As the discussion of the UC-Davis Pepper Spraying incident has proceeded, one of the best things I’ve seen circulating is this quote from the first few lines of Frederic Bastiat’s classic “The Law:”
The law perverted! And the police powers of the state perverted along with it! The law, I say, not only turned from its proper purpose but made to follow an entirely contrary purpose! The law become the weapon of every kind of greed! Instead of checking crime, the law itself guilty of the evils it is supposed to punish!
If this is true, it is a serious fact, and moral duty requires me to call the attention of my fellow-citizens to it.
And so, fellow-citizens, I exercise my moral duty. In an extra piece I did for Forbes after the incident, I proposed that police services can and should be provided by private firms in private markets rather than by governments. It’s a proposition that a lot of people would almost certainly find crazy; however, the rash of police brutality that has been unleashed against the Occupation illustrates a deep and fundamental point about social institutions. Market processes create information and feedback that guides people toward effective and efficient solutions to the problems they confront. Political processes do the opposite. A lot of us are irrational, guided by prejudice, or otherwise flawed. These flaws are reduced (albeit probably not eliminated completely) by market processes and amplified by political processes.
21st century technology is allowing us to watch “the law become the weapon of every kind of greed” in real time. This isn’t because bad people are in positions of power, though. At the risk of being glib, the violence is inherent in the system. The problem isn’t that the wrong people are in power. The problem is that there is power for people to seize in the first place.