12.10.2014

The Economics of Not Calling Law Enforcement: News From Eve's View

Good news begets more good news, and this is the good-news-begetting headline that caught my attention the other day: American flags stolen near Veterans' Day in Port Ludlow are returned to East Jefferson Rotary Club.

The brief news article is linked above for reading, but to surmise: 13 stolen American flags were returned anonymously; an anonymous citizen contacted the club with information concerning the flags and performed an independent investigation which led the citizen to all 13 stolen flags. Good work, anonymous citizen!

As if that isn't good enough, it gets better.  While reading the article I came across something that was so mind-boggling, so shocking, so...dare I say it, anarchical?...that it triggered my writer's reflex to share what I read with others.  Please, prepare yourself for the sentence that follows; sit down, take a deep breath, and read:
"Law enforcement was not involved in the recovery and will not be contacted to find the culprits, who were not identified, [Rotary Club President] Luce said."

Yes, you read that right; law enforcement was not involved. It is a Festivus miracle!

However, while it says that law enforcement was not involved, I do not automatically infer from the statement that the culprits got off without consequences for their actions, but everyone is free to infer what they wish.  For all I can speculate, the anonymous citizen and anyone else who discovered what the culprits did may have decided that it was best to privately handle the matter amongst themselves; perhaps the parties felt they were responsible enough to handle the matter without resorting to being babied with oversight from bureaucratic officers who are trained to lock people up (physically and financially with excessive fees, fines and penalties) rather than listen to them.

Whatever the reason for not involving law enforcement, I applaud it. After all, is that not a right the parties have, to not call law enforcement? Furthermore, whether or not it is a right, leaving law enforcement out of the matter is what was agreed upon by all the parties. Because, you see, law enforcers are not called when people are in agreement. Had the parties not agreed on that particular issue of not involving law enforcement, my recovering Stenog Sense leads me to be 99.9% certain that law enforcement would have been called as a result of such a disagreement, and this story would not have resulted the way that it did.

Ultimately, what I find to be so important about this news story that others should know about it is that people exercised their abilities, and rights, by independently handling the matter amongst themselves in a way they determined to be sufficient, instead of automatically turning to law enforcement to solve the problem at a cost to the taxpayers.

Does it still sound absolutely appalling that law enforcement was not called?  Then please consider this:
  • No taxpayer money was spent on excessive investigation expenses;
  • No law enforcement officers were pulled away from more immediate matters to take care of a matter that was satisfactorily dealt with; and
  • Nobody became a victim of the American legal system that continues to grow more questionable every time someone is violated at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Not only did the rotary club win by having property returned, but the taxpayers economically won by people handling the matter on their own and law enforcement not becoming involved. I even think the culprits received a reasonable win by having their identities withheld, along with being protected from an encroaching legal system by having the matter dealt with privately, but I digress.

When it comes to the cost of crime, in 2010 a team from Iowa State University calculated the societal costs of five major crimes, one of which was burglary. The ISU team calculated that the direct and collateral costs of burglary to society is $41,288. I do not know if the flag thefts would be legally classified as burglary, but that category is most closely related to theft of the five crimes and proves that theft via burglary is a financial burden on society. Had the flags been stolen out of a car, for instance, then it would qualify as burglary in ISU's calculations, according to the article True Crime Costs: Does every murder in the U.S. really cost society $17 million?

Therefore, with taxpayer money not wasted on investigating a matter that was taken care of through vigilant citizens working together, that money has potential to be used in other ways. Thus, the economy and the people stand to benefit from not losing taxpayer money to the expenses of prosecuting culprits through an overpriced legal system, hypothetically and speculatively speaking of course. But, is this only a hypothetical, or did the economy and people truly benefit in this news story? Hold on to yourselves; there is still more good news evidencing the mechanics of Frederic Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy, the idea that destruction of property does not benefit the economy, as alluded to above in the ISU calculations.

Consider that the cost of the stolen flags, when purchased new, was $455. Now, if the club would have paid to replace the stolen flags, that $455 would have come out of scholarship funds, forcing the club to use funds they had not intended to use and ultimately taking away from hard-working students. Fortunately, after the flags were stolen, anonymous donations were made to replace the flags. However, now that the flags have been returned, thus eliminating the need to spend funds on flags if none are damaged, the scholarship funds remain untouched and the donations now have potential to be turned into additional scholastic funds for students in the community. If that does not qualify Bastiat's Broken Window Fallacy as an economic reality, call me a Keynesian.

How awesome is all that for good news?! 
Stolen property was found and returned; law enforcement was not involved; no one became a victim to the legal system; no one had privacy violated by being named; student scholarships did not lose funds and could possibly gain funds; plus, it was all serendipitously tied up with an important economics lesson in the Broken Window Fallacy. Now that is totally awesome news...totally.
Questions:
  • Have you seen (or experienced) examples of the Broken Window Fallacy?
  • Do you think people should attempt to work out problems for themselves before involving law enforcement and the legal system?
  • If you had discovered the culprits, what would you have done?
 Please share your thoughts in a comment.

Thank you for reading.

Where in the world is Port Ludlow?

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