There have been societies where law, courts, and police were private (not
Here are descriptions from chapters where these societies are described in
Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice by Edward P. Stringham
Colonial American Towns
"Anarchy" in America? Just as the Pilgrims ?ed England to create a new
society in America, so religious freedom seekers left established towns in
colonial New England to create stateless (or quasi-stateless) communities
near Albemarle Sound, North Carolina; Portsmouth, Rhode Island; and Warwick,
Massachusetts. (ch. 27)
What kind of justice do private courts deliver?
Historically, systems of private law creation and enforcement have viewed
lawbreaking as an offense against the injured party, not society at large,
and justice was primarily about restitution, not retribution. (ch. 34-36,
38) In medieval Iceland, a victim (or his survivors) could sell his right to
collect compensation, which made it economically feasible for even the poor
to prosecute a case or enforce a verdict. (ch. 36)
David Friedman describes medieval Iceland's system of competing law
enforcement, which lasted 300 years. People could choose which
law-enforcement bodies to join and could switch at will, victims could
transfer their right of compensation to a party more likely to collect the
fine, and the system's incentives worked to reduce con?ict. (ch. 36)
In medieval England, where private parties solved disputes, punishment
usually took the form of restitution for the injured party, explains Bruce
Benson in chapter 34.
For 900 years in medieval Ireland, private juries settled disputes, and
restitution rather than retribution was sought, explains Joseph Peden in
West New Guinea
In chapter 38, Bruce Benson describes the voluntary customary legal system
of the Kapauku Papuans of West New Guinea. It too is based on reciprocity,
reputation, restitution, and a respect for individual property rights.
The "Wild West"
The not so wild, wild West: Although the early American West is often
perceived as chaotic, with little respect for property or life, this was not
the case. From 1870 to 1885 five of the major cattle towns had only 45
recorded homicides-an average of 1.5 per cattle-trading season. Property
rights were protected and civil order prevailed because the market and
private contracts provided effective protection and arbitration agencies,
either as a replacement for formal government or as a supplement to it.
Terry Anderson and P. J. Hill describe non-governmental dispute resolution
on the frontier of the American West. Land clubs helped establish property
rights, cattlemen's associations helped enforce them on the open range,
mining camps settled mining claims, and wagon trains dealt with enforcement
issues once people traveled beyond federal jurisdiction. (ch. 39)
In chapter 40, Robert Ellickson describes property-rights enforcement
between ranchers and farmers in contemporary Shasta County, California.
Rather than follow what the law stipulates, they rely on notions of what
they consider right, which often differs significantly from the law.
How Private Law and Court Incentives Operate
Europe's medieval merchants often relied on private courts-the Law
Merchant-to settle disputes because civil law couldn't keep up with their
growing needs. Merchants who refused to abide by those courts were
blacklisted. In chapter 37, Paul Milgrom, Douglass North, and Barry Weingast
present a formal game-theory model to show how that system's incentives