Dr. Walter Block has recently written a great article outlining a few current events in which the libertarian is unable to clearly see which side he should “take” on the matter. His thoughts nearly echo my own and given that he is the amazing writer he is, he has said it much better than I ever could so I suggest you read it. One issue that he raised as being unclear for the libertarian is the defunding of government police.
There is an obvious libertarian replacement for the horrific institution of government police: Private police! But, as Block points out, we’re not going to get that any time soon. Instead, we’re faced with asking if no municipal police is a better option than some municipal police. Obviously, the libertarian should be immediately skeptical of the muscle of the state who is tasked with actually executing state-sanctioned violence upon its citizenry. This skepticism finds merit in the reality that we face with how government police actually act. As Block points out, “[T]o say nothing of every once in a rare while stepping on the neck of a handcuffed prisoner and murdering him, they attack victimless criminals such as those engaged in “capitalist acts between consenting adults” (in the felicitous phraseology of Robert Nozick) regarding sex, drugs, gambling, etc.” But, this is not the end of the story. The reason we might want to keep them around is because government police do, even if rarely, sometimes stop or deter real crime (in the libertarian sense of the word). Sometimes they catch robbers, murderers, rapists and the like and it’s theorized by some that police presence has deterred would-be criminals from committing those crimes in the first place.
So where should we stand on defunding this institution if we cannot immediately replace them with private police? The answer, unfortunately, is not at all clear. Here, however, I want to point to a factor that I think should be considered; a black market for self-defense. If we did defund municipal police, to what extent could we prevent crime (in the libertarian sense) with private but illegal (in the de jure sense) self-defense?
In the U.S.S.R., there emerged a “second economy” for goods and services where the state did not efficiently provide goods and services that people wanted. These second economies were made up of private sales of goods and services which were illegal to sell privately and thus made up a black market. Economists, Gregory Grossman and Dennis O’Hearn studied these second markets closely in the 70s and empirical data provided by this O’Hearn article, claims that the second economy did not make up only some small percentage of trade within the U.S.S.R. and the Eastern Bloc but was all-pervasive.
As the above table shows, more than half of petrol in some areas was traded in the second economy and almost all repairs were performed by the second economy in Georgia. So, when the government is unable to properly provide for its citizenry, the people take to the black market.
Might we expect something similar if there were no more government police in our cities? Might we expect that those who are without protection from crime could find solace and protection in private black market defense agencies? It may appear that defense and security are not the same as petrol, fish, and household repairs, but why is that? Why should we look at this industry differently than any other? Do not the economic laws that apply to petrol, fish, and household repairs also apply to defense? As the great Gustave de Molinari writes,
It offends reason to believe that a well-established natural law can admit of exceptions. A natural law must hold everywhere and always, or be invalid. I cannot believe, for example, that the universal law of gravitation, which governs the physical world, is ever suspended in any instance or at any point of the universe. Now I consider economic laws comparable to natural laws, and I have just as much faith in the principle of the division of labor as I have in the universal law of gravitation. I believe that while these principles can be disturbed, they admit of no exceptions.
But, if this is the case, the production if security should not be removed from the jurisdiction of free competition; and if it is removed, society as a whole suffers a loss.
Either this is logical and true, or else the principles on which economic science is based are invalid.
Now this is not to say that black market self-defense will necessarily arise if we were to defund municipal police. Certainly, the state would attempt to quell this sort of crime quickly for it could never admit that we might produce without government that one service upon which a great deal of its authority is derived; the ability to protect oneself. And as Murray Rothbard writes, “The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment” As we have seen in the U.S. the state has oft made it difficult to defend oneself legally with the introduction of gun regulations, the suppression of militias, and the supposed crime of resisting arrest.
But the possibility of a black market for self-defense may arise if there is a void left for personal protection if we wholly rid ourselves of municipal police. While this may not tell us the full story and doesn’t give us a wholly satisfactory libertarian answer to whether or not we should defund municipal police, it is at least a “point” in favor of doing so.