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  • Writer's pictureAlan Stevens - AWAH - Libertarianism, Freedom.

Defunding Criminals under Libertarian Law

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Western Criminal Justice systems subsidise criminals, and state bureaucracies, at the expense of the law abiding.  In a Free Society there will be less crime. Criminals will be starved of resources and civilization will be the better for it.

Western Criminal Justice systems subsidise criminals, and state bureaucracies, at the expense of the law abiding.  In a Free Society there will be less crime. Criminals will be starved of resources and civilization will be the better for it.

Future libertarian societies will necessarily contain a critical mass of people who subscribe to libertarian values.  There must be unconditional support for everybody’s absolute right to live their lives as they see fit and to deploy and dispose of their justly acquired property.  Except of course when the result is directly to injure or damage other people and their property.

This is a restatement of the basic Libertarian Non-aggression Principle (NAP) which can also be stated as; nobody may directly attack or threaten to attack anyone else’s person or justly acquired property.  To make a free society a reality there must be deep public support for competing – or potentially competing – courts.  

The NAP also means that the law is only applied to specific disputes, primarily by forcing wrongdoers to make restitution payments for infractions, whether intentional, negligent or accidental.  There cannot be ‘artificial’ laws coercing people into stated courses of action.  There can be no legislation, only judge-made discovery of the application of the NAP.

In many ways the non-state system will resemble a reversion to pre-state legal practices.  Many of these were merged into the Tort and Contract provisions of English Common Law. The Common Law provided for civil actions involving plaintiffs seeking damages (in effect a variety of restitution) from defendants, as well as injunctions to stop the offending behaviour. 

Of particular interest is the Law of ‘Tort’ or ‘Wrongs’. This included actions for Assault (threatening to make an attack), Battery (actually attacking someone), False Imprisonment (depriving people of their freedom), Nuisance (adversely affecting neighbouring property owners), and Trespass (intruding on another’s property). Many of these have been superseded by masses of legislation and the steady growth of the state’s mania for criminalising and punishing actions regardless of any loss or harm being done.

The privately developed medieval Law Merchant was incorporated into the Contract Law system which also features plaintiffs seeking damages from defendants contesting. The Common Law was the legal basis for Britain’s extraordinary progress in the 18th and 19th centuries. As Adam Smith said in ‘The Wealth of Nations’ in 1776, all that was needed for prosperity was ‘easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice’.


In contrast, the current criminal justice system is a bad deal from the point of view of taxpayers and victims.  The state’s monopoly police and courts engage in the usual public sector racket of increasing their costs (why not as there is no competition?) and reducing their workload.

The police have no real incentive to reduce crime.  If they seriously reduced crime, they would risk budget cuts.  The more crime there is, or the more public concern there is about crime, the more likely politicians are to increase police budgets. 

Typically, the local police will be aware of the identity of a hard core of regular offenders.  For example, when we were burgled years ago the police said there were about 6,000 known burglars in London accounting for most of the problem.  But it was difficult to secure a conviction unless they were caught red handed.  Even if they were convicted there would not be enough room in the prisons.  Nor is there much incentive to recover stolen property.

From the criminals’ point of view the system seems designed to make crime pay.  When at liberty they rob and steal with little chance of being arrested, and less chance of being convicted. 

If convicted, however, they will be housed, fed and watered at great expense to the taxpayers in prisons where they have excellent opportunities to network with other criminals and learn more about their chosen criminal profession.

A criminal career will benefit from periods of all expenses paid prison accommodation, from the actual proceeds from crime, and from the opportunity to live with one of the numerous female-headed families promoted and maintained by the state.  The state does seem to do what it can to make crime pay.


It is difficult to have organized crime without the state.  You need organised, state-monopoly police and courts to corrupt.  Organised crime amounts to groups of individuals who chip in to pay-off members of the state’s judgement and enforcement monopolies. 

That way they share in the state’s pillage of law-abiding citizens.  Members of the criminal association known as the state (which is itself a massive organized crime syndicate) constantly legislate to criminalise activities of which some voters disapprove but which do not offend the NAP. 

Examples of legislation that create victimless crimes include restrictions on, or outright prohibition of, activities such as gambling, prostitution, and supplying or consuming alcohol, tobacco and a mixed bag of supposedly dangerous drugs. Regulation is often accompanied by discriminatory taxation, of course. 

But they don’t get to use force on people who don’t agree with them. Oppressive and pointless ‘moral’ intervention in other people’s private worlds creates big illegal profits by pushing up the prices of controlled activities.  These profits fund organised crime and corrupt officialdom alike.

Much police time, and prison space, is devoted to enforcing thousands of offenses created under such legislation.  Generally, these are what is called ‘victimless crimes’.  That means they do not infringe the NAP. These criminalised activities do not in themselves require anyone to attack or threaten to attack anybody else or their justly acquired property.

Of course there is a great deal of real criminality, and many breaches of the NAP, associated with organised crime rackets such as illegal drugs. That is because these activities have been made illegal and highly profitable. The legitimate courts won’t resolve disputes between rival illegal businesses, so they must resort to violence. Similarly illegal drugs are much more expensive than they would be in a free society, so people are more likely to commit crimes to pay for them. That’s why crime would fall greatly once all the victimless crimes were abolished.


A couple of things need to be said about the Libertarian notion of victimless crimes. Firstly, many of the currently banned or restricted activities above are disapproved off by a lot of people. Many such people will be social conservatives who are natural allies of libertarians in the struggle against socialist power grabbers and cultural Marxists. Their philosophy of life sometimes tells them that such and such activities are wrong.

However, Libertarianism is not a philosophy of life. It is a political philosophy based on the consistent and rigorous application of the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). Everyone has the responsibility of deciding what their moral precepts, or philosophy of life, should be, and of trying to live in accordance with them.


Secondly, people who indulge in vices, as some would see them, for example gambling or drinking excessively, can cause harm to themselves (which is not the business of the law) and to others around them. Making such activities illegal however is not the answer (and is impossible in a free society). Criminalising an activity does not generally reduce it. It may even increase it. But it does make everything more dangerous for everybody. Criminalising these activities just makes it harder for families, mutual societies or charities to help or manage addicts.

Beyond this, associating with people whose character flaws may result in you getting hurt is what Murray Rothbard in the ‘Ethics of Liberty’ calls an ‘entrepreneurial mistake’. Sometimes things that look like a good idea aren’t. Everyone has a responsibility to try to avoid or rectify such mistakes.


Modern law enforcement is only incidentally about protecting the citizenry or their property. Most legislation and regulation are just designed to rob or coerce productive people.  The benefits of enforcing these laws flow instead to legally privileged officials, crony capitalists, bankers and protected professional monopolies. 

Perhaps a quarter of US police arrests relate to matters which might be covered by the NAP.  All the rest is increasingly overbearing policing of actions which would not be crimes in a free society. It is said that every American commits at least one felony a day without knowing it because there is so much high handed and badly thought out legislation. A lot of resentment has arisen against police forces. Much of it is due to officious harassment of communities. This is inevitable when there are too many bad laws to enforce.    

A great deal of violent crime is caused by turf wars with neighbouring gangs, by would-be customers stealing to pay for a fix, and by the inability of businesses in currently illegal activities to access the legitimate courts to resolve disputes in a non-violent way. 


So, we have seen that the current criminal justice system is a lose-lose proposition from the point of view of productive people.  Productive people living in ‘good’ areas – peaceful, nice-to-live-in areas - are robbed by the state through taxation and inflation and unnecessarily exposed to significant crime.  The proceeds of taxation are transferred to bloated, ineffective police, court and prison bureaucracies.

The taxes pay for expensive prison accommodation for convicted criminals.  They also support permanent welfare for female headed families which provide logistical support for career criminals – where they add to the pool of ‘stepfathers’ who are far more likely to abuse children than their real parents.

At the same time law-abiding people pay directly by being exposed to much higher levels of violent and property crime than would exist in a free country.  They are made still more vulnerable because the state disarms them, thus making violent robbery and housebreaking a much safer activity for criminals.


In a free society dedicated to living under the NAP the situation would be wholly reversed. Security services would probably be based on competitive provision by insurance companies, some of them very well resourced.  There would also be competing judgement and detection agencies.

The system would be wholly orientated to securing restitution payments from criminals to repay the insurance companies who have had to pay out claims to victims. Restitution claims would not just cover the damage caused by criminals (itself likely to be much more than the money the criminal made from the crime), but also the costs of judgement and detection. 

The emphasis would change towards protecting property and recovering stolen goods.  Greater recovery of loot and mounting restitution claims would drive many criminals out of business.  They would lose state subsidy in the form of periods of free housing in prison and, indirectly, welfare housing and payments. The only custodial institutions left in a free society will be companies supervising convicted felons while they work off their restitution payment debts.     

The other major state financial support system for criminality is the raft of victimless crimes. These are created by legislation which bans, taxes and controls activities such as gambling, taking certain drugs, prostitution, and drinking alcohol.  These laws create vast international criminal markets and organisations.  Once again, in a free society these would not be matters for judgement by the courts.  These organised crime rackets would cease, along with associated crimes of violence and against property.

In a free society there would not be a steady subsidy of criminals at the expense of their victims.  There would be many fewer crimes and criminals, simply because the ecological niche, as it were, of being a criminal would be much less rewarding.

There would be a big change in the position of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ areas and in the incentives of the more or less constructive people living in them. At the moment, by inflicting a double whammy of taxes and crime on the good areas, the state is once again subsidising destructive behaviour and undermining constructive behaviour.  In the long term this undermines society as a whole.

In a free society there are no taxes.  There will be insurance premiums.  But these will be much lower in good, law abiding areas populated by productive people than they will be in bad areas populated by more would-be bad guys.  This means the productive will not be fleeced to support the unproductive. 

Instead the inhabitants of bad areas are confronted with the true costs of harbouring anti-social characters and values in their communities. 


Free societies tend to promote a process of increasing levels of civilization. They ensure that social arrangements bring the costs of less constructive or civilized behaviour directly to the attention of those whose behaviour falls short of the right standard.

This defunding of irresponsibility and criminality by free societies is the opposite of current state policy in the West.  That merely transfers resources so as to reward and encourage ‘decivilisation’ by subsidising unconstructive and predatory behaviours and attitudes.

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