Eric Garner was killed by NY police who suspected him of selling “loosies” on the street – cigarettes sold singly, not in packs. The policeman who choked him to death was acquitted of any wrongdoing, triggering mass protests across America.
In “The State Is Out Of Date – We Can Do It Better” I recall a cigarette-related event witnessed in Morocco many years ago that opened my eyes to the obstacles to free enterprise imposed by the state.
An early insight into this restrictive climate came to me some years ago at a cafe in Marrakesh, where I noticed a young man standing on the corner each evening with a pack of twenty cigarettes, selling them singly to passersby. The customers were able to better manage their habit by buying the cigarettes singly. The young man was able to set up his own business as a retailer for the cost of a pack of cigarettes—an almost inconceivable concept in our developed “free” democracy. The bridge is great between the skills we need to manage our own enterprise, and those needed to do so according to the requirements of the state. Many are unable to cross this bridge, despite having all the skills that nature demands to interact in this way with society.
From Chapter 20, The State of Business
Police accused Eric Garner of practicing the “free” part of “free enterprise” and killed him while enforcing regulations imposed to keep us safe. He had proclaimed his innocence of that victimless crime. Michael Brown was confronted in Ferguson Missouri for jaywalking and shot dead – for ignoring street-crossing rules. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against regulation or the policing of it – it is an essential part of community. What we need is connected regulation generated from the bottom up and voluntarily adhered to by those who want to enjoy the social facilities, connections, and benefits that accompany respect for that regulation. Such self-government would evolve along with society without creating volumes of victimless crimes and monsters like the War on Drugs or the Common Agricultural Policy.
Earlier in the book we look at coercion, the basic tool of every sovereign power, and see that refusal to pay a parking ticket could ultimately lead to one’s death. As it happens, suspicion of unlawful cigarette selling was enough for Eric Garner.
“How does the state use coercion on us? Using a simple example like a parking fine, let us say that you absolutely refuse to pay this ticket or spend time in the court process trying to prove, say, that the police had blocked you from returning to your car in time due to a security scare. Anyway, no way are you going to pay a hundred dollars, pounds, or whatever to this uncaring and unresponsive state-sanctioned collection agency. Neither will you run and hide, accept losing your freedom and going to jail, nor will you let anyone impound your car or in any way take your money from you. So what does the state do? They will get your money, and they will coerce you into paying it; assuming that you are a relatively sane person, you will abandon your righteous determination and pay them.
Why? Because coercion ultimately means that if you are not willing to pay the fine or go to jail or run away, you can be killed. Shocking, isn’t it? Of course the state has bailiffs and ways of seizing your hundred whatevers before it comes to this. But if you really did not want them to collect their fine and either had no assets or had made them inaccessible, then the state would come to put you in prison for non-payment. If you did not go into hiding or sought to successfully resist this, actively defending yourself from being seized or stunned or gassed, then they would by some means eventually overcome and incarcerate you, or you would avoid going to prison on account of being dead. They will never say, “Well played, mate, we acknowledge your determination as righteous and will no longer press you to pay the fine imposed by our courts.”
Coercion may have been the only means to deal with threats such as Napoleon and Hitler who were, in essence, fighting other rulers for dominion over territory and the people within it. Horrifying to think, but had they won we might be looking back at them as great historic figures; a likely outcome when victors write the history. William the Conqueror got away with it, they did not. No visceral hatred of the English ever sent hoards of French or German people streaming onto cross-channel ferries armed with muskets and pickaxes. You need armies and governments to do that, or to protect us from governments and armies that do that. The more we spend on defense and security the more war and insecurity we will experience.