Law Without Enforcement vs. Enforcement under Competition

Florida has a law against death threats, making it a third-degree felony. Lesser such stalking and harassment is a first degree misdemeanor. In the Parkland case, these laws apparently were not enforced, because police received 20 calls prior to the shootings “in the past few years”.

Parkland experienced law without police enforcement because its police are paid for by taxes and supplied in a monopoly through the town. The alternative is law with enforcement through competition.

Suppose that the citizens of a locality could select police/security services by themselves at their option. Suppose that the town did not tax them for police and hire a police force, as most do. Then companies offering police and security services become feasible. Competition arises. Policing companies then attempt to profit by supplying the kinds of services that consumers want. They enforce laws that consumers are willing to pay to have enforced.

The existing systems force consumers into a citizen-taxed collective in which the town has its own police force, a monopoly situation. A bunch of bad incentives set in. With financing of the police forcibly extracted from citizens, they find it costly to influence town officials to produce good policing. The town fathers find that they can get elected without having to work hard to supply good policing. Voters vote for them on a range of issues; they can’t and usually don’t single out the town’s management of policing as a single issue. Each voter knows that his single vote doesn’t count and has nil effect, and voters know that it’s costly to organize a group of like-minded people with a single objective like law enforcement. Police contribute to political campaigns and otherwise influence the town officials. Police unions resist control by town managers. Police and law enforcement become part of the town government, not subject to the market incentives. Most voters will not know what they’re paying for or getting in return in the government-run system. They won’t know what’s possible with competition because they’ve never experienced it in the area of law enforcement. They’ll only know that the quality and quantity of police services are both unsatisfactory.

Only if drastic lapses in police behavior occur, such as police brutality and rampant crime, might there arise pressures on police. Even then, they’ll remain within the government-monopoly system, whereby citizens are forced into a collective in which town fathers largely relinquish control over law enforcement to a police force that has a great deal of latitude in supplying enforcement of laws and consumer pressures are so diluted that they mostly don’t count.

Private law enforcement is a rapidly growing industry. It’s viable. It’s effective. It’s higher quality. Could a private company ignore multiple reports from its customers of death threats and still retain them as paying customers? Would it not have a profit incentive to respond quickly and effectively?

Such a company has incentives relating to citizen obedience of laws and gun control that town-controlled police do not. Private law enforcers lower their costs by inducing obedience to laws. They have an incentive to work with citizens to reduce crime. They will favor arming well-behaved citizens. They will favor disarming the bad actors. They will have the incentive to identify these two different groups, the law-abiders and the law-breakers; and they will have an incentive to promote the arming of the law-abiders and the disarming of the law-breakers.

There is an incentive problem with companies running prisons when their costs are paid by taxes. Their incentive is to extract more taxes. Their incentive is to stiffen laws so as to produce inmates. Their incentive is for costs of imprisonment to rise. These perverse incentives can be ended and reversed by companies that supply law enforcement competitively. If they supply imprisonment demanded by their customers, then they internalize the costs. They then have the incentive to control such costs. They have an incentive to supply rehabilitation and reduce time spent in prison.


5:57 am on February 21, 2018