A loyal reader wrote a comment on a recent post about the abundance of certain antiquated professions in comic books:
I really enjoy that, because so many comic book characters are fairly old (in our world, not in their own, because, as we discussed, they don't age while the world does), they work in jobs that are declining in significance. For instance, no offense to fighter pilots, but the increase in drones and decrease in enemies with air forces means that job isn't the daredevil prestige job, but Green Lantern, the Thing, and others had it.Aside from the fact that many superheroes still have origins in such jobs, I also find it fascinating that there is still a prevalence of jobs declining in significance outside of the superheroes themselves. In reality, the mere existence of superheroes should have significant economic consequences on other jobs. We have discussed some of these here and here. Another important one is the effect of superheroes on law enforcement.
As shown in the Ultimate Spider-Man panels above, superhero teams, especially the government-sponsored Avengers, are putting traditional law enforcement professionals out of work. Another comic that showcases this fact is Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker's Gotham Central which depicted among other things the Gotham City's Police Department's struggles in maintaining operations under the shadow of the quicker and more efficient Bat-family. One of the negative externalities of having this network of avengers patrolling Gotham City is that demand for traditional police would likely go down. This is an aspect of superheroes not typically observed in comics.
I think Bendis really hits the nail on the head here. It's a supply and demand issue.
Now, the way it should work is as follows: the Avengers should use their comparative advantage in other-worldly matters to deal primarily with metahuman or extraterrestrial incidents, or just crime on a much larger scale. Local law enforcement, given their manpower, experience, and intimate knowledge of the neighborhoods they patrol, should deal with the smaller crimes. So while police would work cases involving robbery, arson, murders, etc., the Avengers would be free to focus all their energy fighting guys like Norman Osborn and Galactus. This is theoretically the best use of each organization's comparative advantage, which would allow them to perform their respective services at a lower opportunity cost.
Of course we know that this isn't exactly how it works. The Avengers actually don't always have a giant, world-ending crisis on their hands (though it seems that way). When they're not gathered in the Tower, um, avenging things, they patrol their own respective cities and deal with crimes of a more mundane nature. Spider-Man, for instance, splits his time fighting morphing aliens trying to take over the planet and beating up ordinary crooks on the street (and hanging out with Aunt May and Mary Jane and Kitty Pride and taking photographs and...damn how does he have time to do anything?). If Spidey saw a mugger on the street, do you think he'd stop and call the police? He would obviously do something about it. After all, great power comes great responsibility.
The problem for the local police is that these Avengers do an extraordinary job with all sorts of crimes. Even a better job than local police. In fact, the superheroes seem to overshadow law enforcement in every respect. They have more technology, more powers, more smarts, and seemingly the time to handle everything! On top of this, we've seen the population of superheroes increase over the past decade or so. Generally, this had had two consequences:
1) A steady (or maybe even increasing number) of supervillains and
2) A decrease in run-of-the-mill criminals.
Supply of criminals goes down. Demand for police goes down. Funding for police goes down.
In the panels above, the officers are complaining that their money is going towards the Avengers. We know in the Marvel Universe, the federal government levies taxes to fund the extremely sophisticated operations of both SHIELD and the Avengers. I'm not exactly sure how it works with state governments, but I'm pretty sure states pay their fair share too, especially in cases where an Avengers is known to frequently police their territories (i.e. Spider-Man in New York, Iron Man in California, etc.).
So, let me poll you guys. Say you're an ordinary taxpayer in New York City and your government is trying to balance its budget. You see the city is plagued constantly by supervillainy, but less so by average criminals. Would you want your dollars to go towards the Avengers (who also are more efficient at dealing with these regular criminals) or the NYPD?