Recently, entertainment companyWizards of the Coast (Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons) hiredPinkerton agents to reclaim Magic cards that were accidentally shipped to a customer. Allegedly, they utilized private security to reclaim stolen property in the past. This incident, although a nuanced situation, is an excellent case study of how property reclamation would work in an anarchist society.
Regarding the incident, Wizards of the Coast accidentally sent a package of unreleased cards to a customer who had ordered through the company. After realizing the mistake, the company hired the Pinkertons to investigate the matter, and upon tracking down the cards, attempts were made to contact the recipient, but none of the calls were answered, leading to the private security company to send agents to the home of the recipient, demanding the cards and packaging be returned.
Whether Wizards of the Coast had a legitimate right to do this or not is unclear. Was there a contractual obligation to return the cards or was this an illegal act? This question is a matter of legal philosophy, but it is beside the point. The interesting aspect of this situation is rather than notifying government police and enlisting the help of taxpayer-funded agents, Wizards of the Coast used their own resources, hiring a private company to track down and reclaim the cards.
The vital lesson is that private companies will not only provide security in an anarchist state, but provide security now, even in disputes over something as “trivial” as playing cards.
According tothis article, Cannon, the recipient of the cards, said, “as soon as my wife answered the door they aggressively asked for me by my full name… announced themselves as the Pinkerton Agency (which I am very familiar with their reputation), and said they were there to recover ‘stolen goods’.” They “forced themselves” through the door and “assertively moved everyone outside.”
If this depiction of events is true, it would demonstrate the boldness of private actors in securing the stolen assets of the company they represent. Legal action against the Pinkertons and Wizards of the Coast could result from this, but despite this fact, they boldly reclaimed the stolen assets. Private property was protected in spite of the risk of government predation.
There is still the issue of whether this was a just action. Intellectual property (IP) is at the center of the issue, and as Austrians and libertarians, we find many economic and ethical problems with this. If Wizards of the Coast and the Pinkertons are in the wrong, what then?
The discipline of repeated dealings would limit activities like this. First off, if ordering cards from Wizards of the Coast runs the risk of Pinkertons being sent to your house to violently repossess the “stolen property,” less people will patronize Wizards of the Coast. Of course, this may seem unlikely; with properties such as Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, how could anyone leave Wizards of the Coast? They appear to have a natural monopoly; however, despite the name recognition, the nature of this market is much more competitive.
The roleplaying board game industry is bloated and someone with time and willingness can build a roleplaying game for free with creativity and free online resources. Dungeons and Dragons as an IP is therefore expendable. Regarding Magic: The Gathering, Magic has a strong competitor inYu-Gi-Oh!. Not only that, but there are decades of old Magic cards floating around on the secondary market that will continue to be used, not profiting Wizards of the Coast at all.
This whole ordeal should not be held up as a standard for anarchic social arrangements; there are certainly potential problems with what happened, but the fact that it was all handled privately should be emphasized. Wizards of the Coast is giving the customer what he originally ordered as recompense and they get the property which they claim is stolen. They chose to contract with private agents rather than call upon a public agency. If their actions were wrong, the discipline of the market will punish them. And all for a deck of cards!
Non-government solutions to conflict occur constantly, and whenever they do happen, we should not be waving our finger, but praising the actions. Government police could have been the party knocking down the door of the “thief,” and if that were the case, the situation could have ended a lot worse. Government police are protected, private ones are not. We should be thanking Wizards of the Coast for what they did, not disparaging them.
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