I'm toying with a short story that deals with the concepts of: The limits of Policing, The (legitimate) use of force and the right to defend oneself.

In the scenario - a society faces ever spiraling costs of Law Enforcement (for various reasons), to the point where that society completely collapses. In the Aftermath, a new government takes over. Their political structure could be described as closest to Anarcho-Capitalism. Essentially the Wild West with very little law enforcement. Essentially, everything is legal, so long as one has purchased the appropriate license for it (I'll cover a little more in detail later).

For Punishment, the society is more advanced than todays, with access to technology that can interface with someone's subconscious. Although there are limits to this (e.g. it can't be used as a lie detector) the relevant bit of tech is the Mental Prison. It is a system that utilizes the individuals own psyche against them to make them experience a punishment that is worst for them. Everyone at the age of 16 gets to experience 60 seconds in this prison. 60 seconds feels equivalent to close to a week.

This is universally regarded as the absolute worst experience that an individual has ever had

Everyone knows the personal horror that awaits them if they commit a 'crime' without a license, with the most severe version being publicly imprisoned with the safeties turned off - essentially causing the subconcious to torture it's victim to death over a period weeks. This is important because the Punishment is tuned to each victim, it's not like someone can 'tough it out'. Breaking the rules for a Murder License is grounds for this form (think like Medieval traitors being publicly displayed - only they are still alive and screaming in terror whilst they die)

Now - onto the good bit: Murder.

There are 2 types of License one can apply for - an Unnamed License (which is cheaper) and a named license (which is more expensive).

The cost for each is relative to the individual - it is 10% of their yearly income for an unnamed license and 50% for a named license. Also - the state doesn't broke with any lawyering over what is income, what is profit, what is net profit etc.

  • A license is valid for only a single act of Murder.
  • You cannot retroactively apply for a license.
  • You can only hold a single license at a time.
  • All license holders are a matter of public record - and whilst not published (like an Obituary) - they are easily searchable in a freely available public database.
  • If you wish to kill someone who is known to you, then you must purchase a named license. If you inadvertently kill someone who is known to you on an unnamed license you face the same penalty as if you did it without a license

However... There are some caveats...

  • killing someone who is in possession of a license is considered Self-defence regardless of the circumstances.
  • If you wish to purchased a Named License, you must specify the name of the person you intend to kill on it - anyone is able to search for their own name and see who has taken out a license on them.
  • There is a waiting period of 7 days from the publication of the license, to it being valid.
  • Licenses cannot be purchased by Companies or Corporations or any other business entity, they can only be purchased by individuals.
  • Straw purchases are not allowed - e.g. someone cannot give a homeless person the funds to get a license and get them to do the dirty work. I mean, they could - but see above about severe punishments.

So, let's consider the following scenarios:

Bob is a serial Killer - he has a thing for redheads - he dutifully purchases his license, kills his victim, then applies for his next license etc. The police see that he's a serial killer, but he's done everything by the book, so they do nothing. So long as he pays the fee and abides by the terms, he's free to do as he wills. Several red-heads search the database, figure out that the serial killer is Bob and when he gets his next license, form a lynchmob and kill him.

Another scenario:

Margaret and Dave are Married, Margaret and Dave hate each other. Margaret purchases a named license to kill her Husband. Dave doesn't know about this - Margaret starts a fight with Dave - as a result of the fight, Dave kills Margaret in circumstances that in todays world would be considered Domestic Abuse and Murder - but in the investigation it's quickly found that Margaret has a license and Dave gets off scott-free.

As above - due to the method of punishment - most people are highly motivated to abide by the 'laws' and the nature of the 'crimes' mean that the few who really want to, can pay the price and take their chance.

I've got a few other ideas as to how this might develop - for example, it might be that everyone purchases an unnamed license, so that if they have to kill someone in self-defense, they are covered explicitly. Another idea is that the public nature of the Database means that extremely few people dare to use it as they are worried about being killed by a vigilante.

So, to ask my question: based on the above setting - what are some unintended consequences that you can envision?

Edit: To address that the question needs focus - yes, there's a bit of background included (sorry) - I'm after different viewpoints from users as to how they might see such a system being used or abused. On one end, it could be essentially a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) type scenario, where everyone is self-incentivized to not kill anyone for self-preservation. Or it could be that a few psychopaths use it to freely indulge their bloodlust without penalty.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 1:54

5 Answers 5


This system still seems open to rorts. Envision the following scenarios.:

  1. A wants to kill B, but can't afford a license to do so. A mentions this to C, who tells other friends D through Z who also want B dead, but each doesn't have the funds and/or the ability to do the deed individually. C tells A that he likes A's art, and suggests that A put his art up for sale. A does so, and D through Z buy it (along with uninvolved parties). As a result, A has a lot more disposable income to spend on a named license to kill B at their new level of income, and C has neither directly gifted A nor has done business with A to give them any money, nor have A or D-Z ever knowingly met or corresponded save via anonymous art sales. How do you prove that A hasn't just come up with a formula for business success which he has used to pay for a legitimate license on B?

  2. A wants to kill Z. A buys an unnamed license, and uses it to kill B, who is similar to Z. A buys another unnamed license and used it to kill C, who is also similar to Z. A buys another unnamed license and kills D, who is... you guessed it: similar to Z. Having established a pattern of killing people similar to Z, A buys another unnamed license and uses it to kill Z. A then claims that the killing of known person Z was unintentional, that they were killing unknown people who matched B, C, D and Z's type, and didn't realise that they knew Z when they did the deed. That may even be true, if the means of killing precludes precise identification of the victim, and A performed his legitimate killings in a place that Z frequented. A has killed intended victim Z at a discount. How do investigators prove that A wanted to kill Z, and B, C and D were distractions?

  3. A buys an unnamed license to kill. B, who lives nearby and checks the license listings, notices this, and kills A's long-separated identical twin C (who does not hold a license, and whom B has never met nor knew about), believing C to be A. B's killing of A would be legal as A was the holder of an unnamed license, and mistaking C for A is a reasonable error to have occurred.

  4. X targets and kills without a license only the holders of current licenses to kill, whether they are the holders of named or unnamed licenses. X is a serial killer, and his type is "would-be killers". He can do so free of charge. Perhaps X is known to kill license holders, and accepts payment from would-be victims to "defend" them, if only the would-be victim can discover if there are named licenses upon them.

  5. A and B, who are unknown to each-other, wish to kill C, who is known to them both. A and B both purchase a named license, and A kills C. Can B obtain a refund since C predeceases use of B's license, can B substitute nomination of known person D, or can B kill A in revenge for beating him to C? What if A shoots C, but before C succumbs to his wounds and dies, B shoots A (a legitimate killing, even without a license) and then, through inaction, allows C to die?

  6. A buys an unnamed license. B wants C dead. B finds out that A has an unnamed license, and suggests to A that A kill C, who are unknown to each-other. At some time in the future, after the investigation of C's death, A may buy something 'valuable' from B, equal to or greater than the value of B's license... or A and B may never interact again.

  7. A through X want Z dead. A through X perform unpaid services and/or give non-monetary gifts to Y, who does not know Z. Y buys an unnamed license with the money they have saved from not having to pay for goods or services that A through X have supplied, and follows an anonymous suggestion to kill Z.

  8. Members of unofficial organization X buy unnamed licenses and use them to kill murder investigators whom the killers do not know, targeting the type, "Investigator". Organization X wishes to compromise the ability of the authorities to properly investigate licensed and unlicensed killings.

  9. X hates a particular politician/celebrity/public figure Y. So X goes out of their way to legitimately avoid being able to identify Y (and any other public figure) sufficiently for a named license so that they can buy an unnamed license and kill anyone who looks sufficiently like Y... who is hopefully Y.

So, as you can see, in some instances, the killer may get their just desserts, in other circumstances, they may be unjustly punished or not punished at all. Such a system may also lead to people in specific occupations being targeted at a higher rate.

There is still plenty of scope for abuse of such a system, which may or may not be desirable for the story.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow. This is pretty great! $\endgroup$
    – fartgeek
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks heaps, most of these I feel would be straw purchases, however 4 and 8 have some very interesting potential, which is why I've marked this as the answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ You'd be running up against the limitations of the investigators and the resources they have available to investigate misuse of the system. #1 and #7 are technically legal according to rules as written, as money is changing hands for other, legitimate purchases, or not changing hands at all. Art is very subjective, and hard to value. It's basically worth whatever someone will pay. And how do you track unpaid gifts of goods and services? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 6:19

This has the same problem as all rational-deterrent systems for managing crime:

Most people who commit crimes don't expect to get caught.

This expectation is frequently irrational, but nonetheless persists. People aren't very rational.

It's also terrible for road safety. Buying an unnamed murder license, for 10% of your income, means you can drive far less carefully, because you won't be punished for killing someone. Again, this is irrational: you can easily kill multiple people in a car crash, including yourself, but young men who want to drive fast behave this way. And if you injure someone, but don't kill them in the crash, you have a strong motivation to murder them, to escape liability.

Overall, murder licenses seem like a fine way to turn everyone against each other. And that's before people start using them to murder the administrators of the murder license system.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ So, if you have an unnamed murder license and cause an accident which severely injures one or more people, you can shoot them to be sure that they die, to reduce your liability for causing injury. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ However, having a license is in effect saying to police, "I'm a person of interest!" while simultaneously giving you potential indemnity. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:41
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Well, it's a murder license, not a shooting license. Presumably mowing people down with your car is a legitimate approach. And if your car is damaged in the process, well, nobody ever said you had to be a talented murderer. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 10:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Cadence, also, it's a murder license, not a grievous bodily harm license. If the victim doesn't die, you would be liable for their injuries. Hence, better to kill someone you've maimed if you have a license. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ In the long run, this isn't really much of a complication/rort that the OP was asking for. X kills Y in the heat of the moment/by accident, without a license. It happens all the time, X gets caught, X gets punished. This is an intended consequence of the system. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 12:32

Of course the justification for this society is nonsense -- if they can enforce how-to-murder rules, they can also enforce no-murder rules. But adventure is someone far away in deep s***. So let's go with it.

The knowledge that someone could "legally murder" them at any time will affect how people act.

  • Cases of mistaken self-defense will skyrocket. Today, it is not reasonable in most parts of the world to assume that a stranger who rings the door bell at night is an assassin. In your setting, that changes. Only very desperate people will be willing to work for the Postal Service, or deliver take-out food.
    Fortunately for you, an anarcho-capitalist society might produce enough desperate people.
  • On average, people will be less willing to leave their homes and engage in economic activity. A general downturn as paranoid recluses fort up in their cabin in the woods, rather than participate in a modern division of labor.
    Think back to the first weeks of the COVID pandemic, just before governments enacted lockdowns. In many countries, people locked down themselves because they were scared.
  • People who draft contracts will have to be very careful to stipulate what happens when one party legally kills the other party. People who sign such contracts will have to read them very carefully to find if anything is missing.
    Again, in many forms of anarcho-capitalist settings, that is necessary anyway because of the strength of contracts and the assumption that people know what they sign.
  • People in the public eye -- from rich industrialists or rock stars to government officials -- will face a waiting line of people who are mad enough to spend half a year's income at taking a potshot at them.

Imagine a guy in his house, no significant income but a stash of gold coins under the mattress and a scoped rifle on the wall, who declares that he will "buy license" on anyone who mentions missed mortgage payments, or gets involved with the repossession procedures.

  • $\begingroup$ Masked, armoured repo men, anyone? $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 11:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Deliveries will be made to a box away from the recipient's door. Lots of work from home, or people just stop caring. Probably there will be form contracts that include clauses for one party killing the other legally. Lots of people will go about in disguise/masks. Demands for mortgage payments will be made by anonymous letter, and reposession may involve the possessor being killed if he holds a license to kill. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild, it would be enough if a debt/obligation is personal and dies with the holder, rather than becoming part of the estate. Easy enough to overlook in the legalese. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ Reposesion and other breaches of contract are an interesting facet that I may explore differently. The idea of a Lockdown esque society is interesting as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord, you would have to ban murders between any parties of a legal dispute. Even if it is still at the level of nasty letters and not lawsuits already filed. Or one side might threaten to handle things by killing instead. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 17:40

A society without trust isn't a society anymore. It's just another hellscape of endless corruption, exploitation, and suffering for the benefit of a few warring oligarchs.

Let's take the example of Oligarch A, who ostensibly makes a fortune in legitimate business...but also traffics in all kinds of horrifying exploitation as well.

Oligarch A employs, as a matter of course, layers of deniable and hard-to-trace shills, goons, mouthpieces, and other agents. Formerly, these were used to influence regulators and politicians and judges and to keep the media at bay.

But now they can be used for much more productive purposes: They can create the information environment that keeps Oligarch A out of public view. They can bribe, blackmail, or frame any journalist or investigator who tries to make noise. In a world where MURDER is licensed, merely falsifying evidence seems small beer.

And they can hire assassins without worry for the impossible-to-prove straw-man rule: No real investigations, no evidence, no fair judges anyway, and a favorable information environment. So they can also murder anyone who doesn't play ball, tightening their grip over the population. Oligarch A sleeps and travels worry-free, protected by goons who know what will happen to their families at the slightest sign of disloyalty.

The only people whom Oligarch A's organization cannot freely exploit or murder are, of course, the people in Oligarch B's organization. Inevitably the two must wage a war of assassins, with the exploited population caught in the middle and suffering grievously.

So, sure, let Fred license to kill Barney over something petty. The license fee goes into Oligarch A's pocket. Barney's organs go into Oligarch A's transplant bank for sale. And when the lawman finds a "problem" with the license and Fred cannot afford the bribe, Oligarch A's loansharks will be only too happy to help.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah "oligarchs" is where I think things would really go off the rails. A casual murderer wouldn't live long as revenge would be legal. But an oligarch who could secretly hire assassins and then guarantee the safety of that assassin would be uncontrollable. Even if you know who they are and where they live, you can't get to them (and can't buy 57 licenses to John Wick your way through their bodyguards). Legal murder might sort itself out quickly for the regular citizenry but the powerful would become even moreso. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Oligarchs and hired assassins would violate the rules of straw purchases and corporations buying it. But I think gang/Oligarch type behavior is where this would end. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 17:27

It can kill democracy

Consider this scenario: someone gets elected in a position where many people would not like to see them. Thousand of opponents obtain murder license. No one says it explicitly, but the implication is strong: "don't too anything we don't like, or..."

Ordinary politicians will become too afraid to make radical changes even if changes were desperately needed. On the other hand, if you are not afraid of being murdered because of what you believe, you might end up making too radical changes that dismiss any due and valid objections coming from opponents... especially because they also can be targeted.

Well, ok then. Let's ban killing politicians. Now, you gave access to immunity to crooked people, too. Elections become flooded with people who do not care so much about the common good but are rather going after the immunity. With the added of bonus of potentially ending up in politics with capability to make decisions that benefit you.

  • $\begingroup$ See Texas after the Civil War. There were a lot of killings over political disagreements and the result was a lack of democracy. This has persisted till today. Some people alive today in Texas still have the fears of bucking the majority because for fear of being killed for having divergent ideas. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ This was close to being the answer - I like the idea of it forcing principled politicians willing to die for their beliefs. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord - not only willing, but certain. Murder isn't legal, and death threats are already rife. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 18:24

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