The premature loss of any human life is tragic. I do not know whether Trayvon Martin death was or was not racially motivated. I do not know whether George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood or in self defense. In the final analysis Mr. Zimmerman is the only living person who knows exactly what happened that night.
I have my suspicions and I would be willing to share them with you later, but the purpose of this article is not to solve the mystery of what was going through Mr. Zimmerman’s head the night of Mr. Martin’s death; the purpose here is to refute claims that Mr. Martin’s death was somehow caused or enabled by anti-government sentiments. His death is not an example of renegade free market law run wild and this unfortunate incident should not be used as evidence of need for more government restriction on individual liberty.
Rutgers law professor David Troutt recently wrote an editorial in Politico in which he placed the ultimate responsibility for Mr. Martin’s death on “the invisible intersection of racial hatred and hating government,” as well as on “the extremes of privatization.” He further claimed that “hating government allows this to happen. It helps pass laws that put too much power in private hands while penalizing government for performing traditional duties like crime investigation.“
Mr. Troutt is absolutely wrong to condemn privatization and the market for causing the death of Mr. Martin.
First of all, there is not a free market system of private law which dominates in America. The American system, including that in use in Florida is a centralized bureaucratic system of law which is generated through the political system. Law is created by legislators, interpreted by judges, and enforced by an executive branch which includes police officers, justice departments, attorneys general, and so on. Jurors are conscripted from the general public and forced to participate in the legal process. In any given area, one local police department has monopoly jurisdiction over the handling of crimes committed in that area. Competitive policing agencies are non-existent: victims have no say which police department handles their case. The constituent parts of government justice systems are monopolies in which competition is not allowed and the price system cannot properly function. If a person is unhappy with the police or courts in their area, there is nothing that they can do about it short of moving to a different jurisdiction and hoping for better results.
This is a far stretch from a private legal system which is advocated by many libertarians. Under a private legal system, law would be created by competing agencies and would be adhered to voluntarily by individuals who sought protection from the various agencies. In a private legal system, law is not created through “legislation” (at least not in the current usage of the word), law is created contractually, or through the ruling of common law courts and arbitration societies. If an agency creates laws which coercively restrict the freedom of their clients, they will likely lose profits when their clients switch to a competing agency. It is likely that the providers of free-market law would resemble insurance companies, with their global networks, reinsurance contracts, teams of actuaries and underwriters, contracts and peaceful business dealings with competing insurance firms, etc.
It is clear that no such system operates in the United States of America. Mr. Troutt is simply taking the route most preferred by modern academics: blame “capitalism,” the market, deregulation, and radical privatization for all of society’s problems without either defining any of these terms or recognizing that capitalism is not a feature of the American economy.
Mr. Troutt also makes the claim that “laws that abdicate government responsibility in favor of personal ideas of justice often lead to unintended consequences.”
The author’s rhetorical trick has the effect of making the argument that only these types of laws have unintended consequences, while laws which increase government power are magically exempt from the possibility of creating unintended consequences. Furthermore, by making this comment, the author ignores the fact that all government legislation necessarily entails the abdication of individual liberty in favor of increased government power, and that this guarantees unintended consequences as well.
Yes, George Zimmerman was a member of the neighborhood watch program, but that hardly means that the market itself is responsible for his actions. Police officers kill unarmed civilians all the time—and no this fact does not in any way make what happened to Mr. Martin OK–but I suspect that Mr. Troutt has never argued that laws which protect police officers from immediate arrest are examples of bad legislation.
Mr. Zimmerman’s neighborhood watch duties were in the context of a governmental legal system. It was the government, not the market which passed the Stand Your Ground law which Mr. Troutt opposes. It was the government, not the market which released Mr. Zimmerman without charging him with a crime or holding him for questioning.
Troutt argues that “The Sanford police evidently conducted little investigation — relying instead on Zimmerman’s account.” Notice that the failure was not a market failure, but rather a government failure: it was the Sanford Police Department who allegedly botched the investigation, not the Acme Protective Services Corporation or any other privately run firm.
Mr. Troutt has issues with the “Stand Your Ground Law” which grants legal protection to those using deadly force to defend themselves against what they perceive to be a threat on their lives.
The author is correct to oppose laws which grant special protection to some people (ie, Stand Your Ground gives special protection to those who claim self defense), but he is wrong to argue that Stand Your Ground is a market reform. Stand Your Ground is a government intervention which, as pointed out about, inevitably leads to unintended consequences. Ludwig von Mises noted that statists tend to ignore the root cause of these consequences (the intervention itself) and call for further interventions. The process repeats itself as each new wave of interventions leads to worse and worse consequences and further interventions to combat these consequences.
Mr. Troutt’s article is offensive to defenders of freedom because of its implications; an unarmed teen was killed by a member of a neighborhood watch group and Mr. Troutt’s first reaction is to propose restricting freedom. Whether Mr. Zimmerman sought to murder Mr. Martin or whether this was an honest mistake, we do not know whether Mr. Zimmerman had even heard of the Stand Your Ground law before he shot Mr. Martin. We also do not know whether he would have acted any differently had no such law been in place. This makes it highly unlikely that Mr. Martin is dead because of the existence of that law or that repealing that law a few months ago would have saved Mr. Martin’s life.
If Mr. Zimmerman was a cold blooded killer on the prowl, he would have shot Mr. Martin regardless of whether or not Stand Your Ground was in effect. Killers kill people with disregard to the law. Hence the existence of murder even though it remains unlawful.
Conversely, if Mr. Zimmerman shot Mr. Martin in self defense as he claimed, he would have done that regardless of the existence of Stand Your Ground. When people feel that their live is being threatened, they tend to take whatever action the deem to be necessary to save themselves. They certainly do not tend to think about whether an action is legal or illegal before they act to save their own lives.
Under any system of law, there will always be people who commit murders, rapes, and other crimes. This is true of a free market system as well as of a totalitarian system. Those who use events like Mr. Martin’s death to advocate against individual liberty and for greater government control should think hard about what they are doing. Centralized governments have a horrendous track record with regards to human rights including murdering. In the last century alone, well over 100 million people were killed by governments, while the number killed by individuals is a tiny fraction of this number.
It is important to remember that a child is dead. This tragedy was not caused by advocates of the free market or by efforts at privatization. The goal of law is to achieve justice, to the maximum extent humanly possible. The Stand Your Ground law which led to Mr. Zimmerman’s release was a government intervention designed to grant special privileges to those claiming self-defense. If anything, this tragedy was not caused by the free market, but by the lack thereof.