Government Services: Where the Customer is Always Wrongby Kevin Carson, Center for a Stateless Society
Jun. 15, 2010
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In the normal course of affairs, when we consume services offered on the market, we expect only to get the services we ask for, and to pay for just what we get. If we don’t want the service a business is providing, we don’t have to consume it or pay for it. And if someone else offers a superior version of the service on terms that we prefer, we can take our business elsewhere.
Reader reactions to the Red & Black Cafe story, where the manager of an anarchist coffee house in Portland evicted a cop, are especially interesting against this background. One particular refrain can be summarized as “Just wait’ll you need a cop!” For example, Big Mack asks: “I wonder if they would be willing to tear their phones off their walls so that in case of a fire or a robbery, they won't have to ‘bother’ the 911 operators by asking for a responder to come over to help.”
Let’s do a little thought experiment: Imagine a bakery that, instead of selling you what you ask for when you go inside, enrolls you on their customer list against your will, charges your account for whatever package of goods they think you should buy, and sends someone to collect the bill at gunpoint. If you want any of the pastries or loaves they have on display, you’re expected to take them along with the bakery’s choice of other offerings whether you want them or not.
And if you walk in to pick up a loaf of fresh-baked bread, and the baker beats you senseless or tasers you, you’d better not complain if you don’t want to be called a hypocrite. After all, you badmouth the baker, you dirty stinking hippie, but you sure don’t mind coming to him when you want bread! Anyway, you little ingrate punk, I’ve seen what it’s like when people don’t have bread, and believe you me the bakers are the only thing standing between you and hunger!
Think about it. Do you think bread is something we wouldn’t have if there weren’t a special class of bakers who forced us to consume it on their terms, and collected payment from us by force? Do you think our need for bread obligates us to obey the orders of bakers without question, or let them beat us up when they’re having a bad day?
Obviously not. Because bread is something that people can provide for themselves with a household oven, or organize with their neighbors to produce through neighborhood bakery exchanges, or purchase from any number of competing bakers who have to offer an appealing product to willing buyers. There’s no technical reason the supply of bread can’t be organized in any way the people who consume it prefer.
Wouldn’t it be great if everything was like bread?
C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, both of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.