Before beating a hasty retreat, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went where no world leader has gone before. Last month, he became the first Western leader to wield the financial system as a push-button weapon of government enforcement against opinions and behaviors that he found politically distasteful or inconvenient. This is an entirely new form of power, which much of the world has not even begun to reckon with — but which may well define our politics in the years to come. …
Old: Real-world friction:
To grasp the idea of real-world friction, let’s take the example of arresting, convicting, and jailing a citizen in a democracy. In order to make an arrest, a police officer must be hired and given the authority to make the arrest. He must locate the individual he needs to arrest. He must identify that individual. He must physically perform the arrest by placing handcuffs on the individual, and take him to a holding facility where he must read the arrestee his rights. As you can imagine, finding people and taking them to jail is a time-consuming, tedious, and difficult process.
Additionally, in order to prosecute the arrested person and carry out a judicial punishment, there must be a trial. The arrested person is entitled to a lawyer. It is required that evidence is provided and often that other people must testify. The accused is also entitled to a defense, and a verdict must be reached in his case. If the person is convicted, he must be taken to a jail cell. In short, a series of difficult steps must be taken in the real, physical world in order to arrest, convict, and jail someone.
The same applies in the market. It used to be that if I wanted to buy a product, I needed to have access to a mode of transportation, get to a store, and give the right amount of physical currency to the store owner in order to receive my physical item—all of which creates real-world friction. …
One might respond that, “Even in an analog world, the government can still freeze assets.” But it’s not so simple. In an analog world, it can be incredibly time-intensive to figure out how many bank accounts a particular person has. There are thousands of banks in the United States alone. In a world prior to digital searching, it would be very difficult even for the government to find a person’s bank accounts and freeze their assets without a rather large investment of time by numerous people with specialized skills. To merit such treatment, the target would have to be someone very special — a drug kingpin, or an exceptionally crooked politician who stole money on a vast scale.
But now digital search and control have reduced the friction costs:
It’s no longer necessary to spend large amounts of time and manpower poring over paper receipts to figure out how a business or individual spent their money.
Moreover, the world’s various financial institutions are becoming increasingly interconnected and enmeshed. …
The decentralization that was the norm in a cash society has eroded. The financial world is quickly becoming centralized as the major players become ever more interconnected.
The loss of real-world friction coupled with the increasing centralization of the financial system has opened up possibilities for new forms of coercion, control, and power — particularly when governments and the private sector decide to cooperate.
Which brings us to the case of the Canadian prime minister. … Trudeau and his government exercised a form of power unprecedented for a democracy.
The Trudeau government declared a state of emergency, and using its emergency powers began to freeze the bank accounts of anyone they had reason to believe was blocking roads and bridges — including not just the truckers and other protesters themselves, but those who financially supported them.
Rather than having to go through the very difficult task of physically moving semitrucks, and fining, ticketing, or charging those who blocked bridges and roads, the government gave a simple order — and with a few keystrokes, people associated with the protest were almost completely locked out of Canada’s financial system. Everything from paying mortgages, to buying gas, to getting a cup of coffee at a drive-thru became impossible for those that the government had deemed to be a problem.
What happens when a government is no longer required to do the very difficult, friction-filled work of finding people, writing tickets, arresting them, charging them, granting them due process, obtaining convictions, and jailing the guilty?
When the government can bring a person’s practical participation in society to a standstill with the push of a button, it becomes silly to even talk about individual rights or due process.
In the face of this new kind of push-button power, exercised at the whim of the governing party with zero legal oversight, individuals can simply be deleted from the system — even if, technically speaking, they are never charged with or convicted of a crime. …
It gets worse:
A deeper concern is what happens when private institutions like corporations, universities, and media exercise the same power without even the pretense of accountability. If the large financial institutions want to, they can act as gatekeepers to society and would be held accountable only by the market, to which they also hold the keys.
Given that institutions are heavily dependent on each other, if the institutions that hold important positions in the global financial web decide to freeze someone out, they can do so with the push of a button.
Worse yet, we can imagine a scenario in which a system of freeze-outs could be automated based on people’s credit scores, purchasing histories, political donation patterns, key words in social media postings, carbon footprints, or political activism.
It’s not hard to imagine a situation in which a citizen of a democracy wakes up one day to find themselves unable to participate in the digital economy, where almost all financial transactions take place, due to an automated system which flags them as being undesirable in some way.
So they have this new tool. You think they aren’t going to use it, over and over again, until somehow we make it too painful for them to use it?
Meanwhile, the current dynamic is that leftists want to rule large corporations so they can do the dirty work that the government isn’t legally allowed to do. They can’t silence you but they can get tech companies to kick you off the internet.
Hang a few executives or burn them at the stake and they’ll feel differently. The market is, in the end, not the only thing that can hold people accountable. It’s unwise to forget that.
People and institutions want to practice social alchemy, but there’s only one universal solvent. Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of history would know that, but our elites are poorly educated.
It is not possible to use free market mechanics (whether free markets involving money or ‘market of ideas’) to turn an unfree market free, that is, to repair market capture.
This is what people allude to when they say you can vote your way into communism, but you can’t vote your way out again.
Down with “too big to fail.” Back to “too big to be tolerated.”