Now that folks are coming around on the idea that law enforcement needs serious structural transformation in this country, let’s make our argument a little more robust.
The tiniest fraction of people get killed by police. It is not useful to think of this problem as one in which there is any real likelihood of being gunned down. At least from the perspective of intellectual integrity (whether it’s useful for the masses to see it that way, is another question).
The problem with the term “police brutality” is that it has multiple meanings. From a police officers perspective, something that you regard as police brutality is in fact, them just doing their job. They believe they are doing the right thing, the best they can. And they probably carry some moral justification around with them that’s not dissimilar to yours. I am not talking about the instances where among LEOs it would be regarded as excessive force. It’s way less likely for law enforcement to act with impunity than it is for them to do what they think is right.
The most egregious issue is mass incarceration. We have by far the largest prison population in the world, anyway you slice it. Absolute numbers, as a percentage, etc. This comes from over-policing and an emphasis on enforcement of prohibition.
Among ways of slicing the demographics, the most vulnerable to over-policing and mass incarceration are the poor.
So how does race come into play? Well, 3/4 of the prison population is black. So notwithstanding socio-economic class as the most accurate predictor of vulnerability to over-policing, it is not unreasonable to view this issue as one of race. Particularly when historically, race has been a way of slicing demographics (by which I mean, the Civil rights movement is only a small few decades old). In America today, the poor are not a community. Black people and African-Americans largely see themselves as one. To add to that, there is clear evidence suggesting a cyclical relationship between over-policing and further impoverishment, and there are numerous other factors that suggest a particular causal relationship between fitting a certain profile (namely: being black) and being a target of over-policing.
Therefore, it’s okay that the loudest voices are the communities (actual, not theoretical) that are most impacted by the most egregious issue.
The jury is out on whether some of the relatively few cases of needless killings by police officers will be most effective as the primary motivation for political change in this area. However, at the moment it is pointing to the optimal solution, end over-policing by getting the most police off the streets.
Finally, police are only Sauron’s physical form. The laws criminalizing poverty are the ring of power. They must be thrown into mount doom
Recently, Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender was interviewed regarding the Council’s latest political move towards abolition of the local police department. The interview left me underwhelmed. She gave no indication that she was familiar with the technical details of what abolishing the police could look like. I am not surprised by this though. The speed with which the City Council acted to signal willingness to change gave them no time to thoroughly think through the implications of, or a set of reasonable steps to take towards, abolishing the police.
The first point to consider is that, much to my dismay, nobody is talking about getting rid of all publicly funded law enforcement in Minneapolis. As it stands, there are a series of overlapping jurisdictions, of which the local police are only one. Park police, transit police, the County Sheriff’s department, State patrol,the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and any number of federal law enforcement agencies will still operate as they always have. Many investigations, arrests, and incarcerations will be handled by essentially the same people handling them now.
Don’t worry Minneapolis City Council, we have you covered! Here are a list of steps you should be seriously considering:
Disarm all traffic patrol and restrict their interaction with the public to traffic citations and response to traffic calls.
It is plausible that traffic patrol is necessary to keep reckless drivers off the street. I remain unconvinced, but even if we assume this as a premise, there is still absolutely no reason these people need to be armed, or even to be cops. There are various towns and cities across the country which employ non-police parking enforcement, and even major cities such as NYC have special divisions of traffic “cops” that are functionally distinct from their beat and detective counterparts.
There is no evidence that going around looking for people breaking the law does any good. More likely, it is the mechanism by which the racial disparity in criminal justice is manifest. In the transition period, any publicly funded police functionality should be strictly limited to response, not to patrol.
Shut down all proactive non-violent crime investigations and end no-knock raids
The vast majority of no-knock raids are used to execute search warrants and result in the confiscation of zero contraband. Instead, they often lead to innocent people being killed or maimed. Getting rid of the police means that society will have to fundamentally rethink the way it approaches non-violent crime, and drug crime in particular. Thank goodness in 2020, that proposition is not as far fetched as it once was.
Form a first response team of mental health workers for mental health/domestic violence calls
This step may on the surface appear to be anti-libertarian. But much the way Dr. Joe Salerno suggested we meet the left halfway regarding the Fed, this is a step where in a case of alternatives, one is clearly the more libertarian choice. Mental health is a crisis in the US. one in ten calls to police concern mentally ill people who generally pose little harm to anybody. Society has thoroughly neglected these folks, dumping them in the laps of emergency rooms and county jails, neither of which are remotely equipped to deal with them. Coming up with an infrastructure, either public or non-governmental, is a moral obligation, regardless of the role you think the police ought to play
Disarm all investigators of non-violent crime reports
Once you’ve eliminated proactive non-violent crime policing, such infractions as vagrancy, public drunkenness, sexwork, loitering, and on and on remain as the type of non-violent crimes our interim police department will have to deal with. These types of calls do not require an armed response whatsoever. We also need to rethink the role incarceration, in county or city jail for instance, plays in our society. Maybe the answer is in fact, leaving people alone and simply not enforcing these “crimes”. If you can’t do that, however, perhaps not immediately escalating the situation with an armed officer is the best course of action.
Liquidate all tanks/submarines/LRAD/MRAP or other military grade equipment
Please don’t tell me “we a need militarized capacity in case of complete social breakdown”. We literally just watched their response to that. They have proven themselves to be completely powerless, and more often than not they actually increase the chances of social breakdown. I am not really interested in making a well thought-out, nuanced case as to why local police shouldn’t have submarines. These tools of war, designed to be used against enemy combatants, have no place in a municipality used by those sworn to protect the people, even would-be criminals.
Where Does That Leave our Interim Department?
That leaves armed police as first responders to violent crime calls. Private and community security will begin to develop a city wide infrastructure to create stability for businesses. Case law will develop to determine what is reasonable and what crosses the line when it comes to policing. Neighborhood watches and private police patrols (such as can be found in San Francisco and Atlanta) will organically form depending on the needs of the communities and property owners.
Otherwise, there is to schedule dates for turning over investigations of violent/non-violent crime calls to private enterprise and NGOs. In the meantime, acquaint yourself with the literature. Luckily, academics have been preparing for this for some many decades, and have developed sophisticated treatments for what a world without publicly funded police would look like.
The protests in response to the murder of George Floyd have brought more mainstream exposure to a radical libertarian position than any other other political movement since Ron Paul’s presidential run. A number of hashtags calling for the defunding, disbanding and outright abolition of local police have propelled the topic into mainstream discourse. Over the past few days, The Star Tribune, Time magazine and today, the NYT have all run articles exploring the notion. A notion for which libertarians have devoted considerable effort, over the course of many decades, towards providing a theoretical and intellectual unpinning.
Due to the cultural development of the libertarian movement since the elder Paul’s presidential bid, however, some high profile libertarians have found it difficult to find fraternity with or even support such calls from urban minority community activists who have recently stolen the attention of the 24 hour news cycle. This is true for many reasons. Questions of the coherency of the narrative (who will enforce leftist laws???), over emphasis on racial issues instead of a focus on the institution of the police, and just the overwhelming growth of power of PC culture in just the last decade has made such libertarians regard this recent development as somewhat dubious.
Even on their own terms, it’s not clear that these views are justified.
First, its unclear as to whether or not this movement even qualifies as leftist, at least in the sense the term is used. If the position itself is leftist, than libertarians need to just accept that they hold leftist views. If by leftist they mean that *every* protester and voice in favor of abolition *also* holds socialist and anti-capitalist views, well that is immediately falsified. A number of libertarians have come out in support of the protests, a number even participated. How many people have to be libertarian for the movement to be libertarian? a plurality? a majority? Are we just going to say those people don’t count? Ok, so *most* protesters, right? What about the hundreds of thousands of participants who hold a complex set of political views that cant be easily summed up in a pithy way? If what matters is the majority, than the movement has no political affiliation at all. What about the fact that ideas are transmitted through a sophisticated network over a variety of media, and people form their opinions based on a variety of influences. That political movements take on a life of their own, and calls to abolish are potentially as much to do with libertarian yammering as anything else?
Fine. Perhaps then, its the organizers that qualify the movement as leftist. I would accept that if they were calling for the platitudes and fashionable leftist rhetoric of yesteryear, These protesters have one goal. End the reign of terror that police have inflicted on the communities they are supposed to be serving and protecting.
“But it doesn’t make sense! How will they collect their revenue?”
Next we hear the following objection. “They don’t really want abolition, because then they couldn’t enforce their laws”. A slightly more coherent version of this rebuttal is “They haven’t really thought it through.” There is still *so* much wrong with this. Not only is it incredibly patronizing, but it homogenizes the entire movement. Libertarians are supposed to be methodological individualists. Not every protester is uniformly in favor of occupational licensing, zoning laws, business licenses, etc… In fact, most of these people don’t even consider these to be related issues, never mind having overwhelming support for them. Those who are familiar, have probably been victimized by such institutions themselves. What you really mean is that the political class wont let it happen. Uh, ok. Aren’t we all fighting the political class?
“But it shouldn’t all/only be about race”.
Yeah, well it is. At least for the people engaging in meaningful political activism right now. In the United States, urban minorities have a sense of the world in which their “class” such as it is, is perpetually victimized by a political establishment concerned with social control and exploitation. Is that not demonstrably true? Libertarians have historically never disputed that narrative. Our’s has always been a position that urban minorities are not focusing on appropriate causal factors… Which factors may i ask? … THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE INFRASTRUCTURE!!! Leftist are finally dialed in on the exact issue that libertarians have been saying lies at the heart of racial disparity, and now we cant support it because they see themselves as a class.
“What if they replace it with something worse?”
What if they were screaming End the Fed? Would you be saying “What if they put in something worse?”. Sorry, guys. End the Fed is cancelled cuz there are greenbackers and conspiracy kooks. What if they were saying “End the empire”? It’s a callow angle. It certainly isn’t a priori true that replacing police with social programs would be less libertarian, and certainly reasonable that such programs could be more so. It’s a question of particulars. Each would have to be looked at on a case by case basis and evaluated on its own merit. Oppose those things when they happen. And what the hell can be worse than armed enforcement wing of the state? At worst, a replacement would be everything police already are, minus the guns. But again, nobody is saying you need to support that. Just oppose what you know is wrong. And for those suggesting that the market will not fill the void left by an absence of armed security forces in major cities… That people wont spontaneously organize to solve complex social problems. I have a few books i’d recommend. Starting with this one.
“It’s just the Mob. Looting is bad”
Here I would offer that somebody can see this movement as something bigger than looting and remain consistent with libertarianism. You don’t have to abandon a value for property rights to support activists protesting transgressions against property (such as all actions of the police on behalf of the state necessarily are). And by the way, it takes as little moral courage to decry looting as it does to decry racism. Not to mention the perfectly reasonable argument (which is born out by the evidence btw) that police response to the protests has done more to cause the looting than anything else.
“If they take power, they will betray us.”
Who? Leftists? Aside from the fact that i remain unsold on the idea that this is a homogeneous leftist movement, I am constantly bombarded with the narrative that they already have all of the power. How does them doing something we agree with put us at more risk than we would be otherwise?
So there it is. My case for embracing this movement. And my frustration at the state of libertarianism today. We should all agree, as we once had, Defund, Disband, Abolish. And if you don’t agree, well than get out of the way, cuz its happening.
There is a view in some circles that one system of social organization or another will be self-perpetuating. That if we arrive at libertarian paradise, it will exist forever. This is an absurd notion.
As long as there is social organization, there is the potential that the use of political means be resorted to as a basis to organize it. There is no such thing as a self perpetuating anarchy anymore than a self-perpetuating minarchism. Liberty is a like a healthy marriage. It has to be nurtured, devoted to, respected and loved. It isn’t some goal. You don’t get there.
On October 25, 2017, President Donald Trump tweeted in presidential fashion that he would be allowing the long awaited release of the last of the JFK assassination records. These records were designated as such during the 4 year term of the Assassination Records Review Board (AARB). Congress commissioned this board to review a number of documents that were thought to be relevant to the JFK assassination. During that term, the AARB succeeded in in disclosing millions of pages of files. They included everything from reports made for and by the Church Committee, to evidence collected by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. However, thousands of documents were withheld in full, while tens of thousands were only partially disclosed.
The law which brought the AARB into existence, a response to Oliver Stone’s Oscar Award winning Film JFK, mandated that all files be released by Oct 26, 2017. Until that time, agencies could keep secret any document it deemed as sensitive to the national security. After such time, only the president could make such a judgement. With the clock tickiing, legions of prominent researchers and eminent scholars waited skeptically. Slowly they warmed up to the idea that they might actually see the long withheld files.
Of course, notwithstanding the tweets from President Trump, the vast majority of withheld documents were not released. In a last minute scramble, a number of agencies petitioned the president. Despite mainstream media claims that over 2800 files of 3100 were finally allowed to be seen by the public, only 52 new documents were actually made public. The rest of the release was simply a removal of various redactions. Most of these were inconsequential to furthering the public understanding of the case. Not to mention any potential cover-up which might have taken place.
Why the JFK files matter
JFK’s assassination resulted in an immediate transformation of US foreign policy. During his term as a Senator, Kennedy was a staunch anti-imperialist. He took this attitude with him to the White House. In his book JFK and the Unspeakable, Jim Douglas suggests that the Cuban Missile Crisis changed his Cold Warrior mentality. A closer examination at Kennedy’s writing renders a slightly different portrait.
Mr. President, the most powerful single force in the world today is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile it is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent. The great enemy of that tremendous force of freedom is called, for want of a more precise term, imperialism – and today that means Soviet imperialism and, whether we like it or not, and though they are not to be equated, Western imperialism.
-John F. Kennedy, 1957
This sentiment was expressed through all of his actions as president. From his support for Congolese independence, to the ordered withdrawl of all troops from Vietnam by 1965. Kennedy’s foreign policy was at once a reflection of American sentiment and a rebuke of the previous interventionist regime.
President Kennedy couldn’t manifest his vision for a world built on self determination. Instead, the members of the National Security State who rejected his vision, wasted no time in convincing a new Johnson administration of what way to proceed. Some actors, such as William Harvey, David Atlee Phillips, and David Morales still have files concerning their role in the Kennedy years which have yet to be released. The CIA suggests that the release of these files could have consequences to US National Security Interests. What could these consequences be?
The Trump administration has recently announced a preliminary tariff on soft wood products imported from Canada. Shortly after his pronouncement, establishment media outlets quickly began churning out hit pieces on the policy. These outlets correctly accused Trump of a regressive trade policy fueled by economic ignorance. They outlined the classical arguments for free trade as espoused by economists from David Ricardo all the way to Paul Krugman, and predicted the disastrous ruin of the American economy, should these policies be the basis for a new American project. Despite their efforts, nobody cares.
These efforts fall on deaf ears, not because of the ignorance of the American voter. On the contrary, it’s the punditry that seems ignorant of the plight of the rust belt that elected Trump. The establishment media has been proclaiming the benefit of free trade for decades, and middle class Americans have seen their jobs disappear. While workers were being told that free trade would be an economic boon, they’ve watched their economy fall apart. It would only be so long before the Washington consensus on trade would lose all credibility. That time seems to have arrived.
How Did We Get Here?
When an American auto worker looks at the concrete wasteland where his factory used to be, he has little use for lectures about comparative advantage. He hears that his factory has moved to China, not that cars will be less expensive now. If journalists and pundits continue to ignore the reality of American industry, their efforts will continue to fall short. Unfortunately, addressing structural defects of the American economy would require an understanding of the policies which led to them in the first place. It would also require a desire to change those policies.
Ever since Reagan’s strong dollar policy, Americans have been the beneficiary of globalism. Prices are much lower than they otherwise would be. This trend has led to the US being the largest per capita consumer on the planet. As a matter of fact, even the American poor have better access to many goods made in foreign markets (like china) than those workers who actually produce such goods. However, Americans did not just take these benefits in the form of lower prices. They took it in the form of unsustainable government spending and an out of control regulatory state. For most of this time, it happened without them even realizing it. The money was too good for too long. One by one under the weight of these new burdens, employers shipped their operations overseas.
“Where free trade should have brought high levels of natural price deflation, government borrowing and spending kept those prices high.”
At first, American workers just enjoyed their unemployment checks. They bought their X-Boxes and took their kids to see the baseball games. Some went into the bubble economies of the 90’s and 2000’s, as it was a quick way to generate wealth. Others just enjoyed the indirect effects from the boom. Gradually, however, time between jobs began to grow. Factories closed down, breadwinner jobs disappeared, and consumer credit went to unsustainable highs. Blame went around. Some blamed the Fed and interest rates. Some Blamed the failure of capitalism. And others blamed globalism and free trade. But what nobody seems to blame, even among those who know better, is that Americans have been greedy.
Americans have let themselves become so dependent on federal entitlements and domestic protectionism, they can’t bring themselves to accept that they have legislated themselves out of a job. In the 80s and 90s when they were begging for higher minimum wages and mandated employee benefits, they were sealing their fate. More importantly, because they refused to pay attention to government outlays, prices never adjusted to pass on the benefits that free trade ought to have brought. Where free trade should have brought high levels of natural price deflation, government borrowing and spending kept those prices high. As long as the money was there, it wasn’t a problem.
The only way to make a free trade argument in the current context, is to connect the shape of the American economy to these realities. Unless the Washington establishment makes changes to government policies, jobs will continue to flee overseas. And unless supporters of free trade can articulate what happened to these jobs, American workers will continue to blame the US government for allowing them to leave.
From the moment the new President was sworn in, the punditry has been forthcoming. Professional opinions asked themselves how it could be and what on earth it might look like. For his part, Trump has provided and continues to provide much to discuss. From his patent lies, to his complete ineptitude in the area of statecraft, talking heads are burning through the 24/7 news cycle. What’s lost in this thicket of absurdity are important questions which are going unanswered. While the left experienced a complete meltdown, most of the criticism from the right was directed towards the social justice phenomenon. The efforts of a cultural elite targeting those who bear fidelity to the values of the American heartland. The collapse of the American working class has been largely avoided.
In fairness, the topic has been addressed, though not sufficiently. A number of popular conservative publications have made arguments as to why free trade is a benefit to the American worker. Even progressive economists such as Paul Krugman have begun to sing the praise of the value chains and comparative advantage. Despite their efforts though, Trump’s constituency heard few of such pleas for sanity. While National Review dedicated entire publications to the cause, middle America continued to fill seats at trump rallies. Sophisticated arguments for globalization went almost completely unnoticed.
To be honest, this is standard fare in politics. If sophisticated arguments were ‘make or break’ criteria for elections, history would have been written differently. When libertarians start to question the merits of free trade, it is time to worry. Over the past few months, free marketeers have been losing ground to a relatively new and apparently attractive alternative. This populist wave which has swept middle America reeks of protectionism and neo-mercantilism. It’s also been startlingly difficult to combat intellectually. Many who are sympathetic to theory of free trade are just tired of waiting for it to yield results in practice. Despite the opening of markets across the globe, there seems to be no debate. The American worker has paid a price.
What is the cause?
Libertarian economists are in an interesting position. For decades, they have espoused theory while sitting far away from the reins of power. Naturally, when some ill effect of economic policies enacted by the state bear rotten fruit, it’s easy to deflect responsibility. When it comes to the area of free trade, the waters are a little muddied. The fact is that America has seen an unprecedented opening of markets since the 1950s. American workers however, have perceived a decline in relative income while more and more goods marked ‘Made in China’ fill their shelves.
Why is logic of the economist so strong but so incompatible with the perception of the worker? The answer is in how America got to where it is. In a previous article, I explained the rise of the dollar and the impact on American foreign policy. The implications for American trade and industry hit more closely to home. The truth is that free trade has been hurting the US. Though not in the way commonly argued.
Dollar Dominance and the Regulatory State
With the emergence of the dollar as the global reserve currency, American consumers gained tremendous advantages in the global market. Foreign industries competed for capital investment sponsored by US firms and American workers hardly noticed a change. Goods were getting cheaper while advancements technology pushed the standard of living to new heights. But slowly American workers started to demand more from the state. At first, as with all interventions the impact was negligible. A few safety regulations here, some environmental considerations there, raise the minimum wage once or twice. Americans became greedy. With goods overseas so cheap, and plenty of money flying off the printing press the US economy underwent a dramatic transformation. Suddenly it was impossible for Americans to compete with their international competitors. but nobody noticed. The punch tasted too good.
All of this seemed destined to last forever. That is until the money ran out. Slowly but surely, gains made through free trade, were channeled into empire building, by taxes or regulation. American industry is now prohibitively expensive. The Rustbelt is a real phenomena and American workers across the country feel like they are in a vice. They have gotten so rich from their status as makers of the world’s money, they have completely wrecked their economy. What’s worse is that they blame the very boon which permitted them such extravagance. That boon is the thread holding what’s left of the American economy together.
Is There Any Hope?
Alfred McCoy, Professor of history at University of Wisconsin, Madison once posited that this subsidy from the Rest of the World was vital to the US interest. He recognized the substance of the argument I made here, but his view however, was more depressing. Without it he suggested, our economy would fall into ruin. Well, he was only half right. Without this subsidy, our economy would go through a transformation. What shape that took would depend on the attitude of the American worker. Will they blame free trade or the regulatory policies that free trade enabled? Well that will depend on the persuasiveness of our arguments. If Americans accept that the blame for this situation lie in the very policies they advocated for? Well, they will likely demand their economic rights back. If not… Politicians don’t like to give up power. I fear them much more than I do China.
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