[Editor’s Note: This article is published as part of the “Classic Diary of a Rogue Economist” series. The article was originally published on June 20, 2013. We hope you enjoy.]
Travel is tiring. Often, it’s our laptop computer that shows the signs of fatigue first. Yesterday, it got fed up and refused to deliver the mail. We could neither send nor receive mail… neither from our laptop nor from our iPhone, which normally accesses our email account.
We should have been delighted. We were in Ireland. Now we had an excuse not to work. We could pay attention to our surroundings… and enjoy them.
But with no means to contact the outside world, we grew anxious. Who was trying to contact us? What important messages were we missing? And who was monkeying around with our email account?
Source: WikiCommons. Copyright CBS, 1951.
The root of the problem was that our email provider had noticed some strange behavior. We were apparently using our account from two places at once. It looked as though we were in Ireland and in the US at the same time. The provider suspected that our account had been hacked. It simply shut down the service.
We still walked and talked… we still took up space and breathed air… but on the Internet, we had ceased to exist. We had disappeared.
No forwarding address had been left. We could not communicate with anyone. We could not go onto Amazon and buy anything. We could not make travel arrangements or reserve a table for dinner.
This, of course, raises deep and disturbing questions about the nature of existence. If you do not exist on the Internet, do you really exist at all? Do you exist fully?
Inventing the Homeland
We pass over those questions and go on to more practical… but no less worrying… matters.
We thought, briefly, about putting in a call to the National Security Agency.
“Hello, we’re hoping you can help us. Our email account stopped working. We’re afraid we may have missed something. And we know you fellas make a habit of recording every communication, whether it is any of your business or not. So would you mind sending our email from yesterday to another address?”
On further reflection, we decided not to make the call. They might have thought we were joking. They don’t appreciate jokes. At least, not jokes at their expense.
Twelve years ago – when the “homeland” was first invented (a smooth adaptation of Hitler’s “fatherland”) and TSA agents began frisking grandmothers – the whole thing seemed like a joke.
It looked as though America’s leaders had gotten themselves into a hysterical panic. They thought al-Qaida really existed… that there were terrorist sleeper cells in every hamlet and burg… and that these infiltrators were about to wreak havoc on the nation.
It was a preposterous lie, but we figured they’d come to their senses soon.
Instead of coming to their senses, America’s leaders – Republican and Democrat – began to see the advantage of a war that could neither be won nor lost.
As long as the country was “at war,” the money flowed freely to zombie “defense” industries and the good citizens submitted to indignities that would be intolerable in a more civilized nation.
Leaving the US, our 93-year-old mother was forced to go through the body scanner twice. Wheelchair-bound, with severe osteoporosis, she was unable to put her hands above her head as ordered. So the TSA enforcer insisted that she do it again.
Why? Did anyone really think our mother posed a threat to air traffic safety?
Welcome to Ireland
Arriving in Ireland was entirely different. The agent barely looked at our passports.
“Welcome to Ireland,” he said.
In Henry Downes bar in Waterford, a group of Irishmen recounted their own experiences with America’s border guards.
“It is unbelievable the way they treat you,” said one man. “We got in line. Someone began shouting at us. The woman in front of me didn’t speak English well. She was French, I think. The guard asked her what she was in the US for. She explained that she had come to visit her daughter who had just had a baby. The guard acted like she was lying. He kept challenging her until she started crying. I don’t think she was used to being treated like that.”
“I go to the US often,” said another young man. “I know I have to have a story to tell them. I work for a US company. But if I say that, they think I am working in the US without a work permit and it gets very messy. So I have to come up with a plausible reason to go. But you have to be careful. They’ll try to catch you up. It’s very unpleasant. I only go when I have to.”
“It feels like you’re entering a police state,” a young woman took up the conversation. “They have guns and dogs. And they yell at you. I’m afraid of being taken out of the line for closer inspection in a little room somewhere. I know it is not reasonable, but I feel like I’d never come out. That I’d just disappear.”
Unreasonable? Yes. But not unthinkable. People can now disappear – electronically.
The NSA has 14,000 smart people in its employ. They can know exactly what you are writing to friends and associates. They can put down an electronic cone of silence around you. Your phone and your computer could stop working. You may never know why. Whom would you call? How?
They could also shut down your bank account and all your credit cards. Then how would you support yourself?
Suppose you were traveling when this happened? Again, you may never know why… and may never have any means of remedying the situation. You simply disappear.
As far as we know, the feds, and their private-sector zombie contractors, are not disappearing American citizens… yet.
But the fruit hangs too low to resist. With a few keystrokes, they can silence their critics. They can muzzle their enemies. They can disappear anyone who cares about privacy or liberty.
And then, if you try to leave the country, you will find that your passport won’t work, either. You will arrive at the border (assuming you find a way get there without money) and the border guard will take you into custody. You have been traveling with a fraudulent passport, he will say.
Paranoia? We hope so.
P.S. Drawing attention to how the system is rigged against the little guy is in the Bonners’ DNA (both father and son). For example, in 1986, when he was seven years old, Will sued the US secretary of the Treasury over the US national debt.
Will lost the case. But he learned an important secret about how to escape the rigged system. If you’re fed up with the unfair playing field mapped out by Washington and Wall Street, and want to learn how to build wealth in a truly unconventional way, read Will’s full report here.