“If you don’t like the way my company does business, start your own!”
In the U.S. – and in many other places, too – that’s always been the best answer. You don’t like Jimmy’s Burger Palace? Stop paying for their food, make better burgers yourself, and start your own. You don’t like how Martha runs her massage therapy clinic? Stop going to her practice, learn the trade yourself, and start your own. You don’t like how the Ferguson Police Department kills people? Stop paying them, build your own more accountable team yourself, and start your own.
In two of the three examples above, you can potentially do very well by refusing to pay for the option you don’t like, and instead offering your own alternative business solution.* But in one of those examples, if you try it, you’ll most certainly go to jail.
Yes, at first glance, it looks crazy to propose the idea of allowing the existence of competing police forces run by business people. But when you take a few moments to let the concept settle in, aren’t security and protection real services that people want, and would voluntarily pay for? In my new book, Ant Farm: A Novel About What’s Bugging Society, I posit that people (well, ants in the book) would most certainly pay for this, and the options would be dirt cheap – far cheaper than even the poorest people pay for right now through “taxation.” In the book, I also explore how such systems might work well in a free and open market, just as every other service – unhindered or minimally hindered by the state (so don’t point at health care or banking, critics!) – works well in a free and open market too. Sure, if Walmart ever does something terrible, many people are upset, but there’s a reason that hundreds of thousands of people don’t march in the streets in protest: it’s because they don’t have to spend their money at Walmart if they don’t want to. You have the freedom to boycott Walmart, but if you try to boycott the police, hello prison.
Demanding that our current state-run police systems stop being racist, start wearing body cameras, or begin prosecuting its own employees for misconduct is only striking at symptoms of the problem, instead of at the root. It’s about time people stop relying on the same kind of monopoly that mismanages the DMV and post office to also “protect” us from crime. If they do the first two so poorly, why would anyone think they’d do the third one well? As long as we have to pay the state for their policing services, they will never change. And why would they? They have nothing to lose if they don’t; as things stand right now, they get paid either way, whether you want to pay them or not. So protest all you like, but they have no financial incentive to listen to you.
In a true free market, if you didn’t like that Police Force X was racist, you wouldn’t have to use them anymore, and you could pay for a different one, or start your own. If you didn’t like that Police Force Y didn’t use body cameras, you could pay for different one, or start your own. If you didn’t like that Police Force Z didn’t prosecute murderers on its force, you could pay for a different one, or start your own. Likely, all three of those forces would go out of business if they didn’t shape up. Pushing for anything less than this real solution – the only solution – will just put Band Aids on the wound, rather than actually curing the root cause of it.
For this solution to thrive, only two simple things – that would certainly be met with incredible state resistance – need to happen: First, the state needs to allow you and me to voluntarily pay for their police services, rather than the mandatory, violently-backed payments (“taxes”) that they demand from us now, with threats of jail time if we don’t cough up the cash. Second, the state needs to allow you and me to create our own competing police services, where we’d request that people voluntarily use ours instead, if they thought ours were better.
With this solution, we would all find ourselves in much better situations, with the kind of police accountability that wouldn’t allow gross negligence (or worse) to go unpunished and continue. Then – and only then – the Chief of the Ferguson Police Department (and Chiefs of all other departments too) could actually say, “if you don’t like the way my company does business, start your own!”
And we would.
* Yes, there is far more state red tape then there used to be, and the government will try to milk all kinds of “registration” and “safety” fees out of you, but at least it’s still possible for many people to start their own successful businesses, and it would be much more possible for poorer people to the same without all of that red tape. Either way, in a freer market, if people prefer your alternative product or service to what the competition is offering, they’ll voluntarily come to you instead.