The most obvious problem with the “protection agencies” version of free market anarchism in Huemer is that it merely pushes the main problem up one level without solving it. Let there be in a certain stateless city X 1 million people. This situation is presumably intolerable because of the endless mutual slaughter and destruction, a Hobbesian war of all against all. Huemer argues that private protection agencies will arise to provide security to the populace. Let there now be in addition in X 1 thousand such agencies. Assuming that reign of chaos between the individuals is prevented, why wouldn’t there continue to be the exact same orgy of mass murder and looting between the agencies? Huemer is apparently content with the argument that violence is “costly.” But if it is costly, then why do we need the protection agencies in the first place? The individuals, too, should realize the cost to them of unjust violence and abstain from it without any protection by bigger and more powerful organizations.

If violence is costly, then we don’t need protection agencies; if violence is often profitable, then we should expect the protection agencies in engage in violence — both against each other and against their “customers” — at least as often as the unprotected individuals would.

Government makes for a qualitatively different situation. The objection is not that violence ought not to be traded; the situation of Smith’s hiring Jones to assassinate Robinson is no worse than that of Smith’s doing the dirty deed himself. Cops are paid for their services, too, after all. It is that society as a whole cannot dispense with commissioning an agency of coercion and compulsion that is more powerful than any identifiable subgroup within that society, including Smith and Jones, except the society as a whole or its representatives. The government can crush with ease any person or organization within its jurisdiction. The problem of mutual battling, whether of millions of individuals or of thousands of gangs, is nipped in the bud. The problem of preventing the government from aggressing against the people, of course, remains. In Chapter 9, Huemer considers the various devices for controlling state aggression, such as “popular elections, a free press, constitutional limits, and the separation of powers,” (228) and finds them lacking. He is right about that, but the issue comes down to libertarian ideology and decentralization which together can largely defang the state.

Protection agencies anarchism creates yet another problem: the unjust aggression of the agencies against their own customers. The customers of a protection agency will have trouble uniting and defending against their own protectors, if the agency starts preying on them as individuals. An individual does not choose an agency to protect him, as if it were an insurance company; rather, the agency chooses individuals to victimize. Smith cannot say: you people of P, Inc. are robbers; I am switching to Q, Inc. Q will not care to protect him; it will evaluate whether P is strong enough to retain Smith as a victim, a sheep that it exploits. If P seems powerful, then Q will be uninterested in dealing with Smith in any capacity; otherwise, Q may try to conquer P and take the spoils of war, namely, Smith as a serf, especially if Smith is a young woman, for itself.

If agency A is able to harm Smith justly, such as by punishing him appropriately for a crime, then it is also able to harm him unjustly. Conversely, if A cannot harm Smith unjustly (such as because he is protected by agency B), then it will lack the power to harm him justly, as well. A local libertarian government, on the other hand, can harm Smith justly but is for the most part restricted by various clever tricks from harming him unjustly. A protection agency, as a private business, is answerable solely to its owners not the commonwealth or the legislative branch of the government. As one of the toughest firms out there, unless restrained by the entire citizen body, it will be able to use unjust violence against anyone with impunity while keeping its owners safe against any retaliation. In the end, the biggest and baddest gangs will wreak havoc over all the land, and the long struggle against tyranny and for freedom will begin again… from the very beginning.

Huemer believes that “competition” will discipline the agencies in the absence of the artifices of limiting government. But the competition is precisely the original state of nature. We are trying to get out of it, which means we cannot simply up and define it as adequate.

There is a further difficulty. Even if the police by their very nature are a monopoly, it is at this point still conceivable that several companies will be competing to protect a community. But there are two problems with this. First, a big business able to protect two hundred towns will be far too powerful to be controlled by any one town. Such a business would be essentially an army, able (and likely willing) to overpower any municipality. Second, it seems to be a great deal more efficient, instead of firing one entire police force and hiring a brand new one, simply to hold regular elections of the mayor who will then have the mandate to implement whatever reforms of police procedures are desired by the people. For example, the new mayor may forbid hiring ex-military.

There is still the possibility of letting people voluntarily “subscribe” to police enforcement services or withhold their patronage. The subscribers can call upon the police to enforce arbitration decision that have been made in their favor; the non-subscribers are out of luck, because private uses of violence cannot be tolerated, lest there would be endless outbreaks of private wars. (The whole point of monopoly policing is to suppress such wars by threatening to crush the would-be warriors with overwhelming force.) A market is thereby created in the place of a government-provided service, seemingly a happy development. But there are complications that seriously devalue this market.

First, subscriptions produce positive externalities: the more people subscribe without the criminals knowing exactly who is and who is not subscribed, the greater the deterrence effect will be. It is somewhat like concealed carry: every subscription helps one’s neighbor by creating uncertainty in the criminal’s mind. This might be a case for subsidizing police subscriptions, if we were not dealing with the problem precisely of funding the police in the first place and assuming that the government collects pretty much no taxes for anything else.

Second, specifically for criminal cases, the district attorney obviously has his own “subscription” and can file a complaint of his own. But no particular individual but society as a whole benefits from punishments administered (as opposed to restitutions or civil lawsuits won). The benefit of any actual punishment now is the public and visible reinforcement of the threat of punishment to future potential evildoers who, seeing the efficiency of the state at punishing crimes, are deterred from injustice through servile fear. This creates a presumption for public financing of criminal prosecutions.

Third, as a matter of common sense, it is absurd to cut oneself off from the justice system by refusing to subscribe. Anyone can prey on such a person, and he will not be able to get his verdicts enforced for him. He is almost an outlaw.

Therefore, most communities decide to solve these problems with one stroke by insuring everybody and requiring universal subscriptions. There is admittedly some coercion involved, but it is minimal, and the benefits seem to outweigh the costs. The contradiction is real and unfortunate; but let justice be done unless the heavens fall.


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