Failed Prohibition and the Fake ID

“But officer, I…” Both an excuse and a shameless plea inevitably follow. They do no good, of course, and an illegitimate plastic card is snatched away.

As a college student, this is a scenario I witness all too often.

What is remarkable, though, is how often a situation such as this could occur, but doesn’t.

Fake IDs are becoming more popular on college campuses every day. Havocscope estimates that well over one million fakes exist in the United States. A University of Missouri study suggests that nearly half of all college students have used a fake ID at some point.

The prohibition of alcohol sales to those under the age of twenty-one has become a complete and utter farce. Few serious people actually support the prohibition for reasons beyond its necessity for the provision of federal highway funding; approval is even less common among those who the law seeks to supposedly “protect”—namely, those under 21.

People want to purchase alcohol. Merchants want to sell alcohol. A transaction of this sort is mutually beneficial. Why then, should anyone, especially over the age of eighteen, be denied the ability to execute such a transaction?

(For a thorough analysis of the myriad problems caused by prohibition, read Dr. Mark Thornton’s enlightening book, The Economics of Prohibition.)  

By aiding in the subversion of these unwelcome laws, fake IDs serve as a vehicle for civil disobedience among young adults.

Civil disobedience has long been a favored stratagem of liberty lovers who seek to achieve the de facto nullification of tyrannical, unjust, unneeded, and unwanted laws.

Henry David Thoreau, better known for his nature-themed transcendentalist musings, was also a political philosopher of sorts. Writing in 1849, he proclaimed:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience,” from which the preceding is excerpted, had a profound impact on Gandhi as he led a non-violent revolution to overthrow the yoke of British rule in India.

When government impedes the peaceful enjoyment of life and the free movement of money and goods, the best way for the ordinary citizen to reject the offense is by non-violent resistance in the form of civil disobedience. Using a fake ID undermines the effectiveness of enforcement efforts. The act is a sort of personal nullification and may eventually lead to a monumental shift in the way alcohol is treated under the law.

Despite ever-increasing security and ever-advancing technology to detect fake IDs, they become ever more popular. The ease with which they are produced allows suppliers to keep up with the swelling demand.

These facts demonstrate the futility of attempting to enforce an extremely unpopular and unjust law.

Of course, false identity is used for a lot more than enjoying a brew at the local “establishment,” purchasing a liter of whiskey or rum (depending on if you’re a rum vs whiskey kinda person), or gaining admittance to the city’s hottest club.

Whereas the use of an illicit piece of plastic to facilitate a mutually beneficial transaction is only an affront against tyrannical government, real identity theft (i.e., fraud) is that which is committed directly against another individual or group of individuals. There is a clear difference, and in no way do I advocate or condone stealing from anyone in any way. Fortunately, private firms, including banks, retailers, and other companies such as LifeLock are making significant progress in combating these acts.

Additionally, fake IDs reveal the complete and total inefficacy of a government monopoly on the production of identification.

As is the case with a market for any good or service, the existence of a monopoly causes a rise in price and a reduction in quality over time; the absence of competition prevents forward progress from occurring at any substantial rate.

There also exists among the great majority of people a general inability—or, at the very least, a passive reluctance—to conceive of a future in which a good or service could be produced privately if it is currently produced by the government (e.g., roads, airport security, etc.). This extends to identification, as well.

There is no inherent reason why government needs to be the sole provider of identification. Why shouldn’t a private company be able to produce IDs, as well? How about Google? Or Wal-Mart?

Nobody would be forced to accept the validity of these IDs. Over time, however, many issuers of IDs would become respected and accepted; perhaps government identification would fall out of favor. More than likely, identification produced as a result of competition in an open marketplace would better suit the needs of every individual and could potentially reduce fraud.

Insofar as fake IDs are used only to undermine the state and demonstrate its true superfluity and futility (and not to defraud others), they are powerful and altogether wonderful. Indeed, they are catalysts in the struggle for political and social justice. Furthermore, they reveal the need for a private market for identification.

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