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L. Neil Smith's
Number 436, September 23, 2007

"First Day of Autumn"

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Some Thoughts on Government Vs. Free-Market Police Services
by Michael Bradshaw

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

In a discussion thread at the Mental Militia Forum on private vs. government police services, a lady posted comments (hers are paraphrased and her name changed here because I do not have communication with her anymore) that I responded to as follows:

Hi Mergatroyd,

In the thread "Popular Mechanics Supercops" you wrote:

[start paraphrase]
In theory we could have a privatized, free market police system, or several that compete. I do not reject the idea out of hand, as I am not going to defend the system that we have. Could it not easily degenerate into an extortion/protection scheme? Also, people most in need of such a thing would be the ones least able to afford it.

After serious consideration I can't see how policing could be separated from the state:

  • What about those who just can't afford to pay to have their attackers arrested?
  • What if the rich criminal can afford a more powerful police agency than the poor?
  • What limits the power of private security companies?
  • If the police agency commits crimes, is there a higher level of authority to deal with them?
  • Who pays for that police force?

[end paraphrase]

My short answer is:
"Election and Revolution" in TLE #295.

And there is much good commentary on your subjects with examples by L. Neil Smith in his seminal novel The Probability Broach.

My longer answers:

"An armed society is a safe society." (With thanks to Col. Cooper)

We do not need to worry about getting worse results from a "degeneration into an extortion/protection scheme", as that is exactly what we have now with the governmental monopoly of police and courts. The present government system promotes private violent crime and commits vastly more violent crime than the non-government criminals commit. See Prof. Rummel's definitive work at < > which shows what you get when you give vast power to commit domestic violence (police and taxing agencies) and war to any government. Prof. Rummel has documented over 305,000,000 murders (and counting!) by government police and military in the 20th. century alone.

A prime example of government encouragement of violent crime is drug prohibition. The only drug companies that engage in violence as a part of their business are those that manufacture and distribute drugs prohibited by the state. In the Los Angeles area we rarely see turf wars and drive-by shootings by gangs of pharmacists or liquor store proprietors. Of course, the liquor store proprietors did engage in just such violence when liquor was prohibited in the early 20th. century. Please Google on the drug gangsters Al Capone, Eliot Ness and Pretty-Boy Floyd.

The provision of security services is much like other services provided in the free market. For a discussion of the self-regulation through negative feedback of that industry in a free society see "The Probability Broach" by L. Neil Smith.

Without government we have much less (aprox. 1 or 2 percent) of the current non-governmental violent crime rate; because, without the police to protect and encourage the criminals, the victims tend to shoot them dead at the time and at the scene of the crime. And, by far, most violent crime is committed by government goons. In a free society there is not much for police to do, so there is little demand for them.

Don't forget that the state in America sucks-up about 7/8 of all wealth produced, so those who cannot afford security services here-and-now, can on current earnings (in a free society that is no more technically advanced than this one), which are about 8-times more than present take-home pay at current prices. The free-market "poverty line" stands at over $100,000 per year per wage earner at current prices in America. All the above is neglecting the much faster and greater advance of wealth production and wages in free societies. Please see my discussion on the basics of economics in "Home of the Slave?" in TLE, issue 362.

If you look around, you will see that all the "goods" and services that the state provides to anybody (as opposed to "bads" like non-governmental violent crime, tax collection, pogrom and law enforcement) are also provided by private industry in direct competition with government—for about one forth the cost for comparable or better quality under current conditions. Examples in this area are Pinkerton and the American Arbitration Association.

Re "who will guard the guardians?"; I think that that is the wrong question. I prefer "Who will PAY the guardians?". A security company that must extort its customers is a state; and therefor subject to destruction by the victims at the time and place of its crimes, along with decapitation by the Bell Memorial Foundations.

I hope the above may be of some use to you.
All the Best,


Mergatroyd's answer:

[start paraphrase]
Hi Speaker,
Thanks for the recommendations. I'm ashamed to admit it but I haven't read Smith yet; it looks as though "The Probability Broach" would be a good place to start.

Re the rest of your argument. . . [I have since expanded on the above arguments for this article, so M.'s reply here is related to only part of the above. M. T. B.], I don't disagree with the points that you raise. However, it is really an ideal. In an ideal society there would not be limitations (legal or in equity/tort) on our right to defend ourselves. Ideally we would not have our money taxed away, ideally we would be able to choose who to do business with (or not), for services. . . . but we are quite far from being able to create an ideal society right now. I don't think it would be practical to try instituting the privatized police force without the other changes in context—in fact without first creating a really libertarian society in the first place—so for me it remains an unobtainable goal, and an interesting theory. I'll read and think about it, but I'm more interested in questions of how to function day-to-day in the society we have instead of in what is theoretically possible in a better one.

Best Wishes,
[end paraphrase]

My reply:

Hi Mergatroyd,

You haven't read Smith yet?!? Heavens!!! Wait just a second. . . I have "the whip" around here somewhere. . .

Actually, I envy you, as now you can read all that stuff for the first time and it will be fresh for you. (Someone else said that about the books and stories of P. G. Wodehouse, and I agree!) Have fun! I think that "The Probability Broach" is a good starting place. The direct sequel is "The American Zone" and "The Galatin Divergence" gives good back-story. Farther forward in time is one of his best, "Pallas". "The Forge of The Elders" was originally a trilogy and some think that it plods and preaches too much; but I like it.

You are right about doing things in order. The topic was police functions, so that is what I addressed. When looking at the over-all political situation—we will have to have a revolution first (see my 5GW [Fifth-Generation War] articles at TLE) and then see about stabilizing it and expanding the present and new private resources to cover the useful functions that the state used to do. In the realm of policing that will be up to the management of folks like Pinkerton and Knight (and maybe Griswald! Brrrrr. . .)—and the customers.

As to ideal societies, perfection and utopias, NO THANKS! I am not an idealist.

Freedom is messy. (Or, at least it looks that way to an authoritarian.) If we can kill the state (and keep it dead) we will have something new in the history of Man—a free and high-tech society. No one can say what that will look like, but we can infer some general trends with some confidence. It is very hard for folks raised in the Prussian-American culture (aprox. 1840 to the present) to understand that answers to specific questions of "What, exactly will [fill in the blank] be like; or how will it work in your new libertarian heaven?" cannot be answered.

The best we can do is point to history for examples and trends. We see a range of freedom, from the almost universal slavery of Feudalism and Communism to the almost free market of Switzerland and the early Unites States. We see a corresponding range of variables like wealth, crime rates, fiscal stability, population growth, peace vs. war (and the kind of war), cultural virtue and advancement or its lack, etc. We see how relative levels of freedom or its lack affect those variables. That gives us a general trend-line of history with regard to the relative levels of freedom versus state power. We see freedom trending toward peace, progress and increasing wealth; and state power trending toward poverty, slavery, war and genocide. The choices then become much more clear.

In conclusion, I look at the historical trends and the examples of relative success in places like Switzerland and America in the 18th. and early 19th. century Enlightenment; and see that the prize to be gained by fighting for the right is worth the cost and risk. We get a much better outcome than we were getting under the feudal states, like England and the 20th century United States. Now that we have 5GW (Fifth-Generation War), consisting of the distributed top-down order of battle as outlined by John Ross in his book "Unintended Consequences" and the "assassination politics" strategy invented by Jim Bell and presented in his paper of the same name (Google "assassination politics"), we have a very good chance to abolish the state for all or most of mankind for a goodly-long time.

That 5GW strategy also gives us the ability to achieve the results we want at the least cost of treasure and blood. In the process we shift the cost in blood almost entirely from the innocent to the guilty. The United States may be defeated on the battlefield by a force on the order of 200 men; and I would be surprised at the need for more than 1,000. Casualties among the innocent may be reduced from the mountains of corpses in traditional wars and genocides to the inevitable few targeting errors or over-penetration of projectiles. These, in my opinion, are good things.

So I do not present idealism or utopia. I only want to offer a choice between poverty, slavery and death on the one hand, versus freedom, peace and prosperity on the other; for those are the two opposing general trend lines that history can take (in my not so humble opinion) from the present historical cusp.

The fearful, state-worshiping Prussian-Americans will choose the former.

Ethnic Americans of the Enlightenment will choose the latter—and pay the price to get it.

By waging Fifth-Generation War against the forces of evil.

Starting with the governments of the United States.
All the Best,

Michael Bradshaw is the Speaker (also the Lord-High Janitor) of the United States House of Repeals, Copyright © 2007, Michael T. Bradshaw


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