An Inevitable Bog

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Let’s just say the postal system were private, and delivering packages of anthrax to government offices. Imagine, then, how dramatically different the spin would be. The carrier companies would be catching hell for not having the proper security measures in place, and for obviously "putting profits ahead of safety." All political pressure would be for nationalizing the mails. Surely this is the only way to assure total protection!

But, of course, the post office has always been nationalized, before Nixon renamed it an "independent" government-chartered faux-corporation to lose more money than ever. Has government involvement in the mails protected anyone from infection? No. Does the post office have any system in place to assure its customers it is not delivering packages laced with disease? No.

If the mails were private, companies would compete on speed, price, and even safety. You might be loathe to open anything from a disreputable company. But under the present system, there is only one supplier. On certain types of packages, consumers have no choice but to send and receive using the government’s service, which offers no guarantee of anything.

Precisely because it is a government operation, the post office isn’t on the hot seat, just as the government’s failure to provide security wasn’t blamed for 9-11. There’s this absurd presumption that government is always better at providing security than the market, and when the government proves to be terrible, the presumption is that any system would have failed under the circumstances, but that government failed less than others would have. What a leap of faith!

Here’s a concrete example of market-provided security — based in the use and defense of private property — that relates directly to 9-11. On July 6, 1954, back before the FAA decided to prevent pilots from being armed, an armed teenager forced his way onto an American Airlines DC-6, with 58 passengers on board, on the tarmac at Cleveland airport. When it became clear that he had every intention of hijacking the plane, the captain, William Bonnell of Fort Worth, Texas, took out his little .380-caliber Colt and blasted him. (The story appears in the Houston Chronicle)

The story had no real impact at the time, just as robberies prevented by private gun ownership never make the news. That’s the way the market provision of security works: it means routine checking for every contingency. We lock our houses and cars even when we feel no grave threat that we will be robbed. We have alarm systems on our houses, maybe only because it means lower insurance rates. Even grocery stores use monitors in parking lots and store aisles, not because the management believes thieves and hoodlums are everywhere, but just to be on the safe side.

That’s the market at work, which is not to say that market provision of security is perfect. The key difference between it and government is that it responds to violations of property and to the threat of such violations with proactive measures. It has every incentive to do so. The most the government can do is to keep issuing its preposterous demands for us to go on "the highest state of alert" — with no other information and no attempt to assess the reliability of whatever "intelligence" they claim to have.

[Note: What the heck is this "highest state of alert" anyway? To hear the Justice Department talk, you'd think the entire nation had been through drills and learned all the proper responses. Instead of helping us prepare for attacks, then, the government denies us information that might actually help (if such information exists).]

Bizarre is the only way to describe the proposals to put government in charge of security at airports. If the post office has no means of preventing the delivery of disease, and the government’s jails can’t keep out drugs, why would anyone believe the feds can improve the already federally supervised security at airports? The only real benefit will be for public-sector unions, who will recruit more dues-paying members, and for those who want to acculturate us to more regimentation.

Not only has the government botched the provision of security; it has botched the war. Whether it’s bombing Red Cross buildings and mud huts with civilians inside, inspiring people to emigrate to Afghanistan in order to fight, or failing to find Bin Laden (or even cough up indisputable evidence that he was involved), the war has so far been a typical government failure — not unlike the war on drugs.

No surprise that headlines in the US and the UK this week observe the same downtrend in public support for the war effort. Though support is still high, majorities are no longer willing to say that the war is going well, or predict that it will end well. As the stories in the New York Times and the London Observer have emphasized, the key is not the raw polling numbers but the trend, which suggests that public support is weakening.

Bin Laden is still at large, for one thing. And the status of the other nine on the FBI’s "most wanted" list doesn’t inspire confidence. Many of them have been at large for years, right here in the good old US of A. What makes anyone believe that the same government that can’t catch its own fugitives is going to nab characters like Bin Laden in some godforsaken hell between the border of China and the Caspian Sea?

There are always those who say that the reason for the failure is that government isn’t going far enough. We didn’t spend enough on welfare for the war on poverty, we haven’t cracked enough skulls during the war on drugs, we haven’t given public schools enough money in the war on illiteracy, and we haven’t dropped enough bombs or used enough troops in the war on terror.

In same way, after seventy-two years of Soviet socialism, you can still find ex-apparatchiks who say that socialism was never really given a chance. Some people will never give up their faith in power.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of LewRockwell.com.

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