By Mike Tront
In the past I’ve written about how a completely privatized, free market criminal justice system could look. One basic theory I’ve proposed is that it would largely be based on insurance and restitution. You’d have an insurance company that covered you for any losses you’d incur from violent crime, fraud, and even murder. The insurance company would pay you whatever it’d take to make you whole. They would then have the responsibility to find out who committed this crime against their client, prosecute them, and hopefully collect what they are due. Everything from the restitution paid to their client, to the costs of capture and trial, and the costs associated with collection/imprisonment. You can read about it here.
In theory, if you have the proper insurance, this should work out pretty well. Whether or not your insurance company actually catches the criminal, you are at least given a settlement from your company to cover your losses. However, something has been sticking in my craw. What about a person that is too poor to afford this insurance? Or what about someone who could probably afford insurance, but just doesn’t bother with it. What happens if they are a victim of a violent crime?
How Will They Pay For A 911 Service?
The idea of a violent crime or home invasion taking place, and a private policeman refusing to render service unless he’s paid on the spot by the victim, is an image used to scare people away from a world without government police. To me, I see this as one of the easiest problems to solve. Unless you live out in the middle of nowhere, or you like the idea of fending for yourself, I imagine most neighborhoods would have some kind of association that would keep up with the basics like security, fire protection, roads, sidewalks, parks etc. Instead of paying a government property tax, you or your landlord would pay a monthly homeowners association fee to cover the basics. This isn’t perfect of course, because just like today a wealthier neighborhood would have better security and services and a poorer neighborhood would have lower quality services. But the big difference is that the neighborhood could at least choose their provider. Today, they are stuck with the local police department whether they are effective or not. Not to mention the competition among providers would drive the costs down and the quality of the service up.
Solving Crimes Against The Poor In A Libertarian World Without Government
Every libertarian that’s talked to a normal person has also heard that without a strong, centralized government, poor people will have no access to courts. We need a government, they say, so that poor people will have access to court services and so that criminals that wrong them can be prosecuted.
I could argue that under the government monopolized police and court system of today’s world, the poor actually fear the police and courts more than they fear the average criminal! Police are constantly locking up poor people in prison for non-violent activities, police rough up and even shoot unarmed people, courts lock them in prison if they can’t pay a traffic fine, and police can even seize what little assets they may have even if they aren’t charged with a crime. But I’m not going to argue any of this. Even if the current police and court system worked well for the poor and downtrodden, a private system would still work much better for them.
The main reason is competition. Instead of having just one local police department to rely on for crime solving, a free market could have countless individuals and businesses solving crime. With a monopoly, a government justice system doesn’t have to produce results to get paid. They get their pay check whether they solve a crime or not. In fact, often times the more crime there is in a particular area, the more money they get! It could then be argued that they are incentivized not to solve crimes!
Without government taxes to rely on, any private crime solver would have to produce results to get paid. But how would they get paid if the victim is poor and/or doesn’t have insurance, you ask?
The beauty of a free and open market is that we can’t possibly imagine what entrepreneurs will come up with to solve problems. But this is a problem that has a solution that is already in use for civil cases today. That’s contingency lawyers. When you’re wronged, and you’re due for a payday from the person or company that wronged you, lawyers will line up to take your case for free and will only charge you if the win.
Problems With Crime Solving Contingency Lawyers
The first problem is that this probably won’t work for small crimes. If someone keys your car, there’s not a huge payday coming. Especially if you’re car isn’t worth much to begin with! However, with the ubiquity of security cameras everywhere, and with the cost of surveillance cameras going down every year, it’s becoming cheaper and cheaper to solve even small property crimes. With small crimes, if the victim deems it’s worth pursuing, he’d probably gather the evidence himself and hand it off to an attorney to do the prosecuting in a local court for a percentage of the recovered funds.
For grievous crimes, crimes that involve great bodily harm where there would be the possibility of a large restitution payment, a free market would be much more preferable even for an income challenged person. We can imagine a scenario where word gets out that someone got shot who was uninsured, so it would be a race among local detectives and attorneys to be the first to gather evidence and find out who committed this crime. The victim could get shot on Friday, and by Monday he could have multiple people soliciting his business with evidence to show that they would be able to get a quick conviction.
Of course, there is one other huge hurdle to overcome. Let’s say we’re able to convict someone of this grievous crime, and the judge rules that the crime is worth a $150,000 restitution, how do we collect? I’d image most violent criminals aren’t exactly wealthy!
I touched on this briefly in my above linked article. Since we couldn’t have government funded prisons for criminals to rot away in at great cost to society, a new business model would have to spring up. Something like a voluntary work camp where the criminal could work off his debt, have room and board taken care of, and possibly learn new skills so he can re-enter society as a better person when his debt is paid. I say voluntary because once found guilty of a grievous crime, if the criminal is unable to pay restitution, he is at the mercy of his victim. It would be in his best interest to work with his victim on a settlement arrangement. The two sides could come together to find the best possible scenario to find the optimal work camp for the criminal. One where his skills could be utilized to make the most money in the quickest time.
These camps would compete with each other to provide the safest, most profitable camp to get restitution payments flowing quickly. It’d be in the best interest of everyone to make sure it’s a safe camp. Having a situation like today where prisoners are involved in gangs, where they’re constantly afraid of getting stabbed, beaten, and raped wouldn’t make for a profitable business model. A prisoner can’t make money if he’s recovering from a stab wound.
Plus it’d be in the best interest of the camps to teach their inmates new and valuable skills. This would ensure higher and quicker payments, but it would also attract more customers to use their camps. The victims would want to get their money quicker, and the criminal would want to be free quicker and have a new skill to use to get legitimate work once his debt is paid.
Government prisons as we know them today offer none of this. They are violent places where people sit and rot their lives away. They learn no new skills, other than skills associated with being a better criminal once they get out. They are often forced to join gangs for their own safety and are constantly exposed to illicit drugs.
If someone should find themselves victim to a violent crime, even if they are without any kind of insurance coverage, a completely private, libertarian system would be far superior to the government monopoly system we see today.
Next week, in a companion article on this topic, I will go over how the murder of a homeless person with no friends, no assets, no estate, and no insurance would get prosecuted and solved in a libertarian world without government.
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