Nanny State

Editor's Note: Uncertain Futures


Most people I've asked can't remember the first time they had to show a picture ID in order to get on a domestic flight. I can't even be certain of my own first time, although I definitely remember doing so in June 1995, when my family and I had the nauseating experience of flying out of Los Angeles International Airport on a day when the Unabomber (remember him?) had pledged to blow up an airliner leaving from there. The papers were filled with stories about "altitude-sensitive detonators" that made the plane's ascent more nerve-wracking than any takeoff should ever be (the landing, as I recall, was only slightly less stressful).

That no one seems to remember when a relatively recently introduced and now-ubiquitous practice got its start is disconcerting. It's a testament to how quickly we can become conditioned by new rules forced on us, to how institutional structures rapidly remake us into very different people. Americans, after all, long prized their right to travel more or less anonymously; it even used to be a point of pride in comparison to the more stringent protocols in Europe.

Now, notes Associate Editor Brian Doherty in this month's cover story, we flash IDs as naturally as we flash smiles—not just at airports but in all sorts of situations. (See "Suspected Terrorist" on page 22.) Less than two years after the 9/11 attacks, such behavior already has become that most dreaded of realities, "the new normal." Doherty reports on the interesting, quixotic federal case brought by multimillionaire John Gilmore, who is suing the government for the right to fly without having to show an ID.

Gil-more's case is the entry point into a wider discussion of the future of privacy, a concept which is constantly being redefined as governmental edicts, technological capabilities, business practices, and social mores evolve. Where exactly we will end up is far from clear, but Doherty's nuanced exploration of both the benefits and costs of maintaining privacy and anonymity is a major contribution to a discussion that will remain vitally important in the months and years to come.

Other stories in this issue also focus on uncertain futures. Damien Cave's on-the-ground report from Havana exposes how the growing gray-market service economy in Cuba, stunted and warped by decades of arbitrary and vindictive repression, may be laying the groundwork for a post-Castro economy that is more criminal than capitalist in nature. (See "Havana Hustle" on page 38.)

In "Forcing Freedom" (page 46), reason's Ronald Bailey, Christopher Hitchens, Christopher Preble, and Ivan Eland debate the best way to bring liberal values to the unfree nations of the world. And in "Really Creative Destruction" (page 56), economist Tyler Cowen argues for the liberating cultural effects of globalization even as he underscores that such benefits can bring an end to certain valuable ways of life.

Issues such as these make our times particularly intense and interesting. And however they turn out, they guarantee the future will be likewise.