Today I was inspired to write about one of my pet peeves, the growing militarization and fascist nature of government police in the USA, by an article blogged by Dylan Hales and published in the Lew Rockwell website. The article is called "Elect the Cops", a proposal to make all law enforcement positions elected offices. The idea is to bring police work back in harmony with the population by having them elected by their peers; this is hoped to reduce the alarming amount of police brutality and the resulting fear and resentment incurred by the citizens.
Apart from the logistics problem of having hundreds more names on the ballot, I would venture that few would go into a career in police work if their employment was not guaranteed beyond the next election cycle. But even if those impracticalities were surmounted, we here at the Anarchy School have stronger reasons to oppose the idea.
Here is my email reply to Mr. Hales.
Dear Mr. Hales,
While your idea is interesting, I would invite you to consider an even better solution: free-market police services. The problem with bad policing is essentially the same problem seen with all government-supplied services, i.e. monopolies never serve anyone but the monopoly-holder very well. While you may argue that elections would instill an element of competition into police work, you only need to look at the near-identicality of the major political parties to see that this is a chimera.
Most people immediately object to the idea of competing private police agencies on the grounds that government should have a monopoly on police power, that it should have the power to trump any private criminal gang, for example. But competing private police agencies do, in fact, exist, e.g. mall cops and gated community guards; and malls and gated communities suffer far less crime than business districts and neighborhoods that share the government roads. Since the private police agencies have a vested interest in keeping their customers happy, they virtually never employ insult and intimidation, let alone brutality, against anyone. Instead, their presence ensures the peace and security of their customers, exactly what the concept of "peace officer" was originally intended to do.
So, in a free market, instead of the citizens having taxes forcibly taken from them for a "service" that they often fear and resent, each citizen could decide exactly how much protection is needed for him/herself and family, and shop for that level of protection among numerous competing firms, very much like you and I shop for insurance now. Many younger people might decide they need no special protection (especially if the right to carry firearms was universally honored). They would then be free to spend their hard-earned money on something they need or want more.
Another common objection is the belief that competition in law enforcement would inevitably devolve into mini-wars, much like the Mafia and ghetto gang-banger wars, with the strongest eventially winning out and setting up a monopoly anyway. But that argument falls apart when we remember that illicit gangs exist primarily to supply goods and services that the biggest gang - the government - has forbidden to the people who want them. Prohibitionism creates the black markets which draw in the most ruthless of the private criminal class, an unlikely event without government interference in the market.
Thus, I contend that fully privatizing police services would be far superior to electing police officers, which does nothing to address the root cause of the problem, which is monopoly government itself. It might even make matters worse; wouldn't it be possible, if not probable, that the majority of citizens would vote for the most ruthless cops in some neighborhoods, or the most corrupt cops in others? In those cases, the minority would be unable to opt out, short of moving, an option that is often unavailable to our poorest citizens.
Now, that was the short version of an argument that has been fully articulated by Murray Rothbard and many others in the anarcho-capitalist literature. I think we can safely say the following:
Free market anarchism answers one of the hardest questions in political philosophy: Who polices the police? The answer is: The Market does.
We'll be developing more on this line of thinking as time goes on. In the meantime, I invite my readers to comment, question, and debate the issue.