After a nuclear war, the Post-Apocalyptic Southwest has organized itself to become the Western Federation. The Federation is a Democratic Republic led by a high elder and council. It has laws banning underage drinking, tax fraud, and cannibalism.

But the Federation allows slavery, as long as it fits two guidelines, which are:

  1. to not hurt slaves to the extent were they can’t work (eg. breaking legs, shooting them in the face, chopping them up into pieces)
  2. to sell them for a fair and equal price

My question is: how could they enforce these rules so that they are followed by most slavers and owners?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "The Federation is a Democratic Republic". So... Communist? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 25 '18 at 1:01
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "My question is, how could they enforce the rule so that it is followed by most slavers and owners?" The same way every other law is enforced, no? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 25 '18 at 1:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JBH "Note that "democratic republic" is at odds with your laws." : to paraphrase RonJohn : not unless you think that the USA was not a "democracy" & a "republic" when slavery was legal. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Apr 25 '18 at 1:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @ RonJohn: Actually, the antebellum USA didn't generally have laws regulating drinking age, just as it didn't have drug laws. Those are mostly an artifact of Prohibition (drinking age) and the desire of the enforcers of Prohibition to keep their jobs after Repeal. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Apr 25 '18 at 4:12
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JBH : You miss my point as well perhaps, throughout the history of slavery, both in the US & elsewhere there have been plenty of laws restricting slave owners rights over their slaves, in the US this was one "Willful killing of a slave exacts a fine of £700, "passion"-killing £350" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_codes $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Apr 25 '18 at 7:55

Selling and Buying

For the answers below we will assume that the bidding cannot exceed a certain percentage of the slave's estimated value (~150%) and that the bidders can only bid up to a max percentage at a time (5-10%). Also we will assume that all slaves have some sort of identification and bills of sale etc, in order to slow down black market dealings.

  1. Have one or two Government officials (e.g. police) attend auctions.

    They would run the auction and make sure that all slaves are sold at a fair rate. These auctions would probably have to be at predetermined auction houses probably only a couple times a month. There are the problems of bribery and manpower so lets move on...

  2. Live-stream auctions to a central hub with officials scanning through various auctions.

    This would remove most a lot of human elements and mostly cut off contact with the buyers and sellers. The bidding and slave descriptions could also be electronic so the personnel operating the monitors could easily determine whether or not the slave was being overpriced or not. The officials could also have an non-localized (thereby preventing bribery) A.I. assisting them.

Preventing Serious Injury

  1. Medical Examination.

    Enforce a medical examination (even just a quick major injury check) for every slave every ten or so days. This would prevent the owners from doing lasting damage. However the cost in personnel and time would be enormous considering that you just went through a nuclear war.

  2. Microchip

    Insert a microcomputer into every slave. An A.I. could monitor vital signs for any damage and alert officials to discrepancies. Unfortunately the cost would be again be massive and the slaves could even injure themselves on purpose.


For any society to have reverted back to this would almost be impossible and extremely unlikely in almost every sense, Especially after a nuclear war when manpower is almost certainly much lower than it ever was. The losing nation in the war is much more likely just to get puppeted. Even if your government would go for slavery, the general populace would need a lot of convincing before they would ever agree.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ +1 for posting a great first answer, Abel. Welcome! If you have not already done so, please take our tour and visit our help center for more info about us. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 '18 at 3:22

Tax credits.

Owners pay less tax if they can prove they have complied with the laws of the land. They pay more if they are seen to flout the laws.

A slave owner is given tax credits if their slaves are always working. (This requires 'work' to be definable). Alternatively, slaves are provided a number of days allowed off for typical illness and injury but if they exceed this number, the owners lose out on tax credits. The slave owners are incentivised to keep their slaves healthy as not only will they make money on the slaves productivity in itself, but the government will technically pay them to do it.

A slave owner is given additional tax credits on the selling of a healthy slave at a legitimate market place. This also helps limit the black market as who doesn't want to take advantage of having to pay less tax.

You can have a range of tax credits depending on the health/age/productivity of the slave being sold.

This also doesn't require too much upfront cost to the government. They aren't paying out money, they are just allowing certain members of the public to pay a slight lesser amount (They could secretly inflate the normal tax rate, to take this into account if you so wish).


My various conversations in comments have led me to what could be a useful answer.

Governments, all governments, have only one method of enforcement: violence

The threat of violence, of course, need never bear fruit. A small group of people can agree to behave according to a set of rules and, never breaking those rules and never seeing the threat realized.

But once a rule is broken the threat must be realized lest the governed forever walk all over the governors.

The dynamics of this situation are enormous. I'm sure whole books have been written on the subject, so I'm only going to touch on the matter.

Lex Talionis

The U.S. Declaration of Independence defined four truths, only three of which were then defined as unalienable (inseparable from the human condition) rights:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This staetement is reasonably inclusive of all the methods a government can use to enforce laws.

  • Life: imprisonment, execution, etc.
  • Liberty: fines, escheatment, etc.
  • Pursuit of happiness: exile, deportation, etc.
  • Equality: Ah... equality.

Have you ever noticed that passing strong drunk-driving laws is painfully difficult? That's because (a) most people like drinking liquor and (b) most legislators don't want to be held accountable to the law. Laws governing equality have the same problem, which is undoubtadly why equality wasn't included as an unalienable right in the U.S. Declaration of Independence — an observation that appears to be validated by the infamous Three Fifths Compromise leading to treating slaves as 3/5 of a human for the purposes of counting population when determining representation.

Why the history lesson? Because equality is the fundamental threat when it comes to enforcement. You are being made unequal to everyone else because you won't follow the rules.

The ultimate threat of violence in a slave-holding society: slavery

Which suggests the easiest way to keep everyone in a slave-holding society in line is to threaten them with becoming slaves themselves. Culpae poenae par esto — let the punishment fit the crime.

The problem is not enforcement, but consistent enforcement

The U.S. trial of Eliza Rowand in 1847 makes a strong point. No law is of intrinsic value. Government as a profession is a cost to a nation, producing nothing. An ideal society needs no law — but people will always have a difference of opinion, which requires law to resolve the inevitable argument.

In the cse of Eliza Rowand, despite the existence of slave codes that gave considerable bearth to slave owners as to how slaves could be treated, when accused of murdering a slave, she was nonetheless aquitted.

The judge and jury refused to uphold the law.

Law is ultimately an exercise in social force

The issue here is how you organize your society such that it can do its level best to happily operate within the confines of law.

  • The People will always want protection over the forces that can subdue them: government, business, and their neighbors.

  • Business will always want protection from those same forces.

  • Government, itself, will too.

You see, all it takes is one person who thinks slavery is wrong and you suddenly have an activist working to create a minority voice within your government — someone who wants to change the law and will often advocate resistance to, if not outright defiance of, the law. The result is rules within rules, balancing the need for power to change law as circumstances change with the need to restrict that same power so rules aren't changed when they shouldn't.

And, of course, no one can agree on where the line is between those two forces.


So, as you develop your world's legal system, remember that nothing's perfect and, when it comes to government, nothing's simple. How can you enforce those laws?

  • You need investigators
  • You need enforcers

In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories. (Law & Order)


You will probably receive a host of deviously brutal and terrifying methods. These all probably work quite well too, but don't forget how effective positive reinforcement can be. Reward slaves for assisting in running the system by say, informing on escape plans or simply doing really good at their jobs. In ancient Rome trusted slaves could actually hold quite highly esteemed positions, or even be freed.

In a system of slavery you can use brutality to keep dissidents in line, but if there is zero hope for any sort of positive enforcement then you end up with listless unproductive slaves who are in such a miserable learned helplessness that they aren't as useful. If there's something good in it for them to go with the system and excel then they will be more likely to do so. Additionally skilled slaves are expensive, so brutality and barbarism can end up being self-defeating. The point of slavery isn't torture, its profit. A slave owner doesn't want to torture slaves, HE WANTS TO MAKE MONEY WITH THEM! You cant make money off a slave as say, a textile weaving merchant if you break the slaves hands. If they are concussed from a beating or anemic due to blood loss from a whipping then their work will be sub par.


Stick and carrot:

1) If slaves work well, they can eventually buy themselves out of slavery.

2) If owners abuse their slaves, they can be sentenced to slavery themselves.

The selling/buying price of a slave is proportional to how long he will work for the owner before he manages to buy himself out of slavery, so owners won't want to buy slaves cheap.

To work, this presumes a system where a slave's word has as much weight in front of the law as an owner's, which is probably impossible to do or at least impossible to keep up and the system will soon enough revert to the lifelong, no human rights kind of slavery.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Buying yourself or visit indentured servitude, slaves cannot make money (generally) as all that they do belongs to their master $\endgroup$ May 6 '18 at 15:44
  • $\begingroup$ Traditional slaves aren't paid wages. A slave isn't just someone who can't change jobs. They're property. If you're talking about debt bondage that doesn't make sense either since the slaves didn't have any debt to be paid of to begin with. Being in debt implies the slave got something they wanted in return for being in debt, but in this case they were just bought as a slave. No one wants to be a slave. I also do not understand the logic of cost proportional to ownership time. Because if it's proportional then two slaves working half as long cost the same amount. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 14 at 20:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.