This article was published in the Summer 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Locks in Layers:
Security Through Win-Win Connections
by Richard O. Hammer

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The Powerlessness Felt in Public Space
A Series of Perimeters
Public Space Destroys the Fragile Network of Ties in Voluntary, Win-Win Society
Two Final Illustrations

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Locks say loads about the environment in which owners attempt to secure property rights. In this article I observe the size and location of some locks as they occur in America, and speculate on the nature of locks which would come to be used in a free nation.

One time my television was showing a sitcom which was set in an apartment in New York City. I noticed something behind the action the locks on the door into the apartment. Those were serious locks. Not just your usual doorknob with a key slot, and not supplemented with just one deadbolt. The door had perhaps two deadbolts, and also one of those big side-to-side deals, which spanned the inside of the door with a steel bar anchored at each side.

Fortunately I have never lived anywhere where locks like that seemed necessary, but I believe such locks are common in some city neighborhoods. So what can we learn, if we think about the size and location of locks?

Well, in a sense it is obvious. The resident in the apartment is trying to establish a space within which the resident will have control of what happens. The resident recognizes that in other spaces, such as just beyond that door, the resident has almost no control over what happens. So, striving to maintain a perimeter, the resident installs whatever defenses seem necessary to fend off assaults which may come from the outer zone.

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The Powerlessness Felt in Public Space

The resident of that apartment in New York City probably has many neighbors in the building who have similarly invested in locks. It seems likely that they would all be better off if some institution empowered them to satisfy their need for security by policing the exterior entrances to the building, with locks or with other means. If the hallways in the building were more secure, residents of apartments would not need such an impressive panoply of locks on their individual doors. But probably the typical resident in such a building feels powerless to influence the policing of the entrances to the building.

This feeling of powerlessness, to achieve a change which seems as though it should be easy, raises a flag in my mind which I call "public space." Even though the hallways in the apartment building may be listed as "private" in the tax assessor's rolls, I expect that government has taken away so many of the landlord's choices that security in the hallways falls almost to the same low level as security on the government-policed street outside the building.

Let me explain why I call the interior hallways of the subject apartment building "public space." Recall this definition of ownership, ownership is the power to decide how to use the thing owned, and join me in examining who has power to decide important issues regarding management of the apartment building.

Who has power to choose the mix of product features (including security measures and rental price) which the landlord offers for sale in the form of a lease? This choice this aspect of ownership is regulated. Thus it belongs not to the landlord but to the public.

Who has power to choose to evict troublesome tenants? Again the landlord has limited power. Power to make this choice has been taken by government.

Government has set itself up as advocate for tenants. It has inserted itself between the tenants and landlord, in what would otherwise be a set of private, win-win, relationships. Typically a tenant or a landlord, who has a problem with the other, cannot resolve the problem by dealing just with the other, but must work through some government bureaucracy. A tenant who hopes to get better policing of the entryways to the building has to get this by influencing government.

Now, in America, government schools have taught us what we should do to try to get what we want from government. We should write letters to elected representatives, write letters to the editor, start a grassroots campaign to influence legislation, or even run for office. But, in America, real life has taught us the smartest way to improve security get bigger locks. In fact, most of us are powerless to influence the public space.

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A Series of Perimeters

The residents of an apartment building could more efficiently achieve the security they desire if they were protected by two perimeters, and not just one. Effective policing of the exterior entrances would create an interior zone of intermediate security. In this intermediate zone I expect that a spirit of community policing would grow.

In ongoing win-win relationships (in the ideal as I am trying to build the picture) every person has reason to listen to every attempt, from other persons, to communicate, because to shun an attempt to communicate alters the win-win balance in the relationship. A landlord who ignores a call from a tenant about a suspicious-looking stranger ignores this call at a price, because the tenant might balk in some future cooperation sought by the landlord. The landlord, being in business by virtue of serving tenants, will generally welcome, and act upon, calls from tenants. Thus empowered, tenants will, in their own interest, become eyes of an unofficial police force.

Thus the interior, intermediate zone of a truly private building should be policed much more effectively than the interior of a "private" building in which government has, by taking command of many important choices, inserted itself between tenants and landlord. In a truly private building I believe the locks which guard individual apartments would not grow so massive.

If not only the apartment building were private, but also the street on which the building is situated, then I think market forces might induce the owner of the street to erect a gate at the entry point to the street. And this third perimeter, if erected, will relieve some of the pressure on the second and first perimeters. The locks at those interior perimeters can diminish in size.

We see, in this developing picture of layers of locks, that the amount of locking required at any given perimeter increases with the deficiency of the policing in the outer layer. No locks are required at a perimeter where the outer layer seems sufficiently policed. Huge locks are required at a perimeter which stands alone, the only barrier between private space and totally unpoliced public space.

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Public Space Destroys the Fragile Network of Ties in Voluntary, Win-Win Society

Detractors may object that my image of a free nation begins to sound like a totally locked-up land, with keys, or formal permissions, being required to move anywhere. True, in one sense I believe this could happen, since government would not intervene to stop if from happening. But I do not think so.

This objection reminds me of other objections made about free markets, for instance the objection that greedy employers would, if not restrained by minimum-wage law, lower wages to near zero. But we, who understand how markets work, do not have this worry. We do not advocate low wages, but we understand that it is essential that employers be free to offer lower wages. Similarly, in the picture I am trying to build of security in a free nation, I do not advocate gates at the entrance to every thoroughfare, but I believe it is essential that each property owner, including the owners of thoroughfares, be free to choose to erect gates.

In the free nation I envision, once institutional evolution has settled down a bit, I expect locksmiths will find less work than in America. Since locks get smaller as the outer environment becomes more secure, I think many locks in the free nation will be nominal.

Notice that in America the biggest locks seem to protect private space from public space but not from other private space. Most owners of private property fear what might come from public space more than they fear what might come from adjoining private properties. With all property private, in the free nation as I envision it, I expect everything to be more secure. I expect fewer locks, not more.

Indeed, a lock, a piece of steel used in attempt to control the behavior of other humans, shows a failure of other means to control the behavior of those people.

As I see the theory of voluntary society, every relationship which lasts rewards both parties to that relationship; these relationships are win-win. Since life itself is, overall, a winning enterprise,1 and since free individuals will constantly adjust their relationships to maximize their wins and minimize their losses, in voluntary society a network of win-win relationships will surround most people most of the time. By and large, most people will have reason to look out for their neighbors, and their neighbors will have reason to look out for them.

But bring state into this network, and notice what happens. Most acts of government, by their very nature, rely upon coercion (otherwise these acts could, and would, be achieved by voluntary associations).

Thus acts of state override, and cut, the win-win ties that would otherwise form between individuals. Before each act of state, private individuals with particular needs will find that the best way for them to satisfy their needs will be to approach some other private individual, to seek win-win exchange with that individual.

After each act of state, the individuals with the needs find that private relationships no longer have such meaning. The individuals with needs must seek satisfaction through the state. Or, once again, they can do the smart thing, and buy bigger locks.

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Two Final Illustrations

To illustrate the power of free markets, you may have heard some speakers describe the production of a pencil. The pencil seems simple but its production is complex. Let me build upon that example, and relate the production of a pencil with the production of security.

You do not need to know the cashier in the store where you buy the pencil. You only need to know the appropriate behavior in that relationship: that the cashier and you each enter a voluntary exchange with certain expectations, cash for goods in this case. The cashier does not need to know the sales representative from the pencil factory, who does not need to know the driver of the truck carrying the logs to the mill which cuts the wood of the pencil. Thousands of people who do not know each other, each pursuing their own self interest, work together somehow to provide the pencil which you need.

Regarding security, you may not know your neighbor, or you may not know the owner of the building from whom you rent an apartment. You only need to know the appropriate behavior which sustains your relationship with those parties. Often that behavior includes participation in an informal community watch, warning neighbors of hazards.

If I live in a community, city, and nation, built of such relationships, my security derives only partially from my relations with my immediate trading partners and neighbors. My neighbors have neighbors have neighbors, in similar relationships. My security derives from thousands of people in an interconnected network. And my security, while affected by my immediate trading partners and neighbors, does not rely solely upon these few immediate connections, any more than my pencil, while sold to me by the cashier, was manufactured solely by the cashier. A vast network of win-win relationships provides the pencil and the security.

For a final example, comparing voluntary relations with state-sullied relations, notice a current issue in the management of government schools in America. In a school board race here where I live, someone recently advocated the presence of a police officer in each school, during all operating hours.

Of course no one needs to advocate police presence in private schools. In private schools the relationships (between teacher and student, between parents and administration) continue only so long as they are win-win. Tensions which arise find resolution at a low level, between the parties concerned.

I think I see a similarity between the origin of the need for policemen in government schools and the origin of the need for big locks on apartment doors. In each case there is what I call "public space," a set of choices which cannot be made privately in win-win interactions, but which have been stolen by state. This public space gives undesirable interests space in which to organize and gather strength. As a result, the eventual assault, from the undesirable interests upon the desired order, comes with more force, and requires larger defenses. D



1 I say more about this in the appendix in FNF Working Paper, "Win-Win Society is Possible."

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