Little Red Blogger

This blog looks at radical politics(with a libertarian socialist slant), music and culture. Marx to Mises, Girls Aloud to Steve Reich...

Location: Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Coppers Want More Shooters: Why Arming More Police is a Bad Idea

After the recent tragic shooting of a female police officer in Bradford the police are once again pressing for more of their officers to be trained in the use of guns. The general consensus among police officers is that the percentage of armed officers be increased from 5% to 10%. There are also calls to recruit ex-soldiers into the police force to counter the perceived terrorist threat and as a result of this shooting. The police and various unscrupulous politicians are exploiting the current circumstances to press for yet more authoritarian police statuesque measures (see the current anti-terrorist bill with its provision for people being held for 28 days without trial). The media is also cynically egging this on due to the victim’s photogenic nature and easily marketable backstory. As ever events like this reminds one that politics has little to do with morality; keeping and increasing power is the name of game and many players see this incident as another means of doing this…

So why is arming the police a bad idea? Really it comes down to a mirror image of the American gun rights argument: that the government can’t be trusted with sole monopoly over the means of delivering force on it’s population, and of course adhering to the sound revolutionary principle of having the means to kick the current government out of office, using force if necessary. The converse of this point of view is to keep the police unarmed and thus on an equal level to the citizenry that they are recruited from, either everyone’s armed or no-one at all. Any other position is inconsistent and incoherent leaving the general population open to predation of an ever unsatisfied and more illiberal police force. The police like any politically savvy institution recognise that as Mao put it ‘power grows from the barrel of a gun’

There are two fundamental tensions in the history of British policing that of the bottom up localised force organised county by county conflicting with the perceived need from the government to have a nationally organised force to deal with nationally organised crimes. The second tension is that of the centralised. British policing prior to the Bow Street Runners had been generally a bottom-up ad hoc phenomenon, community run and community organised. The general trend over the last 200 years has been to centralise, professionalize and ‘streamline’ the police, separating them further from the population that they originated from, having yet more armed officers and recruiting ex-soldiers militarises the police turning them into an occupying army rather than a community run and organised institution.

Aside from these philosophical objections to an armed police force there are also sound utilitarian reasons for not trusting the police with the use of deadly force on an unarmed population. The recent police assassination of Mendez while getting on the tube is perhaps the clearest example of why arming the police is a very bad idea, after all guns are quite a handy way of getting around all that messy trial stuff and those antiquated notions of being innocent before being proved guilty, all that messy business of actually having to present evidence in a trial and it does circumvent those running dog defence lawyers as well. All in all more guns for the police is a win/win scenario and anyone with any nous can see that the police an institution will press as hard as they can to extend their powers at the expense of other groups in society. In this instance it is in the interests of wider society for politicians and activists to oppose more police being able to use firearms in the course of their daily duties.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Corporatists Daydream: Tescos Cut Down to Size(or not..)

American readers of this blog are obviously familiar with the depredations of Walmart and the company’s manipulation of the US planning laws to fuel its seemingly exponential growth. In the UK the closest equivalent to Walmart is Tesco in terms of its market power, and the leverage they have over both consumers and producers. Tesco has not really innovated to expand, more a case of doing what other supermarkets traditionally do except better, bigger and cheaper. Tesco like Walmart has aggressively expanded taking market share from its traditional competitors and hurting other non-grocery related businesses like M&S as well. While not being a monopoly Tesco does hold a dominant place within the UK supermarket sector with one out of every eight pounds being spent by UK shoppers in Tesco.

Now it’s being reported that the Office of Fair Trading (an oxymoronic title in our current system) seeks to divest Tesco of some of its stores so as to curb its market dominance. The typical vulgar libertarian would throw their hands up in horror at this, for how can the government dare intervene in the sacred workings of the free market thus the kneejerk response by Adam Smith Institutes of this world would be to support Tesco against the government. In fact the whole debate is framed in statist language with both sides accepting the same basic assumptions. The traditional social democrat along with the vulgar libertarian in this instance do not truly look at the material causes of Tesco’s dominance of the market place and both offer no true solution to the problem that Tesco and it’s ilk have become.

The typical social democratic or to be more accurate the liberal reformist approach is to do as the Office of Fair Trading suggests: trim Tesco’s wings slightly by forcing it to sell a few stores. This again is very short-sighted and ignores what (in a terms used by a FSA regulator) the complex monopoly of the Supermarket sector. As I noted above as businesses the supermarkets are pretty much interchangeable as can be observed whenever one supermarket takes over another’s store. The lettering and colouring might change but the way the business works remains pretty much the same. So removing a few stores from Tesco may slow down its expansion or at best stop it completely what it will not do is stop another supermarket chain doing exactly the same thing in an ever so slightly different way. The internal logic of the current state capitalist marketplace coupled with the complex monopoly of the Supermarket chains does tend to produce predictable outcomes….

The vulgar libertarian refuses to recognise the role of the state in subsidising, cosseting and encouraging the growth of the supermarket as a viable business. Supermarkets could not exist without widespread car ownership, a viable road network, biased planning laws, subsidies to the trucking industry among a million other small perks and tweaks provided by the state. Tesco and other supermarket’s large size and consequent economies of scare are only possible within a oligarchic and cartelised state-capitalist marketplace. Take away the artificial supports and the large supermarket chains like Tesco would cease to exist in their present form, who knows what free market alternative would supplant them but it would reasonable to speculate that consumer and producer co-operatives of some variety would localise and decentralise the current supermarket distribution networks in favour of locally manufactured and produced goods.

Tesco’s size, market dominance, political influence and leverage with local councils are as ever a symptom of the dysfunctional nature of modern capitalism rather than a cause. Reformist and pseudo-free market approaches to fixing this problem miss the point and perpetuate the problem, kill the state and kill Tescos anything else is just window dressing.