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This is a sort of follow-up on a segment on Dr. Hsieh's latest "Rationally Selfish" webcast, but with a broader scope. The segment was about whether or not "private prisons" would be proper. To quote her "answer in brief":

Private prisons aren't more or less of a problem than state-run prisons, since any prison must be either run by or funded and overseen by the government. (...)

Now, this seems to me to miss a crucial aspect of the question: is it proper for the government to contract out its monopoly on the retaliatory use of force at all? If memory serves me right, Dr. Peikoff answered a question about this, but since I am unable at the moment to load his website (is it just me...?), I can't verify that or say with certainty what his answer was.

I am thinking here not only of private prisons, but also of private courts, private police, and private military, perhaps in the form of security contractors such as the infamous Blackwater.

What are your thoughts?

Edit: Here is Dr. Peikoff's podcast I was referring to: http://www.peikoff.com/2010/06/07/to-what-extent-is-it-proper-for-a-government-to-outsource-its-legitimate-function-to-private-contract/

asked Nov 01 '11 at 16:31

FCH's gravatar image


edited Nov 03 '11 at 19:29

Ok, realizing I hadn't listened to the end of the segment, I guess she does adress this issue somewhat, but I still think its worth asking in this explicit form.

(Nov 01 '11 at 16:44) FCH FCH's gravatar image

I listened to the same segment. It made me wonder what would be private about a private prison if it was funded by and controlled by ("overseen by") the government. If the gov sets the rules and procedures, checks to make sure they are implemented, and signs everyone's checks, it seems like the only difference between straight-up government running and privatization is that the chain of command will be more confusing (ultimately though, the top of the chain will be some gov official).

(Nov 01 '11 at 18:37) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Well, one issue that I could see arising is accountability - if the government is not directly the employer of prison guards, soldiers, police etc., is it then responsible for their potential excessive use of force in the same way as it would be if it was directly labelled a government operation? I think especially with regards to private prison and Blackwater-type PMCs, this concern of mine has some basis in reality.

(Nov 01 '11 at 18:57) FCH FCH's gravatar image

Government contracts out all of its work to private individuals or organizations. Sometimes, government contracts work out to a private individual via an employment contract outlining general long-term responsibilities. Other times, government contracts work out to a private organization via another type of contract, sometimes outlining specific deliverable objectives, other times outlining long-term responsibilities. The question is: is there a difference in kind? and, if so, what is its impact on government's monopoly on the use of force?

(Nov 02 '11 at 11:12) Justice Justice's gravatar image

I was thinking along the same lines. I think that the most important factor to consider in determining the propriety of the contract is the control exercised by the government. The greater discretion the private entity has, the less appropriate the contracting out of use-of-force appears. Alternatively, there is a whole body of law that might also be useful: agency law. Off the cuff, I would say that if the relationship between the private entity and the gov is such that the private entity would be found to be an agent of the gov, then this would be a factor indicating there is no problem.

(Nov 02 '11 at 17:07) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

In response to Justice's comment, I guess one question is whether there is a difference between "contracting out" and "contracting". To explain what I mean, if there's any difference at all, it would be that between "I, the government am hiring you to carry out this specific task" and "I, the government, am hiring you to hire people to carry out this task". So another way of putting it might be whether there's a real distinction between government contracting with individual employees vs. corporations etc.

(Nov 02 '11 at 17:49) FCH FCH's gravatar image
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When government hires an individual, the nature of the related employment agreement is contractual. Similarly, when government buys a product from a private company, they are engaging in a form of contractual relationship with that company. So, I don't see any philosophical or moral reason why a company couldn't or shouldn't take the place of one or more individuals when it comes to the use of force.

The main challenges would be to keep those types of relationships free of favoritism (cronyism), fraud and corruption. I think that's possible, but it would take some careful thought and planning beforehand.

answered Nov 03 '11 at 00:33

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Rick ♦

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Asked: Nov 01 '11 at 16:31

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Last updated: Nov 03 '11 at 19:29