The language of budget cuts, austerity, and sequestration seem to dominate the media's landscape these days, instilling fear into Americans of vital government services being cut and chaos ensuing if governments aren't allowed to spend and borrow infinitely. Conservatives decry supposed cuts to the military-industrial-complex, and liberals bemoan that without government welfare transfer programs, there would be social Darwinism. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) even blamed the Benghazi scandal on — wait for it — budget cuts and the sequester.
Leaving aside the details on whether the U.S. budget is actually shrinking, one needs to look no further than the city of Detroit to find the spontaneous order, civic cooperation, and peaceful market forces that take over when government simply isn't around.
Detroit is absolutely bankrupt. The city faces a cash shortfall of more than $100 million by June 30. Long-term liabilities, including pensions, exceed $14 billion. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder wants to bail out Detroit's city government even further. Thanks to the financial situation of Detroit, emergency services like police and fire departments are being severely cut short. 911 is only taking calls during business hours. Homes have been abandoned making parts of the city look like a ghost town.
If our public servants are right and wouldn't dare lie and try to scare us, then chaos, anarchy and lawlessness should reign in Detroit now, right? Well, not exactly.
Dale Brown and his organization, the Threat Management Center (TMC), have helped fill in the void left by the corrupt and incompetent city government. Brown started TMC in 1995 as a way to help his fellow Detroit citizens in the midst of a rise in home invasions and murders. While attempting to assist law enforcement, he found little but uninterested officers more concerned with extracting revenue through traffic tickets and terrorizing private homes with SWAT raids than protecting person and property.
In an interview with Copblock.org, Brown explains how and why his private, free market policing organization has been so successful. The key to effective protection and security is love, says Brown, not weapons, violence, or law. It sounds a bit corny, yes, but the results speak for themselves.
Almost 20 years later and Detroit's financial mess even more apparent, TMC now has a client base of about 1,000 private residences and over 500 businesses. Thanks to TMC's efficiency and profitability, they are also able to provide free or incredibly low-cost services to the poor as well.
The reasons TMC has been so successful is because they take the complete opposite approach that government agencies, in this case law enforcement, do. Brown's philosophy is that he would rather hire people who see violence as a last resort, and the handful of Detroit police officers who actually worked with Brown in the earlier years and have an interest in genuine protection now work for TMC. While governments threaten their citizens with compulsion, fines, and jail if they don't hand over their money, TMC's funding is voluntary and subject to the profit-loss test; if Brown doesn't provide the services his customers want, he goes out of business.
This means that Brown is not interested in no-knock para-military SWAT raids, "officer safety" as the highest priority, bloated union pensions, or harassing people for what they have in their bloodstream. TMC works with its customers on the prevention of crime as well rather than showing up after the fact to take notes like historians.
The heroic Brown and TMC are a great example of how the market and civil society can and do provide services traditionally associated with the state far better, cheaper and more in tune to people's wants and needs. I have always believed policing, protection and security are far too important to be run by the state — especially in age of militarized Stormtroopers — and Brown is helping show why.
Law enforcement isn't the only "essential government service" that the private sector is taking over and flourishing in. The Detroit Bus Company (DBC) is a private bus service that began last year and truly shows a stark contrast in how the market and government operates. Founded by 25-year-old Andy Didorosi, the company avoids the traditionally stuffy, cagey government buses and uses beautiful vehicles with graffiti-laden exterior designs that match the heart of the Motor City. There are no standard bus routes; a live-tracking app, a call or a text is all you need to get picked up in one of their buses run on soy-based biofuel. All the buses feature wi-fi, music, and you can even drink your own alcohol on board! The payment system is, of course, far cheaper and fairer.
Comparing this company's bus service to say, my local San Francisco MUNI transit experience, is like comparing the services of local, free-range, organic farms in the Bay Area to the Soviet bread lines.
Not surprisingly, the city government, which has no time to protect its citizens, does manage to find the time to harass peaceful citizens in this spontaneous, market order. Charles Molnar and a couple of other students from the Detroit Enterprise Academy wanted to help make benches for the city's bus stops, where long-waits are the norm, equipped with bookshelves to hold reading material.
Detroit Department of Transportation officials quickly said the bench was "unapproved" and had it taken down. Silly citizens, don't you know only governments can provide these services?
The TMC and the DBC are just two of the larger, more visible examples of the market and voluntary human cooperation reigning in Detroit. "Food rebels," running local community gardens, are an alternative to Big Agriculture and government-subsidized factory farms. Private parking garages are popping up. Detroit residents are using Lockean homesteading principles to repurpose land amongst the rubble of the Fed-induced housing bubble. Community events like Biergartens and large, civic dining gatherings (with no permits or licenses!) are being organized privately. Even Detroit's artists are beginning to reflect this anarchic, peaceful movement in their artwork.
Detroit's city government may be in shambles financially, but the citizens of Detroit are showing what happens when people are given their liberty back. For centuries, libertarians have been arguing for strict limits on state power, the benefits of private, civic society, and the bottom-up, spontaneous order that arises where free markets and voluntary interactions dominate. Perhaps we shouldn't be so scared and sicken with political Stockholm Syndrome the next time politicos fear-monger over budgets cuts.