One of the most perplexing displays of cognitive dissonance this year is the strong support for a large state can be found within the various protest movements that are targeting the issue of law enforcement misconduct. Logically, groups opposing police misconduct should also be strong supporters of the libertarian ideology. However, this does not appear to be the case. This movement, oddly enough, has quite a bit of overlap with support for gun control, the welfare state, and more regulation. The central organization, Black Lives Matter, is a fully Marxist entity.
Socialism, Marxism, communism, and other ideologies revolve around the strong or total domination of the state in everyday life. The state, as defined by Murray Rothbard in Anatomy of the State, is an “organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area.” The way the state maintains authority within its jurisdiction is with the application of laws.
The Nature of a Law
A law is defined as “a rule of conduct or action prescribed…or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority.” It is a set of rules that either obligate or forbid action with a penalty for failure to comply. While it may sound good to have a set of rules that individuals must adhere to and penalties to incentivize compliance, the nature of those penalties is where we run into issues.
While laws may have formally designated penalties for noncompliance, those penalties can be best viewed as a minimum sentence. The maximum penalty for failure to comply with any given law is execution of the perpetrator. While this sounds like hyperbole, it’s important to understand why this is the case and how law enforcement must resort to this.
Take a case of counterfeit money. The sentencing guidelines for counterfeiting money are a sixteen-month minimum and in some states a fine with a maximum prison sentence of twenty years. However, what if the accused refuses to show up in court? The court could then find the perpetrator guilty in absentia and apply the sentence and fine. Should the person refuse to part with their resources or report to prison, the court would then order an enforcement agent to collect the accused. This is also what could happen should the accused refuse to show up for court itself. And should the accused resist this arrest? This is where grievous bodily harm up to and including death can occur.
If you think this is hyperbole, this is exactly the situation that led to the death of George Floyd; a twenty-dollar counterfeit bill and refusal to be taken into law enforcement custody.
The reason state agents resort to killing an accused for refusal to comply is that, despite the verbal claims to the contrary by the state itself, there is no other way to ensure compliance with laws. If the general public knows that the worst the state will ever do is send easily ignored bills in the mail for fines, then laws would never be followed and the state would collapse. Because the state is an institution of violence, all laws must be backed with violence. The state may be careful to conceal this reality, but the ultimate refusal of compliance is always a summary execution.
More Laws Means More Violence
Police brutality, in a sense, is just a matter of numbers. As the number of interactions with an enforcement agent increase, the number of instances of violent interactions will also increase. If the odds of death from a single interaction remain the same, or even decline, this can be overwhelmed if the legal system expects greater instances of interaction with the general public through the application of more laws.
This can be demonstrated by the increasing number of death by legal intervention within the baseline white ethnicity in the United States in the aftermath of the war on drugs, particularly after the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act. Per a Harvard study, the rate of killings via legal intervention of whites in 1985, the year after the US government decided to get tough on crime, stood at 0.28 per 100,000. By 2005 this number had risen to 0.37 per 100,000, an increase of 32 percent.
The reason I used whites as the baseline is due to the high volatility in the black legal intervention deaths. The underlying increase in the white death rate could indicate that the improvement in the black victimization rate should be even steeper than is reported now, but the overall impact is difficult to identify with other factors overwhelming the effects.
Further evidence that more law means more violence can be found in strong statist regimes. Enforcement killings in regimes like Venezuela are significantly worse and large-scale executions have been used to ensure legal compliance in societies like Maoist China and the Soviet Union. A society that believes it can solve all of its problems with the imposition of law will inevitably find itself engaging in large-scale killings to enforce it. The more aggressive the attempt at transforming society through legal imposition, the more aggressive the killing will be.
Don’t Just Defund the Police, End State Law
This is where the cognitive dissonance with the defund police movements comes into play. The people who support eliminating police violence also regularly support the passage of new mandates, redistribution schemes, and regulatory impositions. Without police, how do they think all these new laws and rules will be enforced? If taxation were a voluntary affair, few individuals would turn a substantial portion of their annual earnings over to the state for redistribution. If gun control were a suggestion, few people would make any effort to submit to the FFL (Federal Firearms License) sales regulations.
By advocating for more laws, rules, and taxes, these people are effectively advocating for an increase in police violence. Abolishing the entity called “police” won’t solve the issue, since the state will inevitably have to form a new entity that does all the same things and has all the same powers. Outlets like Vox can advocate for the creation of mobile response units and community mediators all they want; these entities are, from the viewpoint of the state, toothless without any means to initiate violence to ensure compliance with rules. Community mediators will either find themselves armed or calling on some newly created entity that looks and acts a lot like current police but is called something different to deal with a belligerent individual who refuses to follow the mandate. As anyone with a glove box filled with unpaid parking tickets can tell you, it’s easy to ignore a piece of paper with a fine on it. The state is going to inevitably need an armed, violent agency to handle noncompliant individuals.
The only way to ensure an end to police brutality is not concocting new entities with different names or, worse, focusing on the ethnic element of it, as all that does is try and argue that police violence is fine so long as it’s dished out equally along ethnic lines. The only way is to abolish the state. Without a state, there is no state law. Without state law, there isn’t a need for enforcement by an entity that operates with the language of violence. Without violent enforcement, there isn’t anyone getting killed for noncompliance.
Private structures have little incentive to kill noncompliant actors, and they are able to create stronger enforcement structures than state actors can. Social ostracizing, ejection from business groups, or a ban from a shop would have an equally strong impact compared to the threat of violence. Further, private security agencies that quickly utilize violence would find themselves undesired by customers and lose favor, especially if these agencies create the impression that they are against a particular group of potential customers.
As nice as it would be to believe that police can exist solely as a protection service, this isn’t the case. There’s a reason they’re called law enforcement and not protective services. The U.S. Supreme Court has already definitively told us that our police agencies have no obligation to protect anyone. Their only priority is enforcing the laws, and as those laws expand, the chances we’ll find ourselves interacting unfavorably with an enforcer will increase.
This article was originally featured at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and is republished with permission.
Lately, when he isn’t trying to blame China on America’s competitiveness woes, President Donald Trump has become obsessed with the online retailer Amazon. While there’s speculation that Trump is using the reins of government to carry out a personal grudge because Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, also owns The Washington Post, the more recent obsession is based on his belief that the United States Postal Service is subsidizing Amazon’s activity. The claim is that, based on a cost-plus method of pricing, Amazon is being subsidized $1.47 per package delivered by the USPS as a last-mile carrier. With an estimated 608 million boxes shipped by the online retailer in 2017, Trump is implying that Amazon has shorted the postal service by $893 million. Considering the USPS lost $2.7 billion, this further implies that Amazon is a key reason why the USPS is struggling financially. Trump goes on to state that Amazon should fork over the entire $2.7 billion to cover the difference.
A key problem here is the assumption that businesses operate on a cost-plus basis. This kind of thinking is a result of how warped government operations are, which frequently engage in cost-plus kinds of contracts. Cost-plus contracts are where the government agrees to cover all the applicable costs of performing the work plus a guaranteed profit. These forms of contracts are relatively unusual in the private business sector, where bidding on price are the primary form of activity. Because of the nature of cost-plus, and how they will frequently go over-budget because there is little incentive to control costs of performance, companies generally don’t engage in them. This means, in the world outside of tax-funded activity, the USPS has to compete with other package carriers like UPS and FedEx and doesn’t have the luxury of guaranteeing itself a profit on every activity.
When it comes to the USPS, the organization has significant fixed costs. In business planning, prices are usually lower-bound by the variable cost of activity. Any revenues that are collected above and beyond the variable costs are able to contribute toward fixed expenses. This is referred to as the contribution margin. Because the fixed component exists whether the product or service is sold or not, companies will be pressured to lower prices until they reach this contribution margin is exhausted. Companies then hope to generate sufficient volume at this margin to cover the fixed expenses. If the choice is between no sale and a sale below an optimal price with some contribution margin, the organization will usually go with the lower than optimal price to at least slow the resource deterioration.
The reason the USPS is in trouble and is struggling to cover its estimated $29 billion in fixed costs is because of its status as a partial legal monopoly. From the own words of the USPS, Congress has granted, with criminal penalty, the USPS total monopoly over the delivery of letters, with some carve-out exceptions (such as urgent or free of charge). Like most monopolies, the USPS had little incentive to keep costs controlled. In 1999, the USPS even went so far as to shrug off the burgeoning Internet, e-mail in particular, as some fad and engaged in sorting facility expansions with the expectation that letter volume would continue to grow. Since peaking in 2001, the number of letters delivered by the USPS has since collapsed to nearly half as much in 2017. The USPS costs, however, continued to increase, from $62 billion in 2000 to $72.3 billion in 2017, despite the collapse of business volume. The USPS was only able to remain solvent by leveraging its monopoly status by driving up the price of stamps from $0.34 for a first class stamp in 1999 to $0.50 later this year. But even this is running into limitations as the decline in mail volume accelerates.
This monopoly, however, doesn’t cover package delivery, putting the USPS in a strange position of having a legal monopoly on only part of its business. This creates the impression that the package business is subsidized by the letter business since the prices on the letter side aren’t limited by a competitive force. This then creates the further impression that the expenses, which were never controlled because of the historical reliance on letter delivery, should be evenly applied to package delivery as well. Thus the assumption there is a subsidy at all when in reality the costs are grossly overinflated due to a lack of market discipline.
When a private business is threatened by decreased volume, they usually have to trim operations to adjust their size to meet the new market demands. The USPS, on the other hand, does not do this. The organization continues to operate on the assumption it must make daily deliveries, six days a week, to every address in the nation. Even the old rural excuse has become weakened as the nation becomes more urban (assuming it was ever justified to tax city residents to provide city amenities to those who elected to live in remote places). Not that rural residents need a monopoly organization to deliver junk mail.
Repeal the Postal Service’s Monopoly
So what’s the answer to the failings of the USPS? Repeal the Private Express Statutes and let the USPS loose to manage its own affairs without Congressional interference in its operations. As Lysander Spooner famously proved back in 1844 with the American Letter Mail Company, the private sector can not only deliver the mail, it can deliver the mail profitably for a fraction of the cost of the postal service. This solves two problems:
- The appearance that Amazon is subsidized through the USPS is eliminated
- Profitable, stable delivery organizations can come into play
Repealing the private express statutes and getting government out of the mail delivery business may also very well save the USPS as not only can the USPS get out from under populist mandates, such as the overly generous retirement program and maintaining an absurd number of postal service locations; the USPS maintains over twice as many postal stops as McDonald’s has restaurants. It will also open up the market to more competition and competition breeds superior operations for competing members as creative methods of operation are more likely to be identified and can be mimicked, leading to superior operations for all players.
In the end, the “problem” with Amazon is self-inflicted by the government insisting it operates a monopoly letter carrier. Trump can fix the problem with one fell swoop by pressuring Congress not to pass laws imposing higher rates on Amazon delivered packages, which will only accelerate the failure of the USPS since Amazon would just pick an alternate carrier, but to open up unrestricted competition in mail delivery and cut the USPS loose from the government tether. It certainly worked out well in New Zealand.
Reprinted from the Mises Institute.
As Americans were spending time scrambling to give the IRS their annual protection fee, the court system in the United Kingdom, at the behest of National Health Service bureaucrats, abducted and murdered an 8-month-old baby. This brazen abduction was done in broad daylight with full press coverage and the UK government and courts claimed loudly this was humane and the right thing to do.
This might sound like a severe bout of hyperbole, but that is exactly what happened. On April 11, 2017, the courts in the UK ruled that Charlie Gard, against the wishes of his parents, must be immediately removed from life support and left to die. Unlike cases in the US where it is usually the family that is arguing for or against extending hope that their loved ones can be rescued, the only people arguing against continued efforts were government officials and some third party public onlookers. What makes the Charlie Gard case so disturbing is that this is a case where no family member made any argument to remove the child from life support. The government simply overruled them and took their child. As an 8 month old, Charlie was in no position to formulate a living will or even have discussions with relatives as to how he wished to be treated with a potentially fatal illness.
Charlie was born with a rare genetic condition called mitochondrial depletion syndrome rrm2b. This genetic disorder comes with a host of issues ranging from muscle deterioration, seizures and, in Charlie’s case, left him blind and deaf. The life expectancy of this disease is between 3 months and 12 years from the onset of symptoms. There are no current proven treatments beyond clinical studies.
This certainly seems like a difficult disorder to live and deal with. However, this is up to the individual to decide how to handle the onset of a disorder, or in the case of an infant, the parents. In the case of mitochondrial depletion syndrome, the treatment is risky but could lead to the child being able to experience some life, interact with family and live a number of years. The NHS, predictably, denied treatment stating it is too risky. The £1.2 million cost of treatment ($1.5 million as of this writing) was certainly a factor in this decision, indicating that the know-how and necessary medication is not readily available.
In most cases of government run medical care, with such costs, the decision is final. Care is denied and you are sent on your way. In the case of wealthy individuals, medical tourism is always an option. Approximately 800,000 people every year fly to the United States and another 600,000 to Singapore to take advantage of cutting edge and high quality medical treatment that is not available anywhere else. But with the case of Charlie, the £1.2 million price tag would have been out of reach for a regular family. We would have had another footnote for Statists to prove how the poor get trampled under the foot of the rich and we would then go about our day.
Except a major feature of the free market, private charity, kicked in wonderfully. Within a month of denial and discovery of the treatment, Charlie’s parents managed to raise the entire amount to pay for the treatment and trip to the United States. In a normal world, this would have been the end of the story. Charlie would have gone to the United States, received his treatment and we would have discovered if his already dire situation could have been mitigated or treatment failed.
But the NHS decided, for whatever reason, to interfere with this process. When Charlie’s parents attempted to withdraw him for this treatment, Great Ormond Street, a children’s hospital in Greater London run by the NHS, rushed to the British High Court to block his parents from doing so. As government court systems are wont to do, they sided with themselves and denied the parents’ wishes for further private treatment and gave an official court order that Charlie is to be removed from life support and left to die. This was a no-lose situation for Charlie and his family. If the treatment fails, the end result is the same and the parents can at least have closure that they tried everything possible. If the treatment is a success, he can live enough years to be able to learn what his parents look like, interact with them and be able to experience some joy in life. One can wonder, cynically, if the court system ordered his death to avoid risking embarrassing the NHS should the treatment they denied actually work.
Unlike the usual defects of public medical care, where resources are politically allocated leading to critical shortages for perfectly preventable diseases, such as the case of Laura Hiller in Canada, all the while claiming that medical care in a free market would be provided on a cut-throat system that denies the poor care. Charlie’s case shatters this self-proclaimed image. Here we have elements of the free market working as expected but with the government actively, and openly, doing everything it can to interfere with it.
Proponents of expanding this system to the United States, such as Paul Krugman, insist that public medicine doesn’t have death panels. What we are now seeing in the UK, not only does the British Government have death panels, they display those death panels as a public court spectacle for all to see and are also in the business of child abduction and forced euthanasia to enforce the panel’s decisions. No private hospital could ever hope to do the same thing that Great Ormond Street and the British High Court just did.
Republished from the Mises Institute.