I apologize for the extended delay between posts. Personal (newborn) and professional priorities have prevented me from having the free time I once had. Unfortunately posts will probably continue to be sporadic until things settle down a little.
We are now at Part 4 in the multi-part series delving into the urbanist-friendly ideas in Murray Rothbard’s classic For a New Liberty. (available free from Mises.org as pdf, web page, and audio book) In case you missed them, here are the first three parts:
As we continue through Chapter 11 of For A New Liberty, Rothbard continues to make valid points regarding safety and policing in a fully private-landowner system. This passage is notably interesting in its discussion of the successes of private railroads. Whether competition in the private street market would create a vibrant marketplace similar to the early days of the railroad is an interesting topic for discussion. I’d tend to agree with Rothbard, but of course some imagination is required to envision such a radically different society:
There is of course nothing new or startling in the principle of this envisioned libertarian society. We are already familiar with the energizing effects of inter-location and inter-transportation competition. For example, when the private railroads were being built throughout the nation in the nineteenth century, the railroads and their competition provided a remarkable energizing force for developing their respective areas. Each railroad tried its best to induce immigration and economic development in its area in order to increase its profits, land values, and value of its capital; and each hastened to do so, lest people and markets leave their area and move to the ports, cities, and lands served by competing railroads. The same principle would be at work if all streets and roads were private as well. Similarly, we are already familiar with police protection provided by private merchants and organizations. Within their property, stores provide guards and watchmen; banks provide guards; factories employ watchmen; shopping centers retain guards, etc. The libertarian society would simply extend this healthy and functioning system to the streets as well. It is scarcely accidental that there are far more assaults and muggings on the streets outside stores than in the stores themselves; this is because the stores are supplied with watchful private guards while on the streets we must all rely on the “anarchy” of government police protection. Indeed, in various blocks of New York City there has already arisen in recent years, in response to the galloping crime problem, the hiring of private guards to patrol the blocks by voluntary contributions of the landlords and homeowners on that block. Crime on these blocks has already been substantially reduced. The problem is that these efforts have been halting and inefficient because those streets are not owned by the residents, and hence there is no effective mechanism for gathering the capital to provide efficient protection on a permanent basis. Furthermore, the patrolling street guards cannot legally be armed because they are not on their owners’ property, and they cannot, as store or other property owners can, challenge anyone acting in a suspicious but not yet criminal manner. They cannot, in short, do the things, financially or administratively, that owners can do with their property.
Furthermore, police paid for by the landowners and residents of a [p. 205] block or neighborhood would not only end police brutality against customers; this system would end the current spectacle of police being considered by many communities as alien “imperial” colonizers, there not to serve but to oppress the community. In America today, for example, we have the general rule in our cities of black areas patrolled by police hired by central urban governments, governments that are perceived to be alien to the black communities. Police supplied, controlled, and paid for by the residents and landowners of the communities themselves would be a completely different story; they would be supplying, and perceived to be supplying, services to their customers rather than coercing them on behalf of an alien authority.
A dramatic contrast of the merits of public vs. private protection is provided by one block in Harlem. On West 135th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues is the station house of the 82nd Precinct of the New York City Police Department. Yet the august presence of the station house did not prevent a rash of night robberies of various stores on the block. Finally, in the winter of 1966, fifteen merchants on the block banded together to hire a guard to walk the block all night; the guard was hired from the Leroy V. George protection company to provide the police protection not forthcoming from their property taxes.1
The most successful and best organized private police forces in American history have been the railway police, maintained by many railroads to prevent injury or theft to passengers or freight. The modern railway police were founded at the end of World War I by the Protection Section of the American Railway Association. So well did they function that by 1929 freight claim payments for robberies had declined by 93%. Arrests by the railway police, who at the time of the major study of their activities in the early 1930s totaled 10,000 men, resulted in a far higher percentage of convictions than earned by police departments, ranging from 83% to 97%. Railway police were armed, could make normal arrests, and were portrayed by an unsympathetic criminologist as having a widespread reputation for good character and ability.2 [p. 206]
Of course, those who embrace a government monopoly on policing would proclaim privatization would result in some kind of privately-run police-state, but let’s examine a few examples in today’s society. In the comments of a recent post, Benjamin Hemric and I discussed some examples of privately-run pedestrian environments. Here’s what we came up with:
- shopping malls
- outdoor lifestyle centers
- theme parks
- sidewalks in gated communities
- pedestrian bridges between buildings (such as Minneapolis’ Skybridge System)
- pedestrian tunnels (such as Chicago’s Pedway)
- accessible building lobbies that act as pedestrian thoroughfares (example: AT&T Corporate Center / USG Building in Chicago, and Helmsley Building in Midtown Manhattan)
- college campuses
- private streets and alleys such as Washington Mews in Greenwich Village and Shubert Alley in New York’s theater district
- master-planned developments such as Rockefeller Plaza (the street, not the sunken plaza)
You may have noticed that while some of these are examples of environments where exclusivity is maintained by the owner, most are examples of privately secured pedestrian environments that are accessible to anyone, without charge. Private operators are keenly interested in maintaining the safety of the streets for their customers or tenants. No mall owner would stay in business too long if its mall earned a reputation of muggings. Had Rothbard written a later edition, he may had mentioned shopping malls. As I mentioned in a previous post, it seems clear that dense, vibrant, mixed-use places are very well equipped to police themselves at little cost to the residents and business owners. Thus, wouldn’t a private society tend towards vibrant urbanity?
I think it would be interesting to discuss other examples of privately policed environments. What examples can you think of?
At the same time, it seems that the most unsafe places I can think of are publicly maintained. Am I missing something, or does it seem obvious once we take the time to think it over?
1. See William C Wooldridge, Uncle Sam the Monopoly Man (New Rochelle, N Y Arlington House, 1970), pp 111ff.
2. See Wooldridge, op. cit., pp 115-17. The criminological study was made by Jeremiah P Shalloo, Private Police (Philadelphia Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1933). Wooldridge comments that Shalloo’s reference to the good reputation of the railway police “contrasts with the present status of many big-city public forces, sanctions against misconduct are so ineffective or roundabout that they may as well not exist, however rhetorically comforting the forces’ status as servants of the people may be.” Wooldridge, op. cit., p 117.