Many libertarians think of the nonaggression principle as the unwillingness to threaten first strike force, fraud, or theft against another, or what I call “honoring our neighbor’s choice.” However, this is like having the “yin” without the “yang,” the “male” without the “female.”

The second part of the nonaggression principle, restoring the victim or righting our wrongs, is just as important as the first. Indeed, without the balance of restitution, the first part of the nonaggression principle creates contradictions.

For example, imagine that you are walking down a busy street talking on your cell phone. Someone comes up behind you and knocks you over. Your hands are torn and bleeding from trying to break your fall. Your expensive suit is ripped as you land, while your cell phone flies from your hand and breaks apart on the pavement.

Scenario #1: Perhaps the entire incident is an accident. The person who shoved you helps you up, offers to pay for your damaged phone and suit, and gives you enough to cover your transportation to your apartment to change. Given the circumstances, you might be satisfied with this resolution or something close to it.

Scenario #2: On the other hand, if your “attacker” had deliberately pushed you out of the way of an oncoming car, you would probably not ask for any restitution at all. Although that person violated the first part of the nonaggression principle by initiating force against you, damaging you and your property in process, he or she saved you from even greater harm. You’d be grateful for the intervention and might even wish to reward your “attacker.”

Scenario #3:  However, if your assailant was just being nasty, you might flag down a nearby police officer to apprehend him or her. In a society that adheres to the nonaggression principle, you will probably demand, not only restitution for your suit and telephone, but something additional for the time and trouble that you will have in pressing charges. Ideally, restitution should include a fee to cover the costs of the court and the apprehending officer so that you aren’t paying these indirectly through increased taxes or higher insurance premiums.

In each case, the facts of the case are identical.  However, the practice of “righting our wrongs” is what balances the scales of justice and helps us determine when violation of the first part of non-aggression is appropriate. Without the second part of the non-aggression principle, we might come to the absurd conclusion that we shouldn’t pull a stranger from the path of an oncoming car!

Restitution is the best crime deterrent known. Japan, which uses a form of apology and restitution in its justice system, is the only industrialized country that has seen a continuous fall in crime since World War II.

In Japan, once a wrongdoer has been caught, he or she is expected to negotiate a settlement with the victim. Usually a mediator, often a relative of the offender, visits with the victim. First, through the intermediary, the aggressor apologizes to the victim and offers restitution.

After a period of negotiation, the victim may accept both the apology and the settlement. He or she will then write a letter to the judge, expressing satisfaction with the offer. The offender receives a light fine or sentence, because the judge is satisfied that the wronged party has been made whole again.

If the victim and aggressor cannot agree on a settlement, the judge must decide if the victim is simply being unreasonable, or if the aggressor is not sorry enough to make a good-faith bargaining effort. If the judge finds fault with the criminal’s offers, a harsh sentence is imposed. Thus, offenders have a great deal of incentive to make things right for their victims.

Most career criminals start with small offenses. In Japan, they are twice as likely to get caught as in the United States, in part because victims have something to gain (i.e., restitution) by turning to the authorities. When criminals reap what they sow, they are more likely to turn away from crime before it becomes a career.

Western nations are starting to reintroduce restitution into their victim-offender mediation programs. In face-to-face dialogues, both victims and aggressors can express their feelings. Ninety-five percent of such meetings result in a consensus on appropriate restitution, much as similar negotiations in Japan have done. Restitution is usually financial, although personal service to the victim and community service are sometimes included as well. Mediation programs report contract fulfillment of 79–98%.

Are prisoners capable of creating wealth even when imprisoned? In the early 1900s, my great-grandfather’s factory gave inmates of the Missouri State Penitentiary jobs making saddle parts. Not only was the prison self-supporting, it also made a small profit. The inmates grew their own food and manufactured brooms and men’s clothing. The prison prided itself on the health of the prisoners, noting that epidemics were rare and the death rate was “less than that of the average village.” Self-financing prisons were common in the nineteenth century.

Today, many companies employ inmates. One private corporation, Prison Rehabilitative Industries & Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) of Clearwater, Florida, manages 42 prison work programs with 400 different jobs. Only 11% of prisoners who work for PRIDE 6 months or more return to prison within two years after their release. In 2012, armed with the experience and training given by PRIDE, the average worker started at over $10/hour after serving their sentence. Clearly, this rehabilitation works!

Of course, aggressors sometimes harm others in ways that cannot be totally undone. Monetary compensation to a person who has been raped or maimed, or to families whose loved ones have been killed, does not make things right again. In some cases, the victims, their family, or their insurance company might accept a monetary settlement as the best compensation available. A repeat offender might be imprisoned permanently so he or she could not harm others.

As we’ll see in the next post, restitution provides the ideal “Pollution Solution.”

These posts are part of a “Cliff Notes” version of my award-winning international best-selling libertarian primer, Healing Our World. The next post in this series will be about Chapter 14, “The Pollution Solution.” If you’d like to learn more about how restitution works to deter crime before the next post, check out Chapter 13 of the 1993 edition of Healing Our World, in my Free Library at