Friday, August 28, 2009


The Scariest Paragraph I've Read in a While

This is the first paragraph in a WSJ story--on page A4--from earlier this week:
WASHINGTON -- The CIA lacked clear safeguards to prevent abuses in some instances in its network of secret prisons for terror suspects, and some interrogators had inadequate training and oversight, a long-withheld 2004 report found, according to current and former officials who have read the document.
So what does this single paragraph tell us?

(1) The CIA had at least one prison for terror suspects.

(2) The CIA had a network of prisons for terror suspects.

(3) The CIA had a SECRET network of prisons for terror suspects.

(4) The abuses in said network of secret prisons were so rampant that there was actually a report issued on the matter.

(5) The report on abuses in the CIA's secret network of prisons has been suppressed for five years.

And Matt Yglesias says Hayek's Road to Serfdom was a "nutty alarmist book." Hey Yglesias, suppose we were on the road to serfdom? Isn't this what it would feel like?

You`re right, Bob; that paragraph tells us alot.

But it also tells us that the light of day has, to some degree, been cast on the mess. Since I think most of us who were paying attention were already aware of the secret network, this news is actually somewhat reassuring.

Much more troublesome about the road to serfdom would be news of a DOMESTIC secret prison network, on top of what we already know about internal spying, still apparently ongoing, etc.
Of course I agree with you that Yglesias is wrong about Hayek`s book, which certainly expresses legitimate concerns about creeping totalitarianism
Don't worry guys, this stuff is what is keeping America safe.
It happens that my book club is reading Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich" currently. I didn't realize until I read the foreward that this is the book that exposed the existence of the secret prisons of the Soviet Gulag, previously hidden behind official secrets and media suppression.

And apparently we've had our secret prisons long enough for them to develop some systemic problems. Oh, no, wait, that was true back in 2004. I'm sure in the intervening five years of continued secrecy all the problems have been corrected and everything's just FINE...
Jesse, I presume your comment is tongue-in-cheek?
Matt Y, along with many people (including many people who think of themselves as 'Hayek supporters'), either have not read "Road To Serfdom", or not read it too closely.

It is plainly not a critque of Big Government or of the Welfare State or of the Welfare / Warfare State per se. It was a critique of the wartime and post-war fashion and associated pretensions of central economic planning.

As such it was not an irrelevant alarmist work disproved by history. Just the opposite. "Road" played a major role in discouraging left and right from pursuing central economic planning. Many left of center people in different countries were persuaded to opt for welfarism rather than full planning as a result.

Hayek opposed welfarism and big government too, and he saw them as ultimately leading to tyranny too. But he saw their impact as a more roundabout track than the highway to tyranny he saw the wartime and immediate post-war Central Planning fashion as taking us on. He did not address this issue in "Road".

In a sense center-left welfare and big government types can quite consistently and logically agree with "Road To Serfdom", even if they don't go as far as libertarians and others in their broader critique of big government.

Having said all that, the tyrannical and torturous abuse you have rightfully objected too, are in many ways natural bi-products of imperialist foreign policies and their inherent tendency to get on the wrong side of colonial insurgencies. This isn't really a "big government" issue so much, as we saw similar and sometimes worse abuses during "smaller government" eras of western history. For example US policy in the conquest of the Philippines or the British Empire's war against South Africa's Boers.
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