Socialist Defense Is a Disaster

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What we have now is socialized defense. Could private defense be any worse?

Private defense means either that you choose a privately-owned and operated defense company for your defense services, or else you join a voluntary defense association. It means either you hire the defense company you want or join the association you want. You pay directly for the service or create the service with others. You can change from one defense company or association to another as you will or as you have committed through contract. You, the consumer of defense services, have choice in the defense services.

Private defense means there are several or many defense companies or associations to choose from. They are rivals for your patronage or business. They want your business. That makes them customer oriented. They want to provide you the services you want at a price you are willing to pay.

Companies that are rivals in business hold down costs. They don't spend money on defense services that their customers do not want. If they do, their competitors can undersell them and take away their customers.

As rivals they are under competitive pressure to innovate. They keep seeking to provide better and better defense services at lower and lower costs. They place pressure on those companies that supply them with resources, equipment, and manpower. They recruit and train their own personnel efficiently.

Private defense means that you the customer or association member know exactly how much you are paying for the defense services or what services you are contributing.

Private defense means that there is a market for defense services. Markets provide differentiated products. Defense in Seattle differs from defense in Atlanta. Local wants get satisfied to the extent possible.

Private defense in a market that is free allows for cooperation of defense companies if such cooperation is what provides an efficient delivery of services. Companies can compete and cooperate at the same time. If companies decide to share risks to engage in big projects, they can. If they decide that some aspects of defense are usefully done by a pooled or large-scale geographical effort, they can do that. In a market with companies and associations, the scope for various arrangements enlarges even more.

Private defense is flexible defense. Market discipline produces flexible responses to changing conditions and changing wants.

Private defense in a market causes companies to respond to changing conditions and wants more quickly. The more alert that a company is to such changes, the more profitable it can be by responding more quickly.

Private defense in a free market allows for entry of new companies and associations at any time and any place to any set of customers and while offering any new or improved services. Existing companies and associations go downhill at times. They sometimes become bureaucratized and unresponsive. Their organizations sometimes become outmoded. They may fail to keep up technically. New companies and associations can enter and bypass these issues.

If a private defense company engages in an unnecessary battle or war, it loses money. If it defends its customers badly, it loses them. The company that makes poor decisions loses out in the market.

With private defense companies, what the customers want by way of defense drives out what the customers do not want. In that sense, good defense drives out bad defense.

The main alternative to private defense organizations is what we have now, which is public defense or government defense.

Government defense is socialized defense. It is collectivized defense.

Socialized defense means that there is a single supplier of defense services: the national government. It is the monopoly supplier. All the benefits of the rivalry of accountable companies vanish.

Every single benefit noted above about private defense goes into reverse when we talk about government defense. Everything good about private defense becomes bad with government defense.

You do not get to choose your defense options. You have no role in shaping those services. You must take them. You can't leave them. You must pay by taxes. The tax system is so complex and there are so many different taxes that you don't know how much you are paying for defense. There is no connection between what you pay and what you receive.

There is no price system in a collective defense system. The government is not attempting to create value for customers. The von Mises critique applies. The government has no way of knowing if it's creating defense value or not, even if it wanted to.

The word "defense" applied to the government's military operations is actually a misnomer. Government defense is accomplished by government force. The government takes resources from the population by force. Taxation is a forcible taking. Taxpayers are not customers or willing joiners of associations.

Satisfying customer wants for defense is not the objective of socialized defense. The system is not organized that way.

The objectives of socialized defense are (1) a strong State that projects power beyond its borders, (2) using the military power at opportune times and in opportune ways so as to glorify the State, to maintain power, and to get elected, (3) a set of military and industrial bureaucracies and companies that benefit from the wealth diverted to them, (4) satisfactions to those who idolize the State, war, violence, military toys, and military matters, and (5) satisfactions to those who harbor various hatreds that these institutions gratify, even if vicariously.

Defense is not among the objectives of socialized defense. Again, the term defense as applied to government defense is really inappropriate. It is stretching the language even to say that the voters or citizens or inhabitants of a country with government defense are "recipients" of defense services.

There have been times in American history when a good part of the population engaged in peace movements that influenced the parties and the rhetoric of candidates. However, once an administration takes office, even on a platform of peace, it typically finds ways to move the country toward greater militarization and war. It does this in the name of defense, but, for the third time, government defense is not defense.

There have even been periods of American history when warfare was not a major preoccupation of the government. However, these periods were times of preparation for future wars. In 21st century America, war is now the norm. Peace is an aberration.

It should not be thought that choosing between the two political parties in America is in any way comparable to the customer choice of a private defense company. In theory, these two processes are worlds apart. In practice, neither party champions defense. Each party shares the objectives of socialized defense listed above, and they exclude defense.

Consider, for example, America a few years back. This was a nation that had turned against the Iraq War. This preference didn't matter. Government defense always finds another place, another enemy, and another war.

If the average American in the capacity of voter had looked into the matter in 2006 or 2007 or 2008, he or she would have known that the Democrats were planning to expand the war in Afghanistan while promising a lower profile in Iraq. Their policy papers and think tanks were recommending this. Their main candidates were saying this.

Hillary Clinton called Afghanistan "the forgotten front line in the war on terror." She said “NATO officials [are] predicting that the country could fall back to the Taliban in six months.” And: “The stakes are unbearably high for Afghanistan, for Pakistan, for the country’s northern neighbors in central Asia, for the reach of Al Qaida and for our own credibility and leadership.”

Barack Obama on August 1, 2007 said of Afghanistan "Our troops have fought valiantly there, but Iraq has deprived them of the support they need — and deserve…as President, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to reinforce our counterterroism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban." In 2008, again and again he repeated this and more. For example, on July 20, 2008, he mentioned sending "two additional brigades, maybe three," and he added "this [Afghanistan] has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism."

Socialized defense means that half of the country doesn't get the defense it wants but is forced to pay for this defense that it doesn't want. The CNN polls in 2006 and 2007 asked Americans "Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan?" Half favored it and half opposed it. The half that opposed it still had to pay for it. No one actually knew what they were paying or what they were getting in return.

The Gallup polls asked a similar question in a way that linked Afghanistan to 2001. The result was a more favorable response to the war. Gallup asked "Thinking now about U.S. military action in Afghanistan that began in October 2001: Do you think the United States made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan, or not?" In 2007 and 2008, 63 to 70 percent of those polled said it was not a mistake.

This linkage persists. In a Gallup poll taken after reports of bin Laden's death, 59 percent say that "the U.S. has accomplished its mission in Afghanistan and should bring its troops home." A decision on that is slated for this coming July. At present, Hillary Clinton has declared "We must take the opportunity to redouble our efforts…we will continue to take the fight to al Qaeda and its Taliban allies." She doesn't pay attention to polls. That was also true when she was the architect of her infamous health care plan.

Obama, her boss, reads polls. He has said that he'll withdraw some troops starting in July. That's what his right hand will be doing. His right hand will get headlines. Meanwhile, his left hand will be keeping the U.S. in Afghanistan. He said that too.

If the U.S. government didn't have the constitutional powers it has in the military arena, could private defense be any worse? It's highly unlikely. Even if the country had stayed with the Articles of Confederation, we would have been better off.

Who has a convincing argument that private defense will not be better? Where is that argument? What is that argument? Who has a convincing argument that socialized defense is superior to private defense? Who with clear and unbiased vision can argue that the historical record is consistent with a superior or even well-performing provision of defense by the national government?

There are a good many obstacles to moving from government defense to private defense. Ignorance of private defense as an alternative is an important obstacle.

There are also deeper religious-philosophical problems. I'd like to speculate about one of these.

When it comes to government (and a great deal more than that), most Americans have self-enslaved themselves. They view what is around them, be it the society or the state, as objective realities that are of a higher order than their own personalities or spirits. They look upon government as not only dominant over them but as primary. They behave in a subordinate way. Indeed, many Americans actually idolize the State.

But of course the State is not a living being. It doesn't breathe, eat, or think. It has no emotions. It has no personality. It is not a creative being. The State is a creation of living personalities. Therefore, it is not primary. It is secondary. It is only in a secondary or derivative role that we recognize its reality, which is as a coercive body.

When we are coerced, other people are coercing us. There is nothing there in the State that should be idolized or even can be idolized. There are only other people behind the curtain.

It is no reason to accept government defense because the government is thought to be higher than any of us individually in rank, or quality, or importance, because it isn't. To do so is to subordinate one's own personality to those of others. This is self-enslavement. The government's reality is actually secondary to our own reality.

The primary reality remains in you as a person and in your capacity to choose. The important primary reality in life and in the human being is something invisible or subjective. It is not material (or flesh) but spirit. This is a very difficult thing for most of us to comprehend because reality seems to be everywhere in the flesh.

Private defense means that you retain choice. You become important. You are primary. You reduce the importance that you have given to government. By giving it that importance, we have constructed a kind of reality that appears to us as superior to ourselves. This is a reality that government otherwise could not have, since it is not a living being.

Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.

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