Before I made the step from Minarchist to Anarcho-Captialist I couldn’t envision how a stateless society would work. Like many people I worried that Warlords would take over, and the world would become like the movie “Mad Max” or “Lord of the Flies.” Then I read “Power and Market” by Murray Rothbard. The first chapter is on how private defense could work. Rothbard shattered what I thought I knew about the state, and how defense and agreements between individuals would actually work.
Rothbard was, of course, one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, and his argument against the state was so logical it was hard for me not to find it credible. It made me wonder about real life examples of private defense firms functioning in the free market, and how their services compared with those provided by the state. Not surprisingly, private industry performs measurably better than the state.
Nearly everyone has heard the story of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. The ship was captured by Somali Pirates, and Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage and held for ransom. The rescue was one of the best-executed missions in the history of the US Navy. The personal bravery shown by Captain Phillips, and the men and women of the Sixth Fleet was admirable. Given the state-run defense force they were working with, I hardly think the outcome could have turned out better. However, the system they were working in was deeply flawed. Four half-starved uneducated and poorly armed teenagers were able to divert the resources and attention of the US Navy (costing taxpayers millions of dollars) because they were able to get aboard a multi-million dollar ship and kidnap its Captain. The rescue of Captain Phillips was one of the most successful in Naval history, but it cost millions of dollars and resulted in the death of three of his captors.
Compare this with ships that have employed private armed guards to defend their ship and crew. To date, no commercial ship with private armed guards has ever been boarded by pirates. Private guards have deterred attackers with no loss of life or property. The cost for private security to ride a ship through pirate waters can be as little as $30,000 for a five-day voyage.
The state on the other hand spends millions of taxpayer dollars a day to patrol international waters. Because the Navy is not aboard the commercial ships the protection of the Navy is reactive by nature, instead of preventative. As a result their efforts are costly and less effective than their counter parts in private industry. Unlike private firms, states do not have a good feedback mechanism to let them know when they are misallocating resources. As a result they are less effective.
There are many brave men and women who join the military with high ideals. They honestly want to help people, and defend life and property. Unfortunately most of their efforts are frustrated, and often out right perverted by the system they are working under. I learned this lesson the hard way, as a sailor in the US Navy. Like many Americans I bought the Bush Administration’s lies about the Iraq war hook line and sinker. I thought I was protecting the American people, and bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. However, when I was finally deployed to the Middle East my mission was to sweep for mines around two Iraqi oil terminals that extend into the gulf. The purpose of this mission was to “lower insurance rates” for oil tankers filling up at these two spigots. We were told that something like 3% of the world’s oil flowed from these two platforms. It was truly a surreal place to be. Dozens of warships from around the world were patrolling the area. Hundreds of oil tankers were lined up in the queue to fill up on Iraqi oil. Surrounding all this were thousands of fishing dhows, crewed by men who were doing their best to feed their families, either by fishing or moving contraband between states.
One of the most discouraging things about our mission was the faulty equipment we worked with. The sonar we were using was terrible at finding anything on the ocean floor. A fish finder purchased at Walmart was literally more accurate. However, since our sonar came from a state-funded defense contractor there was no way we could get rid of it, or replace it with a better functioning piece of equipment. The deficiency of our hardware became painfully obvious when we lost our own “mine shape.” A mine shape is a round metal sphere approximately 7 feet in diameter, used to calibrate sonar. We dropped it overboard, and marked it on our charts. Sometime in the night the buoy that marked the location of our mine shape was cut by the propeller of a small boat. Our crew spent the next 10 days looking for our lost mine shape. We used every resource at our disposal, but to no avail. We finally had to ask the UK Royal Navy to find the mine shape for us, which they did within an hour of arriving where we had marked the mine shape on our charts.
This story of our faulty equipment is not unique. For a more complete account of the minesweeper community I recommend reading “Assumed the Watch Moored as Before.” It is an accurate and hilarious account of the poorly equipped and poorly run US Navy minesweeper community. The mission left me thoroughly demoralized. Our ship was not well armed. Our equipment was inadequate to perform our mission, and our stated mission had nothing to do with protecting freedom.
When I heard our mission was to lower insurance rates for oil tankers my first thought was that this is not what I signed up for. My life was being risked to make money for someone else. I couldn’t see how that mission was supporting and defending the Constitution, liberating the Iraqi people, or making Americans any safer. If I had been working for a private maritime defense agency, with voluntary “at will” employment, I would have had no problem. If my private employer was lying to me, or providing me with inadequate equipment, I could leave. If a private defense company was not doing a good job of providing mine clearing services they would be out of business. But in the US Navy I was lied to about the nature of the job, given poor equipment to perform the job, and then forbidden from leaving under penalty of imprisonment.
Oddly enough I first heard the idea of privatizing mine sweeping operations suggested by my Captain, and I must admit it was one of the few ideas he had that made any sense. Mine sweeping can be done far more efficiently by the private industry. Private firms largely do searches for lost shipwrecks with an interest in recovering the wreckage, or finding subsea oil wells. The deep-water searches done on the open sea are far more difficult than the mostly shallow water searches for ocean going mines that threaten bays and shipping channels. Ocean mines are no small threat either. Since WWII mines have sunk more Navy ships than any other weapon.
Unfortunately, the unholy alliance between large well connected corporations and the government continues to drain more money from taxpayers, and provide everyone with a false sense of security. As more shipping companies realize the “free” security being provided by the state is less effective than the private security offered by the market, hopefully we will see a sea change (pun intended) away from state-sponsored security.
Security for commercial interests is not the only factor at play in national defense. National defense is big business. The company providing the sonar (and all the faulty equipment for that matter) aboard our ship came from carefully selected government contractors. Contractors are the recipients of fat defense contracts based on their relationship with legislators who are always looking to create jobs for their district. I can tell you from personal experience these contractors are almost impossible to fire. The lack of market feedback leads to expensive unreliable equipment and procedures. Even worse, it endangers the lives of the people who sign-up to defend the lives and property of their fellow citizens. Not to mention the lives of the innocent civilians caught in the cross hairs of international diplomacy. The result is a system whose effectiveness is marginal at best. When compared with the efficiency and low cost of the private sector, there really is no comparison. Why would you choose a system that is funded by theft (taxes), relies on the threat of prison to retain its employees, and offers marginal results at best and down right awful life threatening results at worst? The answer is, no one would choose that system. It is chosen for us by our overlords in office, and the puppet masters who control them.