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The Police and the Rule of Law

History Posted on Mon, April 06, 2015 12:40:36

Apparently, one of
the major responsibilities of the state is to protect our rights
against criminals. It is this responsibility that even a lot of
libertarians think we cannot get rid of completely. To fulfill this
responsibility, we are told, the state needs to have a monopoly on
using violence. The institution of the executive, which carries out
this violence domestically is the police. To make sure that this
monopoly in and of itself does not become a problem, the advocates of
this system have implemented democratic controls. That way, the
police can function as an efficient security service provider for the
people. That is at least the idea. But does it all work as the
architects of this system imagine it?

On first sight, this
system does not seem to be a bad idea. For a society to function, we
certainly need to have a rule of law. That means we indeed need to
make sure that if it comes to a stand off between a criminal who is
violating the rights of someone and the enforcers of the law, the law
will ideally always win. And if you want to win battles it seems very
useful, if not inevitable to have the majority of force on your side.
If this line of thought is correct, does this automatically mean that
we need to have an institution that at all times has a monopoly on
force? Is there even a possible alternative to this approach?

To answer these
questions let us start by having a deeper look at the basic idea. It
seems to me that there are several flaws in it that need to be
addressed. The most obvious one is, who is controlling the monopoly?
The major assumption behind having a monopoly is that not all humans
are of good character. Some are more than willing to violate other
people’s rights for their own advantage. If that is true, how do we
make sure that these people are not taking over the monopoly? For
that is what these bad guys are most likely planning to do.

There are various
ways with which criminals could do that. The most successful one
would be to take over the control of the whole state. This could come
in various shapes and forms. One example might be a very primitive
military dictatorship, in which everyone is aware that a group of
people are controlling the system in their own interest. However, it
could also come in more subtle forms. The state could still have the
appearance of a rule of law, while a group of powerful people pull
the strings in the background. The latter approach is probably more
successful in securing the control of power in the long run. In
whatever form it might come, the process of criminals taking over the
whole state seems to have been completed in most states that we
observe around the world.

However, there seem
to be a few states on the planet that still have some form of
division of powers and a rule of law. Having said that, I do not know
of any state that is completely free of criminal influence.
Corruption comes in different forms. The most simple attempt to beat
the monopoly is to try to have some influence on the people enforcing
the law. In other words, criminals try to influence the police.

The UK is worldwide
one of the most respected states for its rule of law. But how
justified is this respect? Compared to the total corruption observed
in most countries, the UK indeed appears in a positive light. But of
course this island is no exception to the fact that some people are
not nice guys. These bad boys, here too have long realized that it
might be a good idea for their ‘business’ to try to get in control of
the monopoly. And they have been far more successful than most people
might realize. Last year The Independent reported a number of leaked
documents, suggesting that the legal system in the UK is indeed
infiltrated by criminals up to the highest levels.

The whole idea that
a monopoly on force can be controlled to serve the rule of law,
really is a contradiction in terms. Any such system relies on the
assumption that humans can be trusted to not abuse this position. But
if humans were all nice guys, why would we need such a system in the
first place? In truth, this system logically cannot solve the problem
of dealing with criminals. All it does is taking the problem to a
different level.

One might object to
this by saying that the system might not be 100% perfect, but at
least it works most of the time. I certainly agree that we cannot
come up with a perfect system. No matter which system we come up with
to protect the rule of law, we will likely see cases in which it
fails. So the best we can ask for is a system with a good track
record. I do not believe that all police officers are crocks. In
fact, the vast majority are probably decent human beings, just trying
to do their jobs as good as possible. We might see police forces in
certain places on the globe who are systematically trained to fight
the people. But I do not see any evidence that this is what is going
on in the UK. However, despite of that the idea that the current
system works most of the time seems very questionable to me.

Even if we assume
that we are dealing with a lot of good police men, we are still stuck
with some other problems. The business model of running a monopoly
service provider is the business model of a central planner. So we
can expect to see the same problems from centrally planning the
police that we see in any other centrally planned business.

In a centrally
planned service organization, resources are not allocated by prices
and therefore the needs of the people paying for the services.
Instead they are allocated according to the needs of the people
running the organization. The same is true for the rules put in place
to run the organization. These rules will likely serve the needs of
the people providing the services instead of the needs of the
recipients of the services.

What does that mean
for the policing services? On the one hand, we will likely see a prioritizing of activities that are easy to execute and bring in
revenue for the organization. On the other hand, we are likely to see
activities that are hard to execute and drain resources to get a low
priority. To be more concrete, activities like fining law abiding
citizens for overstepping minor laws are likely to see a relatively
good enforcement. These activities bring in revenue through the fines
and are easy to enforce. Law abiding citizens are likely to simply
comply with demands from the police. On the other hand, chasing
criminals like muggers, burglars, rapists and murders are dangerous
activities that don’t even bring in any revenue. These activities
will likely get a low priority. They will likely be carried just as
much necessary to keep people from actively rebelling.

On the rules side of
things, we will likely see rules being made that serve predominantly
the well being of the police officers and less so the needs of the
receivers of their services. Everything that might put officers in
danger or even just cause inconvenience are bad rules and everything
that gives ‘costumers’ the power of complaining or creating
alternatives to the provided police services are good rules.

Is this what we are
seeing? From the data I know and my personal experience, I find this
to be exactly true. I myself have been on the receiving side of fines
a number of times. And this seems to be true for most people I know.
These were fines for overstepping rules that are minor or outright
silly. Some of them are so counter intuitive that I might not even
have been aware off them. For example I recently got a fine of £130
for standing too long (more than 10s) with my car on one of those
yellow striped areas you find at busy crossroads. The purpose of
these areas is to stop people from driving into the middle of the
crossroads on a green light and get stuck there, blocking cars from
other directions during their green light interval. The problem is
that it is often hard to see when exactly the cars in front of you
will stop. It was Friday night at about midnight, I thought I would
make it to the other side but ended up getting stuck at the very end
of the yellow area. I was not blocking anyone, there was still plenty
of space. But, since London is completely surveyed with cameras,
someone watched the CCTV footage, actually counted the seconds I was
stopping on the yellow lines and issued a fine.

You may say great,
these CCTV cameras see everything. If they caught you breaking such a
minor rule, they must have a great track record finding real
criminals as well. Unfortunately, that is not really the case. For
example, an ex flatmate of mine got mugged in the middle of the day
on a London bus in Chelsea. They stole her smart phone. Every bus in
London has 16 CCTV cameras on it. She went to the police demanding
they would analyze the footage and look for the criminals. However,
she found herself a little bit surprised to get the answer that “it
is not worth our time to look into this”. In this case, nothing was
to gain for the monopolists. They were dealing with real criminals,
so looking into this case would have been potentially dangerous and
drained their resources. So why do it? Why not analyze CCTV footage
for how long cars are stopping on yellow lines? Much safer and much
more lucrative.

Another friend of
mine got jumped by a few thugs on his way home in the evening. He was
less lucky. They not only robbed him but also beat him up so heavily
that he almost lost an eye. So he went to the police to report it. To
his surprise the police at first refused to even write the incident
down. After a while of arguing with them, they finally agreed to make
a note of the incident, but they were very blunt about the fact that
they had no intention looking into this case any further.

In December last
year and February this year, my flat got burgled twice within two
month by the same guy. The burglar was after cash and computers. The
first time he stole some cash from me and two computers, including a
MacBook Pro that I was using for work. Knowing the bad experiences
that almost everyone I ever asked had made with police in London, I
was not very keen in calling the police. I did it anyway for two
reasons. First, I remembered that the MacBook was covered by my
business content insurance. Second, I am a skeptical person. I always
like to test whether my theories work. So I was curious to see what I
could get for my tax money.

Within an hour two
police officers showed up, together with a Lady to secure the
evidence. They were reasonably friendly and documented the case.
After that they closed the case without solving it within a few days.
So no success, but at least an appearance of caring. I looked into
how many cases of burglary are actually being solved by the state. I
didn’t expect much, but was still negatively surprised to find out
that the success rate was in the low single percentage digits. That
is a remarkable incompetence. So protecting citizens from burglars is
definitely not something that appears to work most of the time.

The burglar seemed to
have been aware of this incompetence too. He did not hesitate to come
back two months later. This time a desktop computer from my flatmate
was stolen, and the burglar caused some severe damages to doors and
some windows. My flatmate called the police, but this time only a
police officer showed up. No one wanted to come along and secure the
evidence that evening. They postponed that till the next day. Not
very good, given that we could not leave the broken windows as they
were throughout the whole cold winter night. But my flatmate, not a
libertarian, still was full of respect. “They are probably very

The next day a man
showed up to secure the evidence that was left. I had a very
interesting conversation with him. First, I asked him whether he was
indeed very busy. His answer “no, not at all. Very quite”. He did
not seem to realize that the reason I might ask that was, because he
showed up a day late. Then he said something very interesting. “Crime
in general seems to go down. But we have no idea why that is.”
Whether it is true that crime is going down or not, I don’t know. But
his statement that he did not know why it was going down really
surprised me. Here is someone working for an organization aiming at
fighting crime. He observes crime to go down, but it does not cross
his mind to take the credit for it.

This is interesting
for a number of reasons. First, being an insider at the police, the
pure thought that the work of the police is reducing crime was a
non-starter for him. Having put some thought into this phenomenon,
the explanation he came up with was “London is probably getting too
expensive to live for these criminals and they all have to move out”.
Fair enough, to me too, that certainly sounded like a much more
plausible explanation than ‘the Met Police is doing a good job’.

Second, his answer
told me that I was probably dealing with an honest man. He did not
seem to be part of a conspiracy against the rest of society. He was
probably really just trying to do his job as good as he can. However,
he was operating within a system that just could not produce good
results even if it wanted to. It is the organization that is flawed,
not necessarily the people working within it.

Lastly, his honesty
was a clear indication that he was under no illusion that I was
something like a customer of his services. Any business man would
have taken the opportunity to take credit for the lower crime rates.
But he was not trying to sell me anything. At the end of the day, it
was of no importance to him whether I was satisfied with his services
or not. He gets paid anyway and his job is secure no matter how bad
the outcome.

Wouldn’t it be great
if there was more than one security service provider? In that case I
could have told him that I was unsatisfied with his services and was
going to change to be protected by XY Policing in the future. But as
far as catching criminals is concerned, there is no real legal
alternative to the state police at the moment. If you were to hire a
private investigator, there would be no chance of rolling over the
costs for that to the criminal once he is caught. Given the rules in
place, this alternative is not economical. Therefore, this business
model does not really exist in this country. It is not allowed to
exist, competition not wanted.

Catching criminals
once they have committed a crime is one thing. A real solution to the
crime problem would of course involve the prevention of crimes in the
first place. I wanted to hear the police officers opinion on what I
could do to not being burgled again. He said “the trick is to make
your house secure enough so that the burglar looks for an easier
target”. Again, I was surprised how open he was to reveal how bad
the system is. That is your solution? Push the problem down the road?
I should not have been surprised. Pushing problems down the road
seems to be the governments ‘solution’ for a lot of problems. This
really is a remarkably bad solution. It is essentially survival of
the fittest in its most brutal form. The problems are being pushed
onto the weakest elements of society at the end of the road. So this
is what the praised state solution for the rule of law really comes
down to. It is the law of the jungle.

When it comes to
preventing crime the most important thing is of course the ability of
people to defend themselves. Unless you are rich enough to afford
professional security services, you will always be the first who has
to act when becoming a victim. The state has a couple of reasons to
dislike self defense. First, it makes the police look bad, if the
citizens are doing a major component in the security production. It
is much better when people feel helpless. That way the state can
present itself as absolutely necessary for their security. Second, if
people can defend themselves, they might use that ability one day
against the state itself. This makes the work of everyone within the
monopoly much more difficult. Especially police work gets much more
difficult and dangerous when people can fight back. Therefore, states
around the world are keen to make citizens as helpless as they can
get away with.

The UK is one of the
most advanced states when it comes to making people helpless. One of
the tips the police officer was giving me, was to put some small
nails on the top of the wooden gate the burglar had to climb over to
gain access. That way he would cut his hands the next time he would
try to burgle me. “But pssst” he said. “You did not get this
from me. The council does not like it for health and safety reasons.
Technically the burglar can sue you for damage if he gets hurt.”
What? The burglar can sue me for hurting himself during his criminal
activities? This statement seems so bizarre it is almost hard to
believe. Unfortunately, it seems true.

This it is typical
for the UK. Self defense is more and more seen as a naughty thing.
How dare you actually try to hurt a burglar going after his day job.
Citizens in this country have been stripped of almost any tools that
could help them to defend themselves. Since it is a European country,
it goes without saying that it has long fallen for the totally
perverse philosophy of gun control. If you publicly suggest that gun
control might not be such a good thing, you are immediately categorized as either evil or stupid and probably both. But even
purely defensive, and therefore harmless weapons like pepper spray are
unavailable in this country. The most weird story I have heart was,
when a friend from Scotland reported to have been stopped by the
police in always sunny Glasgow for carrying an umbrella. He was
carrying it in a way that looked like he could use it to beat
someone. Therefore, they argued it could be seen as a weapon. You
cannot make this stuff up.

In the UK, we are
back to the stone ages where physical body strength to a great deal
determines how safe you are. The only reason that it might still be a
pleasant place to live in is that it still has a relatively rich and
civil society. Most people have simply little interest to hurt you.

The idea that we
need a monopoly of force to have a rule of law, to me looks more like
a self fulfilling prophecy than a necessity. Since alternative
solutions are being outlawed, it starts to look like there is no
alternative to a monopoly. But we see this monopoly produce the same
poor results that we would expect from any other centrally planned
service provider. It is about time that we start to rethink this
solution. However, most people think that allowing competition will
only lead to criminals taking over. This is really a strange idea,
given that this is exactly what we are seeing in the current system.

A free market
solution to secure the rule of law will unlikely lead to criminals
having free range and terrorize society. That is because the vast
majority of people are not criminals. They have an interest in the
rule of law. If the rule of law were to be left to market forces, the
combined economic power of law abiding citizens would be greater than
anything a crime family could come up with by orders of magnitude. To
the contrary, the current solution of having a monopoly already in
place is a dream for criminals. Taking over, or at least influencing
this monopoly is by far cheaper than having to establish a monopoly
themselves. This is amplified by the fact that this monopoly is
currently helping criminals gaining revenue by enforcing victimless
crimes like drug prohibitions. The police is not the last thing to
go, before we abolish the state. Instead we should make it a priority
to expose the police to market competition as soon as possible.


History Posted on Sat, December 27, 2014 11:56:14

It is with sorrow that I learn of the death of Allen
Phillips Griffith, or Griff as we all knew him as, in the department of
philosophy 1979-’82, at the University of Warwick; though some LA members
attended as philosophy students later than those dates. Griff was the Professor
of Philosophy there from about 1965, when the University officially opened,
till the early 1990s.

Griff was an admirer of Ludwig Wittgenstein, whom he
thought had improved philosophy greatly, allowing many things to be said way
more aptly and concisely than before this seminal philosopher had made his
contributions, as well as allowing later philosophers to express many new

Griff used to deliver an annual lecture in the
spring of every year to the students homosexual society to share a bit of
Wittgensteinian wisdom with them viz. that they never could quite fall in love,
as there was no option of marriage, a societal institution that, alone, allowed romantic love to have a
full meaning. I did recently wonder whether this lecture might have been,
finally, rendered defunct by the resent legislation, but I never did ask Griff
if he thought that was now the case.

After his, to
me at least, surprise conversion to Roman Catholicism in the mid-‘80s, he
exclaimed, echoing a celebrated question of Wittgenstein, when I went to see
him to ask why he had converted from atheism, that it was no different
metaphysically. I always thought, and I still tend to do so, that the world
would look very different if it did happen to have a caring creator. It would
then not look as it does now.

Griff was not very much impressed by recent
Continental Philosophy and the day after hearing Jacques Derrida give an
evening talk in London, in the early 1980s, he expressed his disapproval to an
early morning philosophy class that he took back at the University of Warwick
the next day.

Griff attended a few of the student’s University of
Warwick Debating Society’s lunchtime and
also the evening debates, and also he gave a talk at one LA meeting in London
in the late 1980s at the LSE, before he retired. However, he felt that it was
too far to travel from Nottingham, where he moved to on retiring from the
University in the early 1990s, to once again address the LA in London.

Griff found a home in the Tory, or the UK Conservative,
Party early on, but he often said that he was a Tory anarchist, maybe being
influenced by some of Edmund Burke’s early writings in imitation of Robert

For a long time, Griff championed the writings of
Joseph Butler in ethics.

It is sad to think that Griff is no longer with us.

Can War Ever Be Economic?

History Posted on Thu, October 02, 2014 18:12:13

The idea
that war is good for society is very common. Not many economists endorse it,
but Tyler Cowen is an exception. In The New York Times 13 June 2014, he
suggested it might remedy the current sluggishness in the USA economy. He seems
to think that war can be a stimulus. There has been too much peace.

The stark
reality seems to contrast with Cowen’s thesis, as it seems to be that the wars
have cost farl too much to almost everybody, but so, too, have normal politics and, indeed, the state itself.

Cowen is,
despite this brave outburst, the sort of libertarian who likes to conform to
the state. Like most economists, he tends to think that economics exists to aid
the state to make economic policy. He might well agree with many people,
economists and non-economists, that Alfred Marshall erred to brand the area, or
the subject matter, economics instead of leaving it labelled as “political
economy”. Keynes, whom Cowen also admires, attempted to reverse that but he failed.

Indeed, this
war-eulogy outburst from Cowen shows
this conformity to the state, as well as being a brave anti-social message. The
state is, after all, the epitome of an anti-social institution, despite its
rather successful attempt to get large numbers of people to think it is an
obvious social boon. War is about as bad as politics gets, it is the acme of
crass politics, but even normal politics is crass. It is intrinsically

Cowen says
he feels that war been lacking recently, or at least, it remains low by
historical standards. He earlier supported the war in Iraq; odd for a
libertarian, as is his conformity to Keynes and the endorsement of state action.He says that he “realistically” settles for as part of the package of modern life.

He says some
headlines from Iraq recently might fool some people into thinking war is already
abundant today but he says it is tame next to the killings of the 1914 or 1939 world
wars that killed off tens of millions prior to 1950. Does he even think that
killing itself can boost growth? He later replies that the growing destruction
of war might be the thing that accounts for the current sluggish peace. But
first he continues that even the killing in Vietnam killed more off than recent
wars in the Middle East have done. All
this abundant peace makes economic growth less urgent, he declares.

Cowen does
not quite want to say that war improves economies, as he admits that it clearly
destroys wealth, as well as lives. He is not endorsing the Keynesian rather
popular meme, that preparing for war boosts state spending and so it puts
people back to work, either. Instead he
wants to say is what war tends to do is to aid the politicians to get things
right. Competition such as war between
states sharpens up any state so that it better aids the nation’s overall
fitness. This tends to boost the GNP. He, later, suggests that it might boost
it to 4% a year rather than the current best-hoped-for 2% a year.

If we look
back at all the innovation war has aided in history then we might realise that
a very good case can be made out for war, Cowan suggests. It might seem
repugnant, but history suggests that war is an economic boon. He feels this
case recently made out by a few historians and that it is not so easy to

says that war aided nuclear power, the computer and the modern aircraft just
as he passively accepts that the state can boost effective demand by stimulus
rather than looking at the reality that the state merely broadens demand in
such a way that the immediate result will be to lower it, overall, rather than
to increase it, despite the fact that purchasing power will be transferred to
new hands by inflation. Such a process is not likely to ever even conserve
total demand at the same level let alone boost overall demand to new a higher
level, as the Keynesians imagine. But Keynes said it, so Cowen conforms to it. He
is similar with the historians in doing that.

continues that war in the past got the USA state to push forward many new innovations along. This is what history
teaches us, he seems to say. Not for Cowen the extreme idea of Henry Ford that “history is
bunk”. But as it is written, it all too often seems to be, especially on the benefits of war.

Cowen tells
us that the Internet was designed to conduct a nuclear exchange and Silicon
Valley too was innovated by the military. It was the late USSR that, with
Sputnik, boosted the USA to try to catch up by developing science and
technology in reaction. Here we seem to have one economist, Cowen, who much
prefers history as it is presented to him than to thinking about the opportunity
costs of whatever the state did. He admires the sheer efficiency of the
Manhattan Project but he tends to overlook that the bomb was no social boon.

But war
makes the state efficient; Cowen seems to think, or at least to say. He feels that
Japan might wake up now that China is pressurising it with revenge for the
1930s in mind, but Western Europe lacks that sort of vital external threat.
That is why European states are so sluggish.
He seems to have forgotten the fact that they can tax so have no need to
earn their keep.

We are told
of three books by recent historians that make the case further: War! What is it Good For?(2014) Ian
Morris, War and Gold (2014) Kwasi
Kwarteng and War in
Human Civilisation
(2006) Azar Gat, the last cited on which Cowen feels the
two new books are both based on.

But Cowen
feels the main problem with all this is that war can be so much more
destructive today. This seems like Cowen himself is waking up to the weakness of his new shocking thesis.

So it is not
the useful as a means of getting out of economic stagnation that it used to be,
after all. Cowen feels that we are in a trade-off between more growth with war
in exchange for less growth with peace. This latter option brings Politically Correct things like
tolerance for minorities and sometime persecuted groups. Cowen reflects that
this might be the better result than more growth and war together might bring. He
somewhat returns to normality at the end of his article.

I think
Cowen is over impressed with the GNP in any case, just as he is with Keynes. A
lot that passes for economic growth looks like a misnomer, as adding the costs
of the funeral services of tragic victims of road accidents makes for a higher
GNP out of clear losses. Nearly every economics textbook lists some of the many anomalies with the meme of GNP.

War is
clearly an all-round risk to people that generally reverses economic well-being,
and that should be as clear to Cowen as is the nose on his face. As a critic of
economics rather than an economist, it seems to me that Cowen ought to attempt weigh
up, by opportunity cost, what the backward historians say rather than to accept
whatever happened as what best needed to
happen, at least to a far greater extent than he seems to have done.