Thoughts on economics and liberty

Wikileaks – a classical liberal perspective — continued (#2)

Atanu Dey, my good friend (and I do admire his work!), still doesn’t agree with me on this issue (see my previous blog post). He has now provided a more extensive discussion at: http://www.deeshaa.org/2010/12/05/wikileaks-is-good-for-you-and-me/

So, with due respect, let me extend the discussion further and suggest a few key points for his kind consideration.
 
I believe that Atanu has veered – perhaps unwittingly – into utopia. He suggests that “The government should not be working in secrecy at home or abroad”. This sounds very similar to what Nehru thought about China with his “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” delusion. – let’s all be good, let’s all trust each other, let’s all hold hands and tell each other everything …
 
Does that work in global affairs? No. Never.
 
According to Atanu  the benefit of TOTAL transparency is that “if the people in government know that there is nothing that they do on behalf of the people will ever be a secret they will not do such things that are against the interests of the people. That is not such a difficult thing to appreciate.”
 
Now, some might find this easy to appreciate but I can't. Yes, we want transparency but yes (also!) – there are things that not everyone needs to know immediately (they can know after 30 years). 
 
I found the precise flaw in Atanu's assumptions when I read this statement: “What about commercial firms? Is it ok for people to pry out trade secrets and publicize them to the world? Most definitely not. Commercial enterprises are not in the game for public welfare.”
 
This, then is the precise problem  – that Atanu imagines governments to be in the business of "public welfare".
 
Let this be clear that the provision of defence is not “public welfare” as commonly understood. If we imagine defence to be “public welfare” and compare it with, say, the education of children – and expect the same level of transparency – then we are lost! Our nation is doomed.
 
Defence is a highly competitive and risky business, requiring considerable strategy, tactics, feints, deception – and the lot. Chess is far less difficult at its topmost level than defence is.  A nation that images that defence is “public welfare” and that therefore everyone in the entire world is entitled to all its secrets will soon reach an inglorious end. Make not mistake about that.
 
Defence is the raw edge of human animality. It cannot be otherwise. There are no mercies shown in matters of defence, and none expected.
 
Atanu moves even further into utopian territory by suggesting that: “With sufficient light on what governments are doing — especially the governments of powerful nations such as the US — it is possible to see a time when it will be impossible for governments to wage perpetual wars that only enrich the powerful.”
 
I’m afraid wars are never (or almost never) about enriching the powerful – in the modern world. Few (if any) in a democracy are likely to be enriched through war. As Rudolph Rummel has shown, it was non-democratic governments – predominantly collectivist – that killed over 262 million people in the 20th century (http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/).
 
We are under siege by terrorists and collectivist ideologues of all sorts. Osama bin Laden will not feel the slightest compunction before ordering mass nuclear attacks on innocents should he get access to nuclear bombs. The battle of defence is not a trivial battle over intellectual copyrights. This is about war. It is a battle against evil.
 
So let’s not underestimate the many (often hidden) dangers the modern world is besieged with by living in an idealistic stratosphere. Doing so will hand over the world in a platter to the evil.
 
Do not misunderstand me. I'm NOT anti-transparency. By all means let there be whistleblowers who pinpoint corruption or human rights violations – even in defence.
 
But let’s not support mindless (and that’s the key) transparency.
 
The costs of living with utopian delusions is huge – well beyond our comprehension. Yes, let there be accountability of our governments. Let our elected representatives be held to account as diligently as we possibly can. Let us demand information from them. Let us be vigilant. Let us vote them out when the fail. Let us have whistleblowers, even. But unless Wikileaks exercises great discretion, it will CERTAINLY endanger millions of innocent lives – and that I do not support..
 
I do not support mindlessness of any sort, least of all that which involves questions of life and death.
 
I’m happy for Wikileaks to be shut down in its current formWikileaks in its current form is causing genuine and serious harm to people – some elements of which I've explained in my previous blog post –  that they don’t readily see in their amusement and titillation with tid-bits in the press.
 
Freedom is limited by accountability. Currently, Assange seems to be accountable to none – for the harm he has caused (and I don’t care about the embarrassments caused: I care for serious harm caused by the disclosure of internal government processes).  Who has set him up as an aribiter of the world's security and secrets? Whom does he represent? What is is his authority? None.
 
All harm caused will be born by the innocents. (And utopians.)

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10 thoughts on “Wikileaks – a classical liberal perspective — continued (#2)
  1. RC

    Couldnt agree more with you. I feel that WikiLeaks originates from the mindset of those protesting against globalization at a G20 meeting. Breaking glass at retail stores and protesting. Mostly Anarchists.
    Then people who are cynical of everything. Cynicism leads to thinking that all government secrets are sinister in nature and they are all working against the people somehow, all the time.
    Then there is Utopians. Their argument, I think, is an academic argument. Academically (and in an ideal world) all state craft can happen out in the open with knowledge of everyone. But then we live in real world where there are genocidal maniacs and genocidal religious terrorists trying to disrupt normal life.
    When the leaks first came out I asked, how are these leaks going to help in the fight against islamic terror, which is the most urgent threat to the world?

     
  2. RC

    Couldnt agree more with you. I feel that WikiLeaks originates from the mindset of those protesting against globalization at a G20 meeting. Breaking glass at retail stores and protesting. Mostly Anarchists.
    Then people who are cynical of everything. Cynicism leads to thinking that all government secrets are sinister in nature and they are all working against the people somehow, all the time.
    Then there is Utopians. Their argument, I think, is an academic argument. Academically (and in an ideal world) all state craft can happen out in the open with knowledge of everyone. But then we live in real world where there are genocidal maniacs and genocidal religious terrorists trying to disrupt normal life.
    When the leaks first came out I asked, how are these leaks going to help in the fight against islamic terror, which is the most urgent threat to the world?

     
  3. Anuj

    Sanjeev you clearly ventured into shaky territory here. Just like a business is accountable to its customers for its continuing business, Wikileaks is accountable to its readers for ensuring its continuing reputation. Your fallacious arguments on accountability can be construed to regulate every business to death.

     
  4. Anuj

    Sanjeev you clearly ventured into shaky territory here. Just like a business is accountable to its customers for its continuing business, Wikileaks is accountable to its readers for ensuring its continuing reputation. Your fallacious arguments on accountability can be construed to regulate every business to death.

     
  5. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    The entire theory of freedom is UNDERPINNED by accountability. I’ve explained at great length in BFN and in DOF (linked to the side of this blog). Freedom is NOT licence.

    Indeed, whenever businesses have failed to take responsibility, they have ended up being regulated. That is inevitable. There may be millions of customers of tobacco, but the businesses are still heavily regulated. When any HARM is caused (cost or externality imposed) by a business, then justice calls for regulation till that harm is offset. That is also explained at great length in DOF.

    I do not know which business will be regulated “to death”, but any industry that does not exercise its responsibilities clearly (in this case journalism) WILL be regulated.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  6. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    The entire theory of freedom is UNDERPINNED by accountability. I’ve explained at great length in BFN and in DOF (linked to the side of this blog). Freedom is NOT licence.

    Indeed, whenever businesses have failed to take responsibility, they have ended up being regulated. That is inevitable. There may be millions of customers of tobacco, but the businesses are still heavily regulated. When any HARM is caused (cost or externality imposed) by a business, then justice calls for regulation till that harm is offset. That is also explained at great length in DOF.

    I do not know which business will be regulated “to death”, but any industry that does not exercise its responsibilities clearly (in this case journalism) WILL be regulated.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  7. Amitabh Ranjan

    So along with Wikileaks, all the newspapers that have published the various leaks should also be shut down ? If not, why ?
    Can you list out 5 specific problems that occurred due to this leak ?
    And, anyway, what has wikileaks got to do with the leak ? It just publishes them. There would be someone else to do that in some other medium if not for wikileaks.
    Its just that wikileaks is not cowing down to illegal pressure while many large corporations/newspapers would – in return of certain other favours later. That is the only issue.

     
  8. Amitabh Ranjan

    So along with Wikileaks, all the newspapers that have published the various leaks should also be shut down ? If not, why ?
    Can you list out 5 specific problems that occurred due to this leak ?
    And, anyway, what has wikileaks got to do with the leak ? It just publishes them. There would be someone else to do that in some other medium if not for wikileaks.
    Its just that wikileaks is not cowing down to illegal pressure while many large corporations/newspapers would – in return of certain other favours later. That is the only issue.

     
  9. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Amitabh

    The laws will change to suitably punish the disclosure of classified information that harms national security. The possibility of such widespread damage through leakage of current classified material did not exist in the past (or if it did, then the newspapers exercised restraint).

    I have already pointed out not 5 by significant SYSTEMIC harm caused by the leaks. The flow of information will now be highly curtailed, creating many more 9/11s than ever before. Time will confirm that. I know how systems work, and this is one thing that systems go well: they know how to shut down information flows.

    I wouldn’t debate this further. I am only talking about general principles. What specific harm is caused by a specific harmful act is irrelevant. It is merely academic. The principle is what matters.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     
  10. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Amitabh

    The laws will change to suitably punish the disclosure of classified information that harms national security. The possibility of such widespread damage through leakage of current classified material did not exist in the past (or if it did, then the newspapers exercised restraint).

    I have already pointed out not 5 by significant SYSTEMIC harm caused by the leaks. The flow of information will now be highly curtailed, creating many more 9/11s than ever before. Time will confirm that. I know how systems work, and this is one thing that systems go well: they know how to shut down information flows.

    I wouldn’t debate this further. I am only talking about general principles. What specific harm is caused by a specific harmful act is irrelevant. It is merely academic. The principle is what matters.

    Regards
    Sanjeev

     

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