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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Privatization of Force and its Consequences

Some food for thought on the commodification of security, from The Privatization of Force and its Consequences - Unintended but not Unpredictable by Jörg Friedrichs:

There is a problem with asymmetrical access to security as a commodity. There is an increased risk that the people most in need of security are systematically excluded, with fatal consequences. This is supported by economic theory. As long as the provision of security is in the public domain, it is either a ‘public good’ or a ‘club good’ (Krahmann 2008). In a democratic society, security is a public good. Nobody is systematically excluded from its enjoyment, and nobody’s enjoyment is reduced by somebody else’s enjoyment. In a less democratic society, security may be a ‘club good’ for a privileged class while others are excluded. When security is provided by the market, however, it can never be a public good. Instead, it is either a ‘club good’ or a ‘private good’. For example, it is a ‘club good’ in the case of gated communities. In the case of a burglar alarm, it is a ‘private good’ which is consumed exclusively
and cannot be enjoyed by outsiders at the same time.

There is [also] a problem with the inherently expansive logic of the market. The provision of security by the market risks being driven by supply rather than need. This may be a problem even when security is publicly provided, for example when there is a military-industrial complex. However, the problem is exacerbated when security is provided by the market, because on the market supply tends to create its own demand. As other market actors, private security providers are set to engage in marketing, lobbying, and public relations to increase the demand for their products. The expansive dynamics of the market may contribute to the further de-legitimization and atrophy of the public sector where it is already at its weakest, e.g. in Africa (Leander 2005). In more developed parts of the world, where the commercial supply of security and force is matched by a consumer culture, the commodification of force is likely to lead to an endless spiralling of private supply and demand (Loader 1999).


In the United States and Britain, the ‘private police’ reached rough numerical equality with the public forces of order by the late 1960s and 1970s, respectively (Spitzer and Scull 1977: 18; Draper 1978: 23).11 In 2007, there were 625,880 public police officers and 1,032,260 million private security guards in the US (with security guards defined as those who ‘guard, patrol or monitor premises to prevent theft, violence or infractions of rule’).

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