QUESTION: In a stateless society, how would we deal with criminals (e.g. murderers)? Who would investigate crimes to make sure we catch the right guy?


Firstly, note that government doesn’t necessarily do a good job at “catching the right guy”. It’s not uncommon for innocent people to be convicted of a crime, only for their convictions to be later overturned (but often only after they’ve spent decades in jail, for crimes they didn’t commit).

This also means many innocent people are put to death for crimes they didn’t commit – a horrible and irreversible mistake.

Secondly, just because there isn’t a government, doesn’t mean nobody would investigate and prosecute crimes. All the investigative methods (e.g. forensic science) and prosecution methods (e.g. giving suspects a fair trial in court) can be carried out by market-based organizations.

In fact, private organizations (competing in the market) would most likely do a far better job at investigation and prosecution (including catching the right guy), than government would… for reasons that will be clear by the end of this article.

So let me explain the market-based solution for criminal justice in a stateless society. There’s an abstract answer, as well as a concrete one.

The Abstract Answer:

The abstract answer is that we can’t necessarily predict the solutions that the market will come up with. But just like any free market, the solutions that serve consumers best will rise to the top and get widely adopted, while the bad solutions get discarded.

In contrast, a coercively-funded state monopoly (government) tends to entrench one solution (or a narrow spectrum of solutions), at the expense of all others. Even if human ingenuity and innovation comes up with better ways to solve the problem, they will get suppressed by the state monopoly, and we may never even find out about them (because they’re choked off by the state monopoly, before they even have a chance to prove themselves).

E.g. there was a time when telephone services was monopolized by the state. Back in those days, one could have asked “without this state monopoly, how would we communicate?” Back then, who could have predicted the rise of the internet and smartphones, that are on track to making telephone services obsolete?

Also note that the internet might never have been widely adopted if telecommunications had remained monopolized by the state. Because new technologies usually start out expensive (beyond the reach of the average consumer), before they eventually get cheaper. If consumers were forced to pay for state telecommunications services (under the state monopoly), then they would hardly have any incentives to explore alternatives like the internet. Plus, there would be lots of regulatory red-tape involved in getting such alternatives approved by bureaucrats, before they could even make their first sale – so entrepreneurs might never have invested in such alternatives. So, had there remained a state monopoly of telecommunications services, the internet might have been killed before it even got the chance to get off the ground.

This same reasoning also applies to government law enforcement. For example, did you know many standard “forensic science” techniques used by governments have actually been proven to be totally UNscientific? The use of such DISproven forensic methods inevitably leads to wrongful convictions of innocent people.

Yet these “snake oil” forensic methods are still being used by governments! This illustrates how coercively-funded state monopolies tend to entrench shoddy practices, even after they’ve been disproven or discredited. Because a coercively-funded state monopoly gets paid the same regardless of how badly they do their job – so they can get away with shoddy practices, and have no incentive to improve.

The Concrete Answer:

Note that the market-based solution I’m about to describe is just one possibility – as I explained above, the market could very well come up with better ways. And given human ingenuity, I’d be surprised if we don’t eventually come up with better ways (perhaps using not-yet-developed methods and technologies, that would never see the light of day under a state monopoly).

Here’s how a market-based criminal justice system could work in a stateless society:

Private protection-insurance agencies would handle protection, investigation, and bringing criminals (such as murderers) to justice. They would have far better incentives to do a good job at it, because their profits depend on it. If their clients keep getting harmed/murdered, they’d have to payout lots of insurance claims AND they’d lose lots of other clients who opt for a better protection agency.

So these protection-insurance agencies not only have the incentive to catch criminals swiftly, but also to make sure they catch the RIGHT guy (because if they catch the wrong guy, then the actual culprit would still be at large and can keep harming/murdering their clients).

In contrast, a coercively-funded state monopoly (i.e. government) has no such incentives, because they get paid the same regardless of whether they do a good job or not. If a murderer never gets caught, the police still get paid like clockwork. Ditto if they catch the wrong guy.

So the reality is that, except for highly-publicized cases (where they have to show the public that “we’re working on it”) – in most other cases, the government police actually has the perverse incentive to AVOID trying to catch violent criminals. Because violent confrontations put themselves at risk – and they get paid the same regardless – so why risk the confrontation? This leads to the situation where police are more zealous at policing non-violent/victimless crimes than violent crimes.

Case in point: on 12th Feb 2011, Joseph Lozito was attacked on the subway by serial killer Maksim Gelman. The incredible thing was, this attack happened right in front of several NYPD cops!

Lozito was stabbed seven times, but he fought bravely and ended up subduing his attacker. Meanwhile…

The Cops Just Sat Back and Watched!

And after the incident, city lawyers argued that the police had “no legal duty to protect” Joseph Lozito!

Listen to Joseph Lozito recount this shocking episode in this interview –

And this is far from an isolated incident. If you just look around and pay attention, you’ll see plenty of examples that demonstrate how dysfunctional the government police have become – because as a coercively-funded state monopoly, they face little-to-no accountability.

After all, because of the monopolistic nature of the state… when you face injustice at the hands of the government, your only option is to seek recourse from the VERY SAME GOVERNMENT that violated your rights.

This is why government agents can seize the property of innocentsharass, assault and shoot unarmed civilians… or even molest or kill innocent children… and get away with it, even when there is clear and unambiguous video evidence of their wrongdoing.

U.S. citizens are now far more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. So the reality is that the police are now often behaving like the very criminals and aggressors that they’re supposed to protect us against.

A major reason for this, is the unaccountability and perverse incentives inherent in a coercively-funded state monopoly.

In contrast, when we look at real-world examples of market-provided private security, we see that they tend to be more effective and efficient than the police (while also being far less abusive). This is because markets provide strong incentives for them to do their job well – if they don’t, they’ll go out of business.

It follows that, if we want REAL accountability from the police, we need a market in law enforcement – instead of a coercively-funded state monopoly.