I’ve had a few readers ask why “police” didn’t get involved in certain situations that come up in my stories, so this is a long-overdue response to those queries. The short answer is: There are no police. Nor jails. Nor courts.
Now for the longer answer…
(And warning here that there may be spoilers for various books mentioned below.)
One of the fun things about writing stories set within a fictional world is that I can explore possibilities that the real world doesn’t allow. Like magic, for instance. Or telepathy.
Or actual freedom.
Agoran, one of the lands in the Shifting Isles world, is characterized by having a free market. Namely, a complete absence of government. Also known as anarchy.
Quick vocabulary lesson: anarchy does not mean chaos. Anarchy means “no rulers”, not “no rules”. It means every individual human being has truly equal rights, with no group of human beings having more rights or power than another (unlike our real-world system, in which the government/tax-eaters have more rights and power than citizens/taxpayers). (I could go off on a tangent about how the only legitimate rights are negative rather than positive, which would eliminate a whole lot of the talk of so-called “rights” in our society today, but that’s a topic for another time.) Basically, a free market would be a far cry from what we have in the real world. The moment you have so much as one law or one government official, the market is no longer free, but regulated. (And have you seen a law library lately? Or the current tax code? All those pages! Our society and our market are far from free. Miles and miles from free.)
So I wanted to theorize how a free market might work. And one of the aspects of a free society would be figuring out how to deal with crime and punishment with no governing authority to handle it. Since a free market has never been tried, possible solutions to the problem of crime are all theory, and actual practice might lead to all sorts of different solutions I haven’t thought up.
First, there would be the matter of crime prevention.
This comes up in a few of my novels, but most obviously in S.P.I.R.I.T. Division (Shifting Isles, 2). That story centers around Hawkeye Insurance and Personal Defense Agency, a company that offers various insurance and protection programs. For instance, a life insurance policy could be tied in with a security package that offers various options: A client could have everything from a full-time bodyguard to an occasional drive-by checkup by a security officer. Or nothing at all. It would be entirely up to whatever contract a client signs with a particular agency, or what each individual competitive agency offers.
Does that mean a security agency wouldn’t ever come to the aid of someone who’s not a client?
Not at all. Yes, they’re in business to employ people and to make a profit (and I’m sorely tempted here to go off on a tangent about how profit is a good thing rather than the dirty word that people make it out to be, but that’s a whole article in and of itself, so I’ll leave it for another time), but it would also be good advertising for them to help when needed. Companies in all sorts of industries in the real world offer freebies or loss-leaders all the time as a matter of trying to create new business, and this would be the same thing.
S.P.I.R.I.T. Division itself (part of Hawkeye Insurance and the source of the novel’s title) is a free service because it has to be. In this particular instance, it involves Asenna’s telepathy picking up on victims of crimes as they’re occurring, so there’s no way to get those victims as clients ahead of time. It’s entirely unpredictable. They’ve had to figure out the protocol as they went because it was something that had never been dealt with before, but they eventually work out a system in which Asenna is able to identify the victim so the agents can determine if the victim is already a client, and if not, they can contact whichever agency the victim is a client of and work together to try to save the victim before he or she dies.
Sometimes, though, as in the case of Mistress V’dynos, the client refuses aid, and the agency has no choice but to stay out of it. Also, in reference to her case, sometimes there’s the complication of having to deal with a victim being the client of a competing agency, and the competing agency refusing to cooperate because of their contract with their client, which they have every right to do.
So crime prevention in a free market would be like using private security to replace all of our current police forces, but rather than people being forced to pay for such services by way of taxes, they would only pay for the services they specifically want.
Then there’s the matter of dealing with a crime after it has occurred. So what could replace courts in a free market? How about something we already have in the real world?
In Agoran, when a person is accused of a crime, that person will be called in to mediation with the victim, both the suspect and the victim being allowed to have their insurance agents present to assist them (rather like lawyers do in the real world) while an impartial mediator is hired to review the facts of the case and try to help both sides agree to a solution.
Is this objective? No. But neither is our real-world system, even though it’s supposed to be.
Is this fair? I would argue that it is far more fair and realistic than our real-world system because it allows the victim to truly have a say in what it would take to make him or her whole again, whereas the real world does not (and, in fact, punishes the victim by making the victim pay taxes to support the courts / prisons / etc., which, as the great Murray Rothbard wrote in For a New Liberty, would be utter nonsense in a libertarian society).
Would there be negotiation required? Absolutely, but this is also necessary. You couldn’t have a robbery victim asking for a death penalty, after all. That would hardly be fair. Thus, a mediator and negotiation between the victim and the suspect would bring about restitution for the victim without causing any cruel and unusual punishments for the suspects.
Unless the suspect agrees, of course.
Take the case of Broken (Shifting Isles, 4), for instance. In this book, orphaned Daivid is a repeat offender when it comes to theft. He started stealing to fund his costly search for his parents, and inevitably got caught. In order to afford to live while paying back the money he stole, he winds up stealing again. And then again. And so on and so forth until he’s constantly having to steal again in order to pay back old debts. Because of his record, he can’t get a job anywhere, but he still needs food and a roof over his head, as well as continuing to search for the parents who gave him up as a baby, so he keeps right on stealing.
Up until he gets caught stealing money from a gay nightclub.
Now, Daivid is straight. Very straight. But when the nightclub owner offers, through mediation, for Daivid to work off the debt by coming to work for him, he agrees.
Why? Surely, he’d be uncomfortable working as a stripper in a gay nightclub. But when he weighs out his options, the choice of being employed (able to pay off his debt and make enough to pay the rent) sounds much better than being homeless, jobless, and in debt.
Unusual? Yes. But it was his choice to agree to it.
But what about crimes in which restitution is not so simple? Theft is one thing. The thief can simply return the stolen items or their equivalent in money (as well as being responsible for the mediation fees, of course). But what about rape? Murder?
Those would go through mediation, too. As for the punishments? Again, that would be up to agreement.
A rape victim, for instance, could easily make a case for a monetary settlement that would cover therapy / treatment / etc. Same with an assault victim, who could seek out compensation for whatever hospital bills are involved. There could even be a case for emotional damages, just as is done in the real world.
Murder, of course, is a unique situation because the victim cannot be present, and, technically speaking, there are no other victims. However, a victim’s agent can try to argue a case on the victim’s behalf and come to an agreement that will help the victim’s family or heirs.
What about if a criminal refuses to come in for mediation? That is certainly a possibility, and the criminal couldn’t be coerced into attending (for instance, physically restrained and brought in), because that would be a crime in and of itself. However, in that case, it could be publicly broadcast that not only is this person a criminal but that he also refused to come in for mediation in order to make up for his crimes, which would very likely cause ostracism in society, such that people would refuse to interact with, sell to, or do business with him. He very well could find himself in the position of not being able to buy food because no one will sell it to him. Faced with that, submitting to mediation would be the better option.
One other solution I haven’t yet used in my novels, yet has been suggested in libertarian circles, would be the use of debtor’s prisons, which would allow such ostracized members of society a place to live while working off their debts to their victims. For more on this idea, be sure to check out The Market for Liberty, an excellent book by Morris and Linda Tannehill, available for free (at the time of this writing) at Mises.org.
Different types of situations and cases that have come up in various novels include the following:
Return to Tanas (Shifting Isles, 3): In self-defense, Dr. Graeden Crawford pushes his girlfriend away when she comes after him with a knife, and she winds up falling and hitting her head, causing irreparable brain damage. Being vegetative and having no family beyond Graeden himself, neither Lorel nor any relatives can seek restitution from Graeden, but Graeden’s own guilt drives him to take justice upon himself and do whatever he can to try treating her. It turns out being to no avail, since there’s not much he can do for her beyond keeping her comfortable, and she winds up passing away, but he does attempt to make it right in what little ways he can.
Second Chances (Matchmakers, 1): Remy is repeatedly molested by his step-father, but never pursues mediation because he simply wants to get past it and move on with his life. As for being drugged and raped by Matty, Remy was too torn up over losing Chance in that situation to even worry about the drugged assault, besides the fact that he doesn’t remember it and that Matty is his best friend (who then dies before the situation can be taken any further).
Heavens Aground (Treble and the Lost Boys, 2): Three-year-old Ryley’s parents are murdered right in front of him, and then Ryley’s magical powers manifest in his anger, and he turns the knife around on the murderer, thus killing the man. There are arguments in libertarian circles that “an eye for an eye”, when it comes to rape/assault/murder/etc., is not a legitimate solution, but I won’t get into the morality of that particular discussion. Sticking purely to the stated events, Ryley inadvertently takes justice into his own hands and murders the man who murdered his parents, so there is no case to be mediated. At least, not for him. As for what happens off-page? Perhaps Ryley’s aunt and uncle, who discovered the scene, had to go through mediation with the murderer’s agent/family, assuming he had any. Perhaps the murderer’s family didn’t seek anything since the entire crime was caught on tape and it was clear that the murderer committed the initial crime, and was unexpectedly punished for it.
Illumined Shadows (Treble and the Lost Boys, 3): Cam Lucius’s attacker is never identified until many years later, after Cam is dead and has become a ghost. Cam and his brother, Vic, go to face his attacker, but rather than pursuing mediation, Cam is satisfied with simply being able to face the man and tell him he’s no longer anonymous. Cam and Vic could spread the word at any time that the man was guilty of rape and assault, which would utterly ruin his reputation, so that people would ostracize him, but Cam decides to leave that as a threat rather than taking action because he’s had enough time to get past it, and seeing the look on his attacker’s face gives him enough satisfaction. Although, in his guilt, Cam’s attacker winds up donating a bunch of money to the missing persons department where Vic works, a voluntary restitution of sorts on his part.
(As a quick aside, remember how I mentioned earlier that S.P.I.R.I.T. Division’s services are free because of the unique circumstances? The same is more or less true of Vic’s job, with Vic being the missing persons expert at Sturmwyn Insurance and Personal Defense Agency. Because most of his “clients” are children who have run away or been kidnapped, they can’t very well pay for his recovery efforts, and sometimes don’t even have families who can pay on their behalf. As such, and as is mentioned in one of the books in which Vic appears, his department is funded both by charitable donations and by subsidies from other departments in the company. Anyone who purchases an insurance policy with Sturmwyn, for instance, is made aware that a portion of their premiums go to subsidize the missing persons department. There’s also the factor that sometimes the kidnappers aren’t caught or even identified, and so can’t be made to provide restitution to their victims, so the donations and subsidies allow Vic to continue doing his job.)
Yikes, this is starting to sound like a lot of people aren’t getting justice. So how about a case in which some do?
In the Transitivity series, Hunter Fitz is guilty of manipulating several of his students into sexual favors in exchange for various things they request (or even flat-out demand), such as better grades, exceptions to being late for class, missing assignments, etc. When Hunter finally confesses to his despicable actions, he offers mediation to any of his victims so that they can sit down and get his apology as well as determine an agreed upon restitution. Some of the victims come forward, but not all of them, the latter being mostly those who don’t want it publicly known what they did.
So do some people get away with their crimes in my fictional world? Absolutely, but so do people in the real world. Is a free market solution to crime a perfect solution? No, but there is no perfect solution. There will always be bad people, or good people who sometimes do bad things. Until human beings become gods, there will always be criminals. No legal system of any kind will ever change that.
And, in fact, our real-world legal system creates criminals where there otherwise wouldn’t be. It’s insane how many things are illegal that harm absolutely no one. And how can you possibly have a crime without a victim? It makes no sense. The free market solution is far more fair and logical because it only focuses on actual crimes rather than “crimes against society” (which is utter nonsense) or mere potentialities (for instance, driving under the influence, on its own, should not be a crime, since it harms no one–until and unless it does, at which point it does become a crime).
In a free society, individual human rights would be sacred. Specifically, each individual human being would have total rights to his or her body, mind, labor, and property (which we do not have in the real world; not even close!). Realistically, the only crimes in a free society would be theft, rape, murder, trespassing, destruction of property, and assault. Running a stop light wouldn’t be a crime (unless doing so causes you to trespass onto someone’s property). Doing drugs wouldn’t be a crime. Collecting rain water wouldn’t be a crime. Starting a business without a license wouldn’t be a crime (because there are no governing bodies to issue licenses in the first place!). Speeding, driving without a seat belt, or driving while talking on the phone wouldn’t be crimes. Building without a permit wouldn’t be a crime (because there would be no entity to issue permits, nor would there be a governing body that would have any say in what you can or can’t do with your property). Prostitution wouldn’t be remotely illegal. Arbitrary delineations between “minor” and “adult” wouldn’t be a thing, so there would be no legalities about underage drinking, for instance. Feeding the homeless or having a lemonade stand wouldn’t be a crime.
I could go on and on.
So it may seem, in my novels, like people are getting away with things, but that happens in real life, too. And you have to take into account that a whole lot of things that would be considered criminal in the real world are not even on people’s radar in my fictional world. They simply don’t matter.
I, for one, would much rather live in a free society.
I think I’ll go escape into one now and write another story. 🙂
(Hat tip to Storm Agorist for his insights that helped improve this post).