of course, as I pointed out in that earlier post, the “respectable libertarian formulation,” in the form of the chicago school, had held sway for thirty years in the domain of finance and “regulatory reform” leading to nothing but banking oligarchy and a permanent severance of political freedom from capitalism. As I pointed out at the end, all it would take would be a minority dissident faction to blow that entire thesis to smithereens and force the “bleeding hearts” to side with what everyone and their brother–outside of polite academic company–knew to be tyranny and oppression. I’m not surprised “Edward Snowden” doesn’t appear in any post on that site, outside one inclusion in an obscure link.

Frankly, the boogeyman of North Korea is tiresome as the singleton measuring stick of totalitarianism. For starters, the inquisitive person might ask just how long North Korea would last if not for China and the US directly and indirectly propping it up(which should trigger a deeper discussion of the taxonomy to begin with when considering States that prop up even worse monsters). However, the better question might be why the persistent singleton casting of 21st century totalitarianism in the mold of mid-20th century soviet model when that model–in terms of having any sphere of international influence–died out two decades ago?

In the recent book, “Cypherpunks: Freedom & The Future Of The Internet,” Andy Muller-Maguhn specifically outlines the stated intent of our 21st century spooks: the use of secrecy as a means to gain control of social processes. This presents a countervailing agency problem more along the lines of a “squishy totalitarianism,” but this is more than sufficient to eviscerate the liberal paradigm. In fact, it acquires a particular sinister aura because it appears quite apparent that most are quite comfortable persisting the liberal mythology within its confines. The industries of “social justice” and “the invisible hand of market social coordination” will continue to spit out oblivious drivel because after all, they are “industries.”

As I have noted on previous occasions, the planned order or surveillance introduces a potentially glaring incentive-incompatibility agency problem into market exchange. One that makes mincemeat of any position that uses the existence of markets as an immediate counterfactual to any claim of systems of social control. If we cast “spontaneous order” as a type of “social graph” and then analytically run it against the “planned order of surveillance” that exists to anatomize it, we obtain a “second-order dynamic” between the social graph and its surveillance that illuminates the distinction between laissez-faire and capitalism in a far greater clarity than the dinosaur methods of 20th century classical liberalism still mired in the roots of the socialist calculation debates.

Frankly, to avoid serious methodological error, one should start from the assumption of “the State as its own Agency.” Everything else flows from there…

1 As I pointed out in this old post, Technology is not Freedom, ip video has its own extensive surveillance regime.

2 Ideological preferences aside, the cloud, in any rent-seeking context, is where the internet goes because it is simply a much more efficient computing platform.

Former East German Stasi Now More Liberal Than The Chicago School?

“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true.”

Former Lieutenant Colonel in The East German Stasi, referring to the NSA Spying Apparatus

From a simple, straightforward, technical legal standpoint, there’s absolutely no question that Snowden violated the law.

Why I think he deserves punishment? …Well, the fact is, Snowden’s just an ordinary guy with absolutely no expertise in public policy, in the law, in national security. He’s a techie. He made the decision on his own, without any authorization, without any approval by the American people, to reveal classified information about which he had absolutely no expertise in terms of the danger to the nation, the value of the information to national security.

Geoffrey Stone, Chicago Law School

McClatchy recently published an interesting interview with Wolfgang Schmidt, a former East German Stasi officer, where Schmidt, in between waxing a certain admiration for current NSA surveillance capability, issued an obvious warning:

“It is the height of naiveté to think that once collected this information won’t be used. This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

To me, this qualifies our former east german officer as more liberal, or least more cognizant of a liberal methodology, than our esteemed scholars of official classical liberal orthodoxy represented by the Chicago School here in the United States. To wit, this recent drivel penned by Richard Epstein. Recall the likes of Peter Boettke once proclaimed Richard Epstein the sharpest libertarian thinker alive. At the time, I responded with this, which more or less summarized a case why if that were so, then we were accordingly fucked. Now Epstein himself labors to conclusively demonstrate the point.

Now to Geoffrey Stone. Stone uttered the above prefatory quote in a debate with Chris Hedges on Democracy Now. Stone’s position more or less is that Snowden’s actions were prima facie criminal and Snowden lacked sufficient qualification to determine if his actions would actually serve the public interest. This, of course, is an attack on both Snowden’s actions and motives. The easy rejoinder to Stone need not appeal to any higher moral principle but simply unravel the loosely tied knot of Stone’s own sheer hypocrisy. The prima facie criminality argument fails the “second-blush” inspection test because there is a de facto “prescriptive custom” in place that every day excuses leaking of classified information if such leakage is deemed to be in the “national interest.” Since Stone has never publicly called for a criminal crackdown on this prescriptive custom, a custom that more or less overrides the de jure letter of the written code, he, at the very least, implicitly accepts it. So, Stone’s prima facie criminality argument is a dishonest one.

The second part of Stone’s case is really the crux of his argument: Snowden is not qualified to determine if his actions served the public interest, hence he should be punished. However, I would contend that the construction of the argument begs an illiberal premise that renders any conclusion irrelevant to the liberal mind. I simply reject the premise that Stone or his like-minded colleagues are the arbiters of “public interest.” To accept that premise would be to concede a more generalized argument that the you and I are not qualified to know what our own interests are. This putrid argument from authority is particularly laughable in this particular case given that Stone is a technological ignoramus who–on this matter– carries all the authority of a certified clown(apologies to Penn Jillette).

Frankly, the question of “national interest” is an impossible one to answer. Like “social justice,” it’s a fake abstraction. What is answerable, however, is what is not in the public interest. In an earlier interview, Stone asserted we had to accept “total surveillance” to avoid the likelihood of a worse alternative of permanent martial law. I would counter that a system of governance that offered a choice between total surveillance and martial law is one that serves only the interests of the few and not worth protecting.

Stone and Epstein are professionally linked as collaborative editors of this early 1990s volume, The Bill of Rights in the Modern State. A contemporaneous edition of that volume would now arbitrate a consensus of “be happy with what you’re granted, it could get–indeed it is likely to get–much worse.” A consensus predicated on argument from secret authority, reassurances of procedural technicalities as sufficient protections and dismissal of dissent on the grounds of loony endangerment to national security. Call this what you may, but it ain’t liberalism.

Frankly, I’m not surprised by the descent of these two pillars of “the Chicago School” into outright authoritarianism, or squishy totalitarianism, if you prefer. For some time it has been evident that Milton Friedman’s aphorism of Capitalism to Freedom was not only flawed but fatally severed. What remains standing is political economy as an instrument of social control. If Jeremy Bentham is credited as the first designer of the panopticon, Richard Epstein and the Chicago School are only fulfilling the tradition that they inherit from.