Arming the Burbclaves

|

Fast Company has published a piece for fans of futurist scenarios. The next wave of terrorist attacks, John Robb argues,

will spur development of an entirely new, decentralized security system, one that devolves power and responsibility to a mix of private companies, individuals, and local governments….Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks–evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren Buffett's NetJets–will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next. Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security–as they do now with education–and shore up delivery of critical services. These "armored suburbs" will deploy and maintain backup generators and communications links; they will be patrolled by civilian police auxiliaries that have received corporate training and boast their own state-of-the-art emergency-response systems. As for those without the means to build their own defense, they will have to make do with the remains of the national system. They will gravitate to America's cities, where they will be subject to ubiquitous surveillance and marginal or nonexistent services. For the poor, there will be no other refuge.

Until, that is, the next wave of adaptive innovation takes hold….

Like all futurists, Robb offers no warranty, so don't assume that Blackwater stock is a sure thing.

NEXT: Bush, et al, on Iraq, Three Years In...

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Sounds like the prohecies of The Sovereign Individual.

  2. This scenario would require the revolution to be successful, meaning the minds of the public have been won. As it is, the worse the government does the more the public cries for the same government to do something. Even after the disaster after the disaster of Katrina, the solution in the collective mind of the American people is more government or perhaps better government. Better government being the figurative boy with his finger in the levy.

  3. I’ve already got a lot reserved at The Mews at Windsor Heights.

  4. Paging Tim Cavanaugh: We’ve seen this zombie movie before.

  5. If things become bad enough to warrant this kind of security, we’re already going to be living in Blade Runner land, so who cares at that point. As long as I can get my Basic Pleasure Model…

  6. Welcome to Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong.

  7. I think Todd is right. It is difficult to imagine terrorists infiltrating our society to such an extent that the state and local law enforcement breaks down to where private security has to take over. Before that ever happened, people would rise up and just shut down the borders and expel every Muslim from the country, something I find highly unlikely as well.

    The guy is right about one thing, the federal government is not going to protect you from terrorists within the United States. They certainly can go outside our borders and kill these people before they get here, but once they are here, it is the state and local law enforcement who are the first line of defense. By the time the feds get there, the terrorism will have already occurred and it will be too late.

  8. At least the pizza will now be delivered in under 30 minutes, so I can leave the bimbo box in the garage and spend more time at the Black Sun.

  9. While this solution would be nice, I don’t see a rush of private security firms taking over for the police. Consider the police a sunk cost. Any private security firm would have to balance its total cost with the benefit it provides above the current police protection level. Don’t believe that public police forces will disband and return the cost to the public to be used to pay for private police. The public school system is similar, where the benefit of a private school over a public one must equal or exceed the total cost of private education.

    The one thing that would cause the rise of private security would be the regular failure of police for whole communities, as schools have failed them. But, crime most often happens on an individual basis, and while it may garner sympathy throughout a community, it isn’t enough to get people to pony up the money.

    Also, there is the overwhelming tendency to expect perfection from private firms while excusing the failures of public entities. If a private firm had been in charge of the levees in New Orleans, their executives would be expected to face criminal charges, probably manslaughter. I guarantee that a private police officer would not be granted any leniency for accidentally shooting a suspect or some other violation that the police tend to get away with (not a bad thing). Ultimately people like to believe that they retain equal control over schools and police as everyone else, although that control often amounts to too little to actually change anything. If they can’t control something, then no one else should.

  10. Can’t happen soon enough for me. Bring it on.

  11. Somehow I doubt enclaved soccor moms would allow ANY underager to harpoon cars while skateboarding.

  12. As long as I don’t get stuck on The Raft…

  13. Johntheexintern,

    Private firms would not get the benefit of sovereign immunity, which would make policing well neigh impossible.

  14. Sweet. I’m currently rereading SC for the nth time.

  15. The first step toward the breakdown of society is the ending of shared public goods. If you’re protected by different law enforcement, pay into different tills, recieve benefits from different tills, and never encounter someone, then why should you care what happens to them, and vice versa?

    The great achievement of, I want to say democracy but that may be inaccurate, is that everyone’s interests are to some degree bound up with everyone else’s. Cut that and you go back to pre-revolutionary Europe. No fun at all.

  16. I think what we’re looking at is an increased ramping up of the current private security structure.

    There are already more private security guards than cops in the US, I seem to remember seeing somewhere.

    The cops will continue to be a sunk cost, but more people will want an additional layer of private security. Hell, my neighborhood in Dallas just hired out for extra patrols at night.

  17. Jeff P.:
    Is that a reference to Neal Stephenson’s book “Snow Crash”?

  18. Private security will not replace the police. They may enhance the protection available from the police, though.

    I don’t think any of this is likely, at least not as a result of terrorism. I was more concerned about this kind of scenario before we had the drastic drop in crime rates in the 90s. If I’m afraid of the guy two blocks over robbing me, I might gate up my community, but I’m not convinced that blackwater makes me feel any safer from terrorists.

  19. Remember, do not fight Mr. Protagonist in the Black Sun, especially if you only know Kendo.

  20. I always found Snowcrash to be a beautifully rendered setting, but narratively, its a mess.
    I can’t understand how one can wield a sword in the metaverse if your only interface is stereo goggles. The climax, for some unexplained reason, is between Enzo and Raven. There’s a Chekov’s Pistol of an A-Bomb though the whole book that never goes off. And MY GOD please no more infodumps.
    Still, as fun settings go, it’s great. We can olny dream of the U.S. Gov’t being reduced to a twelve acre campus…

  21. In an effort to bar the door against expanding criminal networks, certain communities will move to regulate, tax, and control everything from illegal immigration to illicit drugs, despite federal pressure to do otherwise. A newly vigilant and networked public will push for much greater levels of transparency in government and corporate operations, using the Internet to expose, publish, and patch potential security flaws. Over time, this new transparency, and the wider participation it entails, will lead to radical improvements in government and corporate efficiency.

    Bwaaahhh haaa haaaa haaahh haaa haaa!!!!!!

  22. “Bwaaahhh haaa haaaa haaahh haaa haaa!!!!!!”

    That’s exactly what I was thinking when I read that passage.

    What in the fuck is John Robb smoking? Seriously. Or if he was actually completely sober when he wrote that, I think a strong case could be made for involuntary commitment.

    That said, it’s nice to think that people will put the government in it’s place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that the people now alive will or could ever do so.

  23. yeah, it’s pretty much hilarity on a stick.

  24. Can’t happen soon enough for me. Bring it on.

    Amazing how one setting can be both utopia for some and dystopia for others (well, around here, maybe just me).

    I always found Snowcrash to be a beautifully rendered setting, but narratively, its a mess.

    I remember thinking the exact same thing about The Diamond Age. Maybe that’s how he gets his readers to re-read his books over and over.

  25. While these proposals/predictions appear believable, in the short term, I doubt that the forces of the State (as in City, State, & Federal) will willingly relinquish/devolve power to private entities, nor will they allow the private security companies to equip (read: arm)the way they would need to to defend the strongholds of the wealthy.

    — — — — — — — —

    Also: The most likely scenario I see would include corporate employers who provide their “drones” security as part of compensation (following the healthcare insurance model), would emulate the FED & States in barring/forbidding said employees from providing for their own personall defense. If this comes to pass it does not improve personal liberty as much as it moves the denial of liberty from “Public” to “Private” hands.

  26. I find it peculiar that he didn’t even mention the one current movement that is resulting in de-centralized personal security:

    The number of states that now issue permits to carry a concealed firearm on a shall-issue basis.

    Only four states in the US prohibit Concealed Carry outright, a handful more (38, if I recall correctly) are required to issue a permit to anyone without a criminal background and who can jump through a few simple hoops, and two states (Vermont and Alaska) do not require you to apply for a carry permit at all.

  27. Oops. that should have read

    Only four states in the US prohibit Concealed Carry outright, a handful more have discretionary issuance of permits, and the vast majority (38, if I recall correctly)are required to issue a permit to anyone without a criminal background and who can jump through a few simple hoops…

  28. Oops. that should have read

    Only four states in the US prohibit Concealed Carry outright, a handful more have discretionary issuance of permits, and the vast majority (38, if I recall correctly)are required to issue a permit to anyone without a criminal background and who can jump through a few simple hoops…

  29. I don’t know if you guys have ever seen World of Warcraft, but playing it reminded me of parts of snowcrash. I could easily imagine one of the coders building in an extra trapdoor somewhere which is only usable by them, and allowing the coders extra fighting moves.

  30. While these proposals/predictions appear believable, in the short term, I doubt that the forces of the State (as in City, State, & Federal) will willingly relinquish/devolve power to private entities, nor will they allow the private security companies to equip (read: arm)the way they would need to to defend the strongholds of the wealthy.

    Shows how much you know. It’s already much easier to purchase NFA regulated items (read that as full-auto weapons, short barreled rifles and shotguns, and silencers) as a corporation than as an individual. You skip a lot of the intrusive paperwork by organizing an LLC or S-Corp that holds the items. It also allows you to let multiple people have access to the weapons without worrying about all the nasty paperwork.

  31. I don’t know if you guys have ever seen World of Warcraft, but playing it reminded me of parts of snowcrash. I could easily imagine one of the coders building in an extra trapdoor somewhere which is only usable by them, and allowing the coders extra fighting moves

    The WoW designers have characters on at least some servers, mostly used for some public events and debugging, IIRC. I think they go the “unbeatable power” route (you hit them, they don’t get hurt, they hit you, you go splat) with them instead of going to the trouble of coding special moves.

  32. Reminds me of the Shadowrun game I used to play when I was a kid.

  33. John Robb’s scenario sounds an awful lot like present-day Colombia or some other coca republic.

    “Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security–as they do now with education…”

    As they do now with education?? Allow me to indulge in my own “bwahahaha.” I guess I musta missed that issue of Newsweek. Last I heard, they were all breeding prolifically, and then looking around for others to pony up the funds for educrap for future rocket scientists and cancer-curers li’l Brattley and Snottina. Can’t have the wee precious miracles attending school in a pre-1998 building after all, can we?

    I hate to spoil Robb’s research ‘n’ all, but the kind of people who put up their own “Slow Down for Our Children” signs in the middle of a 30-mph main drag through their McMansionville, rather than supervise their own spawn and keep them on their own property, are not the kind of people who are going to pony up a thin dime for the “security collective.” It takes a village to raise a child, after all. Just not theirs.

  34. Predicting the future is a crap shoot. The next rounds of terrorist attacks could just as easily spur a massive concentration of power in the government. Just look at how much mileage Bush got out of the last round. And after the failure of the government’s response to Katrina, people were clamouring for a strengthened DHS and FEMA. The next attack could very well bring us a real “Ministry of Love”.

  35. “John Robb’s scenario sounds an awful lot like present-day Colombia or some other coca republic.”

    Are music and passion always in fashion at the coca, coca republic …?

  36. Um, big companies already do hire private security…been doing it for years.

    Also, did anyone read about Louisiana talking about hiring a bunch of DynCorp guys and deputising them?

  37. I think pretty much everything in that paragraph boils down either to “false” or “true but pointless”. For example, “Members of the middle class will follow, taking matters into their own hands by forming suburban collectives to share the costs of security–as they do now with education…”

    Uh, yeah. Those would be called “local government” and “local police forces” (as we do now with “school districts”). Did Robb fail to notice we already have those?

  38. While private security firms will certainly have more business, I certainly don’t see a total replacement or even a strong push against the government. It’s easy enough for the gated communities to do such, and certain private corporations, but I just don’t buy full-scale private protection of public utilities.

    First, it would require multiple attacks on multiple cities in order to really engender a mass shift in thought. While this is certainly possible, it’s unlikely due to the very “open source” nature of terrorist cells. Unless it happens in your town (and probably more than once), I don’t see a mass desire to create burbclaves.

    Secondly, because of the partisan nature of our government and popular political thought, I think it’s much more likely that a simple switch in power will happen, perhaps many times, each step leading us into a more centralized society.

    Finally, I don’t think cities will become any more self-reliant. While it’s true that a few large targets will severely disrupt a city, even full-scale blackouts haven’t had even a little of the effect he’s talking about. He also ignores, just how decentralized cities already are with regards to the basic need of their citizens. Yes, terrorists could disrupt the electricty, water supply and certain forms of public transportation, but they could never stop the thousands of trucks that already bring in food, water, medical supplies etc. every day. I would say cities already rely as much on (if not more) individual, decentralized actors as they do on large, centralized utilities. It’s not like there’s one massive Feed line to destroy that will stop everything.

  39. Arguably the reason these large concentrations of corporate wealth exist in the first place is their ability to externalize the costs of “public goods” on the taxpayer without paying for the full cost of what they use. If they have to fully internalize the cost of their own “parallel transportation” and security, they may find they’re bleeding cash.

    On the other hand, unless there’s some kind of state licensing cartel that restricts the supply of private security services to expensive, high-tech Robocop firms, there’s nothing preventing neighborhoods and communities from organizing their own voluntary security associations (imagine a Neighborhood Watch with guns and surplus police equipment).

    I’m pretty skeptical about the ability of big corporations to survive under these quasi-anarcho-cap scenarios, unless the state is brought under another guise.

    The phony “free market reforms” under which big business does so well involves the kind of fake “privatization” where the nominally “private” firms operate in a heavily statist framework with special privileges. This kind of “market reform” is like one of those old-fashioned chess machines with a midget concealed in the works.

  40. I should add: the defense provided through cooperative organization and other forms of small-scale voluntary association might be considerably more cost-effective than the high-tech services provided by large corporations with multiple layers of managerial bureaucracy, mission statements, and high overhead, following “best practices” and “industry trends.” If Blackwater, allied with a rump state, tries to enforce corporate power on the rest of society, it may find the IEDs and pungi sticks of the neighborhood militias to be pretty effective.

  41. “Arguably the reason these large concentrations of corporate wealth exist in the first place is their ability to externalize the costs of “public goods” on the taxpayer without paying for the full cost of what they use.”

    I would love to have some real numbers to look at around this issue. We can (and have) blindly discussed the extent of corporate externalization of costs. There is just no way to tell what corporations would look like unless we have a handle on the extent and in what form their externalized costs exist.

  42. No matter how private and free-market that is, that sounds like a really scary scenario to me. I think everyone should be afforded the best police protection possible by the government. Imagine the breakdown of relative security poorer areas would suffer.

    Additonally, the added surveilence, while offically optional, sounds like it’d be with you from birth and you wouldn’t have much of a place to leave to escape it without venturing into government-protected zones. And with those places guarding only poor people, they’re sure to be underfunded.

  43. C’mon everybody, you’re missing the obvious!

    This is a tribute to Octavia Butler (RIP!).

    What better way to celebrate the award-winning author than sample from her novel “Parable of the Sower”?

  44. “At least the pizza will now be delivered in under 30 minutes…”

    Uncle Enzo guarantees it.

  45. Finally, I don’t think cities will become any more self-reliant. While it’s true that a few large targets will severely disrupt a city, even full-scale blackouts haven’t had even a little of the effect he’s talking about. He also ignores, just how decentralized cities already are with regards to the basic need of their citizens. Yes, terrorists could disrupt the electricity, water supply and certain forms of public transportation, but they could never stop the thousands of trucks that already bring in food, water, medical supplies etc. every day. I would say cities already rely as much on (if not more) individual, decentralized actors as they do on large, centralized utilities. It’s not like there’s one massive Feed line to destroy that will stop everything.

    “Feed” line, maybe. But destroy the sewer system and you have about a week to abandon the city.

  46. I think everyone should be afforded the best police protection possible by the government.

    How do you plan to get from the situation we have today — where people are virtually unprotected by government police — to this hypothetical condition?

    Imagine the breakdown of relative security poorer areas would suffer.

    Yeah. After all, look at how secure poor people are today!

    Where I differ with the argument discussed at top is with the presumption that the trickle down of private security provision will stop with the middle class. If government lets it proceed without outlawing it, I see nothing that will keep it from getting to the poorest classes.

    Security is valuable. If the private provision of security becomes as ubiquitous as the article supposes, and if things are as insecure for the poor as the article supposes, then there will be ample suppliers of security offering their services to the poor, and ample poor bidding for those services.

  47. The poor will just have to resort to charity: I hear the St Maurice’s Defence League will take care of you. And the Feliks Dzerzhinsky Workers’ Defence Collective does the occasional charity job, if they can spare the time from campus guard duty.
    Register your .ter domain name now…

  48. For all of you wringing your hands over the poor not being protected, I will point out that a 12 guage by the bed is arguably a better form of protection than the cop (or contracted security guy) that’s ten blocks away.

  49. Is John Robb a fan of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.