As I sit in my home and listen to Police helicopter hovering over Clapham Junction I can watch the TV coverage of the scene itself. This is scary stuff. Each time a car goes over the speed bump outside I hear a loud metallic rattle and get nervous. Is that looters? My new car is parked outside. No Simon, Wimpy is half a mile away.
Through all this, I’m struck by the immediacy of the contribution Libertarian politics can make to what is literally happening in my neighbourhood tonight. The tragic contradictions of authoritarian rule are played out just as clearly as the irrationality and greed of the rioters. Whatever semantic abuses the mainstream media is throwing around, the truth is that London would be better off under a political Anarchy.
As an objectivist, there are some anarchic policy prescriptions I would not support, but none of those are especially relevant as I’ll try to illustrate.
The two areas I want to focus in are the root causes and the reaction. The proximate cause – the killing of Mark Duggan is still a mystery. As Perry de Havilland says on a good Samizdata thread “I have felt no urge at all to swiftly form any opinions” about that.
Malcolm Saunders is less reluctant to identify the manner in which black communities are implicated in victimless crimes which needn’t be crimes at all:
The sad truth is that a quarter of a century after Keith Blakelock’s murder, the police have made no progress in breaking the grip of violent crime infesting the estates of north London. It is impossible to stop the drug dealing, prostitution, unlicensed drinking and intimidation that is controlled by criminals. There are two main reasons for this.
The first is that people will always pay for sex when they want to and people will always get high. Trying to stop these things by making them illegal has no more effect than telling the tide not to come in and outlawing activity that cannot be stopped just passes that trade over to very nasty crooks instead of it being conducted with reasonable safety.
Pushing that trade into the hands of criminals, away from the protection of courts and contracts, will literally fund the criminal gangs in any community. It incentivises them into turf wars and all manner of crimes to protect their illegal income. William R Thomas writes for the Atlas Society:
Objectivism holds that drug abuse is an immoral abdication of reason and profoundly self-destructive. But there is nothing about it that demands the initiation of force against others. Drugs are traded by violent criminals today because the drug trade is illegal, not because it inherently attracts criminals. The mob sold booze during Prohibition, after all, but it does not do so now that alcohol is legal again. We would be much better off to end the drug war and have the peace of free trade instead.
Anarchists and Objectivists are in agreement, don’t make this trade illegal. Don’t go around arresting people for the perfectly non-aggressive act of selling something which other people want to fry their brains with.
Similarly, Objectivism views prostitution as a denial of the true nature of human sex. Sex can be the most intimate of encounters between people, a deeply personal experience of self. But this is not possible if it is not undertaken through mutual esteem that values both the conscious and physical aspects of the other person. But assuming that all parties take part voluntarily and are adults, there is nothing about prostitution that violates rights. It is absurd that we waste tax dollars trying to stamp this out, and it is a shame, too, because it drives prostitutes into the hands of criminals, where they suffer abuse and extortion.
If you put the trade into the hands of criminals, you are funding the criminals. Since the law abiding tend to shun criminals and move away from them, and because poverty (an incentive to work of all kinds) is also often geographical, it is natural that those criminals will be congregate into pockets in poor areas . Those areas will also be filled with the law abiding poor, placed in harms way by these foolish puritanical laws. Whatever category Mark was in, there would have been n0 problem if there was no prohibition.
Malcolm Saunders (a minarchist, if I recall correctly) continues:
The second problem in this specific area is the failure of the police and the local authorities to deal with black criminals. This is partly due to fear of the political consequences of doing it and largely because there are too few black people in policing and running the community.
I’ve highlighted “the police” and “the local authority”, but the word to notice in both cases is the “the”. Under our democratic system we are only permitted to choose one of each. I recall a discussion in the Rose and Crown about the feasibility of competing police forces and private police services. Boy would I like to hear from my private police service right now. I recall thinking this is an area where I differ from Ayn Rand, who seemed to think that overlapping legal jurisdiction are impossible:
A recent variant of anarchistic theory, which is befuddling some of the younger advocates of freedom, is a weird absurdity called “competing governments.” … Instead of a single, monopolistic government, they declare, there should be a number of different governments in the same geographical area, competing for the allegiance of individual citizens, with every citizen free to “shop” and to patronize whatever government he chooses.
One illustration will be sufficient: suppose Mr. Smith, a customer of Government A, suspects that his next-door neighbor, Mr. Jones, a customer of Government B, has robbed him; a squad of Police A proceeds to Mr. Jones’ house and is met at the door by a squad of Police B, who declare that they do not accept the validity of Mr. Smith’s complaint and do not recognize the authority of Government A. What happens then? You take it from there.
Rand is guilty of a package deal here, in which Police X is bundled together with Government X, but what if there were a single Government in a geographical jurisdiction but with multiple private law enforcement firms A and B both answerable to a single code of law and a single judicary? I think this would be a quite reasonable institutional set up. Let’s imagine it was the standard set up in Tottenham on the weekend.
The single approved Government police service clearly failed. It failed in practical terms, when it failed to protect the property of the residents, and it failed in terms in maintaining good relationships with them. It failed to communicate what it knew about the shooting incident. We’re told that the gathering of people which turned violent had expected to hear a statement from the police when they arrived outside the police station in Tottenham. In a system of competing police forces we can be sure that every member of that gathering and every looted business owner would be on the phone or on uSwitch.com this morning locating a new policing provider for themselves. Knowing this, any commercial security service in the area would naturally have flooded into Tottenham to demonstrate the quality of their services by calmly, professionally and efficiently addressing the needs of the community as whole.
This assumes a crisis of this kind would even come about, part of the underlying cause seems to be that the black communities have terrible relationships with the single, approved, law enforcement agency and policing by consent has broken down. Small surprise when the money to pay for that single approved service is taken under threat of imprisonment rather than as a voluntary purchase out of the yellow pages. This issue has been boiling away for decades, so there has been plenty of time for better police services to start-up and mature into experienced professional outfits and for the required cultural changes to occur on both sides. Are we seriously saying that the black communities, left to go about it as they please and without the perversity of victimless crimes, could not adequately police their own communities? I say they could.
So, I’ve focused on two aspects of how libertarian politics uniquely changes the system and thoroughly undermines the root causes of crises such as this. I’ve shown how an open minded approach to law and order policy might gain traction in two of the many different sections of the consistently pro-freedom political community. Now, what are we going to do about it?