Down With Junkets!

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At last, a good idea from the World Bank. Fearing that protestors will disrupt a scheduled conference on development, World Bank officials have decided to hold it online instead.

Protestors have responded that they will attempt a "cyber sit-in" in any case. But that will be harder to do, and there are technologies available that can provide maximum safety for the conference-goers.

This model ought to be expanded. In a time when the web permits third-world hammock makers to become richer than their governments, when shopping for paintings in China is as easy as shopping for them down the street, it’s long past time for governments and their agencies to catch up.

The model of the government-conference junket is wildly out of date. You know the story. Big shots gather up their fineries and board private jets to attend these lavish gatherings around the world, where attendees convince each other, despite all evidence, of how important they are to world affairs.

Their black limos clog traffic and otherwise take advantage of diplomatic immunity to make everyone’s lives miserable. They down the finest liquors, guzzle the best caviar, have their way with local escorts, and generally live it up at our expense. They return home having done nothing good for anyone but themselves, and much bad for everyone around the world.

This must end! The mob of fanatic communists and crazies that follows this international jet set around has at least accomplished one thing. It has made the world bureaucratic class less comfortable during their junkets. Once the minister of this and that worried only about getting the right brand of single malt; now he worries about getting pelted with bottles on his way into their meeting palaces. All to the good.

Meeting in cyberspace is exactly what they should be doing. That’s how the rest of the world is doing business these days. We use chatrooms and instant messaging and email and private web space and online classrooms. We need online diplomacy. Instead of spending millions — tens of millions — on these elaborate meetings, they can buy server space instead. Better yet, they can set up an online community on one of the many free servers out there.

Of course that will not eliminate the opposition they face. But the web solves that problem too, through subscriber services. The World Bank should set up a system whereby people who like what the diplomats are doing at their meetings can click here to subscribe to their service. Those who do not can register their views by clicking here to protest.

Instead of imposing their central plans on the world, the World Bank will become entirely subscriber-based through voluntary cooperation. If these bureaucrats think what they do is so wonderful, they should have no worries about getting people to sign up.

Congress can learn from this experience too. Ever since online meetings became possible, I’ve wondered why Congress doesn’t take the leap. It’s true that an online US Congress would not provide interns, free lunches, fancy digs, and the like. But members of the House and Senate can still take bribes using secure servers or Pay-Pal. And by never having to leave their living rooms, Congressmen will have more time for their constituents.

The same is true of every bureaucracy in government. Bricks-and-mortar government is old hat. Let the Department of Labor log on and do whatever it is they do! That department in particular has been bragging about its new agreement with monster.com (that should be a government address!) to share information. Goodness knows why anyone would want the information that DOL has (more likely it is the reverse), but even so, Elaine Chao is claiming credit for "thinking outside the box."

So let’s REALLY think outside the box. The DOL says it is holding a "Summit on the 21st Century Workforce" in D.C.. Attending are lots of appointed and elected political figures, and many top corporations are sending someone to be there to mouth some platitudes to keep their companies out of trouble with the labor commissars. It’s sweet that DOL is managing to webcast the conference, but how much better to have held it completely in cyberspace.

If this is the future, it will look oddly like the past. In all centuries before the 20th, it was very expensive and dangerous to travel across countries and continents to attend meetings. Bureaucrats did it only for the most grave reasons: writing a Constitution, making war, and the like. Other than that, they mercifully stayed home and tended to their own affairs. That’s one reason government had a hard time running enormous empires and butting into people’s affairs.

Governments as large and expansive as the ones we have today were made possible, in part, by innovations in transportation. Thus do we see the downside of all technological innovations: government likes to use them to tighten the screws on the people.

Perhaps the newest innovations can actually be used to enhance liberty. Shut down DC and every other capital city in the world. Close every embassy. Never again should those who work for the State be permitted to meet physically. Let them use the web. And let us listen in.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. He also edits LewRockwell.com.

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