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Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘Privatization’

How Government-Owned Streets Prevent Effective Law Enforcement | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on September 16, 2020

In light of these considerations, the fact that riots are able to continue month after month would likely be impossible but for the institution of “public property.” If the streets where the mobs assemble were privately owned, assemblies that would likely result in property damage or even inconvenience for everyday people would be prevented from gathering together in the first place. Protestors blocking the streets, as well as the vehicle-protestor collisions resulting from them, would become a thing of the past.

This is yet another example of why the privatization of streets is of interest for reasons of police reform alone. (Indeed, riots themselves are partly responsible for the militarization of police.) The failure of government policing to secure the streets not only leaves us more vulnerable to criminal victimization, but government is worse than useless when they criminalize the private defense of property.

https://mises.org/wire/how-government-owned-streets-prevent-effective-law-enforcement?utm_source=Mises+Institute+Subscriptions&utm_campaign=4dbbce0cc8-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_9_21_2018_9_59_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8b52b2e1c0-4dbbce0cc8-228343965

“Your right to swing your arms ends where another person’s nose begins.” While this widely attributed quote sounds ostensibly libertarian in terms of respecting self-ownership, it’s actually quite misleading. One need not abide some lunatic swinging his arms about near one’s face, being forced to tolerate it as long as no physical contact is made. Rather, property owners may establish rules regarding the conduct of those who choose to enter their property, including prohibitions against swinging arms near other people’s faces. Individuals may then decide what rules they are willing to tolerate when they enter another’s property, and competition between property owners enables them to determine what bundle of rules various consumers prefer.

This is not the case on so-called public property—that is, land areas controlled by the state such as streets, roads, parks, government buildings—even if that state were perfectly constrained by a written constitution. In The Structure of Liberty, Randy Barnett articulates this problem well:

A society that includes extensive public property holdings is faced with what might be called a dilemma of vulnerability. Since governments enjoy privileges denied their citizens and are subject to few of the economic constraints of private institutions, their citizens are forever vulnerable to governmental tyranny. Therefore, freedom can only be preserved by denying government police agencies that right to regulate public property with the same discretion accorded private property owners. Yet steps to protect society from the government also serve to make citizens more vulnerable to criminally inclined persons by providing such persons with a greater opportunity for a safe haven on the public streets and sidewalks and in the public parks. (p. 220)

Barnett further notes that no one can be barred from public space controlled by the state; there is free access for everyone, even convicted criminals as long as they have served their sentences. Anyone must be tolerated up until the point they violate the criminal code. Some libertarians may think this is well and good since it limits the police’s authority to intervene. However, as Barnett explains, this leads to a tradeoff: we may be more free from arbitrary police enforcement, but we are also more vulnerable to victimization. Such constitutional constraints are not only restrictions on the police, but on everyone else as well: rules that would be enforced if public property were in the private domain cannot be enforced by private actors.

In this sense, on public property the rules of conduct are socialized. The unpleasantries of witnessing activities that might otherwise be prohibited on private property (depending on the intended purpose of that property), such as solicitation, panhandling, or protesting, must be tolerated on public property. The police are legally constrained in enforcing rules against such activities, as they are constitutionally protected or laws prohibiting them have been voided for vagueness by the US Supreme Court.

The manifestations of this problem are viscerally illustrated in the ongoing mostly peaceful protests/riots. While the US Supreme Court has opined that local governments can constitutionally impose some restrictions, such as requiring a permit if certain conditions are met, protestors are to be otherwise free to assemble, hold their signs, and chant. They are not free, however, to engage in the acts associated with rioting, such as vandalism, looting, and arson, among other crimes.

As such, protesting on public property is analogous to the supposed right of someone to swing their arms as long as they don’t hit someone in the face—it must be tolerated up to the point it becomes a riot. This presents a problem for police—they are prohibited from interfering with masses of people apparently peacefully assembling, but once those masses are assembled they are difficult to contain after they decide they want to hit another person’s nose by rioting.

Owners of shops and small businesses adjacent to the state-owned streets where mobs are allowed to gather are simply out of luck in terms of preventing such assemblies or receiving compensation from the state for failing to prevent such foreseeable consequences (though the lack of compensation may change if lawsuits in Seattle, among other cities, are successful). If violent mobs were allowed to assemble on private property with the similarly predictable outcome of the destruction of neighbors’ property, would we not consider the property owner who allowed it to be at least partially liable? Would it not also be reasonable for neighboring property owners to seek an injunction if this behavior continued night after night? A private property owner is not bound by the First Amendment to the US Constitution: they may exclude protestors no matter how peaceful they are.

In light of these considerations, the fact that riots are able to continue month after month would likely be impossible but for the institution of “public property.” If the streets where the mobs assemble were privately owned, assemblies that would likely result in property damage or even inconvenience for everyday people would be prevented from gathering together in the first place. Protestors blocking the streets, as well as the vehicle-protestor collisions resulting from them, would become a thing of the past. Property owners would be able to nip riots in the bud by preventing masses of people intent on rioting from assembling. There would be little need for masses of riot police, flanked by armored vehicles from war zones, staring down mobs of protestors, waiting for them to cross the line so that pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons can legally be unleashed on them.

This is yet another example of why the privatization of streets is of interest for reasons of police reform alone. (Indeed, riots themselves are partly responsible for the militarization of police.) The failure of government policing to secure the streets not only leaves us more vulnerable to criminal victimization, but government is worse than useless when they criminalize the private defense of property. “Taking back the streets” ought to mean privatizing them and enabling property owners to defend their property. This would be the surest way to end the riots.

Author:

Contact Tate Fegley

Tate Fegley is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh. 

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Progressives, the President, Privatization, and the Post Office – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on September 1, 2020

But just because post offices are authorized doesn’t mean that they are mandated. And nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the Post Office should have a monopoly on first-class mail like it currently has.

Privatizing the Post Office would merely shift the postal monopoly from the government to a government-privileged firm. Mail service should be freed, not privatized. As long as we have a Post Service, it should adjust its prices so that they have some relation to a valid business model that seeks to turn a profit. But regardless, the postal monopoly should be ended.

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2020/09/laurence-m-vance/progressives-the-president-privatization-and-the-post-office/

By

The latest spat between progressives and President Trump is over the Post Office.

The New York Times is all but accusing the president of withholding funds from the Post Office so as to undercut voting by mail, which he sees as being riddled with fraud. A spokesman for the Biden campaign put it this way:

The president of the United States is sabotaging a basic service that hundreds of millions of people rely upon, cutting a critical lifeline for rural economies and for delivery of medicines, because he wants to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely during the most catastrophic public health crisis in over 100 years.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was even more adamant: “I am not exaggerating when I say this is a life-and-death situation. The Post Office is delivering medicine to millions of Americans during a pandemic. It delivers Social Security checks to seniors who rely on those benefits to survive.” This, of course is nonsense, as is most of what Sanders says. Over 99 percent of Social Security payments are sent via direct deposit. And mail prescriptions only make up only 5.8 percent of the prescription drug market.

The Post Office has a problem, but the problem has existed since long before Trump was elected. The United States Postal Service (USPS) lost almost $9 billion last year. It has lost $83.1 billion since 2006. Its unfunded pension and health-care liabilities exceed $120 billion.

The Post Office has a pricing problem. Revenue from first-class mail—the biggest source of the USPS’s revenue—continues to decline even as labor costs continue to increase. Of the 142.6 billion pieces of mail that the Post Office handled in 2019, “53 percent was advertising material, a.k.a. junk mail, up from 48 percent in 2010.” And “companies pay a special rate, 19 cents apiece, to send these items (in bulk), as opposed to the 55 cents for a first-class stamp.”

But even if the Post Office raised its prices on all of its services other than first-class mail, it would still have a problem.

The Post Office is one of the federal government’s few departments that is clearly authorized by the Constitution. In Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 7, Congress is given the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.”

But just because post offices are authorized doesn’t mean that they are mandated. And nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the Post Office should have a monopoly on first-class mail like it currently has. As James Bovard has well said:

The Postal Service has gotten away with scorning its customers because it is effectively a federal crime to provide better mail service than the government. The Postal Service has a monopoly over letter delivery (with a limited exemption for urgent, courier-delivered letters costing more than $3).

According to U.S. Code, Title 39, Chapter I, Subchapter E, Part 310, Section 310.2, “Unlawful carriage of letters,”

(a) It is generally unlawful under the Private Express Statutes for any person other than the Postal Service in any manner to send or carry a letter on a post route or in any manner to cause or assist such activity. Violation may result in injunction, fine or imprisonment or both and payment of postage lost as a result of the illegal activity.

In the nineteenth century, private mail carriers in the United States were shut down by the federal government.

Monopolies are contrary to principles of economic freedom, competition, free markets, and free enterprise. But don’t take my word for it. The federal government has an Antitrust division in the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged with promoting “economic competition through enforcing and providing guidance on antitrust laws and principles.” According to the DOJ:

The goal of the antitrust laws is to protect economic freedom and opportunity by promoting free and fair competition in the marketplace.

Competition in a free market benefits American consumers through lower prices, better quality and greater choice. Competition provides businesses the opportunity to compete on price and quality, in an open market and on a level playing field, unhampered by anticompetitive restraints. Competition also tests and hardens American companies at home, the better to succeed abroad.

Federal antitrust laws apply to virtually all industries and to every level of business, including manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and marketing. They prohibit a variety of practices that restrain trade, such as price-fixing conspiracies, corporate mergers likely to reduce the competitive vigor of particular markets, and predatory acts designed to achieve or maintain monopoly power.

So where is the DOJ? The postal monopoly is now almost two centuries old.

Privatizing the Post Office would merely shift the postal monopoly from the government to a government-privileged firm. Mail service should be freed, not privatized. As long as we have a Post Service, it should adjust its prices so that they have some relation to a valid business model that seeks to turn a profit. But regardless, the postal monopoly should be ended.

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How Government Roads Expand Police Power in America | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on August 21, 2020

However, if unarmed traffic patrollers lack other police powers, such as the ability to warrantlessly search a vehicle, seize assets they believe may have been used in the commission of a drug crime, or engage in pretext stops, such a reform has the potential to result in positive outcomes for those who consider liberty to be important. A big question, though, is whether governments would be willing to forgo what has been such a large source of revenue, as well as one of their primary means of drug interception.

https://mises.org/wire/how-government-roads-expand-police-power-america

Advocates of a free society so frequently field the objection “Who will build the roads?” or some variation thereof that it’s become a meme. Much effort has been put into answering this question, including books on the privatization of roads and highways. What has received relatively little attention is what effect road privatization would have on the role of government police, which is surprising given the existing relationship between roads, police, and drivers.

Indeed, most of what police do is related to the road. According to the US Department of Justice’s most recent report on contacts between the police and the public, over half are traffic stops, and an additional 14.6 percent are in relation to traffic accidents. When not otherwise engaged, officers spend around 74 percent of their time engaged in patrol, typically in a car. Over 9 percent of arrests recorded in the 2018 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program data are for driving under the influence. Unfortunately, the UCR does not specify what percentage of the 1,147,050 drug possession arrests in 2018 were the result of searching vehicles, but there is little doubt that it was a significant portion. Making arrests based on pretext stops (the act of pulling someone over ostensibly for a minor traffic infraction in order to investigate some other crime, conduct a search, or to determine whether the vehicle’s occupants have any outstanding warrants) is considered good policing and is endorsed by the US Supreme Court. The long-running erosion of the right to be secure in one’s vehicle, as codified in the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, is well documented in Sarah Seo’s Policing the Open Road.

In addition, revenue from traffic citations can constitute an important source of municipal funding. One example (though definitely an outlier) is the town of Randolph, Missouri (pop. 47), which issued 3,132 traffic fines, collecting an estimated $148,000 of their $270,043 total revenue in 2009. Besides traffic citations, an additional source of revenue for police on the roads is civil asset forfeiture. The Texas town of Tenaha (pop. 1,100) had seized millions of dollars in forfeitures from traffic stops before being sued in 2009. Without the pretext of traffic stops, there would be many fewer opportunities for police to separate individuals from their cash and other possessions.

Based on these considerations, it would appear that the privatization of roads would be of interest for the purposes of police reform alone. In light of calls to “defund the police,” police activities on roads have received more attention. Economist Alex Tabarrok has suggested the “unbundling” of police from traffic enforcement:

The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a[n] unarmed agency. Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job – make road safety nice.

While such a reform certainly sounds like an improvement over the status quo, the question is to what degree it changes the practices above. On some margins, state agents fully dedicated to traffic enforcement may make things worse, particularly without changing the incentive governments have to milk drivers of funds. Pure traffic patrollers would be less expensive to train than sworn police officers, making it cheaper to put more of them on the road. They would not have to respond to the non-road-related calls that police officers are expected to handle, giving drivers less reprieve from their constant presence. Furthermore, there is little evidence that traffic enforcement significantly improves road safety anyway. But even if it did, there is still a tradeoff between road safety and other ends, such as arriving at one’s destination quickly. By getting in a vehicle, we demonstrate that we are not willing to sacrifice all other ends for that of safety.

However, if unarmed traffic patrollers lack other police powers, such as the ability to warrantlessly search a vehicle, seize assets they believe may have been used in the commission of a drug crime, or engage in pretext stops, such a reform has the potential to result in positive outcomes for those who consider liberty to be important. A big question, though, is whether governments would be willing to forgo what has been such a large source of revenue, as well as one of their primary means of drug interception.

Leaving the roads in the public domain, even if they are policed by nice traffic safety officers rather than the cops, still has a number of disadvantages related to traffic enforcement. The state still makes the rules, licenses the drivers, decides what insurance is required, and decides how rules are to be enforced. Because the roads are not privately owned and the payment and use of them are not voluntarily contracted, economic calculation is not possible. The government is in the dark in negotiating the aforementioned tradeoffs between safety and other ends. There is no competition between road providers that would prevent overzealous enforcement of traffic laws or the opposite. If roads (and other transportation infrastructure) were privatized, road entrepreneurs would seek the optimal tradeoff between safety and other ends, and consumers’ ability to choose different roads or means of transportation would enable this to occur.

Thus, even setting aside gains in efficiency or reductions in highway fatalities, the case for the privatization of roads has much to recommend it solely in terms of how it would affect the power of the police to detain us, search us, and seize our property.

Author:

Contact Tate Fegley

Tate Fegley is a Postdoctoral Associate at the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh. 

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Three Reasons Representative Democracy Doesn’t Work | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on July 20, 2020

https://mises.org/wire/three-reasons-representative-democracy-doesnt-work?utm_source=Mises+Institute+Subscriptions&utm_campaign=fea1b160e6-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_9_21_2018_9_59_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_8b52b2e1c0-fea1b160e6-228343965

In representative democracies, voters ostensibly control the state through the politicians they vote for. However, most representative democracies fall far short of this goal. Three of the reasons for the trouble are the problems of scale, bundling, and omission. I will explore these three problems below and argue that privatization and decentralization can ameliorate them.

Scale

The viability of meaningful political representation withers as the ratio of representatives to voters decreases. There are 435 members in the House of Representatives in a country of 328 million people. This means that each member “represents” an average of 755,000 people. How exactly does one person represent the federal legislative preferences of 755,000 diverse people? How do two senators embody the will of 600,000 Wyomingites, let alone all the Californians and Texans? Scale alone renders American democracy to a great extent meaningless, and yet this is almost never talked about.

Bundling

The second problem with representative democracy is the issue known as “bundling.” Suppose candidate Smith is running against candidate Jones. Smith has his policies, and Jones has his. But what if you, the voter, like some of Smith’s policies and some of Jones’s? There is no picking and choosing Smith’s position on issue X and Jones’s position on issue Y as there is at a buffet or at the supermarket (market institutions). We’re left with rigid, take-it-or-leave-it, package deals.  Walter Block contrasts the flexibility of the market with ham-fisted democracy:

The dollar vote occurs every day, the ballot box vote only every two or four years. The former may be applied narrowly, to a single product (e.g., the Edsel) while the latter is a “package deal,” an all or none proposition for one candidate or the other. That is, there was no way to register approval of Bush’s policies in areas 1, 3, 5 and 7, and for Clinton in 2, 4, 6, and 8. People were limited to choosing one or the other in the last presidential election.

In society outside the state (the market), no one can force you to pay for something you don’t want, or to go without something you’re willing to pay for. And the free rider problem has been addressed here.

Omission

The third problem can be called “omission.” Presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional elections typically revolve around only a handful of issues. But the state intervenes in nearly every aspect of our lives. If candidate Smith and candidate Jones spend their campaigns battling it out over, say, the income tax rate, environmental regulation, and school vouchers, who will “represent” the voters who care about the central bank, the welfare state, foreign policy, the debt, etc.?

Whenever the candidates agree on or simply ignore issues, as is necessarily the case for the vast majority of issues at stake in any given election, voting is largely useless in affecting these issues. At best, the citizen can vote for the candidate they hope will better address the ignored topic (in the event that it is addressed at all).

The problem of omission doesn’t just apply to controversial policies shunned by the bipartisan establishment. It applies to topics simply not interesting enough to be prominent on the campaign trail: volumes of arcane regulation, obscure federal agencies, military bases people don’t know exist in countries they’ve never heard of, etc.

What Is to Be Done? Privatization.

Notice how none of the above critiques mention lobbying, fraud, or corruption. Even if representative democracy were squeaky clean, it would be a mess. Then, what is to be done?

The first solution is privatization. Functions, resources, and perceived moral authority currently held by the state can instead be distributed among its competing institutions: the nuclear family, the extended family, the church, businesses, fraternal organizations, private schools and universities, clubs, charities, etc.

The critical difference is that adults only participate in these institutions voluntarily and to the extent that they choose to, in contrast to their interactions with the state (i.e., taxation, conscription). This freedom of association encourages detailed responsiveness on the part of these organizations toward the people who finance and sustain them.

Decentralization

Additionally, decentralization can ameliorate the unresponsiveness of the state by increasing accountability. The smaller (both in terms of geographic area and population) and more numerous the political units, the greater extent to which the rulers and the ruled are in the same boat.

If the political and bureaucratic decisions of Springfield are made by people living in DC, the decision-makers don’t need to live with the consequences of their own decisions to the same extent. But if all of Springfield’s political decisions are made in Springfield, the politicians and bureaucrats will have to lie in whatever bed they make. To a greater extent, if the rulers want to live well, their subjects have to live well.

Decentralization doesn’t just increase accountability. When a political unit is geographically smaller and less populous, the people within it are more likely to have similar worldviews, cultures, religions, languages, etc.

Where there are mosaics of many tiny states, each state can be closely tailored to the particular preferences of each locality without forcing distant and different peoples to live under the same rule. In contrast, enormous political units, by their sheer expansiveness, are more likely to encompass various bitterly opposed camps who will vie for zero-sum control of the same state apparatus.

Privatization and decentralization offer liberty, accountability, and harmony where the state offers phony representation and compulsion.

Author:

Gor Mkrtchian

Gor Mkrtchian is a research assistant at the Free Market Institute and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University. He received a BA in political science and theater studies from Yale University.

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Government Shutdown Is the Best-Ever Argument for Privatization | The Nestmann Group

Posted by M. C. on February 7, 2019

So, if you enjoy being groped by TSA screeners, you’ll love dealing with the bureaucrats that will administer Medicare for all and free college. And you’ll enjoy paying their salaries with higher taxes even more. Have fun!

https://www.nestmann.com/government-shutdown-is-the-best-ever-argument-for-privatization

By Mark Nestmann

I was starting to feel sorry for the 800,000 federal employees who hadn’t received paychecks for more than a month. Then Donald Trump caved to the Democrats and ended the government shutdown last week.

There’s now a bipartisan effort in Congress to enact a law that would make government shutdowns less likely. But I have a much better and more permanent solution: privatize most of the functions that Uncle Sam’s intrepid bureaucrats perform.

Take the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), for instance. A big reason Trump ended the shutdown was that so many TSA employees had called in sick that flight delays were becoming intolerable. That wouldn’t have happened if the government hadn’t been in the airline security business.

Not that it’s doing an especially good job. In 2015, the TSA sent undercover agents to dozens of America’s largest airports to test security protocols. Shockingly, the agents were able to smuggle fake explosives or weapons through security checkpoints 95% of the time. The TSA failed in 67 out of 70 tests.

Two years later, the TSA tried again. The good news is that the failure rate fell from 95% to 70%. The bad news is … well, a 70% failure rate is nothing to celebrate.

One reason is the TSA performs so poorly is that the politicians in charge of our national security believe catering to lobbyists is more important than security.

Consider the saga of the Rapiscan scanner. Read the rest of this entry »

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Don’t Like Public Monuments?

Posted by M. C. on August 18, 2017

Sell the monuments, let them be displayed on private property

As with most things, the government should get out of the monument business.

https://www.lewrockwell.com/2017/08/ryan-mcmaken/dont-like-public-monuments/

https://mises.org/blog/privatize-public-monuments

Thus, in a sense, when approaching the problem of government monuments and memorials, we encounter the same problem we have with public schools. Whose values are going to be pushed, preserved, and exalted? And, who’s going to be forced to pay for it?

This problem is further complicated by the fact that these views change over time. Read the rest of this entry »

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