Do the Police Work for Us?

This is the third piece in my series on the police and the privatization of security and rights enforcement, part 1 on the post office and the police is here, and part 2 on the Keynesian police state is here. This piece may be the more “radical” of the series as I seek to unmask not so much the police, but the State itself. As Murray Rothbard said “ The libertarian, in short, is almost completely the child in the fable, pointing out insistently that the emperor has no clothes.” Christians are still required to submit, to turn, and present their next cheek to be struck by the State and we are grateful for the few times the state does pursue justice but we say with Augustine “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?”

Do the Police Work for Us?

In the previous pieces I’ve sought to show how monopolies affect and ultimately destroy the relationship between the provider and the consumer and between service and payment. In the last post I essentially tried to show economically why the police functionally do not in fact exist to protect your private property. Here my focus is more political philosophy proper, and why according to Austro-libertarian construction the police do not in fact work for us.

Often during times of police abuse, misdirection, or scandal people tout out the common solution that “the police must be reminded that they work for us!” If the police do work for us in the sense of an employee to an employer or a service provider to a customer it is surely the strangest employment relationships we have. I am not able to fire him or terminate the contract; I am not able to seek another provider or hard working employee; and not only is the price not negotiated but taken without my will from my paycheck and liable to increase at a moments notice. In fact if I chose to suspend payment because I have not received the security I desired I will have my wages garnished, be violently attacked, kidnapped, and jailed by the ones who “work” for me to provide security from people looking to take my money, attack me, and kidnap me! A strange employee of the public indeed!

As outlined in the previous piece on the Keynesian Police-State, police are simply too busy chasing revenue-generating crimes/policies for non-violent drug crimes and regulation offenders to recover stolen cash (of which they recover 3.2%), or stolen jewelry and metals (4.2% recovered), stolen firearms (8.1% recovered), or electronic devices (4.2% recovered). Police not only fail to protect the public and recover their property but are often themselves the aggressors and violators of their property. The fact that the National Park Service, the Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Fish and Wildlife Service all have heavily armed SWAT teams and the abundance of victimless crimes, asset forfeiture, policing-for-profit, and police brutality (it happens or you still haven’t discovered youtube) exists assert what most libertarians should already know: the State does not work for you. Conservatives, Tea-Party activists, and libertarian minarchists tend to throw around rhetoric of the like that the State is a criminal gang or mafia, but if the State is a criminal gang of organized crime than the police are its henchman and hired goons. Yet today it is considered leftist to be skeptical of the police and right-wing to be skeptical of the federal government. The libertarian however sees that the police and its various agencies are themselves the armed wing of the State apparatus ready to enforce and to avenge its claim to absolute sovereignty over what you eat, drink,  smoke (or sell those smokes), who cuts your hair,and even how far you let your kids walk.  The Libertarian sees no contradiction in being skeptical of the government and being skeptical of the police. Such examples however are statistical, anecdotal (and therefore easily dismissed), and are not in keeping with a more Austrian praxeological approach.

Hobbes, Hoppe, and The Myth of National Defense

In Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s seminal article The Private Production of Defense (The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1999) he lays out a masterful logical construction of why “public defense” is a myth. We do indeed have private defense, but it is the State’s private defense of its own monopoly of coercion and taxation. Arguments for collective security are often utilitarian and Hobbesian in nature. For Hobbes, the state of nature leaves men constantly at each other’s’ throats over the division of scarce resources. As reformed libertarians, we can sympathize with this bleak outlook because our belief in the total depravity of man. Yet Hobbes’s analysis can be looked at no so much morally as economically. Hobbes’s is saying that man (without the State) would be in a perpetual “underproduction” of security, in other words a market failure. His depravity and self-interest would make him perpetually violent yet spend “too little” on his own defense even if only selfishly. The solution given by Hobbes’s and other is the modern-State, yet Hoppe points out a predicament:

“In order to institute peaceful cooperation among themselves, two individuals, A and B, require a third independent party, S, as ultimate judge and peacemaker. However, this third party, S, is not just another individual, and the good provided by S, that of security, is not just another “private” good. Rather, S is a sovereign and has as such two unique powers. On the one hand, S can insist that his subjects, A and B, not seek protection from anyone but him; that is, S is a compulsory territorial monopolist of protection. On the other hand, S can determine unilaterally how much A and B must spend on their own security; that is, S has the power to impose taxes in order to provide security “collectively.”

What are we to make of Hobbes’s solution? Is this collective security an improvement?

“The difficulties with Hobbes’s argument are obvious. For one, regardless of how bad   men are, S— whether king, dictator, or elected president—is still one of them. Man’s nature is not transformed upon becoming S. Yet how can there be better protection for A and B, if S must tax them in order to provide it? Is there not a contradiction within the very construction of S as an expropriating property protector? In fact, is this not exactly what is also—and more appropriately—referred to as a protection racket? To be sure, S will make peace between A and B, but only so that he himself can rob both of them more profitably. Surely S is better protected, but the more he is protected, the less A and B are protected from attacks by S. Collective security, it would seem, is not better than private security. Rather, it is the private security of the state, S, achieved through the expropriation, i.e., the economic disarmament, of its subjects.”

This contradiction is made more evident when we compare the State to those it “protects” us from. Lysander Spooner noted that both the State and the highway robber say to the man “your money or your life!”:

“Many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat. The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful. The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travelers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these.”  (No Treason, No. VI, The Constitution of No Authority)

Hoppe’s & Rothbard’s (and the Libertarian’s for that matter) construction of the origins of the State is not that of the “social contract”, but that of conquest and exploitation. For one, production must always precede predation; therefore the free market must be anterior to the State. “The State,” Rothbard explained “provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society…The classic paradigm was a conquering tribe pausing in its time-honored method of looting and murdering a conquered tribe, to realize that the timespan of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant, if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”[1] This is the true origin of the state and its “protection”. It is equivalent to the mafia’s protection from other mafias. It is the protection of it’s own system of legalized plunder, as Frederic Bastiat called it. And if it manages to hold its rule long enough  “lo and behold! a new State has joined the ‘family of nations,’ and the former bandit leaders have been transformed into the lawful nobility of the realm.”

While some may view this comparison of the State to a raiding tribe or mafia distasteful and unfitting for the Christian, it was actually the great Saint Augustine who first pointed out the true nature and origin of the State:

“The band [of robbers] itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority like that of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.” (City of God, Book IV)

The conquerors become the State not by abandoning their lust for power and wealth but by appropriating to themselves the systematization of the predatory process over a given territory.

Having established our thesis let us now test our conclusion with several concrete examples. Murray Rothbard is again helpful:

“We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely—those against private citizens or those against itself? The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax. Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State’s openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d’etre.” (Anatomy of State, 45-46)

Further, besides crimes against the State what of crimes committed by the members of the state:

“This gang (“the exploiters constituting the government”) is well-nigh immune to punishment. Its worst extortions, even when they are baldly for private profit, carry no certain penalties under our laws. Since the first days of the Republic, less than a few dozen of its members have been impeached, and only a few obscure understrappers have ever been put into prison. The number of men sitting at Atlanta and Leavenworth for revolting against the extortions of the government is always ten times as great as the number of government officials condemned for oppressing the taxpayers to their own gain.” (Mencken, A Mencken Chrestomathy, pp. 147–48)

Mencken wrote this in the pre-Watergate era, pre-pentagon papers, pre-contra drug affair, pre-Bill Clinton, and pre-Benghazi. Yet not only can it be shown that the State’s true regard is for itself in how it prosecutes crimes against itself but even in the manner of how the State prosecutes crimes committed against private individuals or “society”.  In the first case it is not the victim of the crime who pursues and charges seeking restitution to restore what rights of his has been violated, but a “district attorney” who, on behalf of “society”, who pursues charges. The current practice is even more absurd as Rothbard demonstrates:

“A steals $15,000 from B. The government tracks down, tries, and convicts A, all at the expense of B, as one of the numerous taxpayers victimized in this process. Then, the government, instead of forcing A to repay B or to work at forced labor until that debt is paid, forces B, the victim, to pay taxes to support the criminal in prison for ten or twenty years’ time. Where in the world is the justice here? The victim not only loses his money, but pays more money besides for the dubious thrill of catching, convicting, and then supporting the criminal; and the criminal is still enslaved, but not to the good purpose of recompensing his victim.”

B finds himself robbed by A once, only to find himself continually robbed by the state to support A. Of further disgust is the State’s use of “society” to justify its monopoly of criminal justice and lack of efficiency in the provision of security. In the latter case, as I demonstrated in my article on The State and the Market, grotesque failures to reduce crime is not the fault of those tasked with providing police services but “society”. In this case it is not the individual criminal or the inept policeman but “society” who is to blame. If the common axiom is true that “society is everyone but yourself” then the absurdity can be shown clearly:

“Take, for example, the case where Smith robs or murders Jones. The “old-fashioned” view is that Smith is responsible for his act. The modern liberal counters that “society” is responsible. This sounds both sophisticated and humanitarian, until we apply the individualist perspective. Then we see that what liberals are really saying is that everyone but Smith, including of course the victim Jones, is responsible for the crime.”

Society at once becomes the “superior or quasi-divine figure with overriding “rights” of its own; at other times as an existing evil which can be blamed for all the ills of the world.”In the case of the non-violent drug user the collectivist insist with fervor that these contradictory notions are true. In the absence of a victim the defenders of the state claim that the drug-user himself is the victim, but then why must he then be tried as a criminal if he himself is the victim? What sense does this make to prosecute the victim and not the true criminal, who in this case perhaps is “society”. Perhaps they may offer the old justification that the victim of the non-violent drug user is “society”. As the sociologist Arnold W. Green puts it: “It would follow, then, that if society is responsible for crime, and criminals are not responsible for crime, only those members of society who do not commit crime can be held responsible for crime. Nonsense this obvious can be circumvented only by conjuring up society as devil, as evil being apart from people and what they do.” Reformed Libertarians are individualist, as a consequence in our political and rights theory “society” is a non-existent entity. Since only individuals acts and only individuals can own property then only individuals have rights and only particular individuals rights can be violated, society is a lazy label for a group of individuals interacting. In all these cases it is simply a junk drawer tool by which the State appropriates to itself the supreme monopoly of protection and ultimate arbitration of rights claims.

It follows then the State is both incapable and immune to any wrongdoing and at once the only body against which a crime may be truly committed, and the failure to prevent such crimes from happening rest with those not actually tasked with the preventing them. This is the definition of a protection racket; they do not “work” for us. Email scandals, news reports, and failed oversight hearings only prove to show the citizen that the deck is stacked against him; the House always wins. By no means does this mean that Libertarians are against the service provided, or anti-authoritarian, but demand that justice itself be provided justly. For the Reformed Libertarian it fails to be shown why God’s law must be broken before it can be upheld. Why, in order to stop potential criminals from violent theft, must violent theft be used on non-criminals thus becoming actually criminal in the process? The Reformed Libertarian holds that God’s law apply to any individual in the same way it applies a group of individuals. If any service the State is providing is just than others should be allowed to provide it as well, if on the hand the service they are providing is unjust then they should not be doing it anyways.

“The police are the state’s palace guards; they are not the public’s protectors. Until people face this fact squarely, all attempts to rein in the cops will prove unavailing.” – Robert Higgs

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