Our good friends over at Salon are at it again, expressing shock and disbelief over the latest outrage to sweep America (You know, besides the fact that white people are dancing in ways they don’t approve of). Apparently, the good folks over at Facebook’s corporate headquarters have volunteered to donate funds to the city of Menlo Park so that it can hire a full-time police officer to patrol the city. How evil of them! What’s next, private security forces roaming the streets with no government involvement whatsoever?
We can only hope! Despite Salon (and sometimes-libertarian Glenn Beck, who called this “a really bad idea” on his radio show) expressing deep concern about a potential conflict of interest, privately funded police are almost certain to be more efficient and less prone to abuse than the standard government variety.
First, let’s clarify. The existing proposal is for Facebook to donate the money necessary to fund a position to the city, so that the city can hire a cop. This cop will not be a Facebook employee. For all practical purposes, he will be just like every other cop in the city. In fact, they can probably structure the budget and the hiring in such a way as to ensure that nobody even knows which cop is being “paid by Facebook” (which would obviously make them more prone towards evil), and which are being paid in the morally upright method of confiscating money from the entire populace against its will.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and forget all that. Let’s entertain Salon (and Beck)’s nightmare scenario of “private cops” roaming our streets, equipped with all the same power and authority of regular police, but answering only to the whims of the board of directors of Facebook. Would these individuals become a gang of violent thugs, terrorizing the populace and being completely immune from any consequences?
Of course they wouldn’t. You see, unlike the government, Facebook’s lifeblood depends on its corporate image. While the government needs you to tolerate them just enough so that a whole lot of you don’t go on a violent rampage and try to overthrow it all at the same time, corporations such as Facebook need people to actually like them in order to thrive. Facebook’s revenues come from voluntary transactions, not forced confiscation. Facebook could disappear tomorrow if everyone using it simply decided to not use it anymore, and unlike the government, they wouldn’t be able to murder you for deciding to do just that.
But what about the feared “conflict of interest?” The author in Salon asks, “How will police departments treat Facebook employees who might be caught in criminal behavior, when their own budget is partially paid for by Facebook?” Putting aside the notion of whether a bunch of rich software engineers are really the people who are likely to commit violent/property crimes (you know, the crimes people actually care about), I might have to concede this one. Yes, it’s entirely possible that Officer Facebook might notice Mark Zuckerberg leaving a 7-11 without paying for his Slurpee, and decide to just look the other way rather than making an issue out of it. Of course, this same logic could be applied to government cops as well. What if a cop witnesses a member of the city council committing a crime? Is that not a potential conflict of interest? Sure, private cops might let their sponsors get away with petty theft, but given the fact that Facebook has a corporate image to care about, I’ve put together a brief list of things that Officer Facebok almost certainly would not do:
This list is by no means comprehensive, but you get the point. Government-funded police departments are by no means comprised uniformly of morally upright paragons of virtue. Abuses occur constantly. When criticizing a hypothetical private law enforcement agency, it is not enough to shout, “But abuses might occur!” Egregious abuses are already a fact of life under the current regime. Critics must demonstrate why a privately funded cop would be more prone to bad behavior than a publicly funded one. This article, as is almost always the case with such objections, fails to even address this consideration, much less offer any compelling evidence for it.
I really can’t stress this enough. Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists do not promise a utopia. We make no guarantee that private law enforcement agencies will never abuse their powers and commit acts of aggression against law-abiding citizens. All we can do is offer a list of logical reasons as to why this behavior would be less common among private police forces than among public ones. This is not an all or nothing proposition. No system of government can provide an absolute guarantee of safety, security, and zero corruption. But don’t tell that to the fearmongers at Salon. They want you to believe that a single Facebook-funded policeman represents the end of society as we know it.