This is a social engineering method.

The government takes background checks very seriously. A person's moral standing is not only determined by the actions of the person themselves, but also by his/her relatives (parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles, etc.) If one family member screws up, others are negatively affected in the eye of the government and society.

Background checks (for criminal activity) usually go from sibling to parent. It would go to further generations depending on the situation and the results of such a check for someone are publicly available upon request.

Here is an example:

Bob married Alice. They have a son named Heidi.

Heidi had graduated from high school and he applies to university of Meow. In the background check procedure, Heidi is not qualified. The reason was that his fathers had charges of damage to public property. Heidi's father (Bob) had to pay a fine and go to prison for one year.

Heidi then went to work at Meowing Industries (a private company). However, the company turn him down: the government have a tax incentive for employers whose employees are in 'good standing' (ie. there is no criminal record for the whole family.)

If Alice were to marry a criminal, Bob:

  • Her son would be at a disadvantage.
  • She now fails the background check. (her husband have criminal record)

In hindsight, Alice should not have married Bob.

If Bob were to commit a crime:

  • He would be charged according to the law (ordered to pay a fine, imprisoned, etc.)
  • He would have a criminal record. He would fail all background checks from this point onward.
  • He would not be able to find a wife, because everybody knows the consequences of marrying a criminal.
  • His siblings now fail their background checks.
  • His sibling may also have difficulty marrying somebody, because everyone is aware of the disadvantages that would be brought to them through association.

My expectations for the impact on society are:

  • People are less likely to commit a crime, knowing the consequences;
  • A 'perfect race' free from crime is created, assuming genetic factors for crime exist - since nobody wants to marry a criminal.

My questions are:

  • Would my system work as expected?
  • How likely is a societal/governmental collapse?
  • Are there any flaws in my method?
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ Only marry a person with a high Sesame credit. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 11:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Almost everyone knows someone who has done something. Might as well create an avalanche of crime and "no one is innocent" attitude. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 12:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ That's pretty much communism worked in practice, except the black mark was "unfriendliness to regime" instead of crime. You couldn't study a university if your father used to own a business, for example. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 7:22
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This world lead to more crime, you are not letting your criminals become productive happy citizens. Menacing that none of them would bother to even try rejoining society $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 17:59

23 Answers 23


Well, there is at least one country operating that way (pp. 24, 27, 35 of the report). Perhaps it stops some crime, but that country is not a nice place to live.

  • Most criminals do not believe that they will be caught.
  • Most criminals do not plan for the long term, let alone generations.
  • Depriving the children of legitimate life choices will guide them towards criminal choices.

So what I'd expect is what we see in parts of the US, only more so. Perhaps no immediate breakdown of society, but it will fray at the edges.

And of course any decent human being will not punish the child for the sins of the parents. Morally that's just like a terrorist taking hostages. So either the decent voters change the system or they leave.

  • 10
    $\begingroup$ +1 for coming up with a modern day example where it is an actual policy of law rather than an outgrowth of human nature. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 17:32
  • 16
    $\begingroup$ A lot of crime in the US is due to low education, which is due to being impoverished, which is due to low education. Is a vicious cycle. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 17:36
  • 16
    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s, poverty is also due to having a criminal record (few job opportunities), and criminal records are also due to poverty (no/bad lawyers). That isn't to say rich people are more honest, but they can weasel their way out of legal problems much better. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 18:09
  • 55
    $\begingroup$ +1 for your third bullet, people forget that treating people like criminals often turns them into criminals. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 22:43
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ Another example is Israel, with its policy of demolishing houses belonging to family members of suicide bombers. $\endgroup$
    – JBentley
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 14:30

There is a flaw in what you expect.
In your scenario, you are assuming that only men can commit crime.The other side of this story is as follows:

Alice does not marry Bob. Bob finds Kate. Kate also has a charge of damaging public property(or something else). No one would also marry Kate, that's why Bob and Kate are perfect match. As they are already criminal, nothing can happen from marrying each other.
Bob and Katie have children, because why not? They know that their children won't have any decent job in the future because of them, they raise them to be a successful criminal in the future to make a living. The children learn how to steal cars at the age of 5. The aggressive genes which were meant to be eliminated are now doubled. You also created a generation of criminals.

Your society is also not forgiving. Once you commit to a crime, you and everyone around you is doomed. As other's pointed out, people do not commit crime by planning but in your society once you have charges, you can not erase them and there is no reason for you to not commit anymore crime. Actually if you are a parent and committed a crime and your child can not go to college because of that, you do anything to give them a great life by becoming a crime lord.

In the end, you create a caste system where no one marries with the criminals but more and more people are joining criminals because of unplanned crimes and there is no way for them to return to the good side.

Your society collapses.

  • 38
    $\begingroup$ Heck, Bob and Katie don't even need to commit crimes. Both could have a sibling that commited the crime and they would still be forced into becoming criminals for their children. $\endgroup$
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 8:06
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ People that do not have higher education nor well paying jobs typically have more children beginning at younger ages. Not only would the OP be increasing the aggressive genes, "bad parents" would theoretically outpace the "good parents" births, leading to more "bad people" than "good people" each generation. $\endgroup$
    – Reed
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 13:43
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Reed the plot of the film "idiocracy" starts with that observation. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ yeah, this system will create a new criminal underworld and create a feed back system that will cause its own collapse. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 16:28
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It can only be a matter of time before everyone is contaminated by criminality and since being convicted of a crime is not the same as actually having committed the crime, you may be actually innocent anyway. As has already been pointed out, once you, or anyone associated with you has been 'criminalised', there is no incentive not to become criminal, indeed you may be forced into it. $\endgroup$
    – Lee Leon
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 19:15

There are too many flaws in this idea to address them all, but I'll hit a few of the major ones.

First flaw is the implicit assumption that "criminality" has anything at all to do with genetics. The child of "criminals" might well become a productive member of society, if not prevented from getting an education by abysmally stupid laws. (And how is that different from racial or ethnic discrimination?)

Then there's the purely practical matter of determining parentage. Unless you are willing to do genetic testing on every person in your society, there's no way to be sure who the parents are.

Another flaw is that "crime" is defined by fiat: things that are crimes in one jurisdiction or at one time could be perfectly legal, even laudable, in another one. Consider the criminals running the pre-Civil War Underground Railroad. Or that within my own lifetime, it was criminal to be gay, or for people of different races to marry.

Still another problem is that many criminals are not caught, while many innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn't commit. So Heidi is denied education and employment because Bob was wrongly convicted.

Don't know if you're that familiar with history, but something similar has been tried before. See e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attainder

  • $\begingroup$ The flaw in your answer is the assumption the laws and governments are logical (as Spock used the word). $\endgroup$
    – WGroleau
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 7:09
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @WGroleau: No, I'm not making that assumption at all. My only assumption is that the universe is logical, so that if illogical governments implemented this, it would a) not work; and b) cause a lot of human misery before it finally collapsed. We certainly have plenty of parallel real-world examples: Communism, the American experiences with Prohibition and the War on Drugs, Britain's persecution of gay people from Oscar Wilde to Alan Turing... $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 17:58

First let's start out with a simple fact : it is (in this real world) generally going to negatively impact your future prospects to enter a long term relationship with a person with a criminal conviction.

Exactly how badly this will affect you depends on precisely where you live, but it will have negative consequences.

Background checks (for criminal activity) usually go from sibling to parent. It would go to further generations depending on the situation and the results of such a check for someone are publicly available upon request.

And a flourishing system of bribery and corruption is born. :-)

The vast majority will consider the application of these rules unjust, and unjust laws tend to be ignored at best or subverted at worst by at least a minority and often by a majority.

If Alice were to marry a criminal, Bob:

Her son would be at a disadvantage. She now fails the background check. (her husband have criminal record)

In hindsight, Alice should not have married Bob.

People tend not to marry (or get together or stay together) for logical reasons.

And thank heaven for this fact.

And people will get together despite knowing they're getting a partner with problems.

Nothing ever has stopped this.

If Bob were to commit a crime:

He would be charged according to the law (ordered to pay a fine, imprisoned, etc.) He would have a criminal record. He would fail all background checks from this point onward.

So far, so normal.

He would not be able to find a wife, because everybody knows the consequences of marrying a criminal.

And yet people do it anyway.

And always have.

Love, as they say, is blind. Blind, deaf and tragically dumb.

So Bob probably will find a wife if he wants to. And, more to the point, he's a criminal and they're not known for their honesty and for being open with their partners. So Bob will happily lie to Alice to get what he wants.

And a flourishing market in providing fake background checks (or simple bribery) will let Bob hide his past for "long enough" to mess up Alice's life.

His siblings now fail their background checks.

And this punishes perfectly innocent people for no reason other than vindictive stupidity.

And they're now ready to become real criminals because you've given them a reason to hate people for this unjust punishment.

His sibling may also have difficulty marrying somebody, because everyone is aware of the disadvantages that would be brought to them through association.

Again, love is blind.

So that won't work out as you think.

My expectations for the impact on society are:

So far they're totally wrong and provably so by simply looking around you.

People are less likely to commit a crime, knowing the consequences;

Criminal punishment historically was violent and even lethal and yet we have always had crime.

And as some criminals are actually sociopaths, they won't give an iota for what punishment happens other people (including their children).

Have a look at Death Row sometime. They all knew the likely consequences.

A 'perfect race' free from crime is created, assuming genetic factors for crime exist - since nobody wants to marry a criminal.

Historically we did everything from shop bits off to torture to death people guilty of what, in a modern context, would be considered petty crimes.

And these outrageous deaths did nothing to discourage crime or prevent the criminals from procreating.

So this is pure nonsense and we've several thousand years of history to prove it.

My questions are:

Would my system work as expected?

Not even close.

Probably you'd create an incredibly unstable system with an ever-growing mass of disaffected and angry population who have been punished for someone else's crime.

How likely is a societal/governmental collapse ?

A certainty.

It may take time, depending on how dictatorial the system is, but eventually it will collapse.

Are there any flaws in my method?

Just logic, precedent, history and your apparently non-existent understanding of human relationships and how they happen.

Other than that, nothing.

Hint : read Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" or Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment", neither of which are light reading. You might also try "Doctor Zhivago" as it will illustrate the way love and passion work and what people will do because of them regardless of consequences.


In fact, the goverment discriminated criminal relatives in USSR and in is discriminating in North Korea, as o.m mentioned. In USSR it was not a strict rule and could vary from case to case.

  1. It will not work in terms of criminal reduction.
    • Some crimes happens because of accident. Unhappy shot from a gun, for example. Why pregnant wife and unborn child should be disqualified?
    • Impulsive, unplanned crimes are more often than planning like next winter I'm going to beat lover of my wife or like Ocean's Twelve film
    • There is no 'criminal gene' but relatives and surrounding people has a big influence. You prosecute people but don't remove negative effect of being close to criminals
  2. There are many effects.
    • Social lifts don't work for relatives of criminals. They can't even hope for better life
    • Without access to a good job, more people become criminals
    • You get a caste of pariah: everyone could fall down but nobody could return to a good life.
    • According to the idea of six steps, it's very likely that some friend of friend of friend is a criminal. So most people could be banned from elite job, you need just find better.
  3. Society would degrade
    • Too many people, I would say most people, could be found linked to someone disqualified. So goverment could manipulate and harass almost anyone. It's good for totalitarian goverment only
    • Any election will turn out to finding disqualified people as close to a pretendent as possible
    • It's too easy to ground the enemy: just suspicion of crime would lead to ostracism

Without social lifts going up and with ease to bring down anyone, general level of society could only go down. You get society of criminals, friends of criminals, those who don't criminal yet and a guard. Some authors called late USSR as a 'state prison'

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. The discussion of government efforts against family members in the USSR seems to be somewhat productive, but it's taking up too much space in the comments. Please continue it in chat. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 15, 2017 at 1:12

That process is counterproductive.

Too long, didn't read : see below.

Crimes are usually the consequence of pre-existing social disadvantage. Social penalization, whether on purpose or not, leads to crime.

Commiting crimes are done, in most cases - not taking victimless crimes into account - either because there is no legal choice available to subsist or because it seems to be the better way to do things when you grow up. In the later case, it's mostly up to which models you are as you become an adult, whether it's your parents or the other (pre)adults you are hanging out with. In the former, it can come from a lack of job or because the one you have doesn't pay enough. This comes directly from how good a job your (assumed) education/training you can get versus how much you have to spend on a regular basis.

To sum it up, the things that people out of crime are :

  • Education : The more accessible and the cheaper/freer it is for you, the more likely you'll be to get a decent job and the less appealing crime will become, the risk/benefit ratio will be higher the better your education is.
  • Proper raising : If you were raised by adults who spent time showing you a good example, you are less likely to fall into crime once you get to choose. I put the emphasis on that sentence, I don't mean criminal parents/not criminal parents. Very decent and hard working poor parents increase the odds that their children will do crime because the more time they have to work on low wage jobs, the less time they'll have to raise their kids. Heartbreaking but true.
  • Healthcare : You will do anything to stay alive and well, and even more to keep your relatives alive and well. Same than education, the more accessible and free healthcare is, the less likely people are to commit crimes.
  • Victimless crimes : Criminalizing activities that are otherwise harmless - like having sex, being gay, doing drugs, whatever - the less serious other crimes will look, and more importantly, the more people you will inject into the criminal part of society. If you already feel like a criminal after having done something trivial and harmless - and have faced the legal consequences - you will have less qualms breaking the law again if the needs or opportunity comes, it tilts your risk/benefit ratio regarding crime.
  • Social welfare : Ensuring that people have enough money to live decent lives whatever bad luck happens to them works like a contract. While people might be - more or less heavily - tempted to rely on crime in order to subsist if something - illness, job loss, ... - impairs their ability to do so, because they need money fast, feel that society let them rot and don't have anything to lose anyway, letting them know that you'll provide for them if it happens give them both the resources and incentive to remain honnest. People rarely do crime for the fun of it, they are usually ashamed but have to. Countries with good welfare programs have low crime rates because at least it's easier to live on welfare than on crime, and crime costs more than welfare anyway. Plus, they'll be more likely to get back on their feet if they aren't convicted felons.
  • Criminalization of people : It's true when it comes to criminalizing entire communities, and even more if you make it a social process. If you are already seen as a criminal, why the hell wouldn't you break the law if it fills your needs ? You are already a felon, what do you have to lose ?

The best way to prevent crimes is to remove the reasons that honnest hard working people would have to turn to it and the reasons convicted people would have to do it again. So while ensuring that your citizens won't ever find themselves so low that they'll have to commit crimes and that your convicts are forgiven so that they can reinsert themselves without penality works, socially penalizing cinvicts relatives will have the opposite effect.

Picture it in your head : You are a hard working person, but your jobs don't allow you to pay for both healthcare and food for your kids, so you have to choose, needless to say, you sacrifice both your meals and health. Some day you get sick and lose your jobs. You have to rob a house to prevent your children from dying. I see a few things coming, if social penalties are enforced in your world :

  • If the robber is caught, his efforts to save her/his children alive will cost them whatever decent live they could have had. Same for the spouse.
  • Incidentally, the robber is very likely to carry a lethal weapon considering the disproportionate threat of getting caught, since although the legal penalty for robbing might not be that much, the threat of robbing his/her children from any hope their parents are currently fighting for is almost a death penalty.

Worse than that, by criminalizing petty crimes and adding social penalties to those who are already socially in bad shape and/or discriminated against, you antagonize them, which makes you their enemy, which remove insentive to follow the law. Don't make an enemy of your people and then expect them to not steal from you or stab you in the leg.

That system is already used in various places, either directly or indirectly : Children that grow up without one or both of their parents because they are serving long times in jails will grow up with a single parent they will amost never see, always out working, or on the street without parents. They are moreover unlikely to get any education or training, so the cycle continues.


Your system is designed like a virus : it's contagious. Its effect would be to increase crime rates among the social classes that are already concerned by it, the gravity of the crimes, and the ratio of the population that belong to these classes until you end up with three classes : - The ultra wealthy hiding behind high walls. They make up the government, rule the finances, the production and the bills. Finance is unregulated, laws allowing the "police" to do almost anything in the name of "protecting the honnest poeple" and labour is unregulated and pays the strict minimum needed (or below). - A tight middle class that subsist in the fear of being convicted. They despise the government and don't "snitch" on each other for petty things given how unfair your laws are, but the government quickly comes up by both rewarding "collaboration with law enforcement" and criminalizing not reporting crimes. Yes you're right, that's fascism. They are stuck against another fear, directed toward the criminal and poor population that might rob or murder them anytime. - A wide population living either in jail or in guettos in which the "police" leads raids in military gear, footages of which are shown in the news as evidence that the government is standing their ground against the "terrorists"/"lazy ones", while these people are actually working their asses off in unregulated factories for meals, since they have almost no rights.

That's as dystopian as a world can get, for as far as I'm concerned.


Some people commit crimes as a way to survive because they can't get a regular job. If an entire family couldn't get a good job, the entire family might start committing crimes together. They trust each other because they are a family. They work as a team to survive any way they can. There's a name for this: Mafia. This Mafia then becomes an employer. They ignore the rules against hiring criminals and hire other criminals to help them commit more crimes. These gangs/Mafia have been known to take over whole cities in the United States and whole countries elsewhere in the world. Society doesn't collapse. But society, as it was before, collapses.

I capitalized Mafia because they will break my nose if I don't. :)


There are four reasons for punishment via incarceration, in descending effectiveness:

  1. Incapacitation. This is useless as incapacitation. It doesn't restrict the criminal at all.

  2. Retribution. This might work as retribution, but not that well. It doesn't give the victims much closure. The punishment is rather abstract. And they may encounter the criminal, causing the old passions to rise up. Prison doesn't just prevent criminals from committing new crimes, it prevents victims from trying for revenge. This doesn't.

  3. Deterrence. This is probably the strongest effect. But the truth is that any punishment serves as a deterrent. Increasing the punishment doesn't increase the deterrence effect. A greater worry is that there is no way to increase the punishment. Increased punishment does not increase the deterrent effect, but an escalating punishment for escalated crime deters escalation. E.g. kidnappers may be reluctant to murder their victim if the punishment for murder is more than the punishment for kidnapping. And the deterrent disappears once the punishment is triggered.

  4. Rehabilitation. If anything, this causes the reverse effect. Once this punishment has been applied, it can't be applied again.

The biggest problem with any punishment is that the criminal doesn't expect to get caught. If not caught, the punishment doesn't matter. It's not applied.

This punishment puts all the effect on deterrence of the first crime. But this is when the criminal is least experienced and easiest to catch. What to do afterwards? This punishment won't work a second time.

Given that someone has committed a crime, this may encourage escalation. If the punishment for murder is the same as that for petty vandalism, then a petty vandal may choose to murder to hide the vandalism.

Another problem is that criminals typically commit their first crime before they have children. As such, the idea of their children being punished is abstract and distant. The gain from the crime is immediate. People tend to weight immediate results higher than future results. Plus, the criminal may not have any interest in children.

This does make law-abiding women less likely to marry criminal men. But this isn't exactly common anyway. Criminally-minded men are more likely to marry criminally-minded women. Like many punishments, this is most effective against the law-abiding rather than the criminally-minded. The problem being that those who most need deterred are the criminally-minded.

The greatest weakness of current punishments is the lack of rehabilitation. This makes that worse for a minimal, if any, increase in deterrence. It also throws away the incapacitation and retribution benefits. This is a much less effective punishment than incarceration alone. Even if combined with incarceration, it reduces the rehabilitation effect.

The number one way to increase the deterrent effect is to increase the likelihood of being caught. That will have far more impact than any increase in punishment. It increases all of the incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation effects. And that is more effective against the criminally-minded than against the law-abiding, as they commit more of the crimes.

  • $\begingroup$ This system does not ignore the regular punishments of jail and/or death sentences. The system given in the question merely adds this as a secondary punishment. I.e. criminal records extend automatically to all immediate family. $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 18:39

What you would do is sow the seeds for revolution.

It is patently unfair to hold people responsible for acts they did not commit. Every child that was held back due to actions of their parents would grow into an adult determined to bring that system down.

Most criminals commit crimes because they are either stupid enough to think they can get away with it, or don't care (as in sociopath) about the consequences.

So even the deterrent value of that method is in question.

  • $\begingroup$ How do you know children would choose to bring it down? Maybe they'd just be more determined to prevent others from committing crimes in the future? $\endgroup$
    – user64742
    Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 0:32

You cannot have the children controlling the parents.

Penalizing children would have little or no effect in practice, since it would refrain only "conscientious" parents... which wouldn't be criminal in the first place, most likely.

Criminals aren't such because they like to be "bad" (whatever it may mean). ALL of them are fully convinced to be justified in doing what they do and, in most of the cases, to be able to pull it through without punishment. They wouldn't be deterred by a possible disadvantage to kids (possibly still non-existent) may years from now.

The other way around would work much better and have been used more than once in history: "collective responsibility" is a doctrine where responsibility of some action impacts immediately the whole family (medieval Japan was a particularly harsh example). This would put parents in position to control tightly relatives and children in order to avoid losing their job. It is a nasty system, but works, at least for some time (in Japan lasted centuries).


Crime would vastly increase because the crimes that you commit by unjustly and dishonestly penalizing children of criminals would far exceed crimes committed by those criminals.

Moreover, the unjustly and dishonestly penalized children might be more likely to become criminals than they would if you were honest and just with them.

It may also be that instead of becoming a criminal, one of them would assassinate you. No reasonable person could consider that a crime.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I agree that the children of criminals are more likely to become criminals since they've already been punished/penalized/restircted by the acts of their predecessors. I'm not sure I agree that assasination wouldn't reasonably be considered a crime. I don't see how assassination would improve the situation. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 23:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JBH : Tyranicide is sometimes considered justified because of the tyrannical nature of the target. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 5:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Isn't assassination considered death by natural causes for tyrants? $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 16:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Typhon : Yes, a democracy can be a tyranny. The $60\%$ of voters whose skin is green can vote that the $40\%$ whose skin is purple should be enslaved and made to work without pay on cotton plantations and be bought and sold at auctions. That is democracy and it is tyranny. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 19:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Typhon : As the question was initially written it sounded as if one person was to impose this system. However, I do think that democracy can sometimes impose tyranny, so the question of whether it's tyranny is not only matter of what the populace believes. As in other matters, an error can be popularly believed. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2017 at 2:29

I read this and my first thought was about China's new social network experiment, where being a 'good' citizen gets you credit towards visas, etc, and 'bad' citizens may receive punishments. In addition, having 'bad friends' can reduce your score, so this may socially outcast non-conformers. We'll see how this plays out in the real world soon I suppose, since it's supposed to be mandatory by 2020. It's not necessarily parent to child, but the 'bad-friends-are-bad' thing seems similar.


Loss of status to an entire family due to the actions of one person is common in history, and even in modern life.

Abrahamic cultures - "The sins of the fathers are visited to the sons to the third and fourth generation" - Exodus 20:5.

Modern day - relatives of Adolf Hitler, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, and other famous (or infamous) people have changed their names to distance themselves from the social stigma of their ancestry.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Adolf Hitler had no descendants and Albert Einstein's three children did not change their names. Oscar Wilde's children did not change their names, their mother did. $\endgroup$
    – WoJ
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ @WoJ Hitler has several known descendents. telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1348850/… , abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/02/… $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Correct, the Einsteins choose to isolate themselves with distance. The point that the mother changed Oscar Wilde s children's names only serves to prove the point that it was still common to punish the family for the faults of one member in recent European history. $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 23:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ the telegraph article doesn't mention any descendants of Adolf Hitler. it talks about his other relatives. $\endgroup$
    – Gnudiff
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ Edited answer to the more generic "relatives" since the op premise is still addressed, at a broader scope, via the extended family $\endgroup$
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 15:25

Let's assume that your system will somehow magically work. People have a lot of negative comments, but let's assume that 100% of your society is deluded enough to believe this is just as fair as the death sentence, or jail time.

Now let's consider the primary concepts here:

When doing a background check criminal behavior that any immediate relative has done will appear on yours.

Alright. That seems odd, but as long as it isn't presented in a misleading way (such as the record saying you committed the crime), I don't see anything wrong with it appearing. Let's be realistic here. The issue is how people use such a record.

Now you say people get tax breaks for employing people with decent records, right? So what? AS many answers point out there are only so many people with "good records" in your system. People will just have normal taxes. After all, such a break doesn't normally occur in real life.

So now let's amp up your system. Let's say it is illegal to hire people for certain skilled jobs or train them in a university if they have a criminal record. Fine then. Not everyone in the world gets a skilled job. They get an unskilled job (such as a supermarket clerk) and avoid criminal behavior. Then they know with certainty that their children will be allowed to go to a university and get a skilled job.

All your system does is extend the "unskilled labor" generated by criminals ordinarily not getting jobs into another generation.

Your system is sorta successful barring a logical fallacy.

It deters the children of criminals or relatives of criminals from being criminals. Why? Well think of it this way. Society states that people directly related to criminals get punished severely and they're part of that group. Maybe they decide that they don't want that for their children. So their logic is to try and break the cycle by getting their family to not commit any crimes.

The fallacy is that one assumes people would otherwise commit crimes if they were directly related to criminals.

Finally as a note towards the utter collapse of the country.... I don't see that it has to. There's nothing forcing people to lose jobs and whatnot. Just a loss of tax breaks for companies. If people are vital enough to a business, they won't be fired. Plus, you say that the crimes will actually be listed and not just a general "criminal relative" stamp. Therefore, depending on the severity of the crime your system might actually punish relatives in the same manner criminals might be punished. Minor vandalism from teenage years might not be as heavily punished when an adult. It isn't that way now in real life, so why should it be in your civilization?

Therefore, while your law is weird and insane, I see no reason why society would collapse and stop functioning. I also think it won't work as a deterrent towards the original criminals. However, it will breed a generation of people desiring to not be criminals so as to allow future generations to have skilled labor.


There's a lot of answers here about how things happen in the real world, but since this is WorldBuilding and not Politics, I thought I'd bring up a case from an existing novel.

In The Neanderthal Parallax series by Robert J. Sawyer, the neanderthal society castrates all criminals, and their closest family, to eugenically prevent crime. Since your society is basically doing the same thing (socially instead of chemically), it might be worth reading RJS's take on it.


"Pure" unpunished middle class people would probably be far easier to blackmail, or hurt with false charges. Imagine "I'll sue you" when your childrens futures are at stake..


The system would create a caste system of criminals and non criminals. Criminals will just get better at it to survive because they have no option but to just get better.

But it will also cause other issues:

There would be no protests. Who would want to risk getting a record and getting shunned.

Counterfeit birth certificates and name changes will be as big as alcohol in prohibition times.

With all of these criminal they will get organized and gangs will form.

I could see stress being really high in such a society. At what point are you marked a criminal. is a parking ticket enough to get shunned. Is a parking ticket considered a gateway to criminality? Do people preemptively shun those they think may do no good.

Do different politicians revise what is considered illegal? Certain books? Do they force mandatory religious services or propaganda? Are there politicians just calling for jailing all criminals and creating a work force out of them?

These are all things you will have to consider. The longer the society went on the more people that will end up criminals and put into work camps. The rich would eventually get more freedom to act any way they want. No one is clean so the threat of a rich person suing the prosecutor and digging up dirt to literally ruin his life would mean that they would almost never serve any time or even be slapped with a punishment.


'Criminal' has a lot of grey area but it seems like you're referring to a career criminal with a lengthy rap sheet. There are plenty of one-time criminals out there and people who have never been caught committing crimes. Does never being convicted of a crime mean they're not a criminal even though they commit crimes nobody knows about? There are plenty of people out there who have been convicted of one crime who will never commit another crime in their life. Does that make them a criminal for the rest of their life? 'Criminal' is a stereotype and it isn't as black-and-white as we make it out to be. We live in a corrupt police state where all are at risk of being branded a criminal either in the past or at some point in the future.

What good would punishing the children for their parents behavior do? It's guilt by association and a logical fallacy. It unnecessarily ruins the children's futures and creates more problems than it solves. Would you want to be held liable for someone else's behavior when the only thing you have control over is your own behavior? It's just not right.

I have two dogs. A girl and a boy. One has a potty training problem and constantly goes to the bathroom in the house. Whenever she does that we all stand there staring at the poop in disbelief and nobody knows what happened. I spank them both lightly on the head and point at them and say "bad!". They're intelligent dogs and they know the difference between right and wrong.

He's largely the assertive one. She's always been on the shy side and relies a lot on him for things. He's like her little 'wingman'. If he wants to go outside to the bathroom then she'll go outside but she won't go to the door or otherwise let you know she needs to go out on her own.

You can always tell who did it because he gets fed up with being punished for something she did and always starts snarling at her and attacking her. Regardless, the behavior never improves. It might work on some people but she certainly seems to be immune. I don't do that anymore since punishing innocent people for someone else's behavior has proven to be ineffective but I've tried everything to figure out how to motivate her to stop. Some people never learn. They just want to do their own thing.

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink! It really is true that the only thing we can be certain of changing in life is our own behavior.


What you propose isn't far from what we have in the US today: people with a criminal record can't get a (decent) job, so their kids grow up poor and uneducated, which almost inevitably leads to said kids eventually getting a criminal record of their own. (Note that guilt isn't needed when the accused is too poor and uneducated to defend themself.) Their dating pool is other poor and uneducated people, so unprotected sex is the norm with predictable results. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The US has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, so this system doesn't seem to produce the crime-free society you're hoping for.


There was once an emperor in China who had an advisor. The Advisor believed that if you make the punishment for a minor crime extremely harsh no one would consider performing a major crime.

THere were a group of farmers who had been called to serve in the military during the rainy season. They were late. On realizing that they would be late

One asked: "What is the punishment for being late?"

A: "Death"

Q: "What is the punishment for treason?"

A: "Death"

Thus decided they started a revolution that lead to acivil war that ended with the death of the advisor and the old emperor.

If a minor crime is enough to ruin your life, and the lives of your family. Why not go for broke, what is the worst that can happen?


The one I think your missing is that the parent would care if their child suffered. Many don't. So it would not have the desired effect of making them a better person.


It would actually be the worst idea.

First: it already happens too often that children of criminal, for many reasons, end up committing crime as well. Make it also harder for them to have a "normal" job and education, and that's a bomb: you'd have whole families, whole neighboorhoods where people are unable to escape the "criminal life"

Second: in dictatorships this thing actually happens. In the URSS that would happen a lot; one person does something wrong, and the whole family is disadvanaged somehow. Needless to say, the results are horrible. Also, if something is done in dictatorships to control people, maybe it's a sign is not a good idea.

Third: you're making a big mistake many people make: thinking that all criminals are rational. Most will just think they won't get caught. Some will not care if they have children. It would be horrible to make people with criminal records (and their children) unable to find a way to integrate again in society?

Imagine: Bob committed some crime when he was young. Then he got better, Found a wife, have this kid Heidi. Heidi cannot go to a good school, cannot get a nice job... would it be surprising if Heidi commit some small crime? No. Once that is done, Heidi realize she has no way back into the system, all odds are against her: why would it be worthy to even try to behave? She'd go even deeper in the criminal life. And if she has a son, at that point there's no way for him to be able to do anything good with his life, given the family history. So why should he even try? The other kids will be able to go to nice schools, etc.. while he not only will maybe grow up with a parent in prison, but also he'd be discriminated against everywhere.



Lowering crime rates by socially penalizing criminals' children might have some effect, but it won't create a crime-free society and could lead to unintended consequences. This approach is based on the belief that people will avoid crime if it negatively impacts their family. However, there are several factors to consider when evaluating its effectiveness.

Will it work as expected?

Punishing families for an individual's crimes isn't new. "Collective punishment" has been used in various societies throughout history, but its success is debatable. A study on family ties and crime found that strong bonds can lower criminal behavior, but also showed that crime can pass between generations. This means penalizing criminals' children might not lower crime rates.

Is societal/governmental collapse likely?

A collapse due to this policy is unlikely, but it could increase social unrest and inequality. Penalizing criminals' children creates a cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement, as they may struggle to access education, employment, and support systems. This could lead to resentment and potentially higher crime rates among this group. Additionally, the policy could be seen as unfair and lose public support, eroding trust in the government.

Are there any flaws in the method?

This method has several flaws. First, it assumes crime results only from individual choices, ignoring broader factors like poverty, lack of education, and limited support systems. Second, it could unfairly punish innocent people, especially children, for their relatives' actions, leading to further stigmatization and marginalization. Lastly, it may not deter crime, as not all criminals may be aware of or care about consequences for their family members.

In conclusion, socially penalizing criminals' children might slightly impact crime rates, but it's not a complete solution. The approach has flaws and may lead to unintended consequences like increased social unrest and inequality. A better way to reduce crime rates could be addressing underlying factors that contribute to criminal behavior and providing support systems for at-risk individuals and their families.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .