Power & Market
A popular poster depicts four cows standing in the corners of their respective fields at the intersection of two barbed wire fences. Each of the four cows has stretched her neck through the wires to reach the grass in another cow’s field. The poster invokes a humorous reaction from most observers. To most it would illustrate the phrase that “the grass is always greener on the other side,” or maybe how silly we all are pursuing distant pleasures when there is an abundance available to us where we are.
But the poster actually illustrates rational behavior and the importance of property rights in preserving resources! The rational behavior of the cows is that each is attempting to maximize its access to grass. The remaining non-fence line grass in each cow’s field is readily available to her since she is in that field and the other cows are fenced out.
But the grass on the perimeter of her field along the fence line is within reach of the adjoining cows. Therefore, each cow is faced with first eating the grass along the fence line or missing out on the same if the other cows get there first. The grass along the fence line is therefore effectively common property and such resulting behavior is often referred to as the tragedy of the commons.1
Unowned or collectively owned resources tend to be consumed and not conserved because no one has the right to the long-term value of that good—that is, no one has a property right in that good. It is in the self-interest of each cow (or person) to get what they can before it is gone. The cows are merely responding to the institutional setting in which they find themselves. If we want people or cows to do X we would be well advised to make it in their self-interest to do X. If the fences were so constructed to protect each cow from the incursion of the other there would be no rush to consume grass along the fence line. Under this alternate arrangement resources could be conserved since ownership is secured—that is, each would enjoy a property right in the good.
When a naked intruder broke into the Aurora, Colorado home of Richard Black in the middle of the night , the intruder began violently attacking Black's 11-year-old grandson.
Black quickly armed himself with a gun, and shot the intruder dead, possibly saving the life of his grandson, who was hospitalized after the attack.
And then the Aurora Police Department showed up and shot Black dead.
The police claim they told Black — a Purple-Heart recipient and war veteran who apparently has suffered hearing loss — to drop his gun. This, they tell us, justified the shooting.
The City of Aurora has so far refused to release any audio or video associated with the shooting, but if the Police Department's story is to believed, Black was shot dead by a police officer who was already under investigation for another shooting. The officer, of course, remained on duty with pay.
In a situation like this — which admittedly likely involved a truly chaotic scene — defenders of government police will claim that it's was all just a misunderstanding and ask "what should have been done differently?"
The police and their defenders only ask this question rhetorically, though. They already know the answer. The answer, for them, is that nothing could be done differently. Everything's fine.
It's the usual defense: it was a stressful situation and the police had to make "split second decisions."
For people who actually care about the rights of taxpayers to not be shot by police in their own homes, though, this answer isn't good enough. The answer is not "nothing." The answer is "how can police be made to face real costs when they fail to act competently."
But what incentive to police have to answer this question? There is very little incentive, since the police are unlikely to bear any cost for what was, at best, a poorly executed response to a call about a home invasion. Instead, one department of the city (i.e., the District Attorney's office) will investigate another department. The city will likely determine that "procedures were followed" and that will be the end of it.
There will be no true incentive to take a hard look at procedures or at the sort of personnel the Department hires. After all, as a government-monopoly agency, the Police Department doesn't have to worry about losing customers or being subject to prosecution by a third party. Moreover, even if the city is eventually found guilty of some impropriety in a civil suit, it will be the taxpayers who will foot the bill for any compensatory damages. The police officers involved are unlikely to face any sort of penalty. No Police personnel will face any threat to their generous pensions or their secure and well-salaried jobs.
A Big Double Standard
Even worse is the fact that there is no penalty for accidental shootings when committed by police. But accidents can lead to hard prison time for private citizens when the situation is reversed.
Consider for example, the case of Tyler Harrell. As Tho Bishop reports, when police broke into Harrell's house in the middle of the night — with no evidence of wrongdoing by Harrell other than a social media post and an anonymous complaint — Harrell defended himself from the unidentified invaders by non-fatally shooting one of the SWAT team members in the leg.
But when a police officer is shot accidentally, things are very different. Harrell has been sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Harrell, of course, also had to make a "split-second decision" when people were breaking into his home in the middle of the night. When police officers make mistakes, though, it's all just unavoidable. "'Heroes' make mistakes, after all, and there's no reason to change anything. That's just the way things are." If a private citizens makes a similar mistake? Well, then a lengthy prison sentence is in order.
And why should the police change anything? Thanks to various immunity laws, and the fact they enjoy a taxpayer funded monopoly, they have no reason to be responsive to the taxpayers' needs or wants. Indeed, should the taxpayers question anything, they're told to be quiet and defer to "the experts."
RELATED: "Police: We're the Experts — Don't You Dare Criticize Us" by Ryan McMaken
But if calling 911 to report a home intruder leads to being gunned down by police, we can simply hold up this case as just the latest example of how the public's so-called "social contract" with the state and its police agents isn't working.
The hypocrisy of the EU in two images.
“EU to impose duties on U.S. imports Friday after Trump tariffs”...
From Daniel Lacalle's Twitter @dlacalle_IA
Must Free Trade Be Reciprocal? by Frédéric Bastiat
Free Trade versus "Free Trade" by Peter Klein
Attorney General Eric Holder arrives today in Ferguson, Missouri, in response to the unrest after a local policeman shot 18-year-old Mike Brown. Holder assured the people of Missouri: "Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent."
But Holder's own record belies his lofty promise. As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997, Holder was in charge of policing the local police. When police violence spiraled out of control, he did little to protect Washington residents from rampaging lawmen.
The number of killings by Washington police doubled between 1988 and 1995, the year 16 civilians died due to police gunfire. Washington police shot and killed people at a higher rate than any other major city police department, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post investigation revealed in late 1998. The Post reported that "Holder said he did not detect a pattern of problematic police shootings and could not recall the specifics of cases he personally reviewed." Holder declared: "I can't honestly say I saw anything that was excessive."
There was such a dearth of oversight from Holder's office that Washington police failed to count almost a third of the people killed by their officers between 1994 and 1997. Even when police review boards ruled that shootings were unjustified or found contradictions in officers' testimony, police were not prosecuted. In one case, a police officer shot a suspect four times in the back when he was unarmed and lying on the ground. But Holder's office never bothered interviewing the shooter.
Some of the most abusive cases involved police shooting into cars - a practice which is severely discouraged because of the high risk of collateral damage. Holder told the Post: "I do kind of remember more than a few in cars. I don't know if that's typical of what you find in police shootings outside Washington" Actually, "more than 50 officers over five years had shot at unarmed drivers in cars," the Post noted, and Washington police were more than 20 times as likely to shoot at cars than were New York City police. Reports about some of the shootings were tainted by police perjury.
Shortly after Holder became U.S. attorney, a local judge slammed the Washington government for its "deliberate indifference" to police brutality complaints.
Read the full article at the USA Today
Paul Waldman tries to defend the US Postal Services in this Twitter rant, but all he does is show the need for better economics education. He lists a bunch of things the post office does and deems it a "fricking marvel." Well, nobody disputes that the post office does home pickup and delivery, charges prices independent of distance, and provides services in small towns and low-income areas. The economic question is whether the post office should do these things -- or, more precisely, whether the value (to consumers) of the goods and services produced exceeds the opportunity cost of the resources used to produce them. That, as the Austrian economists have emphasized more vigorously than any other thinkers and writers, can only be determined on the market, in a system of private property and free prices.
Waldman has made the common error, which I've written about often in the context of government-funded science and technology, of confusing economic value and technological or engineering value. The former relates to economic well-being, the latter to the technical aspect of doing X, Y, or Z. The fact that something is produced or performed does not tell us whether the production or performance is valuable. When government is paying the bills (not to mention owning the property and, often, outlawing competition), there is no way to know.