At Least Private Police Would Have an Incentive to Act

By: John Kennedy

Following the tragic events of Uvalde Texas, the whole country saw a disgusting act of senseless killing, and the police waiting outside as it unfolded. This article has a purpose to discuss police ineffectiveness in situations where they’re expected to serve and protect, and how private police companies are superior to government funded police departments. 

Prices: Providing Incentives

Thomas Sowell wrote in “Basic Economics” (p.59) how prices lead people to take more risks as they have an incentive to make profit. He writes:

When a Spanish blockade in the sixteenth century tried to starve Spain’s rebellious Antwerp into surrender, the resulting high prices of food within Antwerp caused others to smuggle food into the city. However, Antwerp authorities decided to solve the high food prices by laws fixing the maximum price to be charged for given food.

These price controls may have lowered the cost of food artificially, but it then caused a shortage within the city, as the smugglers would not risk their lives and freedoms for a low price incentive.

 Humans naturally run on incentives, and if one takes risk or puts in time, labor or some other form of action, they will expect  a reward. This rewards can vary, but it is more often than not some form of currency that is accepted by society as the medium of exchange, such as money. However public entities do not give out bills to people who use their services, at least not directly, as citizens pay through state or federal taxes for public services. 

In fact, the official webpage of the Uvalde Office of Finance shows that the police budget from 2018-19 is just shy of $4.1 million out of the city’s budget of $24 million. However, Bloomberg News states that the Uvalde Police Department takes up 40 percent of the budget. 

Despite this, the impersonal funding of the police department through taxation was not enough incentive for the officers to take action, the department does not rely on upfront prices for its very existence as they will always get funded, even if they fail in times where it matters most.

 In Uvalde Texas, according to a CNN timeline, the shooter entered the building at 11:33 am, and only at 12:50 did the police enter the classroom with a key and kill the suspect. However, the police were also in the school much earlier, as the timeline states. “The officers entered the building more than an hour before the shooter was killed.” Some have claimed that since the shooter supposedly barricaded himself in a classroom, the standard procedures were different, but the official Uvalde PD active shooter manual says differently in this case. The manual states the priority of life is first of innocent civilians in the area and that the officers must either isolate, distract, or neutralize the attacker.

The manual explains on how to handle barricaded suspects, “If an officer forces an attacker into a room or area where they are isolated, cannot escape, and can do no more harm to students, staff, or visitors, the officer is not obligated to enter the room to deal with the attacker.” Ignoring the obvious lack of obligation to neutralize a shooter, it was found out that the classroom the shooter was locked inside of still had at least one child in it, which meant the officer was still obligated to engage the shooter.

 Just as smugglers entered the blockaded Antwerp, private police would have more incentive to enter the school and stop the shooter, not only because of prices and morality, but because of competition.

Competition and Incentives

Competition is one of the most important aspects of a free market, as it provides an incentive for a business to provide the best service or product at the best price and quality. Economist Ludwig Von Mises noted on competition “The free market is not a struggle to defend one’s own life against predators but a competition over who can be the best cooperator, over who can benefit the most people.” The current system of state or public funded policing, creates a monopoly over not only law enforcement, but of safety as well. 

The citizens of Uvalde have no other option other than the now loathed state-run Uvalde police department. At least if there were competing police companies and a particular company refused to help those children in the school, the Uvalde residents could have the freedom of choice and go to that company’s competitors and leave the other underperforming business out of business.

A good example involves Cornelius Vanderbilt’s steamboat company. Burton Folsom explains the story of Vanderbilts steamboat company in his book, “The Myth of The Robber Barons.” During Vanderbilts time (1806-1815) Robert Fulton owned a government regulated and subsidized steamboat company that carried its passengers up and down the Hudson River. 

However, travel was expensive and competing with this government monopoly was illegal, but Vanderbilt did it anyway, he would make his own steamboat company and carry passengers for a low price. Eventually, the price for Vanderbilt’s steamboat would be $0, as he instead opted to sell products on board the ship to make profit. 

Truly an ingenious idea that benefited everyone!

 This is the point of a free market, competing companies trying to deliver the best product to its customers. But of course, people will have questions, what if the police company forms a cartel and raises prices for consumers and businesses? Economist Murray Rothbard talked about voluntary cartels businesses formed, and looking at the facts many of these cartels after six to nine months started to fall apart. Rothbard talks about the biggest enemy to cartels, undercutting, Rothbard notes railroad cartels “These guys are restricting production, rates are up, let me start undercutting them a little bit and I can pick up all that business.”

 Rothbard continues on how this will be done in secrecy because once competitors know you broke the cartel price, the advantage will be lost and they will start doing the same thing and the cartel breaks down in hatred. In the end, the only cartels that are able to last, are government cartels like the police department.

Conclusion

Through prices and competition, private police will have an actual incentive to provide you the service of safety and upholding rights. If news gets out of brutality against a suspect or violation of rights of a suspect by a private company, consumers will be more willing to go with their competitor. While some may complain about prices being paid, prices are meant to be prohibitive so that you will think before you buy, and at least this way you have a freedom to choose and when you do call the police, they’ll be there faster since their company’s existence relies on you, the customer. 

Remember that state-provided police are not free either. In the fiscal year 2021, the U.S. Government spent $71.9 billion on policing and prisons and in 2019 that number was $205 billion. How can we spend this much money, of taxpayer money, on an organization that will not stop a school shooter? We do not even have the freedom to choose where our tax money goes, let alone have competing police companies, this is the true change needed in the problem of policing.

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