The Problem of Private Armies

Since I started reading Atlas Shrugged, I’ve become interested in libertarian theories of how the state should operate. Like many libertarian writers, Rand is full of outrage against the intrusive laws of Big Government, but the book ends when that society collapses. She says very little about the new society that’s going to take its place.

I’m going to tackle a different answer to that question, given in “The Problem of Authority” by Michael Huemer, an anarchist libertarian. He makes a proposal that I’ve seen elsewhere: that the functions that are performed by the police and the courts should be contracted to private parties. Let’s have a look:

In this society, the services now provided by governmental police would instead be provided by competing protection agencies, hired either by individuals or by associations of property owners. Protection agencies, knowing that violence is the most expensive way of resolving disputes, would require their customers to seek peaceful resolutions of any disputes with other individuals. Agencies would decline to protect those who either willfully initiated conflicts with others or refused to seek peaceful resolutions; any agencies that acted otherwise would find themselves unable to compete in the marketplace due to the soaring costs created by their troublesome clients. The services presently provided by government courts would instead be provided by private arbitrators, hired by individuals who had disputes with one another.

I have a couple of questions about this. So, if I were robbed, I could hire a protection agency that’d track down the person who did it and force them to give me my stuff back. I can see how that would work, sort of. But what would happen if if I were mugged or assaulted – or murdered? Would my protection agency track down the guilty party and exact eye-for-an-eye justice? Or is he proposing that private security companies should also run jails and have the power to imprison people under a judicial process of their own devising?

Also, if he proposes arbitration to resolve disputes, what will make that process binding? If my neighbor has a dispute with me and I see no reason to give in to his demands, can’t I just ignore his demands that we enter into arbitration? What would compel me to do that against my will? Or could I enter into the process and then withdraw if I don’t think I’m going to get a decision I like? If not, what would stop me?

But leave all that aside. Here’s a much bigger question that I don’t think Michael Huemer has really thought about: Who’s going to run these “protection agencies”?

It seems he shares with Ayn Rand the belief that all True Capitalists are morally incorruptible and can always be trusted to follow principles of honesty and fair dealing. That’s why he’s not concerned about the idea of a few wealthy corporate CEOs commanding what would be, in effect, powerful private armies. Trusting soul that he is, it doesn’t even seem to occur to him that they’d ever be tempted to use that authority for their own selfish benefit, or for the sake of their spouses, children, or close friends.

Democracy has the advantage that everyone is ultimately accountable for their behavior. Rich and poor alike can be arrested and tried if they commit crimes. If the police brutalize me, I can sue them in a court whose judgments they’re forced to obey. If the court takes bribes, its judges can be impeached. If politicians abuse their power, the voters can boot them out of office. There’s no one who doesn’t have to listen to or obey anyone else.

But that’s not true of Huemer’s libertarian anarchy. Whether or not he’s thought it through this far, he’s proposing a world where power comes ultimately from a gun, and where rich people will be above the law because they’ll be able to hire private armies, accountable only to them, that will shield them from any consequences of their behavior. And just as some people would be above the law, others would be below it: if you become so poor that you’re unable to afford to contract with a protection agency, then anyone could enslave you, beat you up or kill you on a whim, and you’d have no protection and no recourse.

In the governmental system, individuals are simply forced to buy the state’s services… in the anarcho-capitalist system, protectors must compete with alternative providers of the same service.

I’m pretty sure the last thing we want is private entities “competing” to provide the service of protection from force. We have a name for that already: it’s called a gangland war. And that is what would happen: anyone who thinks that a private army, equipped and accustomed to use violence in the name of carrying out its mission, is going to just sit back and watch as a competitor pushes into their territory, is laughably naive about human nature.

But see where we end up! Huemer started out with the idea that the law should be enforced not through democratic, political means, but through paying protection agencies. Where this swiftly and inevitably leads is a world of unaccountable private armies, controlled by a tiny handful of super-wealthy individuals, that control swathes of territory, administer rough justice to the people who live under their sway, and quarrel violently with each other when diplomacy fails. What I’ve just described is medieval feudalism, only with CEOs taking the place of kings and corporations acting as countries. Needless to say, that was a world that was far more violent and coercive and far less free than our own.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I also wonder how laws are decided. Lets say that one protection agency considers X to be illegal, but another does not. Do I have to abide by the laws of all protection agencies in order to avoid getting in trouble?

  • Gideon

    It’s at least possible that Huemer’s hypothetical individuals and protection agencies might notice the high cost-effectiveness of non-aggression pacts. Power is fragmented among many participants, but a majority of them all agree to collectively punish the aggression of any participant. So one private army is certain to lose whenever it acts aggressively. That’s a major deterrent.

    But this outcome is still error-prone if there are multiple non-majority pacts. In that situation, the death of the wrong Archduke could become a major tipping point…

  • Nancy McClernan
  • L.Long

    Actually that is happening right now!!
    In California it is legal to use MariWanna, but federally it is illegal and a number of people have been busted for it. So the answer to your question is yes.

  • L.Long

    The Robocop movies shows what happens with PRIVATE Police/armies. They are not necessarily more corrupt then what we have now but they do shield the corporations. That was fiction, could it be real? Well just look at the middle east where the islame Private religious cops punish people for what we think is silly reasons but fathers can do things to daughters as they wish and are protected by the private religious police. It isn’t an exact example but close enough.
    There is another name for people with private armies that protect them….lets see …I believe they were called dukes-barons-kings.

  • Pofarmer

    Actually, one of the legitimate powerz of the State is policing and national protection. I don’t recollect Rand arguing otherwise. I certainly don’t think she was an anarchist.

  • ParanoidMarvin

    “And that is what would happen: anyone who thinks that a private
    army, equipped and accustomed to use violence in the name of carrying
    out its mission, is going to just sit back and watch as a competitor
    pushes into their territory, is laughably naive about human nature.”

    Maybe not street gang style, since they would be more powerful than that, but Mafia style. Much of what they do is more “business” than violence (escaping taxes on olive oil, or selling canola oil as olive oil, for example), and their territories are peaceful and safe places to live… as long as you toe the line and don’t (accidentally or otherwise) step on a leader’s toes, or happen to have something he covets, etc.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Protection agencies, knowing that violence is the most expensive way of resolving disputes

    Not if they’re selling tickets.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Protection agencies, knowing that violence is the most expensive way of
    resolving disputes, would require their customers to seek peaceful
    resolutions of any disputes with other individuals.

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!1eleventy!111!
    This guy has no concept of “conflict of interest.” He is reality-impaired. A company selling services is going to require its customers to select the least expensive service?

  • GubbaBumpkin

    May I presume that this Michael Huemer has already packed up and left for a place that already implements his anarchist libertarian ideals, like Somalia?

  • Verbose Stoic

    The idea is that the protection agency would be run like a security organization or an insurance company, where the people would simply pay for constant protection and the protection agency would simply protect them. Since the consumer(s) would be paying a constant rate, it would be in the best interests of the protection agency to avoid having to do too much work or spend too much money in any specific instance. Therefore, it is in their interest to avoid disputes arising, and in settling them without violence, since their main goal would be to ensure, as much as possible, that they don’t actually have to spend any money on disputes at all, or as little as possible to resolve them.

    If they were run as something you hired on an as-needed basis — like lawyers — then you’d have a point. But that’s not of much benefit to the consumers, so they should reject those options, meaning that protection agencies that offered the alternative should win out.

    Note, as a disclaimer, that I don’t think this is a good idea, but am just commenting that your interpretation of what it would be isn’t what he’s actually advocating.

  • Jeff

    This reminds me of a line from much later in Atlas Shrugged, when John Galt (or someone) is explaining the details of their utopia. I don’t have the book in front of me, but the line was something like “we have a judge here to settle disputes, but so far nobody has had any need of his services.”

    Really? Really? The Giant Death Ray of Greater Iowa is more believable than the notion that a society comprised almost entirely of alpha-male business owners would be completely devoid of any serious disagreement. Even if you assume that every single person in that society is honest and fair and just (which is also implausible), there’s still a very likely possibility of disagreement over, say, the terms of a contract. There doesn’t need to be any intentional malice or undue greed; an honest misunderstanding would be exactly the kind of thing that a neutral, third-party arbitrator would be sought for. And even if you had such an arbitrator, you would still need to imbue that person with enforcement power, or else one party would be free to ignore any judgment they disagreed with. And then you would need some method of oversight over that arbitrator.

    The takeaway from that horrible argument about hiring private police is apparently that the government is inherently corrupt, and that private business owners are inherently incorruptable.

  • smrnda

    I think he’s wrong that violence is an expensive way of handling disputes. Private armies were used in the past by rich people and corporations to shoot workers who refused to be subservient or to force individuals off their own property. Making protection a pay-for-use-service just means that rich people have the most guns.
    You get all the protection your money can buy.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    OK, but that would require that all the “protection agencies” were restricted to one business model. And as a Libertarian, I presume Huemer would be against restraining the markets in that way. If he had any consistency.

  • asonge

    I think you might’ve missed some interesting dynamics at play in such a system. We’re all familiar with protection rackets from mobs, and what do we learn about the complex interplay of a security force between the people it purports to protect or not. The group’s interest would mainly be in making sure not to provoke a war with another security agency, and in turn would be more likely to tell its own customers to “go shove it” if there was some small slight against them. They could also raise your rates unilaterally and leaving you without recourse. What happens when your dispute becomes a pawn in some power-trading game between multiple security forces? What happens when a security force is existentially threatened by a larger security force even though it is defending something justly? Can it “impose” higher rates? Sure, the guys with all the guns are going to leave your property alone based on your word in the face of either death or the loss of their livelihood.

    I fail to see how this would preserve justice at all.

  • Jim Baerg

    I recall an analysis of the idea by someone who was giving it the benefit of every doubt.

    He noted that there would tend to be a local advantage for each protection company, so the result would be equivalent to a bunch of territorial states anyway.

    I suppose the next thing would be to make each protection company into a customer co-op with a one customer one vote rule & get back to democratic states.

  • Gregory Marshall

    Private protection agencies huh? Sounds a lot like medieval times when the wealthy land barons would hire knights to protect their property.
    And how did that just happen to work out for the serfs and other property owners with different interest.

  • Leum

    Rand wasn’t an anarchist. She did believe that government had a (very limited) role to play in society, primarily in the enforcement of laws and national defense.

  • smrnda

    I wonder how Rand would explain things like conflicts about whether or not you can fire a pregnant woman for throwing up on the job, or how you deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, or workers who get injured. Part of me thinks that Randoids would hand-waive it all, or else would just be fine with their existing people on the bottom who get pissed and shat on.

  • smrnda

    It seems like you end up with some kind of warrior caste, who will likely give a shit about what their subscribers want and will just find reasons to use force themselves.

  • Leo Buzalsky

    And that is a huge flaw in the Libertarian model. What is to stop, for example, a wealthy person from giving a security agency extra money if they will incite violence against a certain group? I see nothing to stop this, which would then result in these agencies deviating from the model.

  • Adam Lee

    Yep! I argued way back in 2006 that libertarianism will inevitably reduce to the same situation we have now, with a group of large states that act as property owners and set policy within their territories. We’d just have to live through a lot of violence and conflict to get back there.

  • Adam Lee

    Very good point! And what happens if the “laws” of different agencies are mutually contradictory?

  • Adam Lee

    Yes, I’m aware that the view presented here isn’t what Rand would have advocated. She was scornful of self-declared anarchists.

    However, she never explains in detail how her view differs from libertarian anarchism. Her ideal capitalist society, Galt’s Gulch, is actually rather similar to the scenario Huemer sketches here. We never meet anyone there who plays the role of a policeman or any other kind of law enforcement, and the only judge who lives there apparently works for hire for private parties who agree to come to him if they have a dispute, very similar to the kind of mutually-agreed-upon arbitration that Huemer envisions.

  • Adam Lee

    Definitely. A better way to put that might be, “violence is only expensive if you’re confronting someone who’s as well-armed as you are”. If you have overwhelmingly superior force, violence or the threat of violence is by far the easiest way of making others do your will.

  • Michael

    In the case of murder, the victim’s next of kin could be the plaintiffs, or a protection agency which they had contracted. Some do propose “an eye for an eye” justice-others demur and feel only monetary damages should be allowed. In either case, how *that* is to be enforced varies. I’ve heard credit ratings proposed by milder types. Others are fine with coercion, and that includes prisons, or debt bondage. The same goes for judicial processes. No, it’s not convincing.

    As to who’s running these agencies, nothing prevents there being any non-profit or community-run ones, but it seems to be generally presented as being for-profit and private. Of course you’re right that a great deal of corruption looms there.

    I think what you’re saying about democracy is true in theory, though not always in practice. With this proposal it’s not nearly as true even in theory however.

    As for power, it always comes from a gun ultimately, it’s just a question of who’s interest it serves, or how often simple violence is used. Of course the poor are generally more vulnerable in any system, but this would be worse than most.

    Your objection is the same as Rand’s actually-she famously asked what happens when A claims B stole from him, and brings his police company to arrest B, while B calls in his own to protect him. While violent competition might certainly occur, I think cooperation would be more likely. That would not be a good itself though. A carter of protection agencies is not really distinguishable from the state. It would be necessary to enforce laws, judgments, etc. and we can imagine the smaller protection agencies bought up by larger ones, ending with de facto states. Robert Nozick argued that, and so does this fellow For more information on the theory, see Murray Rothbard’s For A New Liberty or The Ethics of Liberty, and David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom.

  • Austin

    Excellent Post. The thing most ‘small govt’ libertarian advocates forget, is that power will always exist. The concept of a constitutional democracy was to ensure that power is always checked and the people that wield it are always ultimately answerable to the people that elected them. Take that power away from government, and it simply transfers to private citizens answerable to nobody, and if there’s one thing history has shown us with alarming consistency, is that when there are individuals with considerable power that are answerable to nobody, very bad things happen.

  • smrnda

    My take? Eventually it would come down to a show of force, or which side could throw more money behind their private army.

  • smrnda

    Violence worked for the Dutch East India Company against indigenous people when they wanted to seize territory.

  • smrnda

    I think part of this is that Rand herself and many libertarians deny that anything BUT government can be considered ‘power’ or that unless you actually have a gun pointed at you, there is no ‘force.’

  • Michael

    There would be no conflict for them, since they’d say the employer can fire whomever they like, for any reason or none, unless there’s a contract with the worker saying otherwise (which is not likely in the menial positions). So your latter guess is correct.

  • Michael

    Rand supported a government limited to providing the courts, police and military (for purely defensive purposes) and thus she presumably was okay with enforcement for court judgments in that narrow context. Admittedly, I don’t know how much details she ever provided for this.

  • Michael

    I don’t think those are private police, but government-run.

  • UWIR

    We son’t see anyone scrubbing the toilets in Galt’s Gulch, either, do we?

  • UWIR

    Also, if you’re buying defined services, you can check whether you’re getting the services, and not pay if you’re not. Insurance, however, is an industry that requires a huge amount of social capital: you need trust and regulation, otherwise people will sell insurance policies, and then not pay up when someone makes a claim. And if your protection company isn’t providing services they are supposed to be providing, then what are you going to do about it? Hire another company to force them to give your money back?

  • UWIR

    As well-armed, and as willing to use force. Saddam Hussein didn’t have any illusions about being able to match the US’ military power, he just thought that they wouldn’t be willing to resort to military force to get Iraq out of Kuwait, and once it became clear that the US has going to attack, Saddam probably made the calculation that losing a war would be less dangerous than showing weakness and backing down. Countries don’t generally attack other countries unless they think they can win, and yet war is quite common, as is brinkmanship in general. The government shutdown, strikes, etc. : people are continuously choosing the more expensive option because they think the other side will back down.

  • Errant Endeavour

    This sounds a bit like a legalised mafia, to me.

    As much as I like Boardwalk Empire, I’m not entirely sure that would make a good governmental policy.

  • Agrajag

    In effect, that’s precicely what would happen. Absent any other monopoly on force, those who have the capability to defend their rights by violence or credible threaths thereof gets to set the rules for the land-area they’re able to “protect”, these people or organizations then in effect are the new governments.

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

    Only we spent a millenium transforming from purely strength-based ruling class and to a system where atleast in principle the voice of every citizen has atleast SOME influence.

    We’d end up spending a whole lot of time and blood to get back to the point we’re already at.

  • Agrajag

    Even with that limited definition of power, you’ll have some groups of people who have more guns, are more skilled or more willing to use them and that thus project power in the form of credible threaths of violence.

  • MNb

    Rather the government of the Dutch East Indies between 1815 and 1915 as the VOC (DEIC) didn’t seize that much territory, but your point remains.

  • Loren Petrich

    Frog war – Wikipedia “In American railroading, a frog war occurs when a private railroad company attempts to cross the tracks of another, and this results in hostilities, with the courts usually getting involved, but often long after companies have taken the matter in their own hands and settled, with hordes of workers battling each other. It is named after the frog, the piece of track that allows the two tracks to join or cross and is usually part of a level junction or railroad switch.”

    That article then listed several such battles.

  • Verbose Stoic

    They wouldn’t be. No one would take on a contract with a protection agency that wanted it to be a la carte, for exactly the reason you give here: that if they only take it when they really need it the price will get jacked up and leave them in the lurch.

    Also note that due to the cost of keeping a private army ready to go, these protection agencies will also want some guaranteed income so that when people aren’t fighting they aren’t simply sitting around losing money.

  • Verbose Stoic

    They’d have to make it worthwhile for that security agency to do so, and part of the restriction would be that if that group is part of their agency then people who can’t or won’t pay for the extra services will switch to another agency that protects them regardless, and the wealthy person paying them to go after a group protected by another agency still has to overcome the idea that it’s generally in the interest of the agency to not actually engage in any violence if they can avoid it. Add in other agencies having it be in their interest to preclude other agencies from acting that way and they might end up in way over their heads, and so it wouldn’t be worth it.

    Remember, the Libertarian model relies on people acting fully rationally in their own self-interest, and that would preclude some of the options that are being presented. As another example, how many soldiers are you going to keep if they know that their lives are being spent frivilously?

  • Verbose Stoic

    Yeah, you’d switch companies, and they’d lose money, and others might leave, too, reasoning that if they screw you over, they’re likely to screw others over as well.

    That being said, I do think that for this to work you do need Rand’s notion of a government that can use force to enforce contracts. That solves this problem of yours because once it’s in the contract if the agency doesn’t fulfill it the government will enforce the contract on your behalf. If you can have a neutral party with a significant amount of force enforcing contracts, then you can use contracts to negotiate pretty much everything else.

    Again, I don’t think it’s a good way to go, but it’s less obviously destructive than people assert.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Actually using force is still expensive, and if you can get what you want in other ways it’s almost always cheaper. A THREAT of violence is cheaper, but actually engaging in it always costs you and runs the risk of you losing, as history has shown with all sorts of small, ill-equipped groups that made those who had what seemed to be an overwhelming force back down, if for no other reason than simple cost (Afghanistan, Texas, Vietnam, etc).

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    I have this argument so often that comes down “the belief that all True Capitalists are morally incorruptible and can always be trusted to follow principles of honesty and fair dealing”. Anarcho-capitalists have such a sharp and arbitrary notion of what should be permissible, that I often wind up discussing the nature of crime and damages with them. For instance, I once had an argument about zoning laws. Can I open a sewage plant next to your house? I asked. Yes, the anarcho-capitalist said, because that doesn’t STEAL your property, it only lowers the value of my house, and you’re not responsible for market forces.

    Okay, I say, can I burn your house down? You still have all your property. It’s just in a different state of matter.

    At that point the guy abruptly switched tactics and got indignant. Why, he said, you think that ALL LIBERTARIANS ARE CRIMINALS. I am offended! But this was an irrelevant point. All I was arguing was that CRIMINALS EXIST. We need a way to define crime, and either come up with a system for deterring that crime, or else simply accept rampant crime as a fact of life with no consequences.

    Objectivism seems to be centered around the notion that all people are not only rational, but selfish in a way that cannot be criminally dangerous. And that’s demonstrably not true.

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    Hey wait a minute, who’s paying the judge? Is he paid a retainer by every member of Galt’s Gulch? And if they never use his services, why would a rational person continue supporting this moocher?

  • Ruana

    And a whole lot of people just trying to live their lives caught in the middle while it’s being sorted out.

  • karla

    Nailed it. I’ve watched how in my own country (Guatemala) democracy never really took off. We are a republic in name only, but in reality it is, and has always been, a medieval feudalist system, where the super wealthy are armed to the teeth and the rest are left to their own devices, not just in matters of security, but health, education and everything else the state is supposed to provide. But do not dare mention it! lest you want to be called a communist, terrorist or other such niceties.

  • Azkyroth

    Remember, the Libertarian model relies on people acting fully rationally in their own self-interest, and that would preclude some of the options that are being presented.

    Acknowledging that arguments’ premises are false is a legitimate way of attacking them. For crying out loud.

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    The mafia is exactly what you get when you hire private contractors to “protect” you. It’s the anarcho-capitalist model in action.

    The mafia originated in Sicily as a response to weak and ineffectual government. So local strong-men started taking matters into their own hands, settling disputes and acting as de facto sovereigns. Of course you had to pay them, and not only when you needed their services or in proportion to what they provided. And they’d occasionally wage bloody wars over territorial disputes. Other than that, what’s not to like?

  • uykhvasdrvtjyku

    You don’t even need to go as far as Rand to know the answer here. The contemporary conservative movement generally supports the “freedom” of business owners to treat their workers in any way they wish. After all, if the workers don’t like it, they can quit. Because of course there are an infinite number of good paying jobs and no need to worry about destitution.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Since the Reagan la-la land years of believing that corporations have consciences, we have proven that they do not. The systems of corporations were created to keep anyone from being personally accountable for anything done under the umbrella of corporate liability, or lack thereof.

    We still act as if we believe that all authority comes from “God,” even though our intellects, when challenged, admit that isn’t the case.

    Our wars have been contracted out to the likes of Halliburton who have a vested interest in continuing conflict and its aftermath. Halliburton then pays off politicians and pundits to continue creating fear in the average individual.

    When we all reject leadership by fear, even from religions that promote a jealous and vengeful “God,” we may be able to create a true democracy.

  • Nancy McClernan

    How does this government enforce the contracts of the private protection agencies?

  • Alex Harman

    Anarchy is a highly unstable state of society; it rapidly decays to despotism.

  • Alex Harman

    Does the judge ever actually do anything? I haven’t read Rand’s doorstop, but I remember a discussion of it somewhere that mentioned that the judge never actually has to resolve any disputes because the Gulchers are all so perfectly rational that they never disagree with each other.

  • smrnda

    So it’d be like living with Mexican drug cartels warring it out for everyone then? Wow, this libertarian/anarchism/Objectivism just sound more attractive all the time.

  • smrnda

    There are hit men in the real world, so I don’t see any reason why there wouldn’t be similar people who kill for hire, often over commercial or property disputes, in this thought experiment. The only reason a hit-man would turn the job down is getting caught, Without real law enforcement, framing people for crimes and then shooting them as ‘dangerous criminals’ would seem to be a winning strategy, and totally rational.

  • smrnda

    Yeah, it’s basically serfdom. They just call it freedom, since it’s freedom for them and for the scum they worship.

  • smrnda

    They did not seize that much territory, but they did make strategically valuable moves through violence. I never said they seized *a lot* of territory.

  • smrnda

    The problem is they use that to argue that the government is bad and the rich guy isn’t so bad since he isn’t the soldier holding the gun.

  • smrnda

    I find that people simply want to define crime in a way that tends to benefit them. A guy who wants to build a sewage plant argues that it’s not a crime to expose you to dangerous chemicals and lower the value of your house and fill the air with bad smell. He then argues that *intentional* arson is bad, but what if the fertilizer plant next to your house explodes?

    It’s worth noting that in defining crime, people should be called out when they’re obviously just defining it for their own benefit. It’s not invalid, but it’s worth noting that in the end, ‘crimes’ define who is the victim and who is the aggressor.

  • smrnda

    War is very good business for corporations. Alfried Krupp made a bit of $$$ from working kids to death in concentration camps. A NY banker put in a government position later tried to reverse the condition of Krupp’s conviction for crimes against humanity by returning his wealth to him.

  • 8DX

    “competing protection agencies, hired either by individuals or by associations of property owners. ”

    It always gets back to this – associations of property owners. Logically, middle-class property owners would create collective associations and hire common protection agencies. So for instance in a city, you’d have “the police” and then the rich-men’s and the gangsters’ protection services, which would be independent and probably have the city divided into sectors of influence and an ongoing state of war.

    Implicit in this is: “what about the people who aren’t property owners?” Yes. Fuck the poor, fuck the lower class, fuck anyone who can’t pay their council tax – oops, who don’t want to be part of their local property owners association.

    You can’t have a stateless society – but you can choose been a relatively stable, safe, open and egalitarian state system, and a closed, violent, segregated, anarchic one.

  • Agrajag

    Yeah, I know. I’ve lost count of the people I’ve debated with who’s claimed that there’s -zero- problem with the fact that a increasing portion of social life happens on a closed platform, governed by “private law” and outside democratic control, instead of in *public* venues where what you can do and say is limited by democratically decided laws.

    We used to discuss stuff in the village square. These days, we do on Facebook.

    “But it’s not censorship, because it’s not by the GOVERNMENT” gets old after a while.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Sure, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that people WON’T act fully rationally in their own self-interest and so it won’t work. That’s certainly a criticism that I support. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, as it seems to be listed as a flaw in the Libertarian argument per se, at a theoretical level, by arguing THAT it would be the more rational move on the part of the wealthy person to do that, ignoring, as I pointed out, that it ISN’T the more rational move on the part of the others who would have to go along with it to make that work out for the wealthy person.

    Game theory is indeed a method that is compatible with Libertarianism.

  • Verbose Stoic

    If, say, a family pays for protection and a hitman kills one member of the family, the contract is still in force and the protection agency would have to eliminate likely both the hitman and the person who hired them. Since, again, the protection agencies don’t want to have to actually go out and kill people because of the costs involved — included wasted resources and esteem if they fail — they’ll strongly discourage people from trying that.

    As for “framing”, I think you misunderstand how it would work. There would be no formal laws. There would only be agreements and disagreements … essentially, contracts. The protection agencies would not make laws, but would merely enforce contracts. Framing someone for breaking an agreement and proceeding directly to killing them creates a disordered society where the protection agencies would have to engage in a lot of or even constant violence. Their clients don’t want that, and it isn’t in the best interest of the agencies either. So they’ll all work to avoid that and set up agreements so that that isn’t the constant state. Think about it this way: why would you bother paying protection agencies if doing so didn’t make you feel safe? It’s only if the system works to make people safe and feel safe that it can survive at all.

    This is similar to Hobbesian Social Contract Theory: the idea that we all accept restrictions on what we can do because we don’t want an unstructured chaos, and allow people to enforce restrictions so that we don’t all fall into that, because none of us what to life in that unstructured chaos. So perhaps a better objection here is that if that’s the case, why not put in place a large, neutral group to do it instead of relying on a bunch of smaller ones? And the answer to that might be “Who watches the Watchers?”.

  • Verbose Stoic

    They have their own enforcement “army”, like a police force. Yes, this isn’t what Huemer wants, but my claim is that without that this almost certainly won’t work, and for a lot of Libertarians giving the police a very specific role is better than just having a set of laws that they enforce that many may not agree with.

  • Y. A. Warren

    You are correct about war as big business. This is why Eisenhower warned us about the powers of the military-industrial complex. My problem with religions is that they invent gods that justify killing of others, and use their rituals to brainwash people into believing in bogey men that the warlords have invented.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Huemer sees government security forces as a problem to be solved by private security forces. And in order to enforce private security forces contracts you suggest government security forces.

    Do you see what’s wrong with your idea to make Huemer’s initial idea “work”?

  • Verbose Stoic

    Did you note that I explicitly pointed out that this isn’t what Huemer wants? And note that Rand’s view would still offload a lot of what government policing does now to those private organizations, which is still somewhat in line with what Huemer is going for, but just not as far as he might want. Which was my entire point: he can’t go as far as he’d want to or else it won’t work.

  • Nancy McClernan

    The issue is not whether this is what Huemer wants, the issue is your statement:

    “That being said, I do think that for this to work you do need Rand’s notion…”

    Your solution is to have a government security force in addition to private security forces. It doesn’t make Huemer’s idea work, it reintroduces what Huemer considers the problem in the first place.
    You didn’t have to make it work, you could have just said – “it can’t work without a government army to provide enforcement, which of course would make private armies redundant, at best.”

    Grafting Rand’s concept of enforcement of contracts does not solve the inherent contradiction. You’ve made nothing “work.” I suggest you let it go.

  • smrnda

    They could only take action against the hitman or the person who hired him if they who did it, and that information isn’t likely to be shouted from the rooftops. Exactly what magical thing happens under this system that makes it impossible for people to do something in secret? Can you conceive that even under this system, a person can potentially hire a hit-man and keep the whole affair rather hush-hush so someone just *turns up missing* one day? The whole idea of firing the hitman or taking action against the person who hired him requires that it be discovered that that happened, and it’s likely a person with sufficient resources could just persuade people via outright bribery not to investigate further.

    On the framing someone, depending on who it is and what they’re being framed for, it might not be to anyone’s disadvantage. Chaos would be great business for protection rackets.

    I also see no reason why it’s in their incentive to avoid violence. Some protection agencies, but a larger, better funded, more powerful one is going to win, so violence is only a bad idea if the agencies are pretty much evenly matched.

    Why pay protection agencies if they don’t make you feel safe? Why do people get stuck paying into ‘protection rackets’ that are just extortion which provide no safety? Anyone with enough guns to potentially make you feel safe can just extort the money.

    A neutral agency should be subject to oversight, but the deal with neutrality is that the agency isn’t funded by one particular person or group, so they aren’t just guns for hire. If I hire a protection agency and have lots of money and I do things to piss off another person, my protection agency has every incentive to do whatever it can in my defense, even if its blatantly wrong, and if the stakes are high enough, they can simply be some kind of goon squad that are used to exempt me from the social contract when I feel like it.

  • smrnda

    I suspect that many of these people just want to be feudal lords but don’t want to openly admit that.

  • Azkyroth

    as it seems to be listed as a flaw in the Libertarian argument per se, at a theoretical level, by arguing THAT it would be the more rational move on the part of the wealthy person to do that

    How does that follow from the phrasing “What is to stop, for example, a wealthy person from giving a security agency extra money if they will incite violence against a certain group? I see nothing to stop this, which would then result in these agencies deviating from the model.”?

  • Verbose Stoic

    Because the answer to that question is, as I said “The rational self-interest of the other parties involved”. The complaint is not that people won’t act rationally, but that there is NO proposed mechanism for handling that. There is. That ignoring that mechanism seems to me to be the number one point missed in criticizing Libertarianism is precisely why it’s important to point out that it’s not like they didn’t THINK of that objection, but that perhaps their proposed solution doesn’t work when we look at real human nature. Again, nothing in that quote or phrasing gets that far at all.

  • Verbose Stoic

    So, in your hitman example, how does that differ from a government police force, except that because the person who disappears is a client the protection agency has a much stronger vested interest in finding the person how did it than a government police force does, because they have a contract that can be enforced — recall that I do think contracts have to be enforceable for this idea to even get off the ground — and if they don’t do a good job of stopping these sorts of things their customers will go to other companies that do a better job of it? You’d have a better argument saying that they are likely to find anyone that looks credible and work against them, guilty or not, since they really need to look like they can keep up their end of the bargain than to argue that they’ll be ineffective.

    Chaos is NOT great business for protection agencies. If they can’t protect people, then people won’t pay them, because they pay for peace and not for chaos. If paying them is just as chaotic as not paying them, then at least people can have or spend that money on defending themselves. And you ignore the whole premise of ANY kind of Social Contract, which is that there is no person or group who can’t be brought down by a number of other groups working together against them. Even the biggest protection agency is likely not going to be big enough to take out ALL the other ones if they work against them, and so they won’t want to risk them all doing that, so at the very least they will skirt the line but not go over … if everyone acts in their most rational self-interest. Which they may not.

    If the wealthy person can indeed pay them enough to make that worth their time, then, yes, they could be a goon squad … but the problem is that for a protection agency that’s irrational. No matter how rich that person is, they are not going to be able to pay them more than all of the other clients they could get by playing it straight who also will cost them far less since they, in general, WON’T be asking for violence on their behalf, and they won’t get those clients if the agency is willing to target them on behalf of that rich person if they ask for it AND they’ll constantly be fighting all the other protection agencies to do so. So it seems to me that that wealthy person COULD hire a hit squad … but it wouldn’t be a protection agency, but would be a hit squad, and would be opposed by protection agencies.

  • Verbose Stoic

    Except that what you said I could have said … is not what I’m saying. I’m saying that it WOULDN’T make private armies redundant, because they’d still do a lot of the things that the police try to do now. But you need something independent to enforce the protection agencies contracts. Well, in theory you don’t, but it probably won’t work well if you don’t.

  • Nancy McClernan

    Yes, unfortunately I did realize that’s what you’re saying. So I guess you expect that people would pay taxes to support a government army to enforce contracts for the private armies that people are also paying for.


  • Verbose Stoic

    I would expect that people would pay money to support all sorts of things that they think it would be in their best interests to pay for, under the Libertarian model. This seems entirely consistent with the Libertarian model. Remember that I am not advocating that model myself, but don’t see why it would be against that model to suggest that you might need a government that you might have to pay some taxes to under the Libertarian model as long as the government itself is limited to doing the things that it is in the self-interest of the tax payers to have them do.

  • Nancy McClernan

    So that’s Libertarianism -inefficiency and redundancy. Good to know.

  • smrnda

    As I said before, well-armed security agencies can provide no protection but can simply extort money. Social contract does not apply since let’s say Bob T Wilson used to subscribe to security agency X. Now he wants to break some contracts he agreed to so why not just quit subscribing to Security Agency X and go with Y, then say “hey, I’m no longer under your jurisdiction?” The problem is that individual people can defect from one agency to another. I mean, if Bob quit paying money to agency X and he’s paying money to agency Y, this is going to cause problems.

    The other problem is that there’s no such thing as rational actors in the real world, so any philosophy based on assuming rationality is about as sensible as a philosophy based on a belief in psychic powers.

    The social contract argument you made could actually be false – there could exist a group powerful enough that even cooperation among other groups could not bring them down, because libertarianism would permit ways of attaining power (like private citizens buying nukes) that we don’t typically allow.

  • smrnda

    I just realized a good example of why these agencies would not work that isn’t about the security agencies could be corrupt or about the ability of rich people to buy more guns than poor people.

    A function of the criminal justice system is to find out the truth and to properly investigate crimes, which can at times mean reaching conclusions or doing (or not doing) things that go against what the general public wants or finds satisfying. Let’s say that there’s a string of murders. The public wants to see someone brought to justice. Sometimes there isn’t enough evidence to bring a suspect in or even once a suspect exists, the evidence is still not enough to make a solid case. Take the case of a guy like the Green River Killer – it took decades and millions of dollars to solve that crime, and sometimes crimes are never solved.

    People don’t want to pay money to a service that doesn’t give them what they want, so a private protection agency has an incentive to find *someone* and punish them for a crime and less incentive to investigate day after day and possibly turn up nothing. Our government requires some pretty extensive checks and balances to enable courts to deliver results that don’t satisfy people.

    Or let’s take this scenario – in a small town dominated by Security Agency X, a popular high school football player commits a few rapes and leaves evidence. Our court system is set up so that even against popular opinion, things can be done so that a correct but unpopular verdict can be reached – the trial can be moved to another location, for example. However, if we’re dealing with subscribers, what if the residents of this small town just say “hey, if you convict this high school football star, we won’t pay you any more of our money and go with a new security agency!” In this case, the problem is that the people don’t care about justice, and the people in charge of delivering justice can lose their contract if they do something to piss people off even when it’s the right thing to do.

    Police and courts aren’t perfect but this model has far more glaring faults.

  • smrnda

    There is a problem with the free rider problem. Certain resources, like roads, need to be available, but nobody is going to want to be the person who pays for them. Unless everybody is forced to pay, nobody will pay because nobody wants to be the one chump who paid when everybody else rode for free.

    “some taxes to under the Libertarian model as long as the government
    itself is limited to doing the things that it is in the self-interest of
    the tax payers to have them do.”

    That’s so vague as to include anything being funded by taxes, but how are disputes resolved? Libertarians I talk to seem to believe in strict limits on government programs, even in spite of popular support.