If a law is broken in a forest, and there’s no cop around to see it, was it really broken? But what if the cop sees it, but you slip him some cash to go away?
Question: are the words freedom and liberty synonymous? I will probably use them interchangeably but that may be wrong. Anyway… The post at hand.
Romania, as other countries like it, has many things in insufficient supply. Scarcity, after all, is the norm. One of the things not lacking, however, is legislation. We have a bunch of that and it’s mostly stupid. Well, that is harsh, but at the very least contradictory, unclear, or just plain, well… dumb. What else is abundant is corruption and government incompetence. These might as well be national sports like Oina (similar to baseball, but better). So the default MO of many people is simply ignoring the laws they don’t like. One can say the law is irrelevant without enforcement, as rules become but suggestions. But is it really irrelevant, or is there something deeper going on there?
Does corruption or government incompetence in fact aid freedom? Can you be free in practice – de facto – but not de jure – in the eyes of the law? Well yes… and no. Yes, as in for many this may be true, no as in not for all and it is a bad way of going about things.
As long as bad laws exist, if agents of the state decide to fuck with you, they can. You run into someone with a chip-on-shoulder situation, or the occasional example must be set, or fine/arrest quotas must be met. Police and prosecutors in many countries have the occasional urge to look good in the press by showing how the fight lawlessness, get results, and the like. This does not affect most of us. But what if you are the one in a thousand or million who gets the dubious honour of being the example set?
Remember a case a while ago where a bunch of guys in the US were visited by the cops for posting reviews on an escort site? Lizzie NB reported upon it. Well, many people probably used escort forums throughout the country without much issue – until a dozen or so unlucky bastards had the cops come to their door.
Corruption can help freedom a lot if you are well connected or well off enough to afford the cost of bribes. But if you are not, no freedom for you. And if one is connected enough, it can go beyond the understanding of freedom in a libertarian sense and go towards a freedom from consequence even if your actions violate others’ rights and liberty. Getting away with rape and murder is not really liberty.
In Romania, outside the big cities, things are controlled by the political machine of some party or other, led by “local barons.” It is not an exaggerated term; they control everything and nothing moves in their area without their say so. If you have a good job in Bucharest, corruption can aid your freedom. If you live in Teleorman County, the situation is different. Although, if you don’t want to start a business, make money, and you pay deference to the High Lord, you are pretty much left alone to your own devices. If subsistence agriculture and moonshine is the life for you, great.
As an anecdote, as a high school and university student in Romania, one of the freedoms I perceived at the time – a more innocent period where I cared nothing of politics, philosophy, ethics, law, and other things that burden the human mind – was that the internet was cheap, fast, and torrents were abundant. The government and your friendly neighbourhood ISP gave not one damn of copyright, so we could literally pirate everything – movies, books, music, software. Now, I do not want to go in discussions of IP, copyright, the ethics of internet piracy. Suffice to say is that if you were a broke Romanian student, you would have done the same. Look into yourselves; you know it to be so. But the perceived freedom of the mighty bittorrent is not so important any more as one becomes older and wiser. Or at the very least older.
Being outside the law carries risks beyond dealing with agents of the state, for which you cannot seek redress, by being exposed to underworld violence, shoddy products, unreliable contracts, and much more. The problem in countries like fair Romania is that sometimes laws are bad enough that there is little choice but trying to avoid them.
Romania is a country with fairly low freedom in principle but somewhat higher in practice. Taxes and economic regulations are quite firmly on the high side of how these things go. But they are also routinely ignored. The so called underground economy thrives. You pay many a tradesman under the table. You can buy many things without paying the VAT.
Romania has high taxes, and they are inconsistently applied. Being able to avoid high taxes is not the precisely same as not being highly taxed. The end result may be similar on some level, but you are breaking the laws, are liable for punishment, and doing things under the table leaves little recourse if something goes wrong.
Many rent property or work jobs without any proper forms – with the risks implied in not having a contract or some sort of clear deal. High taxation discourages this. So you have some added freedom if you don’t making a contract, but you lose the benefits of the contract.
Prostitution and any and all drugs are illegal, with little chance of decriminalization any time soon. The subject is not even being talked about. But you can access all the illegal drugs and/or escorts you wish (at least of the female variety, no idea of other genders). But you do all this while breaking laws and risking punishment. You can easily buy drugs in Romania, but often they are bad merchandise from shady dealers and there’s nothing to do about it if you get screwed. So yes, there is some added freedom, but not in the real sense of buying quality weed from a trusted merchant in the open.
Prostitution is quite abundant, with plenty of good choices at reasonable prices (not to advertise, mind you), but with all the implied risks from being in the underworld, many dangers for clients, more for escorts. And the cops are sometimes worse than the pimps for the safety of a woman in the trade.
Liberty in hiding just isn’t the same, constantly looking over your shoulder, jumping barriers that should not be there. Maybe it is better than nothing, but less than ideal. De facto liberty can be fickle, undependable, erratic, and inconsistent. It may give you a false sense of security, believing things will not change. But you never know when the inspector you bribed changes his mind or is replaced by another. Maybe you will bribe that one as well, maybe not. Maybe you will be picked as an example for the press of cracking down on offenders.
Another point is what is the long term effect? Can people learn to like liberty and want it in the open, or does being able to avoid laws reduce the incentive to actually go through the process of changing the laws? Will people want more liberty or become complacent with what they have? But enough with the questions.
The internet in recent times allows some more avoiding of consequences of being outside the law. One example is the previously mentioned prostitution forums. They can help clients identify bad service and escorts identify violent customers. In can help escorts escape pimps, get better work, etc. It is, of course, just a small band-aid on a large wound, but it may help some a little. But long term, no matter how much internet, cryptocurrency and whatever, it is not substitute for a small government respecting liberty. It is just what we got.
So … liberty… how do you like yours?