OPINION – How differently might government employees treat us if they were subject to the same market forces and customer choice as the private sector? It’s a question more of us should be asking.
Politicians and their functionaries want us to believe that the state should be the primary problem solver in our lives. When we solve our problems without them, it diminishes their sense of importance.
Still, the question remains a valid one.
In the past week, on the Society and the State podcast that I co-host, I had the chance to interview former Salt Lake City Police Officer Eric Moutsos.
Moutsos has been vocal about the damage done when officers are denied the ability to use their discretion and are instead ordered to meet quotas in their ticketing or arrests. Under this pressure, the vast majority of the collars they end up making are for nonviolent, petty violations.
Aggressive enforcers who do their job with a predatory “gotcha” attitude are the ones who advance in departmental ranks. Meanwhile, officers who reserve writing citations and making arrests for truly egregious offenses are either viewed with suspicion or risk being labeled as lazy.
Departments that insist on emphasizing enforcement over everything else come to be seen as a mechanism for extracting revenue and submissiveness from the public on behalf of the political class.
Recent examples of what this strict enforcement mentality looks like in action can be seen in two viral videos that have been circulating recently.
One video shows police officers in Fredericksburg, Virginia, needlessly attacking a semiconscious stroke victim with Tasers and pepper spray as he sat incapacitated in his car. The other video shows a smug Berkeley officer confiscating the contents of a man’s wallet after citing him for selling hot dogs outside a sporting event without a permit.
The public was neither served nor protected in either case.
The combination of being shielded from market forces, possessing qualified immunity from being sued and given training that deliberately places the officer’s safety above the public’s are a perfect recipe for abuse of authority.
Frederic Bastiat described this domineering administrative mindset perfectly:
They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.
Please understand that I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law—by force—and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes.
Moutsos has great love and compassion for his former brothers in blue, yet he recognizes the widening wedge that this type of policing drives in between officers and the public. As a police officer, he maintained the peace by working to help people solve their problems rather than viewing them as career-advancing points on a tally sheet.
For Moutsos, sometimes that meant putting the needs of those people ahead of the need to enforce the letter of the law. Making an officer choose between pleasing his superiors and serving the people of his community seems terribly short-sighted.
Brown’s private security company serves and protects thousands of private residences and businesses in one of the roughest cities in the nation. Thanks to healthy profit margins that come from having highly satisfied customers, TMC also provides free service to low income individuals who cannot afford their services.
Brown’s employees are armed and highly trained, yet violence is reserved for only the most extreme circumstances. The people who hire them are their customers, and TMC must serve and protect in the truest sense of the word or go out of business.
If Brown’s personnel were to behave as violent, authoritarian thugs, their customer base would quickly abandon them. That’s the power of the market forces of pricing and customer satisfaction to guide the rational allocation of our resources and to measure whether we’re getting what we’re paying for.
Can you imagine having to do business with a company where, according to official policy, you aren’t allowed to decline what they’re selling? Not only are you required to buy what they’re selling, but they’ll use physical violence against you if show the slightest reluctance to “do business” with them.
Healthy societies don’t need intimidating, militarized warriors ordering them around to feel safe. Nor do they need ubiquitous no-knock raids, ever-present surveillance and endless legal technicalities to invite the state into their lives.
Any solution should start by asking whether the current monopoly genuinely serves and protects all of us or whether it’s merely imposing the will of the political class. The private sector allows us to choose.
The public sector fears we’d exercise that choice more wisely, given the chance.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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