Thursday, April 10, 2003

Let’s Go Down to the Sunset Grill

So it seems that the GOP wants to make the government’s anti-terrorism powers, granted by the Patriot Act, permanent. That, of course, is exactly why it was wise to include sunset provisions in the original law in the first place: if it weren’t for those provisions, the government wouldn’t even have to ask nicely to keep its exciting new powers, and this debate wouldn’t even be happening. The whole point of a sunset provision is to put the brakes on Robert Higgs’s “ratchet effect”: the size and power of government expand in times of crisis, but they never shrink back to their previous levels when the crisis is over.

I suppose some might argue that the terrorism crisis is not yet over, and perhaps they are right. But the powers granted by the Patriot Act don’t expire until the end of 2005 anyway. If there is still a terrorism crisis when 2005 rolls around, then Congress should simply vote to keep the relevant provisions in place for another two or three years, at which point the debate will – and should – happen again. There is no justification for making the powers granted by the Patriot Act permanent unless the government intends to be in a perpetual state of war. Of course, that’s exactly what’s needed in order to give job security to the bureaucrats at the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Hmm… I wonder which executive agency is lobbying most vigorously for the repeal of the sunset provisions?

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