Gregory Sams
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24. Strange Fruit

It is fashionable today for politicians to try and combine the coercive power of the state with the creativity and efficiency of our enterprise culture. Unfortunately, by introducing their own coercive "do it or we'll hit you" formula into the equation, they break the feedback loop so essential for the long term success of any component of the complex system we call society.

At its most benign this combination just results in us paying them a lot to select whom we pay to do the job, as is the case with roadworks and waste handling. But the results often bear strange fruit and the very strangest of these indeed must be the wheel clamp. In the UK, "private enterprise" firms are engaged by local councils to seek out and punish vehicle owners who have parked where the state has decided they should not park. These are, presumably, places where a parked car is likely to inconvenience or endanger pedestrians or other road users. Perhaps it narrows the road by blocking a lane, or blinds vision at a dangerous corner or interferes in one way or another with safe and effective road usage. When they find someone so parked, or a parking meter tenant whose rent is overdue, they call in the clamping van which will then often double-park alongside the offending vehicle. Aware that they are creating further road blockage, the highly trained team jump out and within moments are away again, having attached a large yellow immobilising clamp onto a wheel of the car. When the driver returns, the process now required to remove the clamp takes from 30 minutes to two hours or more and costs over £ 60 ($100).*

*In Scotland in 1992 the Lord Justice General, whilst unable to pronounce on state wheel clamping, banned the practice by private landowners on the basis of his judgement that the practice was "extortion and theft."

It would seem to be obvious that the punishment for the transgression serves only to prolong the offence that has been committed, or to exacerbate the danger that is trying to be prevented. Imagine using this technique in other areas of human endeavour. You are four days late in paying the monthly rent on your apartment. As retribution the landlord locks you into your apartment for two months and demands six months rent before he will let you out. Perhaps it could be applied to drunken drivers who are forced as punishment to drink a very expensive bottle of whisky and then drive home. One could almost extend this principle to killing the friends and relatives of a convicted mass murderer. If there is a reason not to park somewhere, then it defies common sense to punish the parker by exacerbating the offence. Yet when the state is involved, common sense is not, and combining this with private enterprise is a dangerous approach indeed.

Now we are seeing local governments rely increasingly upon fines against their constituents and confiscation of assets, to supply a basic and budgeted portion of their income. So really, if they are to fully privatise their fund-raising approach to traffic management, we should soon see some bold marketing initiatives by local traffic departments. Why not offer the motorist the opportunity to purchase five parking ticket fines in advance, and get one free, for instance! Or do a special 25% Christmas discount in December on wheel clamp removals?

In some areas the combination of state and private enterprise may indeed improve efficiency at no cost, and a case has been made for this with local council waste removal. In a well-intentioned local council, some of this saving may filter back through reduced council tax or slower increases. However, we are unlikely to share directly in the reduced cost and we are still given no choice on who removes our waste. Suppose that a company wants to start up and collect our waste for 50p a week (provided we sort it), funding their cheaper price with efficient recycling. Assuming that they could operate legally at the price of just " 26 per year, we would most certainly still have to make our contribution to the council for waste disposal we were no longer using.

And there is no mechanism whatever in the toolbag of the state to naturally encourage less wasteful lifestyles through incentive rather than punishment. Imagine if you could develop a comfortable lifestyle that recycled almost everything, producing a bare minimum of waste that needed removal.
This would be great news for the planet and your community, yet there is no direct benefit to be had through less cost for your waste removal - just the good feeling that you are in a harmonious interface with the planet.

One of the most frightening strange fruits of coercion and free enterprise is the growing privatisation of the prison industry. Here we have the state creating a private industry which relies upon the state's coercive power to supply it with inmates. This industry will always be a strong lobby in support of new laws against victimless crimes - which laws now probably account for some 70%* of all American prison inmates. Private prisons are now a "hot" investment stock in America, which has seen its prison population triple over a twenty year period during which crimes involving victims have remained essentially constant.

* This is a fair guess, based on the established 60% that are drug offenders and assuming that another 10% are made up from the plethora of other victimless crime offences that can land you in an American jail these days, including making errors on or not submitting business forms completed for statistical purposes.

The coercive "do it or I'll hit you" approach has never been a successful long-term strategy for businesses, companies or enterprises. Attempting to harness this approach with private enterprise in order to make the state more efficient brings very grave dangers with only an occasional cost saving benefit.

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From the book "Uncommon Sense - The State is Out of Date"
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