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An official protection racket

September 13, 2014

Matt Ridley gives us a lesson in the history of governments – think of it as Civics 101 – while he writes about the militarization of police in the United States. (My emphasis in the quote below.)

Government begins as a monopoly on violence
It’s an official protection racket

My Times column last week was on the historical roots of government: [...]

The deal implicit in being governed is at root a simple one: we allow the people who govern us to have an exclusive right to commit violence, so long as they direct it at other countries and at criminals. In almost every nation, if you go back far enough, government began as a group of thugs who, as Pope Gregory VII put it in 1081, “raised themselves up above their fellows by pride, plunder, treachery, murder — in short by every kind of crime”.

Was Canute, or William the Conqueror, or Oliver Cromwell really much different from the Islamic State? They got to the top by violence and then violently dealt with anybody who rebelled. The American writer Albert Jay Nock in 1939 observed: “The idea that the state originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical. It originated in conquest and confiscation — that is to say, in crime . . . No state known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose.” [...]

One of the great peculiarities of the United States is that it never quite managed to impose a state monopoly on powerful weaponry. The right to bear arms was a reaction to the presence of redcoats as an occupying army before 1783. The government got to own the tanks and aircraft carriers, but never pointed them at its own people, who were allowed to own guns much more freely than in other countries.

This is what makes the kit that the police displayed in Ferguson, Missouri, this month so alarming. With their camouflage uniforms, armoured vehicles and heavy-calibre machine guns, “law enforcement” cops looked less like a constabulary and more like an occupying army. In recent years, largely by exploiting the “war” on terror and the “war” on drugs, the American police have indeed been radically militarised.

In 2013 the United States Department of Homeland Security set out to buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition for law enforcement, some of it hollow-point — that is to say, forbidden by international law for use in war. That’s enough to shoot the entire population five times over. The US government has armed many of its agencies, from the Social Security Administration to the Internal Revenue Service to the Department of Education to the Bureau of Land Management, even the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Like watching your sister’s kids go to pot

September 10, 2014

The more news I read from Venezuela, the more anti-socialist (or anti-statist, if you prefer) object lessons I see.

Venezuela Set To Import Oil

The management acumen of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro continues to amaze. Reuters:

Algeria is in talks to export crude oil to fellow OPEC member Venezuela, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi said on Tuesday, confirming a Reuters report. [...]

“Yes, we are in talks,” Yousfi told Reuters when asked whether Algeria was planning to export crude oil to Venezuela. He declined to provide details.

More details come care of the Miami Herald:

It turns out that Venezuela’s own production of light crudes has plummeted since the late President Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, and the country desperately needs light crudes to blend with its Orinoco Basin extra heavy crude oils. Without such a blend, the Orinoco Basin’s extra heavy crude is too dense to be transported through pipelines to Venezuelan ports and exported abroad.

Venezuela’s oil production, which accounts for 95 percent of the country’s export earnings, should be used in world classrooms as a textbook case of what happens when a populist government starts distributing a country’s wealth in cash subsidies, without investing in maintenance and innovation. Much like happened with Cuba’s once flourishing sugar industry, Venezuela’s Chávez-inspired populism has destroyed the goose that laid the golden eggs.

In 1999, when Chávez took office, PDVSA had 51,000 employees and produced 63 barrels of crude a day per employee. Fifteen years later, PDVSA had 140,000 employees, and produced 20 barrels of crude a day per employee, according to an Aug. 14 report by the France Press news agency. [...]

There was a popular riddle bandied about the Soviet Union back in communist days that went something like this: Question: if the Soviet Union conquered the Sahara, what would happen? Answer: nothing for 50 years, then a shortage of sand.

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Present-day highwaymen is what I’d call them

September 10, 2014

The Institute for Justice has been running a campaign to end civil forfeiture — a topic I mentioned recently with the video about the ‘forfeiture machine’ in Philadelphia.

The IJ contributed to a three-part series in The Washington Post titled Stop and seize. The first installment is a long article but the thing that jumped out at me was this bit (fairly early on).

A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.

“All of our home towns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine,” Deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., wrote in a self-published book under a pseudonym. Hain is a marketing specialist for Desert Snow, a leading interdiction training firm based in Guthrie, Okla., whose founders also created Black Asphalt.

Hain’s book calls for “turning our police forces into present-day Robin Hoods.”

Evidently we’re all fair game now, according to Deputy Hain.

Here are Part 2 and Part 3.

As I often say, RTWT.

And when you have time, pay a visit to the IJ’s EndForfeiture site.

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The mark of a master

September 6, 2014

Paul sends a link to this interesting story about Richard Feynman and fuzzy black holes: Why “Hawking Radiation” Was Almost “Feynman Radiation”.

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What he said (4)

August 24, 2014

Jeff sends a link to this post by Kevin Williamson at NR’s The Corner. (It’s the whole post, since it’s not easily excerpted.)

In the Wrong Business, Part 247

The school board of Centinela Valley Union High School District in Los Angeles County is firing its superintendent, Jose Fernandez.

He was paid $750,000 a year. 

That’s three-quarters of a million dollars a year — not to manage some sprawling big-city school system (which would be questionable enough) but to oversee five schools and an independent-study program in the suburbs. 

But not to worry: He was previously paid only about a half-million a year. As the Los Angeles Times reports, “Fernandez’s unusually high compensation was in part the result of a one-time payout of $230,000 he used to increase his pension credits, which would give him a higher annual pension upon his retirement.”

So they were paying him an outrageous sum of money today in order to pay him an even more outrageous sum in the future.

These thieves are why we’re broke.

Amen, brother.

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Policing the police (2)

August 19, 2014

Here’s some follow-up on a post from last December about equipping police officers with body cameras.

Gee, what a surprise!</sarcasm>

What Happens When Police Officers Wear Body Cameras

Use of force by police officers declined 60% in first year since introduction of cameras in Rialto, Calif.

With all eyes on Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, a renewed focus is being put on police transparency. Is the solution body-mounted cameras for police officers?

Sometimes, like the moments leading up to when a police officer decides to shoot someone, transparency is an unalloyed good. And especially lately, technology has progressed to a point that it makes this kind of transparency not just possible, but routine.

So it is in Rialto, Calif., where an entire police force is wearing so-called body-mounted cameras, no bigger than pagers, that record everything that transpires between officers and citizens. In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.

It isn’t known how many police departments are making regular use of cameras, though it is being considered as a way of perhaps altering the course of events in places such as Ferguson, Mo., where an officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

What happens when police wear cameras isn’t simply that tamper-proof recording devices provide an objective record of an encounter—though some of the reduction in complaints is apparently because of citizens declining to contest video evidence of their behavior—but a modification of the psychology of everyone involved.

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Cops into Robbers

August 12, 2014

Today the Institute for Justice will announce a major federal lawsuit on behalf of a group of Philadelphians seeking to end the city’s particularly shocking system of seizing nearly $6 million in property from thousands of its citizens each year.

"Settle" for half the market value indeed. What a racket!

Thank Heaven for IJ; there are No Rights without Property Rights.

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