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The Logic of the Surveillance State

2013 June 9
by Ian Welsh

I don’t have a lot to say about Prism, it’s nothing that I find surprising at all.  I would have been surprised if they weren’t doing this.  That does not, of course, mean that they should be doing it.  Basically, assume you’re being watched at all times. That does not mean a human being is watching you, but assume that an algorithim is watching your behaviour, and will flag you if your pattern of contacts seems suspicious.  Once you are tagged, assume that everything you’ve done online, and most of what you’ve done in the real world if you’re in most major metropolitan centers, can be back traced.  As pattern recognition becomes better, this will become even easier to do, and, indeed, automatic.  The online and the offline will be linked together.

Again, this is nothing I didn’t believe was already happening, which isn’t to say that proof isn’t a nice thing to have, for all the dullards with their heads in the sand, who refuse to believe the obvious till it becomes as obvious as a boot stomping their face, over and over again.

This feeds directly in to the nature of our society, both domestically in Western countries and internationally.  Our society is fundamentally unjust, as the charts in the Failure of Liberalism post make clear.  It is fundamentally unfair internationally, and much of the so-called progress of the last few decades has been a mirage (for example, Indians now live on less calories a day than they did 40 years ago.) The women being raped, and the men and women being butchered in the Congo are killed because of how we structure the international economy, and the people who die in factory fires, likewise.

Surveillance states aren’t uncommon at all.  Chinese and Japanese history are full of curfews, and people having to carry papers at all times, and restrictions on travel, and so on.  The late Roman empire was, in certain respects, a surveillance state.  Of course the USSR was, East Germany was, and indeed, many European countries, even today, require citizens to carry and show papers.

Citizen.

The problem with surveillance states, and with oppression in general, is the cost.  This cost is both direct, in the resources that are required, and indirect in the lost productivity and creativity caused by constant surveillance.  Surveillance states, oppressive states, are not creative places, they are not fecund economically.  They can be efficient and productive, for as long as they last, which is until the system of control is subverted, as it was in the USSR. We forget, in light of the late USSR’s problems, that it did create an economic miracle in the early years, and tremendously boost production. Mancur Olson’s “Power and Prosperity” gives a good account of why it worked, and why it stopped working.

Liberalism, in its classic form, is, among other things, the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them well.  Conservatism is the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them badly.

Post war Liberalism was a giant experiment in “treat people well”.  The Reagan/Thatcher counter-revolution was a giant experiment in “treat people worse”.  The empirical result is this: the rich are richer and more powerful in a society that treats people like shit, but a society which treats people well has a stronger economy, all other things being equal, than one that treats them badly.  This was, also, the result of the USSR/West competition.  (Treating people well or badly isn’t just about equality.)

Liberalism, classic and modern, believes that a properly functioning “freer” society is a more powerful society, all other things being equal.  This was, explicitly, Adam Smith’s argument.  Build a strong peacetime economy, and in wartime you will crush despotic nations into the dirt.

If you want despotism, as elites, if you want to treat everyone badly, so you personally become more powerful and rich, then, you’ve got two problems: an internal one (revolt) and an external one: war and being outcompeted by other nations elites, who will come and take away your power, one way or the other (this isn’t always violently, though it can be.)

The solution is a transnational elite, in broad agreement on the issues, who do not believe in nationalism, and who play by the same rules and ideology. If you’re all the same, if nations are just flags, if you feel more kinship for your fellow oligarchs, well then, you’re safe.  There’s still competition, to be sure, but as a class, you’re secure.

That leaves the internal problem, of revolt.  The worse you treat people, the more you’re scared of them.  The more you clamp down.  This is really, really expensive and it breaks down over generations, causing internal rot, till you can’t get the system to do anything, no matter how many levers you push.

What is being run right now is a vast experiment to see if modern technology has fixed these problems with surveillance and oppressive states.  Is it cheap enough to go full Stasi, and with that level of surveillance can you keep control over the economy, keep the levers working, make people do what you want, and not all slack off and resist passively, by only going through the motions?

The oligarchs are betting that the technology has made that change.  With the end of serious war between primary nations (enforced by nukes, among other things), with the creation of a transnational ruling class, and with the ability to scale surveillance, it may be possible to take and keep control indefinitely, and bypass the well understood problems of oligarchy and police and surveillance states.

73 Responses
  1. June 9, 2013

    I haven’t written anything in a while, but I feel like I have to say something about the recent PRISM/NSA stories.

    META: I think this is an improvement over the previous 3 bullshit Obama scandals. Even if its not really a scandal or even news really, it is still a story that deserves some attention.

    I can’t remember all the back story that I’m aware of but I do remember a bit. I first became aware of the general shape of the thing somewhere around 2005 I think. There was a POOR MAN post about data that also talked about people in the Bush administration threatening to resign over the, then without any legal cover, program and people trying to get Ashcroft to sign off on it in his sickbed.

    In 2007 there was the washington post story about how the NSA had installed splitters in a trunk line (fiber optic) for sweeping up internet communications.

    Which lead to my insight that maybe the NSA doesn’t have a “back door” they just get copies of the latest proprietary software from facebook et al so that all that traffic they are sweeping up (ie all of it) makes more sense.

  2. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 9, 2013

    The Oligarchs are idiots who do not understand humans; which is to say, themselves.
    They’ll fall as always; but the damage is incalculable until the event transpires.
    Humans aren’t the brightest bulbs in the pack, but they do have their limits, which I hope are fast approaching.

  3. June 9, 2013

    I found your point and link on Indian food consumption very interesting. I had a bloggy outburst on one of my Canadian gigs a few weeks ago particularly re the Bangladeshi factory collapse, where it was repeatedly lectured to me by various entities, including one journalist well-known in Canada, that our neoliberal order had done wonderful wonders in bringing the poor out of poverty in the Third World, and that my suggestion that better oversight over the conditions of trade were nothing other than a demand to starve Bangladeshis.

    I am, however, looking at a couple of links (very large PDF, haven’t read whole thing but the first set of tables is interesting) on recent Chinese food consumption — by entities with obvious self-interests — and it’s a mixed but generally bag. The Chinese are consuming more meat, sugar, dairy, and less grains and vegetables.

    I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Indian liberalizations had much worse consequences for food intake than the Chinese ones, by the way.

    As for the surveillance, I mostly share your take on the non-surprise, etc. Almost all of this was more or less admitted by the variety of research programs and publications done out in the open in “data science” and “big data”, and much of it could be found by searching tweets on these terms. It’s been in the mainstream press for a while now, I think. Why so much money would be spent by the government on it should be obvious.

    With the current degree of sophistication in data analysis, the genie is now, for better or for worse, out of the bottle.

  4. YankeeFrank permalink
    June 9, 2013

    Brilliant.

  5. Wisconsin Reader permalink
    June 9, 2013

    It cannot ever be cheap enough since too many of the elites insist upon “getting paid” really incredible amounts. . . So, as necessities continue being eliminated the rabble will eventually have had enough and do something. . . If the GOP had not recruited the old confederacy into their ranks this revolt would have already happened. . . There is still too much resistance among Southern whites to joining forces with black and brown working people. . . Those folks – along with Rural residents of the West and North all own guns – know how to use them – and will not have the centuries of patience exhibited by blacks, browns and native Americans.

  6. Joe S permalink
    June 9, 2013

    They will discover electronic surveillance states are not more stable and/or secure than the old human networks. One simple reason: when the power goes off human networks can adapt, computers cannot.

    This is a difficult problem for them to solve. The more advanced the culture the more sophisticated the control and the greater the need to automate the process. But when the point of the thing is to treat people like crap, you’re not going to build them a beautifully robust and strong power grid. Any revolt that starts by pulling down the grid and conducting their activities “in the dark” until they secure key points will find themselves in a very advantageous position over the modern surveillance state.

    The elites could of course bite the bullet and build that robust infrastructure to keep their control intact, but thinking ahead (and with intelligence) does not seem to be their strong suite.

  7. Orestes Ippeau permalink
    June 9, 2013

    Frank Shannon: Those “splitters” are the co-property of the US government’s PPP with Cisco. That name’ll get worked into the metaconversation again soon, I expect. James Bamford’s been writing about them for years. All ISPs and telcoms are required to use them; the notion that Twitter is somehow exempting itself is a simply a product of its current technology.

    I’m with the general impression that we’ve had the ability to know all this from publicly available and actually published reports and articles, and those who think about it, logically and seriously, have in fact known about this, for years. To me, it all feels like the Iraq invasion bullshit all over again: the only ones who don’t know are A. those who really aren’t interested, never have been, never will be, and won’t be able to sustain any effective level of interest beyond what’s necessary to understand a joke on late-night comedy/talk TV; and B. those who can’t or won’t think beyond what talk radio and establishment-reactionary media tell them in the title, or at most that and the lede.

    It’s just that by “only ones”, that may well be upwards of 90% of even adults.

  8. June 9, 2013

    “it may be possible to take and keep control indefinitely” Longer than previous examples, certainly. But definitely not “indefinitely”. They may control the populace better and longer, but they won’t be able to control events, like natural disasters and especially the man-made ones, which such societies generally produce a surplus of.

    And I sure wish those Midwestern Yankees would give it a rest with the lectures on the former confederate states. That is especially rich coming from the states that gave us Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman and Rick Snyder. Throw in Penna and NJ, too. There is no region of America or sector of society that is yet ready to challenge the current power structure. Middle class whites may be more socially liberal in other parts of the country, but the ingrained anti-union, antilabor anti-inflationista economic dogma are pervasive in every region. The awareness of how bad it is is very limited (just look at how much support Obama gets). Go anywhere in the country and try having a discussion about deficits, what causes them, how dangerous they are (or aren’t), etc. But do like Ulysses with the sirens, and tie yourself to a telephone pole first, because you may want to throw yourself in front of a bus when your done.

  9. June 9, 2013

    With the current degree of sophistication in data analysis, the genie is now, for better or for worse, out of the bottle.

    That sounds too much like passive acceptance for me, Mandos.

    P.S. Apparently DiFi and assorted corporatists think the disclosure is a very big deal.
    ~

  10. guest permalink
    June 9, 2013

    With the current degree of sophistication in data analysis, the genie is now, for better or for worse, out of the bottle.
    That sounds too much like passive acceptance for me, Mandos.

    ****************
    I would say it sounds more like the genies are all sealed in their bottles. These revelations don’t mean much. One or two news cycles, and they will be down the memory hole, like Occupy, like the BP oil spill (which may be on-going), like everything else that isn’t on the RW agenda, such as Bengazi, Whitewater, Solyndra, ACORN, and the rest, which never go away no matter how little anybody really cares.

    Wake me up when any significant genies get out of their bottles. That will be the time to be mildly hopeful and scared shitless.

  11. Cog Girl permalink
    June 9, 2013

    The counter is that the poorer people become the more likely they will be to conduct cash based lifestyles. Off-the-grid so to speak. It is people who have the ability and need to purchase comfort and time which invest in the methods of tracking. Cash based, small social networks, locally governed, will never be controllable unless the surveillance becomes visual.

    Good luck putting cameras over the entire world.

  12. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 9, 2013

    An acquaintance sent me some data on Bangladesh. GDP per capita has risen significantly, food insecurity in rural areas has decreased, but has gotten worse in urban areas. Inequality is, as you’d expect, up. GDP/per capita is a bad measure on these things.

    I tend to believe there has been real progress in China (depending on where in China you are) but they are now beginning to suffer the diseases of early affluence, both food wise and in terms of pollution. Beijing now has the sort of pollution that late 19th century London had, which is to say, killing pollution.

    Neoliberalism to us, looks a lot like mercantalism to the nations doing it. China industrialized by mercantilizing, same as Japan or Korea. That the international order was neoliberal made it easier, but was not necessary. India was the counter-case, the country where one could claim they were not mercantalizing as much. If the Indian miracle is not real, neo-liberalism’s claim to be wonderful for the 3rd world collapses.

  13. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 9, 2013

    They are putting cameras all over the metropolitan world. The numbers in London and NYC are staggering. In LA they plan to put audio surveillance on the busses. Added to aerial (drone, balloon/dirigible) and sattelite surveillance, to cell phones (which even the poor use), and so on, they will have you under visual surveillance much of the time, including while you are inside. They don’t need a horizontal camera to see inside a window any more, I’m given to understand from someone in the industry, and, of course, there’s IR and so on.

    Cash and the underground economy is a problem. The issue here is which people it’s worth bringing and keeping inside the credit economy. While I have little time for bitcoin, a fundamentally regressive little scheme, look at how hard and fast they cracked down on it. I lived on the edges of the gray economy for years. I did have a bank account for most of the time (though I didn’t for a couple years, and cheque cashing places, now called payday loan companies, are hell), but I had no credit card till about 10 years ago, and I often worked for cash on the barrelhead up until about 98 or so.

    It’s a shitty world to live in, generally.

  14. Greg T permalink
    June 9, 2013

    Ian-

    As usual, good thought-provoking material. I’m not sure the transnational elite are all that unified. I do think there is a broad consensus in the US, Canada, UK, Western Europe and probably Japan that the oligarchs should be protected from their losses; the banking system needs to be recapitalized through aggressive monetary expansion, regulatory forbearance and decriminialization. Populations, the prevailing thought goes, need to pay the costs of elite indemnification through reduced services, jobs and increased poverty. However, I don’t think that the consensus extends to the BRICS , or to the Arab world. Geopolitical tensions are escalating and the potential for conflict is fairly significant. AS for surveillance, I’m skeptical how well it will work. It certainly didn’t work in Boston. Its one thing having all of this data, it’s another putting it to effective use.

  15. gregor permalink
    June 9, 2013

    The analysis is obviously brilliant, but is a bit off, in that it is possible to maintain the surveillance state for a much longer time if the group of people being treated badly is restricted to those that are engaged in activities that are not perceived to be creative.

    Further, competition for rewards among the non-elite classes and resentment against each other (e.g. public employees with pensions vs. the employees of the private sector) amplified by appeal to racial and other types of prejudice can also perpetuate the surveillance/oppressive state. That seems to be the M.O. of the Republican Party.

  16. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 9, 2013

    That rarely happens, the actual creatives are almost always the perceived troublemakers. Agree on playing one group off against another. The classic quote is “you can always pay one half of the poor to kill the other half.” (Jay Gould)

  17. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 9, 2013

    Greg: agreed. The “developed world” elites are in broad agreement. The problem with China, Russia and Latin Am is they aren’t entirely onside.

    OTOH, Chinese elites are now sequestering a lot of money in the West. That’s a bad sign for their independence.

    Boston: my thesis is that, for the people really in charge, the info isn’t actually about stopping terrorism. The most effective surveillance, as the Russians found out, is random–people don’t know when and where they’re being watched.

    But the system isn’t complete yet. Their belief is that any failure means they don’t have enough info. So, link it all together with biometrics, predictive algos and pattern recognition. They figure once they know where you are and what you’re doing 24/7, with good algorithims, if you do anything that could be bad, it’ll be flagged, and then they can deal with you (if overseas, drone you, if domestic, kick down your door.)

    Can it work? That’s what this is a test to find out. This is big-time pre-crime stuff.

  18. Harald K permalink
    June 9, 2013

    What is the reason you say the late Roman empire was a surveillance state?

    I’ve been interested in finding out what was the first state that employed what we recognize as police state methods (secret police, spying on citizens, trying to get at well-concealed dissent as well as open dissent). So far, Ivan the Terrible’s regime is the first I’ve found that I believe qualifies.

  19. Thomas Ware, MS permalink
    June 9, 2013

    When the population – the statistical population – grows sufficiently large enough it becomes possible to anticipate how the population will behave. However, while physics is everything, and everything is physics, physics is also chaos. Where “wheels coming off” imply momentum, and momentum implies anticipation of where the wheels will go, there is nothing exact about the anticipation. Regardless the algorithm.

    Best laid plans of mice and men, all that.

    It has long been my contention the population has grown too large, too diverse, covering too great a territory too diverse to sustain centralized control. We’ve seen this failure in all of the smaller nation/state models we have to study to date, and if we use the USSR as example of the largest both experiment and failure as scale then what these “transnational elite”, this cabal of oligarchs, these International Bankers are attempting on at least a hemispheric if not global scale is bound to fail. In physics, a perpetual motion machine cannot feed upon itself indefinitely. It is bound by the laws of nature to fail.

    And there are tales tucked away in the dusty corners of memories not of the white world of a snake who fed upon itself…

    (The MS is for Mad Scientist)

  20. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 9, 2013

    Could be overreaching on that, but my recollection of late Roman (Western) society is a society rife with internal controls.

    I think if you’re doing this research you need to take a good hard look at China. Most things happened in China before the West. I would be shocked if they hadn’t had what amounts to a surveillance state (given the tech restrictions) long before Peter the Great.

    Certainly the Tokugawa regime in Japan was a police state in most respects. Surveillance? Depends where you draw the line.

    There’s a decent discussion of the result’s of Diotician’s reforms on ordinary citizens in this article: http://www.civilisation.org.uk/Decline%20and%20Fall/Diocletian/Diocletian%20-%20serfs.htm

    Basically, the census and taxation in kind and internal control are the beginning of serfdom. Perhaps it is a reach to call this a surveillance society, but it is ultimately based on knowing who people are, and where they should be.

  21. alyosha permalink
    June 9, 2013

    Meet Edward Snowdon, the whistleblower behind the NSA revelations…

    …a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

    The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

    Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.

    In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

  22. St Paul E Wog permalink
    June 9, 2013

    Thanks for the great post, Ian

  23. June 9, 2013

    We should also keep in mind that “Little Data” is also a threat to our privacy:
    Unique in the Crowd: The privacy bounds of human mobility

    Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye,
    César A. Hidalgo,
    Michel Verleysen
    & Vincent D. Blondel

    Scientific Reports
    3,
    Article number:
    1376
    doi:10.1038/srep01376

    Published
    25 March 2013

    We study fifteen months of human mobility data for one and a half million individuals and find that human mobility traces are highly unique. In fact, in a dataset where the location of an individual is specified hourly, and with a spatial resolution equal to that given by the carrier’s antennas, four spatio-temporal points are enough to uniquely identify 95% of the individuals. We coarsen the data spatially and temporally to find a formula for the uniqueness of human mobility traces given their resolution and the available outside information. This formula shows that the uniqueness of mobility traces decays approximately as the 1/10 power of their resolution. Hence, even coarse datasets provide little anonymity. These findings represent fundamental constraints to an individual’s privacy and have important implications for the design of frameworks and institutions dedicated to protect the privacy of individuals.

    SOURCE:
    http://radamisto.blogspot.com/2013/06/i-dont-see-how-we-can-prevent-this.html

  24. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 9, 2013

    alyosha
    June 9, 2013
    Meet Edward Snowdon, the whistleblower behind the NSA revelations…
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Why oh why didn’t he go to Iceland? Reports say he’s in Mainland China, wtf?

  25. alyosha permalink
    June 9, 2013

    @Celsius, he’s in Hong Kong from what I gleaned out of the article/video. Says he would like to go to Iceland.

  26. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 9, 2013

    @ alyosha; one report said he left HK for the Mainland. Yes, he wants to go to Iceland, why didn’t he? That’s what I’d like to know. Anywho, he needs to keep moving, he’ll be a very high priority for rendition.
    It’s early yet; we’ll see…

  27. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 9, 2013

    Iceland elected a right wing govt. recently, not clear they would protect him.

    He’s in Hong Kong. His calculation is probably that China /can/ protect him. Whether they will is another question.

  28. alyosha permalink
    June 9, 2013

    Josh Marshall on What’s the Deal with Hong Kong?. Says Iceland is unrealistic, they’re trying to make nice with the USA.

  29. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 9, 2013

    @ Ian; yes, I saw the interview with the Icelandic female MP on Democracy Now.
    This is a real nail-biter, no?

  30. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 9, 2013

    @ alyosha; nice catch. Interesting…

  31. jcapan permalink
    June 9, 2013

    If I were him, I’d keep my eyes peeled for the Dark Fascist Knight and the Fulton surface to air recovery system.

  32. yet another Ian permalink
    June 9, 2013

    >
    There’s a decent discussion of the result’s of Diotician’s reforms on ordinary citizens in this article: http://www.civilisation.org.uk/Decline%20and%20Fall/Diocletian/Diocletian%20-%20serfs.htm

    Basically, the census and taxation in kind and internal control are the beginning of serfdom. Perhaps it is a reach to call this a surveillance society, but it is ultimately based on knowing who people are, and where they should be.

    If the Rome of Diocletian can be considered as a type of surveillance state then this phenomena is much older than the late Roman Empire. Have a look at the institutions of pharaonic Egypt from at least the time of the 12th Dynasty in the early second millennium BCE.

  33. June 10, 2013

    Another instance of an early surveillance regime would be the Spanish Inquisition, at least from the mid-1400s to the 1600s. Secret denunciations, torture, presumption of guilt, etc. … sounds very modern to me.

    Lee

  34. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 10, 2013

    A few thoughts;
    Edward Snowden has done a truly heroic thing by this outing of the NSA.
    Having left the U.S., I can’t help but think he’s going to be a target of rendition at the least and a hit at worst. I hope he realizes his life is in danger. I also can’t help thinking the U.S. will do “anything” to get him before he can defect; his current understanding of the entire surveillance network will make him a top priority to neutralize him at all costs.
    A brave, but possibly naive, young man. He’s playing a game the U.S. military doesn’t take lightly and they have already killed 4 American citizens for less tangible reasons.
    If China were to get him there is no end to the ramifications real or imagined, IMHO.
    I wish him the best, he’ll need all the help he can get…

  35. June 10, 2013

    Unfortunately, he has made his own definitions. The generally accepted definitions are:

    Conservatism: a political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes.

    Liberalism: a political orientation that favors social progress by reform and by changing laws rather than by revolution.

    By redefining the terms, Ian has made Conservative bad and Liberal good, but by the standard definitions I find value in both.

  36. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 10, 2013

    Unfortunately, those definitions are not how those who claim to be either liberals or conservatives operate or have operated in living memory in the United States. Perhaps that’s what conservatives should do, but in fact, those who call themselves conservatives want to dismantle policies which are now over 70 years old (the New Deal) and in many cases Progressive legislation which is over 100 years old. In doing away with Habeas Corpus, they want to get rid of the best of the past which is, oh, almost a thousand years old.

    As for liberals, well, within living memory liberals have acted by my definition, but current liberals don’t: they are conservatives, by the dictionary definition. They seek to keep the best of the past: things like Social Security, for example. Well, some of them don’t.

    By the dictionary definition:

    Republicans are Reactionaries: they want to get rid of established programs to get back to a better past.
    Democrats are Conservatives: they want to keep policies that are so old that very few people still alive were born before they were put in place.

    There are no Liberals by the dictionary definition in power anywhere in the developed world. There are some in Latin America, perhaps, but that’s it.

    Now that’s a very fine world of theory, but my definition fits how liberals and conservatives have acted, for centuries, better than the dictionary definition. It’s not a hard argument to make, and maybe I’ll bother at some point, but not tonight.

    The reactionary/conservative, Republican/Democrat bit was pointed out by my friend Stirling Newberry many years ago. I’m sure I’ve explained it myself in posts in the past, but can’t be bothered to look it up (when you’ve written thousands of posts, like I have, it becomes a pain.)

  37. jump permalink
    June 10, 2013

    The only surprise regarding the NSA surveillance ‘revelation’ is how many people are surprised by it.
    Governments are not going to give up the technology just because there is some perceived outrage over the policy, particularly not in the five eyes.
    Carriers and ISPs are even paid for this data. You can find Verizon’s price list online for lawful access requests. Yes, there is the requirement for some legal instrument to accompany an access request but that has been pretty watered down over the years.
    The EU has data retention laws regarding call metadata. The big concern in Europe is not so much that the data is collected but that there are adequate security measures in place safeguarding the data and its use.
    It is not a secret that the data is being collected, nor that there will be abuse of the data. The guarded secret is what the capabilities of the systems are in extracting useful data.

  38. David Kowalski permalink
    June 10, 2013

    Life expectancy in most developed countries is in the 80s, not the US. It is 76 in China, 70 in Banladesh, 67 in Pakistan and 65 in India. India has improved life expectancy from 58 in 1990 to 65 in 2011 but has not gained oin China which went from 69 to 76 over the same period.

    In contrast, Afghanistan, with a life expectancy of 60 is the lowest figure outside sub-Saharan Africa.

  39. Hamfast Ruddyneck permalink
    June 10, 2013

    “That does not mean a human being is watching you”

    “Hal, quit spying on me.”

    “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Hamfast.”

  40. June 11, 2013

    I perhaps come at this with a different perspective. As I’ve noted in the past, I work in the Big Data area in the Silicon Valley. We’re working on the sort of technological pipe dream that would be able to detect something as nebulous as “terrorist patterns”. But here’s the thing: WE CAN’T DO IT. And if we, with billions more in R&D dollars and hundreds of thousands more smart people than the NSA could ever dream of having, can’t do it, and if the NSA is *still* coming to us hat in hand to buy our technology even though it won’t do much of what they want to do, what does that say for the claims by President Obama that this massive data dragnet is about “catching terrorists”?

    It’s not. It can’t be. We just don’t have the technology to churn through that massive pile of data for something as nebulous as “terrorist patterns”. The technology we do have is impressive, and frightening in its implications, but those implications will play out over the next ten year cycle of security technology upgrades. Right now, we aren’t there.

    But one thing we *can* do, and can do quite easily, is associate pieces of data with *specific* people. That’s what Google does, after all — shards and indexes massive quantities of data so that you can find out everything related to a specific person, place, or thing. In short, this data pile is useless for the purpose of catching unknown terrorists, but extremely useful for the purpose of surveillance of known dissidents. Because once you know who you’re wanting to track, it’s just an index lookup (a massively distributed one across piles of data, but still, just an index lookup) to pull in everything about that person that you’d ever want to know.

    How many of you have things that you’d prefer not to see the light of day, even if they’re not illegal? The impact of this on democracy cannot be understated. Potential opponents of the Hegemons must stop and think about what facts about their life that might be spun to be embarrassing or humiliating before they step forward to oppose the Hegemons, and for all but the most pure, that exercise will lead to them slinking away in humiliation rather than stepping forward in opposition.

    So this isn’t about terrorists. This is about dissidents. That’s all we have the technology to do today — and you can’t convince me that the NSA is going to build a massive system that is useful today only for surveillance of dissidents only on the future promise that it might some day, somehow, be possibly capable of identifying “terrorists”. While government boondoggles of that sort aren’t unknown — remember “Star Wars”, which never had a chance of actually working to shoot down Soviet missiles? — those were clear crony capitalism with no use outside of enriching crony capitalists. But if a system has been built with one clear *current* use that actually works, then it makes sense to assume that it will be used for that use. Which is surveillance of dissidents.

    Welcome to 1984, citizens. Please salute Big Brother as you pass the nearest video camera. Thank you.

  41. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 11, 2013

    Yes, of course it’s about dissidents, not terrorists.

    And they are very good at smearing people. Look at the nature of the attacks on Manning, Assange and Snowden (and even Greenwald: a man “without many friends”.)

    The fact that the algos suck at what they do, has not, however, stopped them from using them. They are already used to pick out drone targets. A certain amount of collateral damage is not only acceptable, it is the point, because it inculcates terror in the general populace.

  42. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 11, 2013

    When are people going to understand that this (surveillance) was never really about terrorists?
    9/11 was perfect for doing what had been attempted for more than 50 years.
    So many prescient intellectuals; so much apathy to the information…
    We generally get what we want; be sure you understand what it is that you want…

  43. gendjinn permalink
    June 11, 2013

    In light of this analysis the systematic elimination of the middle class makes even more sense. Revolutions are primarily driven and led by the middle class – from the American, French through to Russian.

    The thing that puzzles me is if the 1% are driving this change why aren’t they concerned about climate change? Do they think their wealth will insulate them and their children from the fallout?

  44. Hamfast Ruddyneck permalink
    June 11, 2013

    Gendjinn: We talking apes have a mental weakness: Even if we know at first that we are being told a lie, if the lie is repeated often enough, we will nonetheless start believing it to be true.

    However, the liars are talking apes, too, so this tactic includes the danger that the liars will start believing their own lies.

    Hence, the fat cats who have been lying to us that anthropogenic global warming is not real may have begun to believe their own lies, and THAT’S why they aren’t worrying about it.

  45. Everythings Jake permalink
    June 11, 2013

    Robert Baer was interviewed on Ian Masters yesterday. He made an observation to the effect that working solutions in the private contractor grab bag that is now our national security complex is not really an evidently desirable business model. I think what he called “churn” is really a perverse form of planned obsolescence.

    My sense is that the data analysis “prevents” only in the sense that if they use it to catch someone who has already committed an “act” and that person gives up others who might have committed an “act” it gets counted as prevention. Seems like a king of weaselly Obama Administration mix of propaganda and lawyer-ese. Of course it’s retroactive value, using it to unearth connections once they identify someone to investigate, seems hard to dispute in the technocratic sense, but in all other regards it’s terrifying as the margins of what may or may not be permitted tomorrow shift.

    I’ve become something of a pariah in my little corner of gay-dom for warning my friends that unless our community throws its resources behind issues other than marriage – economic justice, housing, right to work, unions (a nice boycott of some horrendously anti-union and probably anti-gay company like the one Milk championed against Coors), we may find this Weimar like liberty all too short lived. A recent spate of bashings and beatings by police in NYC is worrisome (of course the NYC gays have not been particularly good on stop and frisk)…

  46. Jessica permalink
    June 11, 2013

    @gendjinn
    The elite do not care about global warming because they ceased being a coherent elite with a historical function about half a century ago. They are simply a pack of plunderers now. When trying to keep us in line, they can come together just enough that they can seem unified to us. In short, as a class, they simply are not thinking that far ahead. They no longer think past the current scam.
    The Russian Revolution was made primarily by landless peasants who were only 2 generations removed from serfdom deciding that seizing the land they worked was more important than getting killed on behalf of the aristocrats. The new working class in St. Petersburg and Moscow (themselves at most one generation removed from the hated village) placed themselves at the head of the parade. There was hardly any Russian middle class to speak of and what there was was swept away in the civil war (along with nearly the entire working class too).
    I do not think that the elite is deliberately setting out to eliminate the middle class. They are simply stealing whatever they can without much thought for the future or the impact on anyone else. From the perspective of the middle class, the distinction I am making may not matter much.

  47. jcapan permalink
    June 11, 2013

    Great comment by Badtux. Democrats are viscerally opposed to confronting that reality, that such programs could possibly target dissidents. As if their fevered bogeymen, the GOP, will never take up the reins of power again, using the abusive tools codified by their patron saint. As if their reverence for current authority with immunize them to the excesses of future authority.

    “In 2006, when George W. Bush was president, just 37 percent of Democrats said the N.S.A. surveillance program was acceptable, while 61 percent said it was not. Now those numbers are 64 percent and 34 percent respectively.

    Republicans appear to be fair-weather fans as well. In 2006, 75 percent said the program was acceptable, and 23 percent said it was not. Now 52 percent find it acceptable, and 47 percent unacceptable.”

    If only hypocrites were to suffer the consequences.

  48. Richard Brown permalink
    June 12, 2013

    I just want to chime in late and say what a brilliant piece of writing this is and how much I wish any part of it was wrong. Some of your subscribers apparently think that history will turn on the global elite and somehow empower us again. Well, keep pleasant thoughts. But if the coming of drone technology and robotic warfare does not raise any doubts in your mind….

    Ten (or even 5) years ago the ‘pleasant thought’ was that the internet would connect people beyond the traditional pathways of control…but now it is fully apparent that it is a double-edged sword.

  49. scruff permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Peak Oil, once again, becomes something to be welcomed rather than feared. As it becomes more expensive to run these surveillance systems, the overlords will have to reduce their scope and leave larger areas out of their focus.

    BTW, did anyone else almost vomit seeing David Brooks’ latest op-ed targeting Snowden as a bad guy for sowing cynicism of the growing government panopticon?

  50. May permalink
    June 12, 2013

    @Greg T what you notice: ” there is a broad consensus in the US, Canada, UK, Western Europe” may be attributable to the consensus created by the annual Bilderberg meetings. I had wondered about the synchronicity in western media coverage of certain topics and policies of western nations. Now I understand where it is emanating from.
    @ Ian Walsh, India’s problem is that growth sector (basically IT) was too small for size of population. If you check out various policies undertaken by the so called Asia Tigers you can see how policies and population size determines scale of improvements. Fro instance why Singapore rose the way Malaysia/Indonesia still haven’t-and their populations are still much smaller than India and Bangladesh. Bangladesh is all about textile factories-nothing much else. Over 80% of its exports are from this sector-where factories compete to pay workers less! Textile workers are paid the least in the world. Little wonder urban areas have more hunger.

  51. May permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Ian-There is no comparison between India and China. China’s policies for improvement were much deeper and wider. Just one example India has no example like the TVEs of China.

    By the way, pollution still kills in West. Here there is also insidious pollution that is not visible . There is a reason for the rise in cancer and other diseases.

  52. May permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Correction: Malaysia’s population size is much smaller than India and Bangladesh. Indonesia’s population is more than Bangladesh’s. But keep in mind Indonesia also has commodities and despite that its population has not improved like China’s. I think it all comes back to the policies undertaken. You need to go beyond media coverage. Media just looks at superficial factors and can as a result also lead to a knowledge deficit without a deeper look at the subject matter.

  53. May permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Ian-In Boston’s case they were warned twice by Russia. That should have meant constant surveillance;but didn’t.
    As for Liberals- see how they behaved in the colonies and with the Indians/indigenous people of their lands.
    What really stuck me about the NSA is how out of touch with the US they are. This is a country where aging white population has basically not enough savings for retirement let alone health care in retirement-even with Medicare! meanwhile the future majority is the minority population (born in 2011-so time is not a friend here), largest segments of which have been disadvantaged by the education system in an era when college education determines upward mobility! It seems a classic enterprise of out of touch with reality elites thhat Jared Diamond has discussed in the context of the decline of civilizations. In this case one can say the analysis also holds true for nations.
    By the way you discussed suburbia as a cause for Liberal decline. Actually suburban developments have been so inefficient they cannot pay for infrastructure maintenance. Check out the Strong Towns website to get some grisly info on that! They also have been a factor in the economic segregation due to cause real harm to the US economy. By the way public universities are now so expensive most of the poor cannot afford them. So they are stuck with the poor Community college option and that is not good. Even in a wealthy state like NYC graduation rate is beyond dismal.

    http://statepolitics.lohudblogs.com/2013/06/07/report-35-of-ny-community-college-students-graduate-within-6-years/
    Report: 35% of NY community college students graduate within 6 years
    http://www.theticker.org/ about/2.8215/graduation-rates- for-cuny-s-community-colleges- reach-an-all-time-low-1. 2680475#.TuBlmLJC9ZE
    Graduation Rates for CUNY’s community colleges reach an all time low
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-education-inequality-persists–and-how-to-fix-it/2012/05/15/gIQAXEIeSU_blog.html
    Why education inequality persists — and how to fix it
    http://nationaljournal.com/next-economy/analysis-working-hard-is-no-longer-the-ticket-to-achieving-the-american-dream-20120925
    Horatio Alger, RIP
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ news/article-2007795/ Achievement-gap-Hispanic- white-students-unchanged- decades.html
    ‘Sobering’ report shows education achievement gap between Hispanics and whites remains unchanged in two decades
    https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/population_review/v048/48.1.rumbaut.ht
    Generations of Exclusion: Mexican Americans, Assimilation, and Race
    http://www.vdare.com/posts/ mexican-american-sociologists- on-long-term-mexican-american- underachievement
    Mexican-American Sociologists On Long-Term Mexican-American Underachievement
    http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/magazine/100516/inequality-mobility-economy-america-recession-divergence
    The Mobility Myth
    I think impact will be felt long before 2050 as MM generation was born in 2011 and will the cycle start when it enters bad schools.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22283-america-2050-population-change-threatens-the-dream.html?full=true
    America 2050: population change threatens the dream

  54. May permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Very interesting….
    http://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2013/06/09/using-metadata-to-find-paul-revere/
    Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere

  55. Bruce Wilder permalink
    June 12, 2013

    I watched kind of, sort of viewed while doing more important, but stupid things, a Chris Hayes cable news he-said, she-said Ping-Pong match. I couldn’t tell you, who the two players were. One, evidently claimed to have been part of the apparatus, and was defending the basic integrity and necessity of the program, while the other was a typical, worthless liberal handwringer, who thought there were “questions”, while conceding the necessity of secrecy and security and all that noise.

    Anyway, today, I was reflecting on that discussion, letting my id recall what it would, as I took a recreational walk. And, what I thought was, I really, really wish there was someone, who could get on television, and do a Keith Olbermann special comment, that just ripped these jerkoffs a new one. Not the faux outrage from the Left about the government “spying on” Americans, those special folks, with a constitutional right to privacy afforded no one else.

    This guy on Chris Hayes, who I’m sure was no one important — else how could Chris Hayes “get” him on the program — made his opening gambit the solemn assertion in a deeply manly voice, that the program was “designed” to stop terrorism, and “designed” to protect the country, and people, who know nothing about it really (and how could anyone know anything, since it is supposedly all so secret) should just shutup and honor the service of those, who keep their oaths to not spill the beans.

    The thing is, the program isn’t “designed” to do anything useful at all. The architecture of secrets and lies is inherently faulty. To mix metaphors, secrets and lies are two sides of the same counterfeit truth, the same plug nickel, these jerkwads are trying to pass off as the coin of the realm. If it is “designed” to do anything at all, it is clearly “designed” to subvert democracy and undermine the republic.

    These guys (and gals) do not deserve any respect at all. This Clapper is a liar, who should probably go to jail, if not the gallows, for betraying his country. Forget the faux outrage of the tame Left, about the government “spying” on information, which (unfortunately) isn’t actually private in the all-important operative, technical sense. That’s an issue, but it is an issue of internet architecture and data structures and practices, not the big, bad government, particularly. (I fear where this is going is that the NSA might be privatized further, not that any of this is going to stop, commercially let alone politically.)

    We should be challenging this presumption that the security state is even slightly competent. Secrecy doesn’t make it more competent, that’s for sure. But, let’s just start, with challenging the idea that this gang is anything, but hopelessly incompetent.

    I saw today that some schmuck at Guantanamo is being given a super-secret trial over his role in the bombing the Cole. I’d like to ask about the court martial of the captain of the Cole, who failed to see that required procedures were followed to protect his ship. When did that happen? What was the result? How was that fooled punished? Held accountable? Oh, didn’t happen?! Shocking!

    The CIA and other secret agencies have been screwing up, over and over and over, and yet, somehow, these facts never seem to become part of the conventional wisdom. No one on the Right is ever asked to acknowledge the reality of incompetence and failure, in these discussions. The tame Liberal just wrings her tiny little hands, apologizing for even raising questions.

    Clapper gave away the existence of a British mole inside Al Qaeda, and the response of the government was to investigate a Fox News reporter! Fox News!!!! In the great Cold War, the CIA managed to get every, single Soviet they managed to turn — often with idealistic, liberal b.s. as much as cash — killed. EVERY ONE! The Soviet police state was actually more competent, at the basics, than ours. And, the reason was that the CIA, FBI and like agencies tend to put authoritarian traitors in charge, and they act, predictably, like authoritarian traitors.

    Thanks for giving me a place to rant. Hopefully, my name is not now in some database, being analyzed for my relation to Paul Revere.

  56. William Dueck permalink
    June 12, 2013

    That leaves the internal problem, of revolt. The worse you treat people, the more you’re scared of them. The more you clamp down. This is really, really expensive and it breaks down over generations, causing internal rot, till you can’t get the system to do anything, no matter how many levers you push.

    The “expensive” comment seems out of place here. What is an “expense” when what used to be cash-in-hand tangible paper and metal money, now is merely an electronic record of accounting? As of 2013, most people I know don’t carry much cash, opting instead for their plastic credit or debit card. They pay bills on-line or with automatic withdrawal approvals. The entire scheme of “interest” and its various derivatives shows that money is created out of thin air, and is more conceptual than real and tangible.

    What is “expensive” thus is nothing more than a tally, which can be altered at whim with chicanery.

    I see little evidence from my peers to show they are worried in any way about the surveillance state. When they speak about it, most show (by words — I don’t know their innermost thoughts to the contrary if they exist at all) approval, citing to the threat of “terrorists” and the comfort in Papa Government protecting them from the so-called threat of “terrorism.” To raise the question of terror being manufactured, that’s risking friends and peers labelling me as whacko conspiracy nutjob or worse. I know it’s a risk because I’ve been labelled that way when raising the issue!

    As you said, Ian, it would be surprising to learn this surveillance is not happening. Back in 2006, Mark Klein told of what he saw at a Verizon/ATT installation in San Francisco, and but for a few reports it was buried or ignored by even “dissident” outlets, both established and blogging scribbler alike.

    I don’t think there’s much risk of revolt, or concern about “expenses” of surveillance. What I see when I look at Uncle Sam is disregard for “expense.” I see no concern about the so-called “national debt” to other nations, which suggests that if any nation calls Uncle Sam to pay up, Sam will just ignore the call and whatever dunning notices may accrue. Wiping the slate clean, treating it as a dead debt, that seems to be what will be done.

    To me the entire situation shows what is bogus about “economics” and the issue of what is a thriving “economy.” All that matters to those who are thriving now is that they keep their top shelf positions, no matter what the rest of us may want, think or do.

    What I take away from this is grey markets and underground commerce, bartering and the like. Established sub-economies or sub-currencies (like bitcoin) will be crushed as soon as they look like attempts to spread alternatives on larger scales. Informal things show a much greater chance of working, but they require people to think differently about their daily commercial activity. They require an inversion of what we consider “money” and basically, a deconstruction of trade to a simpler thing. I’m not sure that’s possible in such a modern technology society, but then, I’m not sure about the possibility of anything, really.

  57. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 12, 2013

    This is the deep corruption of bad economic thinking. There is a real economy. It consists of people doing things. Something is expensive if it involves a lot of people doing things, both because they consume resources and because they and those resources could be doing other things (opportunity costs).

  58. William Dueck permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Maybe — but that’s an idiosyncratic definition of “expensive.” Maybe “costly” would be clearer, with “cost” defined as everything done toward whatever end you’ve chosen as the target?

    If I had to think of a “real economy” I would have to go back to the oikos root and include more than just commercial demands. Which, again, shows the problem in “economics” as it’s defined in practice throughout the First World — the ignorance of ecosystem costs/demands.

    Maybe “economics” is a useful shorthand, for those who agree on all the basic precepts. Every encounter I’ve had with “economics” and “economists” finds divergence where ecosystem points are raised. They’re off the balance sheet. Gobble up and destroy natural resources, the only “costs” related are those where someone works, or pays another to work, the resource out of the land. If the resource can then be resold, or re-used, in a profitable venture then it’s a bonus. Meanwhile what about the environmental losses? Only encountered if we’re talking about something like farming (and soils robbed of nutrients) or logging (and likewise nutrient loss, habitat loss, impacts upon freshwater ecosystems adjacent to the logged land).

    Only an “economist” talks about “opportunity costs.” Do you think someone who can no longer fish a stream because adjacent land was strip-mined or clear-cut thinks of an “opportunity cost”?

    If 10 people gather to play half-court 5-on-5 basketball, has it been “expensive”? It took 10 humans and used up whatever time they needed to warm up, play, cool down, and return to whatever other “productive” thing they otherwise could do.

    I’m not criticizing you personally. I’m talking about the limitations of jargon and/or insular academic constructs. “Economics” is irrelevant to most who aren’t economists because it speaks in a language useless to most, and it’s pointless to me because it enjoys ignoring whatever can’t be tallied as a monetary cost or profit.

    What is the point of human existence? To make money? To be a functioning part of an “economy” in the tally-sheet sense?

    How does ecological existence factor in? What bargain is China making with its current hyperindustrial activity and its choice to destroy natural resources with toxic effluents of solid, gaseous and liquid types?

    I’m pretty sure that people who are in positions of decisive authority in the NSA or the CIA aren’t too worried about how many people are busy at Ft Meade, but absent Total Surveillance otherwise could be shuffling paper as an office clerk, or selling cars, or working algorithms to fabricate a new form of financial derivative product?

  59. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 12, 2013

    Multiply every financial account and instrument by 10 and the real economy would be little (or no) larger.

    Opportunity cost is, in fact, one way to look at the sort of things you’re talking about. And ordinary people talk about trade-offs all the time, which is just another way of saying “you can’t have or do it all”. Every path walked implies a path not walked, etc…

    But if don’t believe that people do things in the economy, and that just printing more money doesn’t have a 1:1 to effect on how much people can do, we can’t talk usefully. Frank’s only got so many hours in his life, if he’s using them spying on Americans, he ain’t curing cancer, going to the moon, reducing global warming, making funky art or writing soulful music.

  60. William Dueck permalink
    June 13, 2013

    But if don’t believe that people do things in the economy, and that just printing more money doesn’t have a 1:1 to effect on how much people can do, we can’t talk usefully.

    Your remarks have a distinct combative and/or dismissive vibe. Why is that? Insecurity? Pugilistic temperament? Bellicosity? Spoiling for a fight and eager to throw a verbal punch?

    Frank’s only got so many hours in his life, if he’s using them spying on Americans, he ain’t curing cancer, going to the moon, reducing global warming, making funky art or writing soulful music.

    Now you’re stating the obvious. Seriously. If I’m taking a shit, I can’t be changing the oil in my truck. Unless I want to shit in my pants while lying on my back. Which I don’t want. But in any case what does that have to do with anything?

    Your claim above is that Total Surveillance is “expensive,” then you did a little do-si-do around what you meant by “expensive.” Seriously, do you think you’re out-smarting me here? If that’s your game, have at it. Declare victory on the internet. Bully bully. But if you’re trying to learn something by conversation (something = a thing other than your present assumptions), you’re not succeeding here.

    Again, tell me how those who work at NSA in administrative/executive roles actually are worried about the “expense” of Dave Deskjockey being a low-grade eavesdropper, rather than a sculptor of whimsical hipster art made from PBR cans and Natural Spirit cig boxes.

    Your opinions don’t seem to be in touch with reality. Nobody at NSA, at the White House, in the Congress cares whether Total Surveillance is “expensive” in the sense of “humans could be doing something else.” Nothing in the American economy cares about that issue. In fact it’s so apathetic as to be directly antagonistic to it. The point of the American economy, from the view of those at its top, is for anyone not at the top to be a wage drone.

    If you need help seeing that, I’m able to guide you through it. And I’ll do it without some sort of high-handed “if you can’t see X then we can’t talk” dismissal.

    Or you could just toss out a few more barbs that lack velcro quality. I guess it’s up to you.

    But above you said these things are what the NSA and the overall Fed Govt is concerned about, as “expensive”.

  61. William Dueck permalink
    June 13, 2013

    Oops. The last sentence “But above you said….” should be deleted. In case that wasn’t obvious.

  62. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 13, 2013

    Well, you’ve finally managed to fuddle through and make your point clear, and, actually, it’s an important one, but at this point I don’t intend to talk to you further.

    Shoo.

  63. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    June 16, 2013

    The logic of the surveillance state is intimidation.
    This is the intimidation of the bully.
    It is intimidation designed to give the bully protection from any response against the bully. Resisting the bully increases the level of intimidation and pain.
    This continues until all resistance stops.
    The bully has won.

  64. Rich permalink
    June 16, 2013

    “That leaves the internal problem, of revolt. The worse you treat people, the more you’re scared of them. The more you clamp down. This is really, really expensive and it breaks down over generations, causing internal rot, till you can’t get the system to do anything, no matter how many levers you push.

    What is being run right now is a vast experiment to see if modern technology has fixed these problems with surveillance and oppressive states. Is it cheap enough to go full Stasi, and with that level of surveillance can you keep control over the economy, keep the levers working, make people do what you want, and not all slack off and resist passively, by only going through the motions?”

    But massive totalitarian surveillance states didn’t stop the regimes in Eastern Europe from being toppled did they? Actually I don’t think fear and intimidation alone are enough to sustain any regime. The Communist regimes of Eastern Europe enjoyed a certain amount of popular legitimacy for a long time, largely because, for a while, a large portion of the population believed in its ideology, and for a while it did deliver improvements to people’s lives in terms of free healthcare and guaranteed employment etc. When those countries started stagnating in the 1970s and 80s, the popular legitimacy of those regimes drained away. And all of their elaborate security and surveillance apparatus wasn’t enough to prevent those regimes from being swept away.

    Once a regime has lost legitimacy, and is seen to have lost legitimacy, it is toast sooner or later. What you forget is that maintaining control relies on the good will of the people at the sharp end, who have to do the dirty work such as the police. The end comes when those people no longer see it was worth their while to beat up the public to protect a rotten regime who’s only function is to enrich a tiny elite. That happened when the Berlin Wall came down, when the border guards at the wall decided to disobey their orders to shoot on the crowds who wanted out, and instead opened the gates. Once that happened, the facade of control the regime had was shattered and its end came swiftly afterwards.

    The fact that our current neo-liberal order is having to rely on surveillance and intimidation to sustain itself, really implies that it is losing legitimacy fast. And that is not a surprise, as it is becoming increasingly clear that the real function of the neo-liberal order is and always has been the dismantlement of the gains made by ordinary people during the 20th Century, and the enrichment and entrenchment of the elites. For a long while, that fact was obscured, but now it is becoming clearer and clearer and more and more people are cottoning onto that fact.

  65. Ian Welsh permalink*
    June 16, 2013

    Those surveillance states were experiencing productive rot. The Soviet joke ran as follows: “they pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” Centralized economic control had broken down, because the information that the central planners were receiving was mostly lies. They had lost control of the levers. It’s actually really hard to make people to work hard, or work much at all, over the long run. It takes an immense amount of coercion, and that coercion has costs. Police states work at the beginning, people aren’t colluding with each other in their passivity, but they break down in the long run.

    The question is whether the new surveillance methods can be used to keep people working. It might be whether they can keep the lies to a minimum, but given how deliberately our lords and masters have distorted the price feedback system, it’s clear that’s not something they’re much interested in. As long as it is distorted in favor of them getting rich, they’re ok with that.

    Which means that you see the stagnation or decline of living standards. And that, in time, may cause them much more trouble than they think. OTOH, stagnant and declining living standards often go on for centuries, even millenia, so maybe they figure they can come to a solution set that favors them.

  66. Jessica permalink
    June 16, 2013

    I do not think they are as coherently strategic as you do. I think our elites lost historical purpose and moral direction decades ago. Nothing holds them together except the desire to hold onto power for its own sake.
    They are producing so much coercion now partly due to the power of that shard of the elite that sells coercion and partly because coercion is the only thing they are capable of when the broad-spectrum propaganda/PR/advertising befuddlement/cynicism of TINA does not work.

  67. someofparts permalink
    June 19, 2013

    fyi – http://real-economics.blogspot.com/

    I like the ‘drinking from a firehose’ image.

  68. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    June 25, 2013

    George Monbiot at The Guardian has written an opinion/essay of the surveillance state:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/24/how-trust-state-spies-citizens

    and the relationship distortions between governments and their populations that result.
    Maybe the most important attitude to come out is that of the population to their governments:

    If the government is doing nothing illegal, unconstitutional or wrong, then the government has nothing to fear having their actions exposed to the light of day.

    Hiding or suppressing information required by the public to reach informed decisions is prima facia evidence of malfeasance on the part of the suppressing authority.

    The public, those not withdrawing consent from the suppressing authority, become either complicit or enablers of criminal trespass of private security.

    No state resorting to these methods lasts long; these methods destroy allegiance, but never build allegiances that sustain the state.

  69. Alcuin permalink
    June 25, 2013

    Worth reading – from the Creative Time site.

  70. Celsius 233 permalink
    June 26, 2013

    @ Formerly T-Bear
    June 25, 2013
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    You have sought out and found the essence of the problem.
    George Monbiot has identified precisely the crux of the matter.
    The question must then be; what are we going to do about it?
    I fear the answer…

  71. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    June 26, 2013

    Addendum

    The bully having intimidated and won continues intimidating, they cannot stop.
    The bully must rely on ever increasing levels of intimidation, eventually using terrorist tactics.
    The expense of intimidation and terrorist tactics requires increasing resources.
    Those resources are consumed at ever increasing rates until they are depleted or withdrawn.
    Allies and alliances become stressed or withdraw, fewer support the bully.
    Until none do. The bully’s time is nearing end point.
    Until an existential confrontation against superior force refuse consent to the bully.
    The bully loses.

  72. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    June 29, 2013

    From a recent The Guardian about NSA surveillance:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jun/21/nsa-surveillance-metadata-content-obama

    Don’t overlook that everything has been recorded. The ‘metadata’ just tells them where to look. Feel safer and more secure now?

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