Cap'n Arbyte's



Other sites

Ethics: Emergencies and Obligations - Part 4 - Interlude on Voluntarism

Last time, I talked about individual rights as the basis for politics rather than making politics an enforcement of some particular ethical system.

I also said I'd explain the relevance to emergencies in the "next installment", but I've realized that I can pause here to make an important point. It's related to ethics and politics, but not to emergencies. We'll get back to emergencies next time.

I want to talk about voluntarism. Individual rights are, essentially, the legal mechanism to forbid the initiation of physical force. Murder, theft, censorship, etc. are all violations of individual rights and are all instances of the initiation of physical force. Rights also set limits on acceptable behavior of government agents when they are using force retaliatively. (Or they may be procedural in nature; as with last time, I'm ignoring such cases.)

This is not a coincidence. Force and rights are linked concepts, unlike (as I explained last time) wrongness and illegality.

If politics is not used to implement any particular ethical system, many people who want it to be used that way will be upset. A political system of the kind I advocate will not stifle their free exercise of their ethical system — it will, however, prevent them from imposing it upon others without their consent. That is where the line must be drawn in civil society. Human interaction should be voluntary.

The requirement of voluntarism does not prohibit the various government programs that are so popular. Strike the word "government" and its implication of mandatory adherence, and you're free to set up a private program with the same goals.

Take Social Security. (Please!) I don't want to be involved. Today, participation is mandatory. Under the kind of political system I advocate, a private group would be allowed to set up a transfer system like Social Security, but participation would be voluntary.

That's right: If you want Social Security, you can have it. Feel free to arrange it among yourselves. But you can't drag anyone in (like me) who's unwilling. This is win-win — you have the system you want, and I can stay out of it. The only potential source of unhappiness here is if you had been planning to play me for a sucker, taking more from me than you'd give back. (If that's the case, you should be ashamed of yourself — I have no sympathy for would-be thieves.)

You want universal health care? Set up a private organization to pool resources and administer the system. You want welfare? Set up a private organization to pool resources and administer the system. You want subsidies? Set up a private organization to pool resources and administer the system. Sensing a pattern?

If someone's cheating, kick them out. If someone's not paying their dues, kick them out. (And feel free to price discriminate to make the system more "progressive" — you can do that, too! Soak the rich, baby!)

It is a great tragedy that so many people with good intentions (by their own standards) seek to foist their plans upon everyone through the strong arm of the government, rather than yielding to individual rights and voluntarism. When you have a good idea for a government program, stop and ask yourself, "Why does everyone have to participate?" You may discover that a program whose members are like-minded about its value will be more successful than one with members who hate it and want out.

Think about single-payer universal health care. Lots of people want it. It's popular. The people who like it should create a private system to implement it, and they should forget about trying to bring people like me into the fold. They could do it today. Nothing is stopping them. Except, perhaps, the half-realized, half-evaded fear that the system won't work unless it can siphon off money from the rich to pay for everyone else's expenses. But this should not stop them. George Soros comes to mind as a rich person who might agree to it. Convince them voluntarily, and implement it amongst yourselves.

But leave me out of it.

Tiny Island