Why Is Federal Funding of the Police State Bad?

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Barry Township, Michigan is up in arms against its local police. One method of control of any organization, police included, is to control its resources, that is, the money that pays for salaries, equipment, buildings and everything else. This means controlling its access to funds. It means controlling the financing of the organization. Any organization can be controlled through controlling its means of finance, because every organization requires financing (more broadly, resources) to keep going.

Conversely, when an organization succeeds in laying its hands on resources or finance independently from control, it gains the upper hand. The police state can be partially controlled by local people cutting off its funds obtained through towns and cities. This is an imperfect means because the town, city or county fathers may use their taxing power on behalf of police with few strings attached. But my point is that control is even more attenuated when police obtain funds and resources independently of the local governments altogether; and police departments across America are getting independent funding in several ways.

Police departments gain resources by seizing assets in forfeiture procedures. This is one source of funds independent of taxes. They get equipment from the federal government, a second source. One estimate puts the amount at $34 billion since 2001. Third, there are other training programs and grants available. The further away from local hands that the funding gets, such as at the state and federal levels, the lower the local control gets and the more that the police state takes root independently of local control.

State and federal funding of anything is a very, very bad idea for the same reason, which is that local people lose control of their own resources. All resources get pooled at higher levels and then are distributed by government officials. When specific sources of funds go to specific uses of funds, that is a way to assure control of those uses. But when higher levels of government pool all the sources and allocate them to uses as they see fit, that control vanishes in favor of funding for the benefit of political and economic interests. State and federal funding is a means by which governments control citizens and simultaneously entrench themselves and their allied political and economic supporters. It is a way for interest groups to gain control over taxes and citizens.

State and federal funding have been sold to the public by making them seem like free lunches, by appealing to the idea of equality, and by claiming that they rationalize otherwise disparate and/or inadequate support. But there are no free lunches. Equality of every school district, every hospital, every fire department, every social welfare agency, and every police department is a terrible goal. There are several reasons. One is that the attempts to achieve equality are by brute force, by the extraction of taxes, and by central bureaucratic decisions. These attempts cannot even measure equality, and they end up resorting to arbitrary statistical measures. Such attempts suppress freedom. These attempts at leveling destroy incentives for local improvements and they remove local funding and control. They impose a uniform pattern of what some bureaucrats and experts wish to impose, not what different localities may prefer. The “rationalization” that results from state and federal funding actually means uniformity, and uniformity is not rational. Localities vary both in wealth and preferences, and towns supply services accordingly. They vary for a host of reasons, many of which come back to individual choices of location, occupation, family size, culture, and much else. The attempts to homogenize disparate measures of anything, as defined by experts, is bound to suppress and render useless a wide range of individual choices. Freedom must be destroyed in these attempts to achieve equality by use of federal and state funding. Taxing and then spreading the wealth while applying state and federal control and standards is bound to produce anything but a free country. Federal funding is antithetical to local control, which is bad enough, but it is also antithetical to freedom, which is even worse.

The doctrine of equality is a way for statists to justify the state; for if justice is defined as equality and since the state dispenses justice, then it follows that the state’s aggressions are valid. If one buys into the idea that justice requires equality and the idea that the state is the monopoly supplier of justice, then unlawfulness and aggressions in furtherance of equality are seen as right and praiseworthy. Wrong becomes right! This erroneous syllogism shows that it is erroneous to equate justice with equality in a general sense.

Local government is no panacea. Corruption at local levels and misuse of local government are common, but the problems are easier to recognize and deal with the more that the public is able to control the sources of funds being transmitted to specific uses, that is, specific departments and activities.

In the case of the rising police state, federal funding and programs emanating from the Department of Homeland Security have been a key factor in its rise. More generally, federalization, federal control and federal funding have been occurring for decades in all the cabinet level areas: “Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.”

There have been many proposals for even more such fiefdoms. The proposals are amazing:
Public Welfare, Natural Resources, Urban Affairs, Community Development, Human Resources, Economic Development, International Trade, Environmental Protection, Global Development, Culture, Business, and Intelligence. Most of these are already activities within the federal government, even if not separate cabinet-level departments. Sooner or later, someone will propose Climate Change or Climate Control as a candidate.

Any people who have a form of government in which they cannot at their pleasure control the funding of specific activities undertaken by their government cannot be said to be a people in control of their government. By this criterion, federal funding moves people further away from being in control of their government. One of the manifestations of this lack of people control is the rising police state, which can in part be traced back to federal funding and also to federal laws that allow forfeiture, which has become a powerful source of funding when combined with the federal war on drugs.

11:02 am on June 15, 2014