Friday, March 1, 2013

On the Problems with the Privatization of Justice

I really, really, really, really, really should not have to be writing this.

But you know what? I'm writing this anyway. I''m writing this because I got into an argument with someone in the YouTube comments of a video about the proper role of government* and what socialism (SOCIALISM!!!eleventy-one!!) is** and is not. And I'm writing it because a) YouTube comments don't give me enough space to do a full-on rant, and b) it feels a lot better to rant where I can be arbitrarily censorious, like a good little Atheist+ #FTBorg know the people who read this thing are capable of rational argument and basic reading-comprehension skills.

And here is where I explain what's up with the title. This person's final comment (or rather, the one that led to me ragequitting on trying to get through to xim) asserted that the United States had socialism (SOCIALISM!!!one-hundred-eleven!!) because among other things, the government controls the police.

Now, that's not strictly wrong. The government is representative (though I do tend to doubt this person would agree, what with a [slur redacted] with the middle name HUSSEIN Kenyan Muslim Communist Fascist Atheist child of Malcolm X***  in the White House), and it does own the means of producing law enforcement.

My problem with this line of argument is that the person was presenting socialized police as a Bad Thing.****

The following material is flagged Yellow Level. It contains material that is disputed by some experts but accepted by others. Caution is advised when deciding whether you personally choose to believe it.
Let us look at the suggested way this could work, being as charitable as possible.

In this person's ideal world, there are no (jackbooted) government police enforcing the law. Instead, the law is enforced by private companies. This arrangement works rather like insurance: you pay a protection subscription fee, and if something bad happens to you your justice company will investigate, arrest the suspect, hold a trial, and administer punishment.

We will start with the most obvious objection that applies in the most charitable world. It is this company's job to do all of the above, but only for paying customers. Doing this for non-paying customers would cut into their profit margin (and it's unethical in this framework to accept a service you haven't paid for).

Meet Freddy. He lost his job when the factory closed, and is scraping by on his meager savings while he looks for another. Because he hasn't got a source of income, he has to cut a few things out of the budget: medicine, news, justice subscription, gas. He gets robbed at gunpoint. Freddy brings the case before his old justice company. Because Freddy does not have a subscription, the company does not do anything beyond laughing in his face (spitting optional) and having security show him the door. In other words, such a system decides that the poor do not deserve to have any protection, and it is open season on anyone who cannot afford justice******. Ladies, gentlemen, children, teenagers, and non-binary adults, some people are now below the law, so there is no longer any such thing as Rule of Law!

And next, a less obvious objection that still applies in the most charitable world. Suppose Alice, the CEO of Al's Protection Racket, breaks into your house and empties your safe. Now, how are you going to get any justice? Bring a charge against her -- no, she owns the arresting officers and the court, if you subscribed to the Racket; and if you're one of Boxing Jack's, that would mean a hot war between the companies if he decided to get involved. Organize a boycott -- boycotts are tricky to manage, especially boycotts of an essential service, or of a provider you don't buy from anyway. We now have people who are above the law, and again, there is no longer any such thing as the Rule of Law!

Now, let's move to slightly less charitable worlds.

The first one: Pierre subscribes to Bertha's Bruisers. Dave does not. Pierre accuses Dave of cheating him out of millions, and it ends up in the court of Bertha's Bruisers. Dave is innocent, but Pierre writes a letter to Bertha threatening to take his business elsewhere if Dave gets off. This one time, justice prevails, but this isn't the first time this has happened, and the Bruisers are losing business. Bertha gets a clever idea: premium membership. Pay an extra monthly fee, and her courts will find in your favor no matter what, as long as you aren't outbid. Presumption of innocence? Reasonable doubt? Nah. The judge is already bought.

Next: Meet Six-Finger Johnny, co-owner of It's-Getting-Hard-To-Think-Of-Original-Names Limited, a name his business partner Harriette advised him to go with when he couldn't come up with a name. Johnny's business has been flagging lately, but as he walks past Alice's building, he gets an idea. When he gets back to the IGHTTOON Ltd. offices, he pulls up a list of the people who live near subscribers but don't subscribe to his services. Then he sends some of his employees around to rearrange the faces of anyone on the list. Coercive? Yes. But who's going to stop him? The other companies all decide that it's not worth an open war to avoid losing a little business, especially since Johnny offers reduced rates to anyone who enlists and as such has the biggest army of them all.

Finally, Harriette. Harriette is a bit of a homophobe. A lot of one, in fact. She believes that being gay should be punishable by death. So, with Johnny's acceptance, she issues a law that applies in all territory influenced by IGHTTOON: sodomy is now a capital offense. Pleased by the success of this law (none of those filthy people exist in her domain anymore!), she starts writing new laws and, with the help of Johnny's work, rules with an iron fist. Johnny and Harriette are now warlords in all but name.

*according to this person, "none at all". At least as far as I can tell.
**for the curious, it has a specific technical meaning. It is not just any government program you disagree with. Socialism means that the methods used to make things and provide services belong to either the people who use them to do so or a part of society that represents the whole. I spent hours arguing with this person about why any totalitarian or dictatorial state was by definition not socialist (that being that the part of society that operates the means of production does not represent the workers or the people). Heck, it's possible to have capitalist socialism; you just need to have a market economy where people own the things they use to make a living and the products of their efforts.
***Amalgamated trademarks of the Birthers, the John Birch society, WorldNetDaily, and other far-right sources. Used without permission under Fair Use for purposes of parody.
****For the record, the police system as it currently exists has a lot of problems (racism in the ranks, cops protecting their own from responsibility for wrongdoing, a tendency to attract people whose reason for wearing the uniform is to legally assault people [or as a certain Australian game reviewer puts it, SERVE AND PROTECT!], et cetera). All of these problems would also exist with a privatized police system, and I suspect most of them would be worse.*****
*****Holy [expletive redacted] Batman, that footnote looks like it's got swearwords in it.
******A bit like the current system*******, but this time it's actually codified. In the current system, our hypothetical poor person at least theoretically has some ability to see justice done. In the proposed system, the poor person not being able to get justice is a [expletive redacted] feature. 
*******Which is why we need to eliminate societal prejudices against the poor. Unrestricted capitalism is only going to exacerbate them, if anything.

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