Crime in an Anarcho-Capitalist Society
Right after they ask you “Who will build the roads?” the next thing a statist will usually ask an anarchist is “What about crime?”
A valid enough question that plenty of people have difficulty answering, so I figure it time I join the long list of people who have already addressed it. I haven’t read or watched every response to this question, so I’m surely going to repeat some of what others have said, but for the purpose of this article I’ll mention that it is heavily influenced by Stefan Molyneux’s “Practical Anarchy“. The rest is just my own reasoning.
Where I do differ with Molyneux is that I don’t think insurance companies are necessarily going to be very directly involved in the rearing of children. I certainly wouldn’t give someone money if they were going to be interfering in my family like that, and I doubt many others would either. I don’t think violence will be bred out of the human psyche, ever, nor do I think it should be. I certainly don’t imagine that happening in our lifetimes, during which I would like to see a free society formed. This going contrary to the multigenerational paths that most of my voluntarist friends imagine. I aim to see this problem solved in the next 50 years, in at least one small geographic area, and that means there will need to be defensive forces ready to deal with all the ills of modern society, including neighboring governments.
It should go without saying, that I’m not entirely sure what defense would look like in a free society. Nobody does. Who can predict the innovations that would happen in the absence of the State? Nobody. That would be like predicting oil and electricity and modern machinery prior to the abolition of slavery. What we know from our study of history and economics is that markets provide. If enough people want something bad enough to pay for it, somebody will create it and sell it to them.
So just as easily as I make the case that will follow shortly, I could say there will be some ridiculously cheap, powerful, and easy to use weapon that comes into existence, that makes violence go completely out of style. Just as no nuclear nation has ever been invaded, and just as there is almost no crime in places where the citizenry is armed, one could imagine such a weapon coming into existence and making violence so ridiculously dangerous that almost nobody would dare engage in it, at least not any more than they would jump from a tall building. This of course still happens, people kill themselves all the time. But since statists rarely ask us “Who will prevent the suicides?” I’ll assume they consider these losses acceptable.
Still, rather than write a science fiction novel, I will deal with what we know now.
Let’s start with the easy part. Murder, theft, rape, assault, vandalism, trespass, crimes with actual victims. These are basically the only crimes I care to see dealt with in a free society. Police are very busy folks these days, because they have to punish speeding, and smoking, and sex, and all sorts of other “victimless crimes”. A free society is based on the idea that people can do whatever they want as long as they don’t harm anyone, so whatever security forces were to exist, wouldn’t need to address these issues.
One could then easily imagine their taxes plummeting even in a statist society should the enforcers simply stick to their stated purpose of protecting and serving. Even while they had ridiculous paychecks and pensions and health benefits and all the weaponry and gear they could ever hope to obtain, simply not chasing down every arguably disagreeable behavior, would slash costs down to miniscule amounts.
We also know that the highest crime rates are in the places with the most restrictive weapons laws, and that no such laws would exist in a free society. Go to a place like New Hampshire, or Vermont, and really almost the only time you hear about shootings, is when police kill somebody, and that’s usually in the process of some ridiculous drug raid.
Let us remove the police from the equation altogether. There are no drug laws, there are no weapons laws. Everybody can have whatever weapons they want, they require no permission to carry them. Even before we begin building private security forces we can presume that more people would carry weapons in the absence of the State than they presently do, even in areas where there are no restrictions on carrying weapons at present.
If we look at places like Vermont and New Hampshire, where pretty much anybody can carry a weapon, but a fairly small minority actually does, there’s already almost no crime. If we were to increase the ownership and carrying of arms, as a stateless society would likely do, we can extrapolate that there would be considerably less crime in these areas. Without the police enforcing their vast lists of politicians edicts, violence is reduced further by the police not out killing people for having plants.
In this context, I see crime as near non-issue already. Before we even involve security cameras, burglar alarms, or locks on doors, much less insurance companies or security agencies, the natural order of things is such that the average person need not think too much about crime.
Of course, people will certainly be a little bit nervous when there are no police. They will demand some sort of protection whether they need it or not, and as we mentioned before, markets provide. With all those taxes they used to pay now kept in their own pockets, they’ll have plenty of money to purchase these services. However, since the services would so rarely be required, and the cost of hiring a team of security personnel after a crime has occurred would be high, one might expect that this would come in the form of an insurance policy. Paying a small monthly fee to be protected against harm or loss would seem like a bargain compared to the current tax codes, and would easily provide a higher level of service.
Just as a health or life insurance policy charges less for non smokers, or a car insurance policy offers discounts for vehicle safety features, one could imagine a security policy coming with discounts for the aforementioned security cameras, burglar alarms, and locks on doors. The prevalence of such security measures would drive crime down even further. Since we know that drugs are involved in a lot of criminal activity, we can imagine that sober people would be cheaper to insure than drug addicts, disincentivizing drug use, lowering crime further. Through this model, any number of destructive behaviors could be disincentivized, without intruding on the rights of others.
With crime so low and so many people paying for services, you can imagine quite the market for protection services arising. One could take their pick from any number of policies, from any number of companies, each policy offering different costs and benefits and obligations.This could evolve into a more complex system of private law, dictating contracts and all manner of activity. You could engage in commerce with anyone you liked, but only transactions approved by the protection agency would be covered by the policy. Think of eBay, where if you buy something and the seller does not provide it, eBay refunds your transaction. Sellers are regulated by reputation, through a ratings system, and disreputable sellers are expelled from the system. eBay doesn’t prevent you from doing business with that person, they just won’t help facilitate it, as covering that seller’s transactions would increase their costs.
A Crime Occurs Anyway
No system being perfect, we can presume that all these efforts to reduce and prevent crime would from time to time fail. We should first take notice that this is no argument against a free society. Crime happens in statist societies all the time. We can directly place the blame for many of these crimes on the State itself, since they facilitate crime with their bans on weapons, prohibitions on deploying defensive force, and since so many of the crimes libertarians see in this world are actually carried out by State agents.
Let us further address the reality that the crime may never be solved. Again, no argument against a free society, since crimes go unsolved in statist societies all the time. When a crime occurs in a statist society, police show up after the fact and take a report. In many cases, no investigation even takes place. The State has little to no incentive to solve crimes, because they are not responsible for reimbursing their victims. In fact, the more crime happens in a given place, the more the State gets paid in the form of tax increases, all while never being held responsible, and since no competition or non payment is permitted, it is not as if you can just drop your statist protection services.
The insurance company on the other hand has motivation. Even today, if your home was burglarized, your home owners insurance would likely cover the damages. The insurance market being regulated as it presently is, there’s little competition though. Insurance in a State society is really more of a cartel than anything. So today there is usually a high deductible, you risk losing your policy for making the claim, and the insurance company is forbidden from pursuing the perpetrator on its own, so usually you just eat the loss.
A market based protection service in the absence of the State would have more incentive to actually provide protection and reimburse losses. Since anybody could be an insurance company in the absence of the State, competition would compel service. If someone got robbed, and you dropped them for making a claim, while hundreds of other insurers from all over the world were waiting for the chance to pick up your client, you could imagine dropping one client could lead to hundreds of clients switching insurers to prevent being put in the same predicament.
Since there is no public police force, insurers would have incentive to become, or work with, private security forces. Reimbursing one client for goods lost in a burglary is no big deal for the insurance company, but they would likely want to recover the goods from the perpetrator and prevent him from victimizing other clients. You might even see insurers pooling resources to hire security forces so that all their clients might be protected at a lower individual cost.
Modern investigative techniques are not unique to the State. Anybody can lift fingerprints, view video surveillance, question witnesses, take plaster molds of footprints, DNA samples, put up wanted posters, and what have you.
The Rights of the Perpetrator
This one jammed me up for awhile when I was still clinging to the US Constitution. “What about trial by jury?” I would ask anarchists, and nobody would answer me for the longest time.
Let’s just start off assuming statists are right, that mere suspicion of a crime in an anarchist society would result in summary execution on the street. No rights, no trials, just “Hey you! BANG!“. I think this is extraordinarily unlikely, but let’s just go ahead and entertain this idea. Still no argument against a free society. Police have killed more people in the United States since 9/11 than all the soldiers lost in Iraq combined. About 400 per year are killed, per FBI statistics, in what they judge to be “justified” shootings. The FBI does not collect statistics on excessive force, but we can bet plenty more are killed in that fashion. Police raid houses on drug warrants, and sometimes they get the wrong house and kill innocent homeowners.
Then there’s the fact that millions more are wrongly imprisoned and have their lives completely destroyed, even if not ended, in statist societies. Whether it be for a “victimless crime” they actual did engage in, or as the result of a wrongful conviction for something they did not do, this “land of the free” we’re all so fond of here in America has the highest per capita incarceration rate on Earth. Some people will disagree on this, but if you ask me, decades in a cage and a bullet through the head are roughly equivalent to one another, trial or no trial.
Eliminating “victimless crimes” and the reduction in actual crimes due to increased gun ownership and personal security measures, would reduce the number of people who even had to enter any sort of justice system to such a number, that no matter how said justice system handled the matter, it would still be superior to statist “justice”. To execute a suspected rapist with no investigation, would surely be a terrible thing that none of us would want to be responsible for and would do everything in our power to avoid, but even if accusation was all that was required for an anarchist society to execute an offender, it would still destroy far fewer lives than statist justice does complete with constitutions, trials, and appeals.
With that in mind, let us move forward onto reality. A protection agency has incentive to find criminals and stop them from perpetrating crimes, because crimes drive up costs for the protection agency. Attacking innocent people does not serve this function. It may serve as advertising to some extent, to say that they are tough on crime, but of course, should their clients and potential clients find out they got the wrong guy, this would serve the exact opposite purpose. Again, the protection agency is not the State, its clients can go to competitors, and so they actually have to make some effort to do a better job than someone else, or go out of business. The State by contrast will just put you in prison next to the other offenders if you don’t pay them, regardless of their performance.
Furthermore, we can presume most accused perpetrators of crimes have their own protection agencies, heck, the accused and the victim may even have the same protection agency. In the event of both accused and victim being under the same umbrella, the agency must tread carefully as to not risk public perception of wrongly harming its own clients, and losing business. In the event of competing agencies, they have to be even more careful, as provoking conflict between two security forces could trigger a very costly violent conflict that would allow both of their competitors to swoop in and snatch up customers.
No agency is incentivized to protect criminals who victimize others. Those kind of people build up enemies very rapidly, and protecting them is both costly, and harmful to one’s reputation. If you wanted to secure your home against burglary, you probably wouldn’t hire the company that protects the burglar. There is a lot more demand for defending against burglary than there is for supporting it, and so you can expect that defense agencies working for good in a market environment would be better funded, and therefore more well armed and having access to superior manpower.
There are an infinite number of ways this could go, but let’s imagine a market based justice system at work in the aftermath of a crime.
So Bill owns a house, and has stuff inside of it. He hires Acme Security to protect his property. He pays $100/month for protection.
John is a scumbag, he rents an apartment and has some substance abuse issues. He hires Contoso Security to protect him and what little property he has, but he pays $150/month even though he doesn’t have much to protect due to his substance abuse issues.
Bill accuses John of robbing his house, and tells Acme he wants Justice. First things first, Acme reimburses Bill for his losses and apologizes for failing to prevent the crime. Acme then seeks restitution from the perpetrator, and approaches their primary suspect, John.
John informs Acme that he is protected by Contoso. Kidnapping or harming John without consulting with Contoso would trigger a serious conflict between Acme and Contoso, so Acme’s agents tell their dispatcher they suspect a Contoso client of a crime. Acme’s dispatcher contacts Contoso, and Contoso agents arrive on the scene to represent their client.
Aside from a potential for costly violence, if Contoso refuses to allow Acme to investigate the crime, then Acme might no longer insure transactions between their clients and Contoso’s clients. Contoso’s non cooperation in an investigation would make it difficult for them to assure good conduct in trade. This would result in economic problems for the clients of both agencies, which would again allow competitors to come in and snatch up business. Both agencies are thus incentivized to cooperate to reach a determination that serves their stated purpose of protecting their clients from loss or harm.
Contoso determines for whatever reason that there is probable cause for an investigation, they tell John that in order for them to continue protecting him, he has to provide his fingerprints, shoe prints, and a DNA sample to them, to compare against evidence Acme acquired from their investigation at Bill’s home. They may also require a search of his home by Contoso agents for Bill’s stolen property, as a condition for continued protection.
If Contoso concludes that John is guilty of the crime, it is not in their interests to have John go uncorrected, as his continuing to victimize others increases their cost of doing business with John. Nor are they incentivized to just drop John as a client altogether and throw him to the wolves, as John has been giving them money every month and can presumably continue to do so if his behavior is corrected and restitution is made. We can also presume Contoso has some sort of contractual obligation to get him through this event, as there isn’t much point in paying an insurance company that ceases to help you as soon as you run into trouble.
Contoso informs Acme that they have determined their client is guilty, and would like to make restitution in the matter. They offer up the stolen property they found in John’s home, and some additional money to cover Bill’s trouble and the cost of Acme’s investigation. This satisfies Bill, and Acme, and for them, the matter is closed.
John now owes a debt to Contoso, and has violated his contract with them by committing the crime. Contoso has several options, depending on whatever contract they made with John in the beginning of their arrangement. Perhaps they punish John with imprisonment or some violence. Perhaps they demand John enter a rehabilitation program. Perhaps they drop his coverage and John is left unprotected unable to engage in most business contracts until he finds someone willing to insure a convicted criminal. Any of these outcomes serve as serious deterrents to others who might commit crimes in the society.
Again, this could go any number of ways, and outlining even half a dozen of them would likely make this document longer than most would be interested in reading. I do hope however that it addresses the feasibility of a market based protection system, and draws stark comparison to the millions of lives being ruined by statist “justice” today. The basic idea here being that in a market environment people respond to incentives, as opposed to a statist society where there is no accountability, just lots of popular opinion and force.
This article originally started off as a larger piece on defense in general, which was originally to include invasion by a foreign government. 3200 words in, I realized I would be better off addressing common criminality separately from that sort of defense. Subscribe below to be notified when the follow up “Defense in a Free Society” is published.
Subscribe via email and never miss another post!