Over the past several months, CopBlock.org contributor Joshua Hotchkin has written a series of articles asserting that police accountability is futile, privatization is not any solution at all, and that complete abolition should be the proper course of action for those concerned with the police state.
Having looked over Josh’s work, I would like to respond to some of these points. It should be properly articulated here that I am speaking about hypothetical possibilities that could emerge in the absence of the state. This being said, the reader should take for granted that we have pushed the proverbial red button and the state is no longer in existence.
One thing I take most issue with is Josh’s view expressed in his most recent piece that:
Private policing is not a solution. It is a pipe dream. It is the hangover of minarchist babble that still exists in those who found their way clear of statism via libertarianism. I once found myself believing the very same thing. Yet I am also a living system, and thus my tendency towards growth has caused me to spiral around and from a new perspective see the flaws in carrying minarchist ideologies over into anarchist thought.
Law and its enforcement are not synonymous with the state or “minarchist ideologies.” Like everything else, law is just another thing like education and infrastructure that the state has taken over leaving people unable to envision society without government being the sole provider.
State control of law, is a recent phenomena. Law has always been provided, created, and enforced privately on the open market. Examples include English common law where law was more or less determined by precedent emerging from competing courts that even kings were subordinate to, merchant law, tribal law, religious law that is enforced by internal arbitrators within faiths, and polycentric systems existing in high-trust societies like Medieval Iceland and Brehon Ireland based primarily on the enforcement of social norms, reputation, and ostracism.
I will speak more about the context of the latter in addressing how the eventual abolition of police might be realized but the assertion that “private policing is not a solution” and “a pipe dream” does not jive with the empirical data. In fact, private policing is already a solution.
Josh has referenced Pinkerton Detective Agency in the past and in his most recent piece as well, offering condemnation that it embodies a relevant example of how a private policing firm “march[ed] towards abusive monopoly.” We must distinguish here however, between “privatization” and “marketization.”
I understand that it is emblematic of Anarcho-Capitalists like myself to always point to the involvement of the state in determining improper market function, but either the state is playing a role or it is not. In the case of Pinkerton, it most certainly was. In fact, Pinkerton is a stark example of everything wrong with the statist system – that embodies and sanctions abuses not likely tolerated by voluntary paying customers in a market economy absent of endowed government privileges.
Much like the so-called “private” prison industry that is heavily subsidized by the state and “private” defense contractors that do the bidding of the government abroad, Pinkerton existed in a space between the voluntary and public sectors with strong ties to the state, providing private security services to high-level businessmen but living off government contracts to enforce federal law. In fact, Pinkerton’s ties to the state were so strong that after the Homestead Strike, an angry public prompted Congress to pass the Anti-Pinkerton Act, which limited the federal government’s ability to hire them.
We also see similar symbiotic relationships between modern local and state governments and “private” police services they contract to enforce law. These agencies do come under scrutiny sometimes but at rates much lower than whole-sale government police, and are again, not accountable to voluntary paying customers as they survive off taxpayer money provided by the state.
A pertinent example of a successful modern voluntary policing alternative however, is Detroit’s Threat Management Center – which is providing affordable and even pro-bono security and law enforcement services to residents in the wake of the failed city’s bankruptcy some years back. I won’t go into much detail here but the company has been lauded by locals for doing the job government police will not in neighborhoods that drastically need it while engaging in little to no abuses. If you would like to learn more about the enterprise, you can check out some of the numerous posts about it here on CopBlock.org or see some recent interviews with founder, Dale Brown, HERE and HERE.
Is accountability really futile as Josh maintains though? Well, it depends on your standard. If the standard is 100 percent accountability – in any society, even ones in which there are no laws or police to speak of and it is always up to individuals to organize defense, that can never be realized. Bad decisions will be made, people will act poorly. There will be mistakes or outright abuses. It’s just human nature.
In my view, it is best to tailor alternatives to the present system around the inherent nature of man, and not presuppose that he is a malleable creature whose full altruistic potential can be realized if only certain social conditions are met. I’m not saying that Josh’s ideas are utopian or that he believes this, so don’t take this as a straw man. I’m just relaying my own perspective.
Decentralization is key. Ultimately I would love to see a society where things like defense and security are requisitioned down to communities and individuals but abolition of things like “police” are unlikely in the absence of the state – at least at first. Criminals exist and will continue to exist until the end of time. Personal defense is costly, and I am not just speaking about monetary cost.
Keeping communities safe involves risk. Injured parties do have incentive to seek retribution against their aggressors but at what cost? Contracting out defense, protection, and justice services would be an essential part of any modern stateless society. Time is a scarce resource. Individuals divide labor into specialized fields so they don’t have to be the sole producers of all their necessities. There is a market demand for justice, and it is going to manifest itself in a way that reduces the risks of confronting violence.
If a violent gang of thieves murder an individual’s loved one during a robbery, for example, what is the more superlative option: rounding up a posse and going after the gang yourself – which is certainly a possibility, or contracting the task out to a company that specializes in such services? For those that can afford it, likely the latter. Why put yourself in a dangerous situation if it is not necessary?
Being protected and secure sets one’s minds at ease. This is known as psychic benefit. Josh distinguishes in his work between protection and security, and police – which he appears to be defining as enforcers of “law,” but he also makes a statement I find troubling:
You can have private security, but if you have reasons to need that, you are probably doing some wrong with your life.
I’ll just let that stand on its own without comment but where there is demand for liberty, there will be demand for liberty protected by law. The two are not mutually exclusive.
As stated earlier, law has always existed independent of the state. According to the great 19th century French economist and philosopher, Frédéric Bastiat, law is properly understood as “the collective organization of the individual right to defense.” Even social norms that do not necessarily need to be codified (in the West anyway) like abhorrence of murder and theft, ultimately require enforcement.
Disputes arise and when they do, societal mechanisms that serve as means of procuring justice and arbitration are necessary. Because of demand and the benefits of specialization and the division of labor, this will inevitably manifest itself in some form of “police.” This doesn’t always necessarily have to be the case, but at least for the foreseeable future, we should be attempting to cultivate systems that lend themselves more to accountability than the present statist one.
The best way of getting more accountability is to “marketize” police services. Josh doesn’t agree and writes in his latest piece:
When a private company competes, it does so in order to expand its services and thus the size of its organization. Which is exactly what policing does already, as I have previously presented through the Living Systems model. For an organization to be successful and thrive it must insure its own safety and growth first and foremost. Whether or not the organization is ran by the state or private interests makes absolutely no difference. The interest of the organization is always going to come first. Competition does nothing to dissuade a power structures reliance on force to ultimately advance itself.
Which is why accountability is futile. The problem with policing is not who is in charge of it, it is in the nature of the activity itself. Using force to place the will of an individual or group over another individual or group is always going to have the same results. And asking the institutions that monopolize force to be less aggressive is akin to asking a fox in a henhouse to intentionally starve itself. Admissions of aggression threaten the belief systems that give their monopolies consent, so neither are they likely to send in satiated foxes with better self control to take care of the hungry one in the henhouse. Accountability is not a possibility. It is not the source of funding that prevents it, it is the nature of institutionalized force.
Yes, private companies want to expand and profit. But how do they do that? Well, by providing a valuable product or service that individuals choose to voluntarily consume. Contrast this with the state which relies on plunder (taxation) to not only pay for its abuses but to exist at all. Which is likely to have more accountability? Obviously the former. Look at any area where the market is allowed to properly operate. It is in these areas where needs are most adequately met while upholding consumer preferences. To gain, a private company must provide. The private policing industry would be no exception as quantified by market alternatives that already exist like the aforementioned Threat Management Center.
Josh maintains that private policing services which may enforce systems of private law would be tantamount to “monopolize[d] force” but competition is not a monopoly. Monopoly is not a free market danger. I have dealt with this issue in depth before HERE but what Josh is driving at, I think, is that if a single standard of law is being enforced it will inevitably lead to abuses. That’s certainly not what I am proposing as an alternative to the current system though without law being monopolized by the state, a single producer of law could manifest itself in some ways.
One way this could occur is via contractual covenant communities in which individuals voluntarily agree to abide by certain rules in order to live in a certain area. Personally, I think it is this type of private law society that people would be most comfortable living in. Individuals have preferences and biases. If a covenant community contractually stipulated that residents not use drugs for example, and clearly outlines what is to be done if that rule is violated – when the covenant is broken, there would be consequences. This is a completely acceptable way to organize a community in my view and it is unlikely that drug users would choose to live there anyway.
This is nothing more than the exercise of free association. If a community doesn’t want to be around drug users, that is their prerogative. If an individual wants to use drugs, that is their prerogative – they just shouldn’t have to be abided by those who disagree with their behavior. Social norms often find themselves codified in law. Such norms are culturally selected for in the evolutionary sense because they reduce societal costs. This is why, in the west anyway, taboos against incestuous sex, a reverence for heterosexual monogamy etc. have emerged. Not because there exists some oppressive patriarchy that wishes to impose its will on others, but because such norms are conducive to maintaining civilization.
The point, is that these type of communities, though voluntary, could be seen as institutionalized monopolies in the way Josh describes. For the most part however, law would predictably emerge in a stateless society not as a result of top down edicts, but how it has arisen in the past: through competitive systems of arbitration.
This type of Polycentric Law is based upon the idea that sometimes people will disagree, but that doesn’t mean that any single entity should have a monopoly on justice. Instead, competing “courts” would arbitrate disputes as provided by the open market. The rulings would most likely be compensatory, meaning that instead of jail sentences, criminals would be required to pay restitution for their misdeeds. If they are unable to pay however, this is where something akin to prison might be necessary – where criminals could labor under supervision until they are able to make their victims whole again.
What happens when criminals don’t want to stand trial however, and flee justice? That’s when some form of private police would come into play – probably attached to Insurance companies that would have incentive to track them down in order to recover expenses for having to pay out to customers they insure against things like theft and murder.
Law and police may not always be necessary but absent the state, they would definitely exist. People are not just going to lose their statist sensibilities without government. I agree with David Friedman here on this – that it is an error to assume that a stateless society would necessarily be libertarian. As already mentioned, many would be content to use contract law to keep drug addled degenerates out of their communities. In a more macro-level, demand for things like drug laws aren’t going away though.
Take the area of the country I live in: the Bible Belt. Religious zealots would be content pay for the enforcement of things like laws against gay marriage, drugs, etc. Without an enforcement apparatus being able to externalize costs onto taxpayers however, it is likely that most would quickly find the cost of enforcing such edicts untenable. That’s another reason why a system of private law would be preferable to the state. Most modern laws would ultimately be unenforceable as voluntarily paying consumers would prioritize their costs in accordance with the things they value most, namely the enforcement of laws against actual crimes involving victims like theft, murder, rape, fraud etc.
As already mentioned, what you would be left with is a decentralized, competitive, and restitution-based legal system that would employ some variant of “police” for fulfilling obligations to consumers and bringing criminals to justice. In the long run, I agree with Josh that the abolition of police and law is preferable and a goal to be strived towards. There would be prerequisites though and a market for justice, law, and police services would be necessary in facilitating the transition.
During this period, foundations for what Josh prescribes could be built. This would primarily have to include the cultivation of a high-trust society – a society that rejects parasitism and is willing to make acts of aggression so costly through reputational enforcement and ostracism that it would rarely be engaged in. Unfortunately, that type of society doesn’t exist in the west anymore. There are certain sub-cultures like the Amish, where these types of social norms are still heavily enforced, but that type of society draws upon 100s of years of traditions and religious conditioning not yet annihilated by the perverse incentives of the state.
For the majority of the rest of the civilized world, similar traditions have been swept away by the celebration of parasitism embodied in things like welfarism and the cultural-Marxist virus that advocates throwing the cost of degeneracy onto society in the form of the promotion of things like polyamory, irresponsible drug use, and victimology. Strong culture does not exist anymore that can sustain ideals like the abolition of law and police. That’s why I posit that a transition through a private market of law and competitive policing and justice services is inevitable – for the reasons I’ve already outlined (demand, division of labor, specialization) – and necessary, until a time when they are ultimately not needed anymore and the enforcement of cultural norms alone are stringent enough to adequately deal with crime and punishment.
These types of high-trust societies have existed before, mostly in Western and Northern Europe in aforementioned places like Medieval Iceland and Brehon Ireland, and can exist again. Building similar societies doesn’t rely on the fundamental transformation of human nature to be realized, just the removal of incentives that perpetuate cultural destruction that result in the removal of the necessary conditions required for such societies in the first place. Getting rid of the state is just one precondition of the eventual abolition of police, but the cultivation of the rejection of parasitism is paramount in realizing this goal – and requires market forces in the realm of police and protection services to serve in the interim to expedite the process. After these conditions are met and demand for such services disappear, it is then that funding can be withdrawn and police can become a memory of a less civilized time.