Privatise the Armed Forces

I posted this comment in a Fb group:

The armed forces should be privatised so that the law can be applied equally to everyone.

Below are some questions I received, and my responses.

What if a private armed force decides it wants to take power for itself?

That is the current situation. We have one gang (calling itself “the state”) that is so powerful that no other gang can compete with it. The answer is to decentralise power, so that there can be checks and balances: market competition. If power was decentralised it would be so much easier to hold it in check: you wouldn’t need to wait for an election, or persuade other people of anything, you just stop paying if you don’t like the service.

The people would be safer if the armed forces were privatised, because they would be used only for defensive purposes. Economic calculation would become possible, so resources would be used more efficiently. The incentives of the military would then be aligned with the people (their customers) rather than the politicians and the military-industrial complex. While the state has a monopoly on armed forces, we are, relatively speaking, sitting ducks for anyone who wants to invade. We have all our security resting on one monopolistic structure, especially where the state has disarmed us.

Only billionaires would be able to hire their own armies, so if a force decided to invade, wouldn’t our lives then depend on their individual wealth?

Security isn’t so expensive that only billionaires can afford it. Most people would probably decide to pay by direct debit for it the same way they pay for broadband or electricity, opting for a firm and package that suits you. You’d subscribe to whichever security firm you feel offers the best value for money, and if you have any doubts, you can switch security firm as easily as you can switch broadband provider. This is what keeps the firms in check, and it’s the reason a monopoly on armed services is so dangerous. Coercion is used to attain income, and there are no competitors; this is why we see state armed forces used aggressively… because people are forced to fund it and have no choice.

How are the security firms all supposed to coordinate if our territory was invaded?

Firms cooperate and coordinate with each other all the time in the marketplace. They do so more efficiently than do departments of the state, because they are responding to market signals and incentives, rather than bureaucratic signals and incentives. Resources would be used more wisely by competing security firms than they are by the monopoly state armed forces. Coordination to repel invaders would be enhanced.

What if enough people don’t sign up to any security firm?

Your relationship with your security firm would be similar to the relationship you have today with your broadband provider. It doesn’t matter how many of your neighbours “sign up” to the same firm as you, or a different firm, or forego broadband entirely. As long as demand is above a very low minimum threshold that makes it worthwhile offering service to that area, security will be available. And I predict pretty much everybody will sign up with some security firm, because people like being secure just as much, if not more, than they like broadband. The amount of resources a society devotes to security will be determined by how much consumers are willing to pay for security.

What happens if other countries offer the security firms a better deal?

That is incredibly unlikely given the differential between how much people are willing to pay to retain their own freedom versus how much they are willing to pay to take somebody else’s freedom. And even if the security firms are bought by a foreign power, new firms will immediately spring up to replace them… can you imagine what would happen if all broadband providers bizarrely decided to stop operating in the UK because they got “a better deal” from another country? Obviously you would get new firms buying up the capital, employing the same labor, and operating the same way as the old firms, and this would happen extremely quickly due to the strength of market incentives.

If you think about it, this is a strange objection, given that it is far less likely for all the security firms to be bought out by a foreign power than it is for the state to be bought out by a foreign power. Politicians are cheap! Corruption is easier! And talk about having all your eggs in one basket! Having a monopoly on armed forces is practically begging for a wannabe dictator or foreign state to take over. If you are worried about foreign influence, or the influence of a small group of billionaires, the state is the worst possible thing to support, because it is the system that most empowers them.

If military forces were purely private businesses wouldn’t they literally fight wars over markets and resources?

States fight wars over markets and resources. Private firms would be far less likely to do so, as they have more to lose, since they can’t externalise the costs of war onto taxpayers, the way states do. States can ignore a million people marching in the streets and still go to war. A private security firm is not going to be able to start a war when it’s customers could cut off all their revenue just by canceling a direct debit. Wars would be less common if armed forces were privatised.

A private army is loyal to it’s bank balance, nothing else, and would work for the highest bidder – not necessarily a country. Many large multinationals could support a small military of their own. Imagine Shell have just attacked and captured a BP oil rig, what could be done to make them return it before BP launch a counter attack?

You have a choice to buy from Shell or BP or neither. If you don’t like what one of them did, you can literally cut off their funding, by no longer buying from them, and this removes them of all power. Consumers have so much more power over what firms do than voters have over what states do. You stop buying their product, and they can no longer pay their army. That’s consumer power!

Whereas, if your government decides to go to war, what power do you have? What power do a million people marching have? Evidently, not enough to prevent a war. The state is getting your money using coercion, you have no option to stop paying, so it doesn’t care that you don’t want your money spent on military aggression overseas. The state gets paid regardless of your disapproval.

Attacking a competitor’s oil rig would be the most monumentally stupid business decision. Shell would be out of business overnight and their leaders would be brought to justice. Whereas states endure, and can’t go bankrupt because they can always just steal a little more. Lack of competitors means leaders of states that started wars are rarely brought to justice: Blair, Bush, Obama, Cameron… why aren’t any of them in jail? Because of the monopoly. The armed forces should be privatised so that the law can be applied equally to everyone.