Public Security: Why the State is both Necessary and Inevitable
The voluntaryist is doomed to frustration because the world around him never seems to operate as he wants it to. In his mind the state is optional, and harmful. Yet governments exist in every functional society on earth. This overwhelming statistic should cause him to ponder that perhaps his assumptions are flawed, perhaps the state is not only necessary but inevitable. To explore why this may be we will look at the main services that the state provides and see why alternatives have not arisen.
There are many reasons why one would want to have a government as opposed to anarchism or voluntaryism, however the presence of at least one factor makes states not only necessary, but inevitable if a prosperous and free society is to survive: Public security.
What is Public security? Public security is something that exist distinct from private security. Private security is the security of the person and private possessions. The security of your home, family, your person, your place of business are all examples of private security. These are things that can be defended via a protection agency such as a police force, or through the means of the private individual himself, such as buying a gun for protection.
Public security on the other hand is the security of the society as a whole and those areas which are deemed to be public. For example, the safety of the public square from a terrorist attack, or the safety of a neighborhood from crime in general can be seen as public security. Protection from exogenous threats such as natural disasters and invasions of foreign enemies also fall in the purview of public security. The essential feature of public security which separates it from private security is that while private security involves protection from threats and injuries which are specific to one individual or his property, public security is protection from threats which hurt the public as a whole or a given area as a whole so as to say that the injury is on multiple people and on society as a whole as opposed to any one person.
Most of the proponents of private law enforcement only focus on private security. People like Murray Rothbard have gone to great pains to explain how private protection agencies can bring justice if someone is robbed or assaulted, and how justice can be brought in such situations. But what if someone places a bomb in the public square like the Boston Marathon Bombers did? Are we so naïve as to say that only those killed or injured in the blast are hurt by such acts? Of course not, acts of terror and disruption serve to harm multiple areas, a bomb in a marketplace can kill no one at all and damage no property yet still cause real harm. People will not go to areas where they feel unsafe, businesses will lose customers and profits, areas with gangs in the vicinity will suffer economically as people will avoid those locations. The marketplace thrives on certainty, and the uncertainty and fear which such public threats bring economic and psychological harm to everyone involved.
The privatized law enforcement model put forth by people such as Rothbard operates essentially as a commercialized blood feud system, in which only individuals can bring claims rather than the idea of crimes which are against society as a whole. The blood feud system thrived for thousands of years all over the world. In essence it worked as such: if an individual is harmed by another he and his clan can demand retribution from the offender, the power and might of the clan will help to ensure that justice is achieved. Rothbard’s vision merely replaces the clan with a protection firm, whom you pay to carry out the same tasks that the clans in the blood feud system did. However in looking at history it becomes apparent that there are major drawbacks to such an approach. It is no surprise that the end of the blood feud system coincided directly with the emergence of market economies. The marketplace needs stability, and realizes that even if a crime is committed against an individual, it can still be a public threat as well as others will be discouraged from undertaking certain activities if they feel their safety will be in danger. Thus the notion of “the king’s peace” was born, which later evolved simply into “the peace”. Under this model, a crime against an individual such as murder or threat is also a crime against the public as a whole, thus public authorities have the right to enforce against the perpetrator irregardless of the demands of the victims. This system is what is in place today.
Rothbard’s idea of a system where all crimes are purely private matters between individuals is naïve and unworkable. Crimes against individuals are part of the public peace. If my neighbors are in an active feud and killing each other that is also a crime against my right to live in a peaceful and stable society. Those of us who abide by the social contract and wish to live in a peaceful society have a right to extirpate those who do not respect our right to live in a peaceful society and have a public peace.
Now of course, the voluntaryists would argue that protection of the public good could still be met by private means, for example, if all roads and bridges and public squares were privately owned, it is up to the owners of said roads and bridges to provide for their safety. Fair enough, I suppose that would work, but it would be awfully silly. Such scenarios would invariably become natural monopolies or oligopolies. The protection from threats such as terror would involve coordination and cooperation among protection agencies that would become a virtual oligopoly in and of itself. Thus the deadweight loss that detractors complain about with state owned protection agencies would still be present. Which makes you wonder, if the costs of monopoly would still be present, what is the point of privatization? Wouldn’t it make sense just to have these natural monopolies publicly owned and paid for by taxation? Besides, the deadweight loss of a state run protection monopoly can be remedied by democracy and initiatives which increase efficiency. When such an oligopoly or monopoly is privately owned, what recourse is there? None.
Furthermore, in such a voluntaryist society in order to get protection you have to “pay to play”. In a statist society protection from force of violence is a birthright, even tax evaders still receive the same protection that all other individuals receive (though you will probably be thrown in jail eventually). All humans, rich or poor deserve the same protection under the law, a privatized system denies this fundamental right. A society which bases private protection on ability to pay only is an unethical and cruel one. And a society which makes the costs of public security bore by people who participate in public life (i.e. fees for driving on a road, or going on a bridge, or entering a public square) is even more unethical, as you have essentially made it so that people must pay to be able to participate in public life or in the marketplace. What utter cruelty it would be to enforce entry fees on public life itself.
And what of natural disasters? If a marketplace is flooded it would greatly damage the economy. Having plans in place and an agency to help carry them out would bring greater efficiency than the idea of a completely privatized endeavor.
But the voluntaryist position becomes even more absurd. Essential to any advanced economy is stability over vast distances. Shipping lanes, highways and all other routes of transportation must be secure if we expect commercial entities to use them. If not well secured, pirates and other marauders will seek to unfairly rob others, thus hurting commerce and scaring away businesses from engaging in such activities. Imagine how rudimentary and primitive our economies would be if we couldn’t have international trade or shipping that crossed vast distances. Those shipping lanes would have to secured unless we want the likes of Somali pirates raiding our commercial fleets. Security over a highway or a shipping lane is a natural monopoly, just as the public safety of a city would result in a natural oligopoly or monopoly so would the protection of highways and shipping lanes. Of course control over the right to protect a shipping lane would be big business, the monopoly could allow for outrageous fees to be charged, and competition among protection agencies to secure the right to own that area could devolve into all out warfare. Again, it makes the most sense to allow for a state, or coordination of states with their navies to protect shipping routes and ensure that an advanced economy can thrive.
Finally we come to the biggest reason why the state is the best, and perhaps only reasonable way to provide for such security: invasion. Foreign armies and the threats they bring have always been a major threat. Are we to believe that foreign governments wouldn’t exist? And even if they didn’t, a society without a protection force would be a sitting duck, its cities and resources would be easily grabbed if someone with a lot of weapons decides it is worth it. And human nature is such that there are sadly many people who would gladly use force to enrich themselves by gaining control over an area.
Some may say that a militia could protect us. But this is laughable to say the least. A voluntary militia would never be able to have the organization and firepower of a well worked army. The societies with strong, centralized, professional and advanced militaries would easily overwhelm those with no centralized army and rag tag militias made up of weekend warriors.
Let’s also not forget the vast arsenal of nuclear weapons that exist in the world. Who will own them? Who will make sure they do not end up in the wrong hands? Are we simply to trust that no psychopath would ever take advantage of such a flawed and easy to exploit situation?
Thus the idea of a voluntaryist society and private protection agencies is absurd and laughable. Such a society could never be sustained. The centralized state and the consolidation of these vital services into one entity is vastly superior to all other models. This is why the state model has succeeded and why it is found all over the world for meeting public security. This is also why the voluntaryist model has never succeeded and does not exist in any developed nation or functional society.
The costs of such protection can be paid for through taxation, which is superior to the user fee economy. The user fee economy increases the actual cost of engaging in such activities, while a system paid for by taxation derives its funding from the overall growth and prosperity itself. The presence of a state run system of protection provides for greater certainty and stability which will also bring greater prosperity. Thus the real costs of such a system are less than one which is based on privatized security and user fees as there is more wealth being created overall so the time and effort spent on security as a percentage of GDP would be less than what it would be in a voluntaryist society.
The advantages of state run protection are so great that it is inevitable that society will choose it over any kind of privatized scheme. By providing superior protection for the public safety such a scheme is also providing superior protection for private security as well. A society which blurs the distinction between public and private security achieve greater unity and cohesion, and it also provides more opportunity for those who are less fortunate. The state is beneficial, the state is superior, and ultimately the state is inevitable. The key to prosperity and peace is a strong and secure central state.