Tuesday, 30 June 2009

RFC: Free Market Policing

How would a free market police force work?

Recent discussions on another thread about the benefits (or otherwise) of a free market system have caused some contemplation upon my part.

At this point I should probably confess to being a capitalist, although one that sees a role for a certain level of social democratic values and a higher regard for a measure of "profit" beyond that measured by simple monetary values.

Nevertheless, the discussion has made me consider how various aspects of our life would be if we lived in a pure "free market".

One aspect of this is how would our police force(s) operate in a free market?

Tim Harford in his book "The Undercover Economist" from 2006 had the following to say about the current non-market situation:

"Think of your friendly local police force, which is paid for by a non-market system of taxation. The non-market system has some advantages - for one thing, when you dial 999 nobody asks for your credit card details. The government is supposed to afford the same level of protection to the rich and poor, although it does not always seem that way."

He then went on to comment on some of the disadvantages of a non-market system:

"if a police officer is rude or incompetent, you don't have the option to shop for a different police force. If you think that the level of police protection you receive is excessive, it's not up to you to cut back a bit. Neither can you spend more if you decide that you'd like extra service. No, you have to lobby your local politicians and hope they consider your demands."

So this is a request for comments (RFC) - are we better served by a non-market system of paying for our police forces or would we be better served if police forces operated in a free market environment?

It is over to you......


  1. As I'm sure you realise policing is one of those activities that are most difficult to adapt to a free market framework, so I for one am not even going to try.

    It would be much more interesting and topical to discuss whether the free market should apply to transport since there are changes afoot in this area. I'd happily argue for the free market in that context if anyone cares to argue against it.

  2. It doesn't necessarily have to be an either/or proposition; you could augment the current public-sector forces with privately funded investigative or patrol services.

    I suspect the prosecutorial function of the Crown Prosecution Service is the bit of the Criminal Justice system that would best respond to market incentives.