The Quickest Route to Defense Privatization

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really enjoyed Lew's
great article
on LRC on our so-called defense in the United
States. After literally trillions of dollars dumped into the maw
of the Department of Defense and all its corollaries in the executive,
we still discover we can't defend ourselves adequately. This vast
testament to Mussolini-style state corporatism fails to address
the only primary role of a Federal government in the pre-1860 republic
— defense of the nation. The Founders, of course, gave us an avenue
to pursue in the Constitution that could open the door to privatizing
the heretofore unfathomable — the removal of the government monopoly
on violence. Many of the writers in British America commented on
the fact that militias, unlike professional armies, have a natural
aversion to imperialism and extraterritorial adventures. While the
militia solution has been widely discussed, letters of marque have
not. Read Article
1, Section 8, Clause 11
of the Constitution and you find a curious
and seemingly anachronistic passage that appears as dormant as the
Third Amendment. To wit:

11: To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and
make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

The problems of piracy and inadequate naval power plagued the young
Republic and letters of marque were an ingenious early adoption
of outsourcing. Most
of the literature demonstrates a very fine line between privateering
as a legal arm of the state and piracy as the converse image of
a thriving underground economy. The dearth of naval strength led
lawmakers to adopt more expedient means to combat both unsanctioned
piracy and to prevent the British and French from dragooning
US maritime manpower
on the high seas. From its birth to the
1850's, letters of marque remained in effect. Wendy
McElroy writes

On April
16, 1856, most of the major maritime powers signed an international
agreement called the Declaration Respecting Maritime Law –
more popularly known as the Declaration of Paris – which
abolished privateering. The United States declined to sign on
the grounds that its navy was so small that letters of marque
were required to bolster it during war. Without the letters the
United States would be at a disadvantage versus European nations
with large standing navies.

the Spanish-American War (1898), Spain and America – neither
of which was a party to the Declaration of Paris – agreed
to eschew privateering. It was not until the Hague Conferences
at the dawn of the twentieth century, however, that the United
States officially renounced the use of letters of marque and reprisal.
Thus, the term is antiquated in that it no longer applies to an
activity in practice.

Our Confederate
during the War of Northern Aggression adopted this
strategy to limited effect. At the turn of the twentieth century,
the practice disappeared. Ron Paul recently introduced a bill
to revive the practice in our current War Against a Tactic. A number
of LRC columnists have commented on this idea if you search the
archive. The importance of a renewal of this constitutional prerogative
by the US speaks not only to its efficacy but its value as model
for the eventual destruction of the government military monopoly
in America. Just as the separation
of school and state
causes most American minds to short-circuit,
so, too, the eventual dissolution of the state's stranglehold on
defense/protection functions is a hard pill for most to swallow.

Let's conduct a quick thought experiment. Suppose that Roosevelt
nationalized the production and delivery of all foodstuffs in the
US during the 1930's. He collectivized farms and everyone went to
Uncle Sam's instead of Safeway or Sam's Club. The lines were long,
the food was rarely of the quality it used to be and the Foodworkers
Union was the most powerful labor entity in the federal leviathan.
Fast forward to 2003 and picture a few timid souls politely suggesting
that maybe, just maybe, the free market could deliver more food
of higher quality at lower prices. All hell would break loose as
the paid mouthpieces of the Foodworkers Union, their lobbyists,
the Congress, the beltway media and the other usual suspects brayed
on about imminent starvation, market failure and the inability of
business to ensure the efficient production and delivery of food.
Polls would be taken and Americans would hold the majority opinion
that government is the only way to equitably distribute food. This
illuminates the difficulty of reacquainting Americans with the very
foundations that made the early republic so distinctly different
from the other statist enterprises around the globe.

This illustration is amusing but it certainly would pale in comparison
to selling the American public the idea that we could eventually
privatize national defense. The cracks are appearing:

  1. About
    35 corporations like Military
    Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI)
    are currently
    conducting outsourced functions for DoD and clients around the
    world. MPRI likes to boast it has more generals per square foot
    than the Pentagon. Unfortunately, the government-private sector
    alliance has tended to be a case study for Lord Acton's axioms.
    Von Mises' observations on bureaucratic expansion have also
    been validated when the Pentagon gets about a 35% increase in
    its budget ($400,000,000,000+) with active duty uniformed endstrengths
    remaining static and Brown & Root, et al., reaping the rewards.
  2. David
    has claimed there are 29,000 trigger-pullers in
    the US Army with a total of approximately 495,000 active-duty.
    This number is almost impossible to pin down because of the
    number of combat arms soldiers who are not in combat-related
    jobs. This translates to a tooth-to-tail ratio of about 17:1
    of support jobs to actual combatant duty. When you combine this
    with our present neo-imperialist commitments around the planet,
    the Victorian legions in the 19th century look positively
    flush with manpower. Something will have to give if Bush the
    Younger's ambitions extend beyond the present borders of Iraq.
    He doesn't have the uniformed manpower. While I would hope the
    dearth of manpower would put the brakes to his excellent adventures,
    Rummy's desperation may lead him to find more market-oriented
  3. Despite
    multi-million dollar bounties being posted, both Saddam and
    Bin Laden have yet to be captured, dead or alive. One of the
    reasons for the inability to even capitalize on this has been
    the bureaucratic morass and regulatory web that surrounds the
    issue of the bounty. No individual in other countries trust
    the United States government enough to think they can collect
    the bounty and keep their heads. Couple letters of marque with
    the power of the market and the chances are much better of capture
    dead or alive. The market will create the escrow accounts, contracting
    services and other tools needed to ensure an effective bounty
    system can work from start to finish.

The time is fast approaching when the choice won't be a luxury but
a necessity. The potential blowback to our current adventures overseas
will arrive at our shores sooner than later and the entire military
organization we currently employ is an offensive weapon with limited
defensive capability to defend continental America. The Cold War
is over but you wouldn't know it if you spent a day in the Pentagon.
Current fiscal policies of infinite debt restructuring, double-digit
increases in discretionary spending and the huge inevitable waste
of government programs will culminate in a day of reckoning after
which the duty of national defense will have to be privatized to
a growing extent.

10, 2003

Buppert [send him mail],
a retired Army officer, lives on a ranch in the Inland Northwest
with his wife and their three homeschooled children.


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