Belmont Club

A Room of One's Own

A reader asks ‘suppose instead of big 9/11 type attacks we have a Boston every year or two? What if a couple of guys with homemade bombs paralyzing a dozen cities? Will we have more lockdowns? Will we have TSA agents patting down grandmas in the streets a regular part of national life?’

After the exhilaration of knowing the perps were nabbed dies down, some people will be asking themselves: do I really want my neighborhood turned into Fallujah with tactical stacks of men going room to room?  If Boston’s response is going to be the template response for future incidents then it will be unsustainable for more than handful of incidents a decade.

The answer to the reader’s question probably consists of two parts. The first is that despite everything that has been said against it,  centralized law enforcement  had to rely on public video — store surveillance cameras, cell phone footage etc — to find the cultprits. Without the public video resources the FBI would have been limited to the Russian tip identifying the Chechen suspects and the interrogation by the bureau two years ago.

So like it or not the public video is here to stay.  Therefore entrepreneurs  may soon create apps based on crowd sourcing with feedback loops to law enforcement or media organizations built in. The cell phone and tablet boom has turned the public into one gigantic sensor and news gathering agency. The future of law enforcement and reporting is to tap into this vast sensory organ and respond to it, possibly with financial incentives. The populated public space will soon become surveillable in near real time.

The hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers is possibly a portent of things to come.

The second part of the response is that an outsourced, privatized jihad will probably be increasingly met by privatized security regime based on reputation. With the government unwilling to profile in a increasingly vulnerable public space some entrepreneurs may create members-only events where attendance is limited to pre-cleared individuals who pay to have themselves vetted. Government already does this. It’s called a security clearance that prevents entry to certain facilities or participation in certain meetings without a pre-clearance. If the public space gets out of control in then we can expect a proliferation of restricted private spaces.

“Clubs”, once a feature of class-stratified England, will be back under the impetus of Mumbai-style attacks. Then unless you are clubbable there won’t be any place nice for you to go. A reciprocity between clubs will probably be negotiated to allow high reputation individuals to move more or less seamlessly between equivalent events. It may resemble the visa waiver system now in place between Australia and the United States. An Australian adult planning travel to America currently types in his passport number into a US government webform and pays 14 bucks from a credit card. (It must be a credit card) And if the DHS has nothing on him, then in 5 seconds he gets an visa waiver. This effectively restricts visa-free travel not only to citizens of certain countries but to holders of credit cards.

You can imagine a similar private system working to regulate movement between private spaces. For example, airlines could offer “club” flights and venues can offer club events. Of course, anybody can still board the nondiscriminatory ‘public’ flight or attend ‘public’ events. But the segmentation would have the practical effect of separating the population by race and class. The public flights would be overwhelmingly used by individuals who either won’t or can’t qualify for “club”. Nor will you be able to sit down at certain lunch counters in privatized spaces unless you have the Platinum reputation card. Segregation will be back  in certain respects. In addition to segregation via price we may have it by reputation.

The future may also see private defense agencies eventually emerge. They have been in the theoretical works for a long time. “A private defense agency (PDA) is a conceptualized agency that provides personal protection and military defense services voluntarily through the free market. A PDA is not a private contractor of the state and is not subsidised in any way through taxation or immunities, nor does it rely on conscription and other involuntary methods. Instead, such agencies would be financed primarily through insurance companies, which are penalized for losses and damages, and have an incentive through competition to minimize waste and maximize quality of service.” These agencies have remained in the realm of economic speculation for some time. But they have real theoretical advantages, not in the least because they are potentially more responsible than the government. They are vulnerable to liability suits. And if they don’t provide good service customers will leave them, neither of which can be done with public defense agencies.

In The Market for Liberty, Linda and Morris Tannehill note that a private defense agency would be unlikely to engage in aggression, as it would not only become a target of retaliatory force, but would become the subject of severe business ostracism. Honest and productive individuals would dissociate themselves from it, fearing that it might use its aggressive force against them in the event of a dispute; or that they might become accidental casualties when retaliatory force is used by one of its other victims; or that their own reputation would suffer due to their ties to it. Moreover, the private defense agency’s reputation would suffer and it would be regarded as a poor credit and insurance risk, the latter due to the high risk of claims resulting from its involvement in aggression. The employees and leaders of such an agency as well could face personal civil liability for their involvement, and the agency would not be shielded by sovereign immunity. High-quality employees would presumably be less willing to be involved with such an organization.

The most likely impetus for the emergence of private defense would be the failure of government provided safety. We can actually see this happening. In every places where law and order is perceived to be breaking down gated community communities, private security guards and neighborhood watches  proliferate. Even anti-gun media personalities like Piers Morgan’s property must bow to reality. His home is protected by “Armed Response Security Systems”.

Good for me but not for thee

And if Piers Morgan is already there can the rest of us be far behind?

Thus the sclerotic response of the Westphalian state to private warfare — i.e. “Islamic terrorism” and similar ideologies — combined with the media obsession with controlling the narrative can actually lead to the weakening of both. If they don’t work they won’t survive.

Nor is private defense a completely theoretical matter. Historians cite instances where it  filled in for a unreliable or missing government service. “The common popular perception that the Old West was chaotic with little respect for property rights is incorrect. Since squatters had no claim to western lands under federal law, extra-legal organizations formed to fill the void.”

The land clubs and claim associations each adopted their own written contract setting out the laws that provided the means for defining and protecting property rights in the land. They established procedures for registration of land claims, as well as for protection of those claims against outsiders, and for adjudication of internal disputes that arose. The reciprocal arrangements for protection would be maintained only if a member complied with the association’s rules and its court’s rulings. Anyone who refused would be ostracized. Boycott by a land club meant that an individual had no protection against aggression other than what he could provide himself.

Before Wyatt Earp there was Tombstone Territory where “you’re future’s just as good as your draw.”

The return of clubs would create an interesting dynamic. For one thing it would end the advantages of being “free rider”. Anyone who was unwilling to provide for his defense would be undefended. The Berkeley “gun free” zone for example, would be at liberty to rely on the government to protect it. If that doesn’t work then they’ll emuate Piers Morgan.

The effects of relying on the public sensor network for news are harder to predict. It will probably make the suppression of facts contrary to the narrative harder since the storyline must be imposed retroactively to breaking events. In the Boston Marathon Bombing case the media’s role was unusually restricted to “explaining things”; to admonish the public “not to rush to judgment”. They became commentators and aggregators rather sources of news.

The world is a dynamic place. And reality throws curve balls at us all the time. In the end the world is what it is whatever government and media say.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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