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Analysis / Can't Get Away with Nuthin'

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There is a reason for which the trope (and the associated Zero Tolerance which borders on brainwashing) have become widespread since 1980: the amount of power wielded by a private citizen, either in the West or the newly-developed countries like China, has increased exponentially throughout the last 30 years.

Generally, from 1945 to 1980, the power, be it financial, military, scientific or propagandistic, relied on centralized control, government or corporate authority, state investments, long term objectives. Broadcasting TV could be done only by the State or large corporations simply because nobody else had the resources to do it, scientific research was outside the reach of the general public for the same reasons (who could build a mainframe computer or nuclear reactor?), the regime of wages, salaries, taxation and public services was established by negotiations between State, corporations, conglomerates, trade unions with more members than entire national armed forces together. For these reasons, even crime followed the trend, being the province of millionaire crime lords dictating their own conditions. Authorities could afford to be lax to a citizen in matters of social disturbances (illegal car racing, unregistered gun ownership, building illegally, small time smuggling) because they were fully conscious his or her power was too limited to matter. Even Alvin Toffler wrote in the early 1970s he expected the technology and organization of the future to be large, centralized, resource burner and inhuman. He was wrong.

The trend broke abruptly due to a combination of factors which nobody could control, starting with the oil and resource crisis, misguided environmental policies, the fall of the Communist Bloc and moving into electronics and computer science. A new trend emerged, where the power is easily available due to both increase in wages, schooling and career opportunities of the average population and decrease in the price of technology. A mainframe computer of 1980 is hopelessly outclassed by a humble smartphone. A complex Betacam owned by public TV stations has poorer performance than a cellphone camera of today. The average car in "the happy Sixties and Seventies" could have mean a BMW 1500, VW Bug, an infamous Pinto or a Mustang II and a dream car was a Ferrari BB - nowadays you get more power and infinitely more refined chassis in a freakin' hot hatchback. The peak of technology decades ago was a dial-up modem, nowadays you get broadband for a few dollars per month. Drugs were the province of complex labs and ruthless armed mafias, nowadays much more potent meth is done by barely literate people in plastic bottles.

The reaction of conservative people has been harsh and irrational because control has slipped from their hands. They fear because they understand it. They ask themselves: if men like Manson could do what they did back then... what could they do with modern resources?

They say if we could just reduce government to the size it was back in, say, the 1950s, then America would be vibrant and free again. But the underlying sociology and moral culture is just not there anymore. Government could be smaller when the social fabric was more tightly knit, but small government will have different and more cataclysmic effects today when it is not. - David Brooks, New York Times, 2013