December 16, 2009

Gitmo, Jobs, and Habeas Corpus

I realize I haven't posted in a while. Facebook makes it too easy to soapbox.
I try to choose topics that can lead to meaningful discussion. Usually this means that the topics are somewhat controversial, even among some who read my posts. I find this much more interesting than writing on topics that will spark very little disagreement, but I hope those will come up as well. I find that even if I agree with someone on an issue, it is still beneficial to discuss it.
I came across an article about the moving of Gitmo detainees to Illinois and it brought up a couple of issues that are otherwise pretty unrelated. Here's the article: Ill. town welcomes plan to house detainees

I wanted to first address the issue of job creation. This probably deserves its own post, which may come later, but it came up in the article so I wanted to explain why I feel it is so off-base. It seems that many are preoccupied with the existence of jobs, as if jobs were the whole point of an economy. The goal of politicians seems to be to create jobs. They seem to think that creating jobs will make the economy better. The problem is, they have the whole thing backwards. Jobs don't make the economy better, they are merely one way of measuring the health of an economy. High unemployment is a symptom of a sick economy, not the disease itself. Treating the symptoms of the disease is not a likely cure.
The reason we have an economy is because food and things don't appear at the snap of our fingers in as great abundance as we could ever want. In short, there is scarcity of resources. Economics is the study of how these resources are allocated and the theories of economics postulate how they can best be allocated. Jobs exist as part of the economy, but it is not jobs per se that we need. We need food and stuff. Jobs are simply an aspect of how those things are provided.
So, to assume that we can merely create jobs, and that by so doing, stuff will come into existence is foolish. All the talk about creating jobs will do nothing to actually improve economic conditions unless the stuff exists to allocate. Now, it is true that stuff is produced by people who have jobs, but these jobs need to be productive jobs, not boondoggle jobs as some call them. For instance, it will do no good for a trucking company to hire more drivers if there is nothing for them to transport. Sure, jobs are created, but there is no actual productive work to do. Most government-created jobs consist of digging a hole and filling it again. One can easily see the folly in this, but many advocate this exact type of thing for improving the economy. (This is an Op Ed piece by Paul Krugman--quintessential idiot) Improvement in the economy comes when there are more things to allocate, not when there are simply more jobs to allocate the same amount of stuff. Vedder and Gallaway wrote about this at length in their book Out of Work.
The idea that government can create actual jobs is perpetuated in the AP article:
Federal and state officials estimate the federal takeover will create as many as 3,000 jobs in the area within several years, including an estimated 800 to 900 at the prison and at local businesses that would sprout up as a result.
Why are these not real jobs? Well, these jobs don't create any wealth. These jobs are unproductive in the sense that we gain nothing by their existence. Now, whether or not they are necessary is another question, which I address below, but the fact remains that we would be better off if these jobs didn't have to exist. The resources that government is redirecting from elsewhere to pay for this prison and employees could be used for productive means. This is the problem with so-called government-created jobs: they take real resources from the productive economy and reallocate them toward something less efficient and often completely unproductive.
Now I come to the second issue raised by this article. The saddest part about the whole thing is that quite frankly, this prison is completely unnecessary and unconstitutional. Holding prisoners or "detainees" without a writ of habeas corpus is strictly against Article 1 of the Constitution:
The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
This statement is particularly interesting because Habeas Corpus was thought to be so important that it was actually included in the body of the Constitution and not only implied in the Bill of Rights. The only exceptions that the Constitution allows for the suspension of Habeas Corpus are for rebellion or invasion. Prisoners of war captured in a country on the other side of the world (Afghanistan or Iraq) obviously do not fit this description. Personally, I don't see any reason to suspend Habeas Corpus even in these cases. Basically, a writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate requiring that a prisoner be brought before the court to determine whether the government has the right to continue detaining them. The individual being held or their representative can petition the court for such a writ. There are few if any cases where these criteria cannot be satisfied. There is certainly no reason to deny this to the detainees in Guantanamo. It's not as if we don't have any judges available to take their cases. Rather, this is another disturbing case of government disregard for the rights of the individual, which are explicitly protected by the Constitution.
Some argue that since these people are not citizens of the United States that these rights do not apply to them. I think this argument is disturbing and just plain wrong. A person does not have rights because he or she is a citizen of any given country. Our own Declaration of Independence is built on his fact:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
We cannot justly go around the world promoting "democracy" and "freedom," denying it at home all the while.
When, if ever, do you think an executive could justly suspend a writ of habeas corpus? Has there ever been such a time in US history--when habeas corpus was or could have been justly suspended?