Competing Law Enforcement That Breaks Down

Under what conditions might competing law agencies in a theoretical anarcho-capitalist (ancap) country without a monopoly law enforcement authority break down? We gain some insight by considering the real world case of immigrants who committed crimes being given sanctuary. The case background is this:

“An ICE detainer is a hold that federal immigration officials put on an illegal alien who has been arrested by local or state law enforcement asking that they turn the particular illegal alien over to them for arrest and deportation.

“Sanctuary jurisdictions like King County, refuse to hand criminally charged illegal aliens over to ICE agents.

“Over a 27-month period ending on December 30, 2017, King County freed hundreds of illegal aliens instead of turning them over to ICE for deportation. Nearly 290 of these illegal aliens taken into custody and then freed by King County officials had been charged with felonies such as homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, drugs, burglary, and fraud.”

This is a breakdown in law and order. The local authority refuses to give up apparent lawbreakers to the federal authority. These alleged criminals are free to travel anywhere in America. The non-enforcement of the sanctuary location affects the safety of non-sanctuary residents. The sanctuary obviously endangers its own residents, but they supposedly have endorsed this leniency. The odds are that they haven’t done so voluntarily, so that this case doesn’t fit the ideal ancap case in which people choose a protection company willingly.

The first key factor that causes the problem is a wide difference in assessing crimes and punishing them between two different authorities. This case shows that there can and will likely be wide differences in how aggression is defined and handled when it occurs, even when people choose their own protection agencies in an ancap world; or maybe even because they choose their own agencies to reflect their own beliefs about crime and punishment.

The second key factor is that the criminals in either the real or ancap world can travel and commit crimes outside the sanctuary jurisdiction. They could even commit crimes and then return to the sanctuary. This will lead the tougher law enforcers either to negotiate their surrender if they know who they are, or to pursue them into the jurisdiction of others; or to end up making war against the sanctuary enforcers if they resist handing over criminals and provide them with a safe haven.

It seems that a stable outcome with a minimum of warfare is enhanced if the jurisdictions are separated distinctly. This separation will prove economically costly by undermining trade and the division of labor, by raising law enforcement costs, by causing costs to maintain borders and separation, and by solidifying cultural differences. The laxer law enforcement areas may prove to be high crime areas, even parts of cities, where the police and citizens from the tougher enforcement areas find it unprofitable to go.

If the costs of separation become too high, the odds rise that a tougher law enforcement agency will take over or displace the weaker ones and reduce these costs. The result will be a government and a constitution. This process may help explain how states have formed and survived as monopoly suppliers of protection. As inefficient and rapacious as they can be, their benefit may be to lower costs of wars among groups with disparate ideas of law and order.

It’s a bad idea to coddle criminals, and it’s extremely disturbing to read of this case occurring in the Seattle region. This case may not be a perfect model of what would happen in a world of competing voluntarily-financed protection/justice agencies, but it does suggest that the ancap model is prone to some less than satisfactory results.

A weak state is one that has competing authorities within its borders and cannot maintain law and order over its territorial domain. Why is one state strong and another weak? Why may strong states sometimes devolve into weak states? Why does the U.S. federal government seem weak against the Seattle region? It’s because it’s quite costly to “invade” the area in order to enforce ICE arrests. Our system of law enforcement is predicated on a uniform allegiance to law and order, via a constitution; and when that uniformity is resisted or undermined by something like sanctuary for criminals, the enforcement costs rise steeply. We’re all the losers, even those of us outside the sanctuary areas.

Walter Block tells us that Murray Rothbard convinced him in 10 minutes of anarcho-capitalism. His argument was that if competition is superior for so many other goods and services, it would be superior in supplying protection services. Protection services can be subdivided into many separate functions, such as patrolling, detecting, apprehending and holding prisoner, etc. Competition will improve the production and quality of these services.

But we are considering here the definition of laws, courts, trials, crimes and punishments, among other things. If competition results in widely different systems for these, and if strict segregation of peoples adhering to them is not enforced, then severe problems are going to arise. It’s not clear that negotiation will solve them. It’s not clear that the costs of separation are going to be low enough to allow such separation to be feasible. In these cases, a monopoly supplier may emerge replete with constitution. The interesting thing about the Seattle case is that there is a challenge to the monopoly law on immigrant criminals. That challenge, which involves turning criminals loose, looks far from a good idea. It suggests that the ancap model has problems too.


8:26 pm on July 24, 2019