Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Bigger Gun part II

Yesterday I presented you with The Bigger Gun argument. Essentially, that without the state, your rights would be constantly imperilled by anyone who was able to exert greater force than you. Today I will respond to that arguement.

There are many actions we can take to make ourselves safe. Firstly, we can prepare for our own defense. An armed citizenry is the primary defense against violent crime and foreign invasion. Throughout history, it has always been the bulwark against personal victimization and the aggression of nations. It was one of the key assumptions by our military which discouraged the invasion of Japan in WWII, and it was a contributing factor to Hitler's decision not to invade Switzerland during the same war.

Secondly, people would provide for their common defense. They did before the widespread practice of government law enforcement. It's in their best interest. In fact, they still do, in the form of neighborhood watch organizations, community activism, and concerned citizen groups.

Thirdly, they would purchase security. Private security is already available, and in fact, is the most widely practiced form of security enforcement. Think for one moment, about the number of police employed in your city. Now think about the number of private security officers employed in the same area. Every large business, school, bank, hospital, office building, sports arena, and parking garage employs private security, in addition to many smaller businesses, restaurants, and venues.

Believing that people will do other than provide for their defense, individually, collectively, and commercially, is to believe that people would willingly sacrifice their security rather than cooperate in order to create an environment which would enable the safe exchange of ideas, goods, and services, free from fear of violence and fraud. We may be animals, but we are thinking animals, and over time, we have formulated many systems to provide economic and social stability, this process would not suddenly cease without the influence of government. In point of fact, I believe it would flourish in a free marketplace.

Some argue that private security firms would be de facto mercenary organizations, employed by greedy individuals and fielded to violently seize the property and rights of free peoples. At first, this seems a likely result of privatization, but under closer scrutiny, it is extremely unlikely.

The cost of fielding an armed force of any size for aggressive purposes is hugely expensive. There would be the cost of training, arming, and providing for a large number of men, all costs passed on to the customer, as well as additional costs associated with the greater danger of aggressive as opposed to defensive action. Even governments are unable to absorb these costs without diffusing them amongst the entire taxpaying base, and even then the costs are crippling. Criminal organizations are only able to do so because the prohibition of many of their goods and services leads to demand side profit margins of multiple tens of thousands of percents. The idea that private individuals would absorb that cost in order to potentially steal the assets of others is unrealistic. Additionally, since private security firms would be competing for business, launching aggressive campaigns would immediately increase the market share of their competitors by forcing their potential victims to seek protection. The cost of taking through force that which is the property of another quickly surpasses the cost of negotiating honestly and acquiring property legitimately.

Additionally, in a stateless society, while there may be no state law enforcement, there would still be repercussions for acting in an immoral fashion. Individuals who made a habit of behaving in a violent or fraudulent manner could be denied even basic services such as food, housing, clothing, utilities, and transportation. Would you allow a known and unrepentant rapist to eat at your restaurant? Or a serial murderer to rent your studio apartment? Companies which behaved rapaciously would face similar penalties. The market already punishes the behavior of those companies which harm others, but the persons directly responsible for those harms are often shielded from personal liability by corporate protections.

Corporations are state enterprises. In exchange for protection from personal liability, companies pay higher taxes to the state and create fictitious entities which assume liability for harm. Then, when individuals seek restitution against the company, they sue the fictitious corporate entity instead of the individual actors responsible. Shifting liability away from individuals and onto fictitious entities is both immoral, and dangerous, as it further separates consequence from action and creates the incorrect impression that individuals are not personally responsible for the harm they commit. Without corporate protection, business owners would act in a more responsible fashion, and be much less likely to cause harm through action or inaction.

If they did, the market would have a response for that too. There is already an industry for consumer reports. There are companies whose only business is to inform the public about the good and bad practices of everyone from Microsoft to Subway. There are consumer report magazines, websites such as Angie's List, radio shows like that hosted by Clark Howard, and innumerable other avenues to get the information to the public. Additionally, there are many private companies who test and certify the safety of products and the truthfulness of companies' claims. In a stateless society these industries would flourish, as lacking any government authority to report their problems too, individuals would be by necessity more apt to research the reputation of those companies with which they did business, and would punish companies whose actions they found unconscionable.

Remember, without the sponsorship and protection of the state, companies would find it far more difficult to grow to the size and scope we see today. Businesses would only be able to achieve such status by consistently offering their customers a quality product at a competitive price over a course of years. Are we then to believe that, after reaping the benefits of positive business practices for so long, they would suddenly become evil enterprises and devote all their resources to the subjugation of the masses?

Even if they did, each individual employee of that company would be liable for any harm he committed, thereby removing many of the laborers necessary to commit great acts of oppression. Additionally, they would immediately lose their customer base, and by extension their operating capital, and give rise over night to a number of entrepreneurs who recognized a need for private security and moved to fill it. No company would survive such a move, and their competition would be more than happy to absorb their market share. Unless we are to believe that even in the face of that subjugation, people would continue to do business with that company, and thereby supply it with the very resources it needed to further subjugate them.

No, only the state is able to pull off that magic trick. By controlling a monopoly on force, education, currency, and the legal system, they are able to compel, through fear mongering, economic manipulation, indoctrination, and intimidation, an entire society to not only willingly subject themselves to slavery, but to work every day to fund the system of slavery under which they toil, and to decry any who would suggest that individual freedom might be better than collective oppression.

So the bigger gun argument eventually devolves into one in which you have on one side those who support a system of unreliable crime investigators, who fail to prevent or deter crime, which is supported by theft and fraud on the part of that organization, being the state, which purports to protect you from those very indignities, while on the other side you have those who support a system where both crime is deterred and honesty encouraged, while also removing much of the motivating economic factors which lead to crime by eliminating the state and putting the full burden of the cost of criminal activity on the individual, and which is supported through voluntary contracts which are competed for by a variety of security firms who are constantly seeking to improve the value of their product, as well as its price.

In the final analysis it would seem that to some, it is better to be a slave because most of the time, it's not so bad, and while I can't actually do anything about it, I can complain, as long as I don't complain too loudly, and if I'm murdered someday, as long as it wasn't the government who was responsible, they might find out who killed me and he might face some form of punitive justice, which would all make it worthwhile in the end because I'm afraid that I might someday be the victim of something which, statistically speaking, there is almost no chance of experiencing, and I don't believe that I, nor anyone else, is capable of defending themselves.

And, believe it or not, I'm actually alright with that argument. People have the right to make themselves slaves.

But what right do they have to make others slaves as well?


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