The eighteenth century liberal tradition opposed monopolies as being inimical to the common weal: a monopoly denies competition in its field of endeavour, giving total control over related endeavours to the monopolist. Anyone dependant on what the monopolist controls can be obliged, at the monopolist's whim, to surrender arbitrarily their liberty, either by contractual agreement demanded in exchange for what they need or (for instance if what the monopolist wishes to impose would be an unenforceable term in a contract) by the threat of refusal to fulfil that need if ever the dependant fails to abide by the monopolist's wishes.

If any citizen's liberty is thus subjugated to the will of a monopolist, the rest of us are imperriled by it: in extremis, the monopolist's serfs can be pressured into committing crimes against us; but even prejudicing how these serfs will conduct their own trade with others suffices to harm us. In a town with a dominant employer, for instance, that employer can – e.g. by paying their employees only in a currency of their own devising – control all trade in the town; which suffices to let it control nearly all facets of life (indeed, it is by control of trade, primarily via currency, that the liberal tradition advocates government exercise the greater part of such control as it imposes on folk). Any who do not kowtow to the monopolist can be deprived not only of what the monopolist controls directly, but also of everything they would obtain from others who are beholden to the monopolist.

For reasons such as these, the liberal tradition advocates avoidance of monopolies where possible and demands intense scrutiny and limitation on the monopolist's liberty where a monopoly is unavoidable.

In many matters, monopoly can be avoided simply by leaving all folk at liberty to participate in any trade they will. A de facto monopolist with whom others can compete will lose their monopoly as soon as they so constrain folk that a competitor, willing to abstain from such constraints, is assured of the custom of those constrained. Though a monopoly may arise, its evils may thus be kept in check by any (realistic) threat of competition.

None the less, some monopolies are either unavoidable or, in some sense, necessary. Indeed, the liberal tradition itself maintains that the use of violence, other than pursuant to immediate defence, should be forbidden to all but the state, whose exercise of it should be tightly constrained. At the opposite extreme, the individual citizen's rights over their property may be construed as monopolies; indeed, the owner of the land on which the only mine is, for some essential mineral, has a consequent monopoly on that mineral.

Thus, where a monopoly exists, we must consider how it is to be regulated so as to avoid letting it fall into the evils to which monopolies are prone.

In such consideration, it must be remembered that curtailing the natural means by which a monopoly may lead to some evil will not suffice: the monopolist always has several ways to side-step any restrictions – for instance, if the monopolist is obliged to deal with all who wish it, the monopolist can demand an unaffordable price of those with whom they would otherwise have refused to deal, thereby achieving the same effect – so one must consider pragmatic issues as well as matters of principle. After all, it is only on pragmatic grounds that we accept that some monopolies must be endured.

The state's monopoly on force

Aside from the bare minimum required for immediate (i.e. where there is clear and present danger) defence, which the liberal tradition accepts as an inalienable right, the citizenry are forbidden to use violence. Yet it is widely accepted that even violence has its place – if only pursuant to the due process of punishing those who abuse it. To this end, the state is authorised to employ violent force in various contexts. Thus a monopoly on the use of force is created: how then should this be controlled so as to avoid its potential for evil ?

This case is particularly severe, since even the threat of violence suffices to jeopardise all liberty: it is for this reason that the liberal tradition took such care to see that the state is tightly constrained in what it has authority to do. The liberal tradition's recipe for this revolves around the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. I aim, here, to describe a refinement on that, motivated by the importance of overseeing the monopoly on force.

The surest guarantee that the monopoly on force will not be abused is to insist that the body (or organ of government) which exercises it be watched over scrupolously and its agents subject to severe punishment for any abuse. Yet this begs the question: who watches the watchers ? Unless every citizen is able to scrutinise their actions, the force-wielding agency has but to collude with its overseers (or with some parties who hold sway over these) in order to free itself from restraint (indeed, one may fairly argue that this has happened, mainly during the cold war era, to the force-wielding agencies of the United States of America).

Yet what every citizen may scrutinise is surely known to enemies of the nation; and it is rightly argued that some functions of the state (notably its efforts to watch such enemies and discover those most heinous of criminals who take pains to maintain secrecy; but equally, at times, sensitive negotiations between the state and external parties) depend on secrecy. This has been used to justify allowing the force-wielding agencies to operate secretly: which has, at least, the potential to produce results prejudicial to the common weal. This argument should, more properly, be used as the knife by which to separate those organs of government which need secrecy from those which may wield force.

Thus what we presently see as police forces should properly be separated in two: on the one hand, those authorised to use force, who must be subject to the utmost scrutiny, their actions documented and made public in as timely a manner as possible; on the other, detectives and their ilk who need, perforce, some degree of secrecy. Such a separation, properly constituted, would require that the investigators have no more authority to use force than is the right of all citizens – namely, defence of someone (whether themselves or another) who they see is clearly exposed to present danger; and they should be so trained and constrained that, even in such a case, they employ minimal force. When their investigations reveal evidence justifying the use of force against some person, they must bring their evidence to the enforcement agency. While this agency may have authority to keep that information under cover for long enough to arrest the accused – and perhaps for such brief duration as habeas corpus will allow the accused to be held without review by the judiciary – the investigation agency must accept that this information shall soon be in the hands of the public and, hence, of their adversaries. The grounds on which someone's liberty is being curtailed should be made known promptly.

Now it will be objected that such a separation will hamper police work, exacerbating the existing difficulties police forces have with due process. Yet it is exactly the lack of such separation which has caused due process to need such a heavy hand as has lead to these difficulties: because those who conduct investigations are authorised to employ force, the judiciary has to allow various presumptions prejudicial to the investigator's efficacy; because those who employ force are entitled to some modicum of secrecy, their word cannot be wholly relied upon by courts.

Instead, let those working for the agency authorised to use force be obliged at all times to wear such aparatus (cameras, microphones, etc.) as will ensure that their every action is a matter of public record. So long as they act within the rules laid down for them, this record shall protect them from accusations of wrong-doing; further, since various suspicions against them (notably: we only have their word against that of someone against whom they used violence) would cease being well-founded, due process could allow them greater lee-way in their actions. They would still be able to participate in investigation, though only in those parts thereof which do not require secrecy.

Meanwhile, let those authorised to keep secrets, as freely as private citizens may, be denied any greater use of force than is available to all. Then, at least, secrecy would not be a cloak under which the public must fear violence is being concealed – especially if, in fact, the investigation agency is itself bound to keep records subject to eventual public scrutiny, though with appropriate discretion to delay revelation.

to come

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