« Reading List: Spychips | Main | Reading List: A Short History of Nearly Everything »

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pistol Packing Feds

The fundamental difference between government and private entities which perform comparable functions is that government, based upon the supposed notion of a “social contract”, reserves to itself the use of force to achieve its ends. Such coercion at the hands of other, non-governmental, players (for example, price-fixing, abuse of a monopoly position, intimidation of competitors or labour unions, etc.) is rightly deemed criminal and often aggressively prosecuted by the state (with perhaps some of its zeal due to aversion to competition). Yet the very same acts, performed by authorities elected with 51% of the votes or appointed to act on their behalf, is presented to the public and in the legacy media as entirely benign: in “the public interest”.

At the peak of the coercive pyramid is the bare fact that the government can kill you and get away with it. This isn't about capital punishment; those civilised countries which employ the death penalty apply it mostly as a sanction for crimes against individuals, not opposition to the government . (In uncivilised countries, it's another matter entirely, but that's a different question.) No, the real power of the state is embodied in government agents who carry weapons and wield arrest authority within its own territory for use against its own citizens and residents. Let's take a glance at the United States, a country of about 300 million people, and see how many agents of its federal government are entitled to pack lethal force and arrest people within its borders. The data in the following table are taken from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Federal Law Enforcement Officers, 2004 report; this is the most recent year for which these statistics are available.

Agency Pistoleros
U.S. Customs and Border Protection 27,705
Federal Bureau of Prisons 15,214
Federal Bureau of Investigation 12,242
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 10,399
U.S. Secret Service 4,769
Drug Enforcement Administration 4,400
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts 4,126
U.S. Marshals Service 3,233
U.S. Postal Inspection Service 2,976
Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation 2,777
Veterans Health Administration 2,423
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives
National Park Service 2,148
U.S. Capitol Police 1,535
Bureau of Diplomatic Security,
Diplomatic Security Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
Division of Law Enforcement
USDA Forest Service,
Law Enforcement & Investigations
Pentagon Force Protection Agency 482
U.S. Mint 376
Department of Health and Human Services (IG) 374
Department of the Treasury, Tax Administration (IG) 330
Department of Defense (IG) 326
Bureau of Indian Affairs 320
Amtrak 317
Department of Energy 292
Social Security Administration (IG) 279
Bureau of Land Management 249
Bureau of Engraving and Printing 234
Department of Housing and Urban Development (IG) 213
Environmental Protection Agency 209
Food and Drug Administration 177
Department of Agriculture (IG) 170
Tennessee Valley Authority 168
Department of Labor (IG) 142
National Marine Fisheries Service 141
Department of Homeland Security (IG) 132
Department of Justice (IG) 128
U.S. Supreme Court 125
Department of Veterans Affairs (IG) 116
Library of Congress 116
Department of Transportation (IG) 108
Department of Education (IG) 97
Bureau of Industry and Security 90
National Institutes of Health 75
Federal Emergency Management Agency 63
Department of the Interior (IG) 57
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (IG) 54
Environmental Protection Agency (IG) 53
General Services Administration (IG) 50
Department of Energy (IG) 47
Government Printing Office 40
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (IG) 39
Small Business Administration (IG) 29
National Institute of Standards and Technology 28
National Zoological Park 28
Office of Personnel Management (IG) 27
Bureau of Reclamation 24
Department of State (IG) 18
Department of the Treasury (IG) 16
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (IG) 15
U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (IG) 14
Agency for International Development (IG) 13
Department of Commerce (IG) 13
DHS Citizen and Immigration Services 9
Government Printing Office (IG) 7
Total 104,883

So, for about every 3000 residents of the U.S., there is one Federal agent entitled to carry a firearm to murder them on behalf of their consensual government. Now this may not seem like very many, but note that in the United States regular law enforcement—the cops—is entirely the responsibility of state and local government; the gunguys and gungals listed above are a layer on top of that, beholden only to the central power in Washington.

What is stunning are not the items at the top of the table: it makes sense that customs agents, border and federal prison guards, FBI agents, and the like carry guns, but rather those you find as you go down the list. [The “(IG)” annotation indicates that these people work for the Inspector General office of the respective agency, which is kind of its internal security branch.] First of all, look at what ultimately happens if you don't pay your taxes: there are 2,777 employees of the Internal Revenue Service authorised to carry weapons to shoot you down. Further down the list, we find that the Department of Health and Human Services has need of 374 pistol-packing Inspectors General to maintain its own departmental health by threatening human life. The Department of Housing and Urban Development manages to get along with a mere 213, while the Environmental Protection Agency issues 209 licenses to kill to keep the air and water pristine.

The Library of Congress keeps 116 terminators on staff—better return that book on time when you borrow it from them! The Department of Education manages with 97 armed enforcers (do your homework, kiddies), and the National Institutes of Health employs 75 minions authorised to impact the health of those who cross them with the most invasive of therapies. Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology has 28 precision gunsels on its roster, presumably to liquidate those who might try to slip in a spurious leap second in order to slack off after a wild New Year's party.

What's striking about this is that comparable organisations in the private sector seem to get along just fine without all the hired killers. Sure, they may have security guards who, depending on the circumstances, might be armed, but why on Earth does a library, even one as capacious as the Library of Congress, need 116 state sanctioned shooters?

When you see the state's immediate and instinctive recourse to deadly force, it's easy to understand why so many who worship the state are so eager to reserve to the state the exclusive right to employ lethal force and to deny the means of self defense—the granddaddy of all human rights—to lawful citizens.

It is not my intent to single out the United States as employing lethal force on behalf of its state organs. I use the U.S. as an example simply because the data are available on-line and it's a large country which accounts of a significant part of the world's GDP. The ratio of armed citizens to armed government agents in the the U.S. is almost certainly higher than in most other countries.

Posted at November 9, 2007 23:25