“The voluntary arrangements of a private property society would be far more conducive to peace and the rule of law, than the coercive setup of a parasitical monopoly government.” - Robert P. Murphy
The Green Room Society on Seymour Street is the latest victim in a string of a robberies targeting medical cannabis dispensaries. Two men yielding tasers stole $1700 in cash Monday night at 10:30pm. On Saturday, a 27-year-old man drove a car into The Stressed and Depressed Association on 41st Street and the Canna Clinic on Hastings Street. On May 22nd The Cannabis Culture Headshop and Vapor Lounge on Hastings Street was broken into, and later that night Ignite Smoke Shop on Cordova Street was hit.
Of course when compared to other commercial break-ins in Vancouver, there is nothing significant about cannabis dispensaries. A regulated industry won't decrease the occurrence of robberies, any more than it does for liquor stores, or pharmacies. It's not like the police didn't investigate the above locations because they were unregulated.
Unless Vancouver City Council plan to physically limit the number of stores and thus potential robberies (and by that logic, why not ban all cash so the robbers have nothing to steal?), there is nothing inherent in government regulation that make robberies less probable. The only thing a slough of bureaucratic paperwork and excessive licensing fees can do is destroy the economic diversity the dispensaries bring to the city.
The problem with these break-ins is a problem with the police bureaucracy. Just like government regulators – there are no competitors to the property-protection service the police claim a rightful monopoly to. It's like this across the country, around the world, and throughout history. People don't see anything wrong with it, although police militarization and abuse are increasingly becoming problems and the 20th century isn't all it's cracked up to be. We should think outside the box and realize that law and order is a service provided for society by a group of men and women with the skills and expertise. Problem is – they don't rely on the patronage of customers. Like all government services, payment is compulsory. Residents of Vancouver cannot stop paying for the Vancouver Police Department, or for Vancouver City Council's regulators, no matter how intrusive or arbitrary their actions and decisions may be. The best we can hope for are elections. One can imagine if Monsanto held a monopoly on all farm land; if one objected, one would be told to vote or, “move to Somalia if you don't like it.”
The problem with property crime is we live in a country without much respect for private property to begin with. (If one ever wanted to trace the origins of pollution and industrial externalities, look no further than judicial refusal to enforce private property rights to their fullest extent.) Aside from a few bad apples, the men and women police who work for the Vancouver Police Department are likely well-intentioned and good-natured people. The systematic problems with police enforcement are not unique to person and property-protection agencies. The problems are a symptom of bureaucracy; of monopoly and taxation.
Vancouver would improve socially, culturally and economically if there were no taxing monopolist of ultimate-decision making. Police officers (among other former-government employees) could be entrepreneurs and work for organizations predicated on voluntary exchange. Voluntary association is a fundamental Charter freedom and while the courts have ruled that the Charter does not give one the right to be free from government regulations, if the residents of Vancouver decided to base all adults decisions on voluntary, consensual respect for person and property – the result would be a city with no taxation and no state monopoly of police services and government regulators.
But wouldn't gangs and the mafia take-over? Wouldn't vigilante justice become the standard of the day? Wouldn't dispensaries poison their customers, forcibly feed edibles to children and set up shop right in front public schools and daycares!? But more importantly, wouldn't the provincial and federal authorities step in and stop this grassroots revolution?
Ignoring some of those particulars for the sake of argument – the claim that no ultimate judging authority would lead to chaos is the only reasonable objection to the free market society. All others (we need taxes/regulation for x, y, and z) fall short on logical thinking and empirical evidence. Namely: markets outperform government bureaus every single time. The radical free market position is extending these market principles – voluntary exchange, rule of law, respect for person and private property – to government services. If there is any objection to be made it's not “who will build the roads?” but what will keep anarchy from breaking out? Who will stop the robbers from crashing cars into dispensaries and running out with cash? Will Vancouver really be safer if police services and city regulations are subject to profit and loss?
I'm not comparing stateless Somalia with a stateless Vancouver*. I'm not denying that life is better in Vancouver. What I am claiming is that for any given population, the introduction of a coercive government will make things worse. The problem with the Somalia comparison is that the lack of respect for the rule of law led to an overthrow of the government. And it's this same lawlessness that prevents another government from establishing “order.”
For Vancouver to experience the same thing as Somalia, you would need to argue that the residents of Vancouver – who remain peaceful under government rule – would break out into chaos if all law and order were privatized. (And I mean homesteading principles, not the crony-capitalist “privatization” of big government).
Now if Vancouver were to disrupt in violence – not out of the realm of possibility – there are more reasons to expect the privatized defense and judicial services would perform better than the former monopoly state. Private agencies own the assets, whereas governments only exercise temporary control. And whereas a government police chief can make the drug war the main focus of the police, clearly if the police chief was a CEO of a private policy company, he'd have trouble finding customers. At least in Vancouver.
The objection that different consumers would patronize different police agencies who have different ideas of justice is a valid one. It wouldn't result in chaos, however. The Green Cross Society won't be hiring police agency xyz to go coercively shut down a Weeds location. And Weeds won't be shut down by one police agency only to be re-opened by another, who will then go arrest the first police agency for property violations. Opponents claim this is what will happen; it's essentially legalizing gangs and the mafia to compete against the government police.
But hold up. This first assumes that having people compete with the police for private-property protection is worse than the threat posed by a run-away police monopoly. Like I mentioned, Canadian police are looking more militarized, and the American example is nothing to emulate. We're not talking about competing protection rackets. There is a demand for law and order, but like all monopolies, the government gives us a shoddy product for a high price.
Second, this assumes that people voluntarily decided to have a monopoly government instead of the “anarchy” of polycentric law. If that's true, then it would be unnecessary to have a government anyway. If everyone had different concepts of justice but can agree it's wrong to use violence to settle their differences, then market forces would lead to peace among the competing police and judicial agencies. Why sacrifice freedom of choice in legal services to a monopoly of ultimate-decision making? It's asking for trouble. Some people are for dispensaries, others are against them. Some people want them away from schools, others don't care. Some say the proposed business license fee is too high, others say it's fair. While others, like myself, argue the incompatibility of having a business license fee in a country that calls itself free. Nevertheless, if people have different ideas of law and order, but can agree to settle these issues without resorting to anarchy in the streets – then why resort to government and elections?
Government is violence, after all. They have a monopoly on all legitimate use of force and demand taxation on nearly every transaction. Unlike voluntary exchange, which relies on both parties having mutual interests in the exchange, the state doesn't rely on consent. So if people are peaceful enough to have elections and governments, why wouldn't they prefer voluntary-funded defense and judicial agencies with interlocking arbitration agreements and market-tested dispute resolutions? Why wouldn't the residents of a free society want to take their legitimate disputes to a reputable, neutral, third-party arbitrator? What gives the state the right to monopolize all legal services? Does anyone really believe the state is a reputable, neutral, third-party arbitrator?
If Somalia couldn't maintain the rule of law and a state, chances are they wouldn't succeed with a polycentric law reformation. But if Vancouver already has the rule of law and peaceful social order – in spite of a coercive government – then the situation would only improve absent this financial parasite. When Vancouver's consumers and businesses voluntarily pay for police services and regulation agencies, if some of those services fail to do their job, those consumers and business owners can patronize competitors. The only way to profit is to serve your fellow man. This logic is simple in the realm of food, computers, automobiles, clothing, security, construction, housekeeping, etc. Why do people hit an emotional and intellectual brick-wall when law and order are subject to this scrutiny? Why are objections – that have reasonable, common sense answers – exalted as the “aha!” trump card on this vision of a freer society? Why is the burden of proof always on proponents of the free market, when clearly, history shows the reverse? The onus is clearly on the people who place their trust in the state.
One last objection, since this is a Vancouver-based scenario, let's say the people around East Hastings don't have the funds to buy police services. They are really poor. And if police agencies can't force taxes out of people, then they have much smaller forces. In contrast, if a monopoly police firm cracks down gangs and rogue police agencies, then everyone wins. But without the obligation to patrol poorer parts of town – and with no free-market financial incentive – the police will let the rogue agencies take over East Hastings. Consequently, these rogue agencies will become legitimatized and expand. The poor people of East Hastings will have no choice but to live under a rogue tyrannical police agency. And just to stay on topic: one of the dispensaries in the area are subject to the tyrannical laws of the rogue agency, laws that are far worse than the proposed city regulations on dispensaries.
But small guerrilla forces are actually better. A small-compact team of highly skilled agents (who are paid to perform a job) are superior to a large standing army of bureaucratic officers. In a worst case scenario with civil war breaking out in Vancouver's lower East side, the odds are in favour of the market.
But before violence could break out, the residents will likely try and leave the tyrannical area and thus flood other parts of the city. But with everything being private property, the residents of East Hastings have nowhere to go without being becoming property violators themselves. All of a sudden, that rogue police agency operating in East Hastings is causing refugees and becoming everyone's problem. While everyone may have different concepts of justice, the basic principle of non-aggression must be upheld or else there is a legitimate use of defensive force to be employed.
After all, the dispensary owner in East Hastings is just trying to run a business. But if the rogue police agency demands he signs their contract (or doesn't offer him one, citing a vague “social contract”), and if they keep demanding tributes or that he obey rules and regulations that change arbitrarily – then it's no longer a question of having a legitimate governing service protect your person and property. A state or gang has taken over. It would be in the dispensary owner's right to defend against these thugs. If funds are a problem, then it would be in the dispensary's owner's interest to warn other property owners of this parasitic rogue agency. It would be in his interest to raise the funds necessary from everyone possible to rid the city of this virus. It would also be in his and everyone's interest (including other police service companies) to prevent rogue agencies from taking over. Just as no one has an incentive right now to let the VPD perform a coup d'état on the Mayor's office.
Since all Vancouver is private-property in this scenario, the role insurance companies play has greatly expanded. And with no regulations geared to benefit the insurance industry under the guise of “consumer protection”, insurance brokers have to work twice as hard to ensure accountability for their clients.
Insurance companies hold policies for tens of thousands, if not millions, of people in Vancouver. If the rogue agency in East Hastings were making a ruckus, and the people were fleeing to other parts of the city, complaints would start getting lodged in all directions. Having an financial incentive in the maintenance and security of Vancouver's persons and properties, insurance companies will want to rid the city of the rogue agency.
As do the actual free market cops and judges. With interlocking arbitration agreements, they have incentives to protect their customers from rogue agencies.
Think about this – Vancouver would have all sorts of free market solutions at its disposal before using physical confrontation. Once reputable private judges ruled against the East Hastings rogue police agency, banks could freeze their assets. Private utility companies could shut down electricity, heat, and water to the agency's offices.
If Vancouver was a total free market society, is it really possible that East Hastings would get worse? That gangs and terrorists would get out of hand since nobody can afford to hire police? And this assumes no one could hire the police – there's no actual evidence to support that. That downplays the role of philanthropy, and the fact that in a free market society we'd have a lot more to give. We wouldn't lose a good portion of our income to government taxes, and we wouldn't lose our purchasing power to central bank inflation. Furthermore, the free economy produces cheaper goods and services, and with strong private property rights to keep environmental standards in check, a free-market Vancouver would achieve the goals often proposed by statists.
That's why Vancouver's dispensaries shouldn't be regulated. It's an opportunity for the market to provide a better way. Cannabis is a gateway drug to liberty. But if we let politicians tax and regulate it, then we've lost our opportunity to educate a culture and a country on what it means to be free.
*I am indebted to Robert P. Murphy. He makes the same argument in “But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?”