Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Papiere, Bitte (Papers, Please)

Growing up as a child in World War II, I saw countless movies in which a German soldier in uniform, or a Gestapo agent in plain clothes, would utter the spine-chilling words “Papiere, Bitte” (“Papers, Please"). What made those words spine chilling was the fact that whoever they were uttered to was in imminent danger of arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution. This was almost certain to be the fate of any hapless soul who was unfortunate enough not to have his “Papiere” or whose “Papiere” did not satisfy the German who examined them.

Now, over sixty years later, it appears that those dread words, “Papiere, Bitte,” will soon be spoken in English—“Papers, Please”— and with all kinds of British accents. This was reported exactly a week ago, in The New York Times of February 14, in an article titled “A Bit of Good News for Blair: ID Cards for Britons Advance.” The article reported, “The government of Prime Minister Tony Blair faced down its opposition on Monday in a politically charged vote in the House of Commons on a plan to introduce mandatory national identification cards. The vote moved Britain closer to the use of such cards but did not make clear precisely when that would be.”

Worse still, the United States may not be all that far behind Britain in the adoption of such a system. An op-ed piece in today’s New York Times is testing the waters. Titled “A Card We Should All Carry,” the article dares to assert that “a national ID can put power in the hands of the people.” It will allegedly do this by, among other things, providing access to a national database containing everyone’s complete medical history and by enabling people with no fixed address to more easily claim welfare benefits.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the author (or to Tony Blair and his supporters, for that matter), that as a government becomes more and more oppressive, people have more and more reason not to want to be identified by it, indeed, to have their government know nothing whatever about them. For as a government more and more prohibits behavior that is both peaceful and advantageous to people, and more and more compels behavior that is against the interests of people, there will necessarily be more and more violations of its ever growing body of laws and regulations. In such circumstances, the easier it is for the government to identify and find the violators, the more effective is its oppression. By the same token, the less the government knows about its citizens, the greater is their freedom from it and thus the greater their ability to pursue their happiness.

Of course, today we have a problem of terrorism. And many people are prepared to accept such a thing as national identity cards in the belief that they are necessary to combat terrorism. It does not seem to have occurred to such people, that the terrorists who pose a serious problem are those supported by foreign governments and that they will soon be equipped with identity cards that are good enough forgeries to make the system worthless as a means of protection. The people who will be stopped by the system will not be terrorists but innocent citizens, seeking to evade unjust laws and regulations.

The United States and Great Britain defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. It is disgraceful that they are they now on the road toward importing this vicious feature of that regime, and that there is as yet so little opposition to it.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site http://www.capitalism.net/ is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved.

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