Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Liberty vs. the Red Light Camera

Yesterday I wrote about the hypocrisy in Chicago and its suburbs surrounding Red Light Cameras. Our aldermen and other elected officials continuously proclaim that we need these cameras to reign in an apparent pandemic of dangerous collisions. The reality of the situation is that it is nothing more than a fundraiser, and like all good little statists, they are pounding the fear monger's pulpit in order to reach into our wallets yet another way. The citizens of Chicago and the surrounding communities are justified to be outraged at the way they are being robbed on a daily basis, unless of course you are of Dennis Byrne's ilk.

Byrne writes for the Chicago Daily Observer, and has made berating those of us that would question our Red Light Overlords (not to mention our Parking Meter Pimps) something of a personal pleasure over the past year. Almost jovially, he has expounded that those of us complaining about tickets that are largely unfairly enforced (e.g. legal right turns on red) are simply whining scofflaws upset that Mother Daley has rapped her ruler down across our knuckles:

All the carping about the camera’s unfairness and unconstitutionality is nothing more, when it comes right down to it, than an excuse to break traffic laws without getting caught. No one is stupid enough to admit it, but the truth of it is self-evident. I just wish these law-breakers would do us all a favor and stop whining about entrapment, violations of privacy rights and all the other red herrings.

Driving is a licensed activity in a public place. Because it is a public place, any expectations of privacy are ill founded. Because the government regulates driving, expectations that the government shouldn’t use a camera to enforce its laws in a public place are ridiculous.

What a person like Byrne doesn't understand, or simply doesn't believe in, is the prospect of personal liberty. A great article by Jeffrey Tucker at outlines the issue perfectly, albeit with stop signs as the symbol of the fight for individual liberty:

In some ways, then, it is true that the stop sign — as with every regulation by the state — embodies all that is wrong with the public sector. The rules are made to benefit the state. You are on the hot seat if any policeman says that you have done wrong. The pretense of a fair trial is a complete farce, as you have to tangle with judges who hate you, waste several days of work, and throw yourself on the mercy of the court. Once you are entangled in the web, you can't really get out.
And who makes the rules? The central planners make the rules, and the public be damned. The rules are there to serve the state, not us, and the stop sign that is oddly placed in order to extract revenue makes the point very well.

When you are stopped, you become aware that the imbalance between the citizens and the state couldn't be more obvious. Deliver an insult and you are arrested. Try to run and you are gunned down. Fail to pay and you end up in the slammer. And maybe the cop will find something else about your life to be suspicious of. Whatever they want to know, you must tell them.

Government is not reason; it is force. What was the actual social rationale for that stop sign in the first place? You dare not ask, for then you are questioning the elites who are in charge of your life. And why was it removed? It's not for you to question why; it is for you to do or die. It was there and now it is gone. All "law-abiding citizens" must change with the arbitrary dictate of the traffic masters.

Someone like Dennis Byrne, however, assumes that the safety of the public in general is more important than an argument of liberty versus traffic masters. He mockingly likens us to those people that complained about the institution of the Denver Boot as enforcement of unpaid parking tickets:

The red-light camera is raising the same kind of objections we once heard when cities first started to use the Denver Boot to immobilize the ars of drivers who habitually flouted parking regulations and refused to pay their fines. All that their complaining accomplished was to make them ustifiable objects of scorn and ridicule. Just like the red-light runners look today.
Lost in this statement is the fact that the City owns its property, and like any property owner, retains the right to lease out its space to those who might want to pay for it. This is the justification for something like a City Sticker on your car, particularly in a permit area. The city ensures that the people parking within its limits are indeed those who live within its limits. The permit areas ensure that people who live in certain high traffic neighborhoods have adequate recourse to park near their homes. To compare an issue of property to an issue of privacy is to compare apples to oranges.

I defer again to Jeffrey Tucker, with some minor edits for perspective:

Now, I'm not saying that we don't need rules in society. But the question of who makes the rules and on what basis becomes supremely mportant. Will the rule making flow from the matrix of voluntary exchange based on the ethic of serving others through private enterprise? Or will the rules be made and enforced by people wearing guns and bulletproof vests with a license to shock or kill based on minor annoyances?

Something as seemingly innocuous as a stop sign red light camera can become the occasion for the use of terrible violence and terrible oppression. And think about it: we are talking about local government that is especially sensitive to public opinion. If we see corruption here, what about at the national level, where the citizens are nothing but an abstraction?

So, no, I have no problem with making the stop sign red light camera a symbol of the fight. It shows that even the least objectionable aspects of the state can mask despotism and that we should think hard — very hard — before ever ceding control of even the smallest parts of life to the state.

Ultimately, the state is in control or we are.

There is nothing in between.

So I ask that the next time you roll up to one of the City of Chicago's 141 different intersections that is home to a red light camera, that you stop and think about these words.

Who is in control of your life, and are you happy about it?

If you're unhappy, what will you do to stand in between?

1 comment:

  1. It's funny you would bring this up. We have the red light cameras here in Gwinnett County, Georgia. They were put up with all the propaganda about safety and public interest. Now that the economy is tanking, the county is dismantaling the program because they aren't bringing in enough money to maintain the cameras and pay someone to issue the tickets. If it was about safety over money, they would find a way to pay for it. If there aren't enough violations to raise the revenue they need to maintain the program, there clearly isn't the public safety issue they talk about.
    I'm sure they'll compensate by increasing the number of officers they have hiding behind shrubbery to catch people rolling through four-way stops. These issues are about revenue collection. Period. If one thing doesn't work, they'll come up with another.