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The Rich Do Not Rule: The Voluntary Economy

“The capitalistic market economy is a democracy in which every penny constitutes a vote.”

– Ludwig von Mises

An assertion that I’ve heard often from opponents of a voluntary (i.e. free market) economy is that it will cater only to the rich. Their argument is that when every dollar (Mises said “penny,” but we’re accounting for inflation) is a vote on what should be produced, the people with more dollars will have a disproportionate amount of power. “Poor and middle class people will be economically marginalized!” they wail. “We’ll all be slaves to the giant corporations!” they insist, ignoring the government’s legal monopoly on violence, and all it implies.

However, a quick exercise of reason is enough to dispel these emotive arguments.  Let’s imagine a typical billionaire—we’ll call him Beff Jezos. Although this isn’t at all how wealth works, let’s assume that Mr. Jezos has $100 billion sitting in his bank account. Mr. Jezos could buy a lot of things with that $100 billion, or a few very big things. But does his ability to buy outweigh the rest of the population? There are approximately 330 million Americans. If only a third of them spent an average of $1K each, that would be $110 billion. They could outbid Mr. Jezos—even if he tried to spend his entire $100 billion. The spending power of the rich cannot compete with the spending power of the poor and middle-class masses. To further demonstrate, let’s try a logical exercise you can sink your teeth into.

the rich do not rule
An ultra high-quality steak.

Let’s say that billionaires want to eat ultra high-quality steaks. According to the argument from opponents of voluntary markets, the entire agricultural industry, desperate for the money of the billionaires, will reorganize itself to produce stupendous steaks. This will leave everyone who is not a billionaire with little or nothing to eat.  Suppose there are 100 billionaires who are willing to purchase steaks at $500 each. If they each eat a steak at every meal(!), they’re spending $150k per day.

While that’s surely a prize worth competing for, there are still >300 million people who need to eat. If they each spend $0.50 per meal, that’s >$450 million per day.

Put another way, 100 billionaires would each have to spend $1.5 million per meal to have the purchasing power of everyone else spending fifty cents each. While the needs of the few rich will quickly be met, all the other producers of steaks (and other things) won’t sit on their hands, waiting for the rich to want something else—meeting the demands of the masses can pay much better. And the masses have a lot of demands.

The capitalistic market economy is a democracy in which every penny constitutes a vote.

This already happens to a certain extent. The Waltons did not become rich by making Walmart a store for the wealthy. Amazon does not cater exclusively to billionaires, or even millionaires. The people who benefit most from Walmart’s inexpensive goods and Amazon’s fast deliveries are the poor and middle class. This has always been the case. And if today’s huge businesses can’t keep up with the demands of the masses, they can be dethroned quickly when outperformed by a competitor—remember when Kmart and Ebay were the big players?

Of course, competition can be squashed, but this can only happen to the detriment of customers when it’s done through coercive government action. Dr. Tom Woods has shown that the classic caricature of the monopolist—a fatcat mercilessly raising prices to gain profits—only happens when the government forces competitors out of the market. In a voluntary free-market economy, government economic interference (never voluntary) would not exist. There could be no billionaires who become rich through political graft—trade restrictions, buying off politicians, government bailouts, subsidies, tariffs, corporate lobbying, competition-killing regulations, etc. Then the only way for anyone to become rich would be to persuade people to voluntarily purchase the product or service they provide.

Milton Friedman stated that “the most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” If the billionaire does not offer a good product or service to a wide range of customers, few people give them money—and in short order, they’re no longer a billionaire. In a voluntary economy, the rich do not rule, but the average Joe and Jane. It’s as close to the stated ideals of democracy that we can get—and unlike political democracy, nobody gets shot if they don’t comply with the majority.

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FDA Tried To Punish Distilleries for Helping During the Pandemic

One good turn deserves a hefty slap on the wrist. That seems to be the sentiment at the FDA. In the early days of the pandemic, distilleries started producing hand sanitizer to meet a hugely increased demand. But the FDA tried to punish distilleries for helping during the pandemic.

When the mainstream news told people to panic about the coronavirus, they happily obliged. PPE and hand sanitizer were soon sold out everywhere. But as we knew, people still wanted to help others voluntarily. Distilleries decided that since they produce alcohol for drinking, switching to alcohol for sanitizing would be an easy way to help their communities.

Many distilleries, especially community-minded local craft distilleries, started producing hand sanitizer. Aaron Bergh, president and distiller at Calwise Spirits in Paso Robles, California, was one example. “Some of my hand sanitizer was donated,” he said in a statement to Reason.com. “The rest was sold at a fraction of the market price.”

FDA Tried To Punish distilleries for helping during the pandemic
(Calwise Spirits)

This served a dual role of helping the community by providing sanitizer and jobs—jobs which were nearly lost due to the government’s lockdowns. Bergh said “My goal was to get as much [sanitizer] out as I could, at as low of a price as I could, while being able to bring my furloughed employees back to work. The hand sanitizer business saved me from bankruptcy—but I didn’t make an enormous profit.”

But a nasty surprise awaited the generous entrepreneurs: because they made hand sanitizer, the CARES act classifies them as “over-the-counter drug monograph facilities.” This means that FDA is punishing distilleries for helping during the pandemic with a $14,060 fine. Many of these distilleries are small businesses—already struggling financially due to government regulations and lockdowns.

FDA Tried To Punish distilleries for helping during the pandemic
Robby Verheyen of 4 Hands Brewing Company loads gallon jugs of hand sanitizer into a van for delivery in St. Louis on Friday, March 27, 2020. (BILL GREENBLATT/UPI/Newscom)

“We want to push back on this,” said Becky Harris, president of the American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA) and of Catoctin Creek Distilling in Purcellville, Virginia. The distilleries only produced hand sanitizer for a short time, in a public-spirited response to a crisis. “If you were making sanitizer for your community at a limited capacity, this should not be something you have to deal with,” says Harris. “It will be a slap in the face to make it through all of this and then get hit with this bill.”

Fortunately, thanks to a huge public outcry, the Department of Health and Human Services stepped in to cancel the fines on these do-gooder distilleries. But the punishment for helping during a pandemic, simply to gather more money for the government, should never have been considered. It’s ironic that the CARES Act—the government’s alleged effort to help people during the COVID pandemic—would have hurt the very people who voluntarily stepped up to help, as when the FDA tried to punish distilleries for helping during the pandemic. But that’s the nature of government intervention—someone is always hurt. And it strengthens our case that voluntary charity is more effective than government welfare—and that voluntaryism is the only moral way to organize a society.

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A Very Voluntary Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite Christmas stories. The classic tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s redemption from heartless miser to generous philanthropist is a holiday staple. It’s affected culture so much that the word “Scrooge” is synonymous with a greedy or cold person—or one who just doesn’t like Christmas.

There are many reasons given in the story why Scrooge doesn’t like Christmas, but a big one is that he just can’t understand why people would voluntarily give away their money, time, or even kindness to help other people. His one employee, Bob Cratchit, has a salary barely high enough to make up for Scrooge’s tightfisted disdain.

When a pair of gentlemen come to Scrooge's office asking for donations to help the poor, Scrooge points to the money taken from him by the government...

When a pair of gentlemen come to Scrooge’s office asking for donations to help the poor, Scrooge points to the money taken from him by the government: “Are there no prisons?…And the Union workhouses?…I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.” Unfortunately, this does little to help the poor—the gentlemen protest that “Many can’t go there, and many would rather die.” And it’s even more obvious from Scrooge’s cold, unfeeling demeanor that he gets nothing at all from “helping” the poor in this way.

***Spoiler Alert***

On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old partner, Marley, as well as three Christmas Spirits. Marley, who lived his life much as Scrooge does, is still bound by the chains of his greed, tormented by how he could have helped his fellow men. The Spirit of Christmas Past shows Scrooge how he used to care and have compassion for others, until he let the cares of the world set his heart like concrete.

The Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge around the earth, viewing the happiness made possible even in the midst of poverty by caring for others. His heart softening, Scrooge is distraught at the sight of the sufferers, and asks if there is nobody to help them. “Are there no prisons?” the Spirit replies cuttingly. “Are there no workhouses?” Stricken by his own callousness in using the government as an excuse not to care, Scrooge finds himself before the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him the dark, lonely life (and death) that await him—if his life continues unchanged.

But Scrooge has truly seen the light. He bursts from his house on Christmas morning like a ray of sunshine, spreading cheer where before he only brought gloom. No longer content to rely on the government to use money taken by taxation to help the poor, he begins a voluntary giving spree. He sees the gentlemen from the previous day and provides a donation so generous that they are shocked. When he next sees Cratchit, Scrooge is as munificent as he was miserly: “I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family…”

Notably, Scrooge's change of heart did not cause him to advocate for more taxes or welfare programs, but to voluntarily reach out to those around him.

The narrator records: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…” Notably, Scrooge’s change of heart did not cause him to advocate for more taxes or welfare programs, but to voluntarily reach out to those around him. By doing so, he affected their lives for the better in ways the government programs never could, and they in turn enriched his life in ways he never imagined.

The book refers to this as “keeping Christmas,” but voluntary giving does not have to be limited to a certain season. As Scrooge said: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” And you don’t have to be Christian—or religious at all—to feel the kindness and compassion that Scrooge felt in his heart, and use that to voluntarily bring light and hope to others.

“May that truly be said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”

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Chef is Offering Free Meals to Jobless

One of the only good things about the tyrannical reaction to the pandemic has been the outpouring of support for people the government has hurt. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs due to state restrictions and lockdowns. But people are stepping up to help where the government inevitably hurts. For example, one chef is offering free meals to jobless individuals at his restaurants.

Chef Andrew Gruel (his food is better than his name) is a judge on the Food Network and the co-host of the SoCal Restaurant Show. He also owns Slapfish Seafood—a restaurant chain with 27 locations in the US—and the Big Parm pizzeria. On 3 December, Chef Gruel took to Twitter to remind everyone that people who had lost their jobs could get a free meal at his restaurants.

Chef is Offering Free Meals to Jobless

Hundreds of commenters raved about not only the Chef’s food, but about his kindness and generosity, and his willingness to assist those whom the state had harmed. Some people even offered to pay for the meals of jobless folks who take Chef Gruel up on his offer.

Chef is Offering Free Meals to Jobless

Predictably, not everyone was happy about people helping other people. The propaganda put out by the government and mainstream media has warped many people’s sense of right and wrong, even to the point where voluntarily helping people in distress is denounced as “selfishness.”

Chef is Offering Free Meals to Jobless
Fortunately, most negative comments were few and far between.

Another common criticism of charity such as Chef Gruel’s is that greedy people will take advantage of his generosity, nobody will pay for meals, and he’ll lose money and go out of business. On the contrary, over the weekend the restaurants pulled in double the usual business as people flocked in to support Chef Gruel. And that money, Chef Gruel said, would be used to give his employees a holiday bonus.

The general condition of humanity is that people feel empathy for each other and want to help. This is why voluntary charity works—as the example of Chef Gruel and many more like him demonstrate.

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Toronto Carpenter is Defying the City to Help the Homeless

Khaleel Seivwright is building insulated, mobile shelters for homeless people this winter. (CBC)

Winter in Canada is no joke. With average temperatures below freezing, Toronto is no exception. Shelter is essential to prevent Canadians from freezing to death. Yet the economic consequences of the government’s reaction to COVID-19 have left an increasing number of Canadians on the streets as winter looms closer. But one Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless.

Khaleel Seivwright, a 28-year-old carpenter, noticed the increasing numbers of homeless people in Toronto. Determined to do something about it, he started constructing small shelters and giving them away for free. With wooden walls, fiberglass insulation, a door, and a window, the shelters are nothing fancy. But they will keep people warm and could be the difference between life and death for some Canadians this winter—even though the shelters are technically illegal.

Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless
Ritchie is living in one of the completed shelters near Lake Ontario. Seivwright says Ritchie was living in a tent before he delivered the shelter. (Khaleel Seivwright)

“It just seemed like something I could do that would be useful because there’s so many people staying in tents,” said Seivwright. “I’ve never seen so many people staying outside in parks, and this is something I could do to make sure people staying outside in the winter could survive.”

Predictably, the government officials who get paid with taxpayer money when there are homeless people are not thrilled about Seivwright’s efforts. Gord Tanner, director of homelessness initiatives and prevention at the Toronto’s Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, admitted that “the system is very busy and very full.” With winter still on the way and the Canadian government’s COVID economic restrictions still crushing businesses, homelessness will likely continue to rise.

Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless
A Toronto homeless encampment is pictured in late May. Homelessness advocates say they expect to see more people living outdoors this winter due to the economic downturn caused by the government's COVID-19 restrictions. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Despite this, in an interview with CBC Tanner refused to say if the city would take a more lenient approach to mobile shelters or other encampments this winter, though he noted that mobile shelters can pose “significant” risks to occupants, including as potential fire hazards. Reporters from CBC apparently did not ask Tanner if he thought homeless people would prefer the certainty of death from exposure to the risk of death by fire.

In any case, Seivwright says that the threat of law enforcement won’t deter him from helping people in need. “This is what I know how to do, this is what seems to be viable, so I’m going to continue to do this.” Each shelter costs about $1,000 in new material and takes Seivwright eight hours to construct. Seivwright is paying for the project largely through a GoFundMe online fundraising campaign—funded with voluntary donations.

Advocates for the homeless are urging the City of Toronto to dramatically increase the capacity of its shelter system, which would require forcibly taking money from taxpayers—and a large chunk of that would end up in the pockets of administrators. But as this Toronto carpenter is defying the city to help the homeless, his  fundraising campaign exceeded the $20K goal by more than 400% in less than a month. Last week, Seivwright increased the goal to $200K—and as of this writing, it’s more than halfway complete. That means potentially lifesaving shelters for hundreds of Canadians, from an outpouring of kindness and compassion. That’s the power of voluntaryism in action.

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Anchorage Diner Defies COVID-19 Orders

Kriner’s Diner is a small, family-owned business. They’re a staple of Anchorage Alaska, where people can grab their delicious food any time of the day. But like most small businesses, they were hit hard by the initial wave of government-mandated COVID-19 closures. As Anchorage mayor Ethan Berkowitz continues to impose ever more draconian measures on the populace, diner owner Andy Kriner has decided that he’s had enough. Now this Anchorage diner defies COVID-19 orders, both to continue serving food and to thumb their nose at the tyrannical government.


Kriner refused to bow to the newest order to shut down dine-in service, and made no effort to discriminate against customers not wearing masks. When word got out, customers flooded into Kriner’s—not only to enjoy their delicious food, but to support them against the government. Many people, seeing the dining room full, left a monetary donation rather than wait to eat. “The people have spoken!” announced a waitress, brandishing another donation. So many people started donating that the employees set up a special donation receptacle so they had more time to serve customers.

Anchorage diner defies COVID-19 orders
The "stop work" order, fastened to the front door of Kriner's Diner.

The Municipality of Anchorage, furious that people are thinking and acting for themselves, issued a stop work order to the diner on 4 Aug, threatening fines and imprisonment if the Kriner family and their employees returned to work without the government’s permission. Kriner’s cheerfully announced on their Facebook page that they would close early on 4 Aug to prepare for opening on the next day—which they did, to a packed house.

After attempting to call for comment and receiving a busy signal all day, I finally dropped by the diner to investigate the situation and their food (the burgers are great!). The employees had taken the phone off the hook, because there’s nobody available to answer it during the day. When businesses in Anchorage were allowed to reopen, some of Kiner’s employees realized they could make more money at home collecting the government’s new unemployment checks. “People just aren’t coming in to work,” Andy Kriner, the diner’s founder and owner, explained.

Anchorage diner defies COVID-19 orders

Currently, the diner is only open from 9AM to 3PM, and is not offering to-go orders. “I only have one cook now,” Kiner said. “He can’t cook dining room and carryout. I can’t do that to him.” This is just one more example of how the ostensibly well-intentioned actions of the government inevitably end up hurting the most vulnerable people.

Anchorage diner defies COVID-19 orders
Andy Kriner outside his diner. Image credit: Kriner's Diner

Despite the difficulties that Kriner’s faces, the people of Anchorage who are sick of the tyranny of their government have rallied around the small diner. Other businesses, like the Little Dipper Diner (also of Anchorage) have also refused to comply with government mandates and subsequent “stop work” orders. Hopefully, more people and businesses will begin to emulate Kriner’s Diner and the good people of Anchorage in taking back their rights from oppressive governments.


The best part is that people who are concerned about contracting COVID-19 are free to stay away from Kriner’s. The experience of Sweden shows that coercive government mandates like the Anchorage establishments are rebelling against are not necessary to “flatten the curve.” As this Anchorage diner defies COVID-19 orders, Kriner’s is standing up for people to do things voluntarily, without immoral coercion from the government. As we say here at VIA, good ideas don’t require force.

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Is Capitalism Voluntary?

Depending on your views, capitalism is one of the most hated or loved economic systems in the world. When you ask “is capitalism voluntary?” the answer depends on what the person thinks “capitalism” means. The primary factor to consider is the level of state intervention—or force—that is being considered.

What most detractors of capitalism are typically against is the union of big business with the government. That union is actually better defined as state capitalism or corporatism—a form of syndicalism that was the basis for the economic policies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This brand of “capitalism” is a system where the government grants special privileges to certain corporations, unions or other groups.

These privileges could be anything from outright monopoly, to tariffs and subsidies, to burdensome policies and regulations that drive small businesses out. But all these tactics have one thing in common: through the force of the government, people are being prevented from voluntarily choosing their economic actions. Essentially, the government picks which companies are winners and losers—and the citizens are stuck with what the government decides.

In free-market capitalism, it is customers, rather than the government, who picks winners and losers—and the winners are the ones who provide people the product or service they want.

I’ve found that most people who support capitalism are typically thinking about free-market capitalism, also called “laissez-faire” economics. Championed by classical liberal economists like Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman, this emphasizes the right of people to freely and voluntarily exchange goods and services. Under this free-market capitalism, the government is not involved in the economy at all, except to protect private property.


In free-market capitalism, it is customers, rather than the government, who picks winners and losers—and the winners are the ones who provide people the product or service they want. Often what people want is the product that’s the best quality for the lowest price, but not always. People who want to protect the environment can buy environmentally-friendly products. People who care most about supporting small and local businesses can do so. People who only want to buy “Made in America” products are as free as people who only want foreign goods.

What most detractors of capitalism are typically against is the union of big business with the government.

Most importantly from the producer’s viewpoint, people who can find a better way to produce a product or provide a service are free to try, without the weight of government regulations throttling them down. Most importantly from the consumer’s viewpoint, producers must compete for their purchases, resulting in higher quality and lower price.

It’s clear that state capitalism (fascistic corporatism) is not voluntary, since government intervention in the economy is involved by definition. But some people (particularly communists and socialists) declare that even free-market capitalism isn’t truly free or voluntary. They say it involves coercion, because if a person doesn’t work they starve—therefore people only consent to employment under the implicit threat of starvation.

To the extent that this has any merit, the criticism is actually still of state intervention into the market, for without regulations barring their way a dissatisfied employee could start their own business, or at the extreme even homestead a piece of property and start a farm—or choose a subsistence lifestyle.

You can imagine how long a modern communist would last on a deserted island, wailing that he's oppressed because he has to find food to stay alive.

However, I strongly suspect that what is being objected to by the communists and socialists is the plain fact that people must work (in a general sense) to live. They view this as oppression and ascribe it to capitalism, but it’s a fact of reality that the stuff to sustain life does not come automatically—this is not a unique trial of humanity. You can imagine how long a modern communist would last on a deserted island, wailing that he’s oppressed because he has to find food to stay alive. At the same time, the communists and socialists are ignorant that the bounty around them in developed countries is largely the result of human freedom—and therefore, they have a profound ingratitude for both the bounty and its source.


So, the answer to the question “is capitalism voluntary?” largely depends on what you’re talking about when you say “capitalism.” If you mean the fascistic corporatism of most modern states, then the answer is no—and giving more power to the state will only make it worse. But if you’re referring to the ideal of a free-market capitalism, then the answer is yes—and giving more freedom to individuals to make voluntary economic actions will only make it better.

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Pokemon GO Players Help Businesses Recover

Pokemon GO is a game focused on getting out and doing things. In the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, along with protests and riots that rocked the world, businesses were left in ruins. Niantic (the developer of Pokemon GO) is getting the Pokemon GO community involved in the recovery efforts. But how can Pokemon GO players help businesses recover?

For those who don’t know, Pokemon GO is an augmented reality smartphone game that allows players to catch in-game monsters (the Pokemon) by traveling to real-world locations. Two big mechanics of the game are PokeStops, which allow players to acquire items and quests, and Gyms, which players can conquer for their team and place their Pokemon to guard.

Naturally, these real-world locations attract many Pokemon GO players. Many of the locations are civic or cultural landmarks such as parks and churches, but Niantic has also allowed businesses to pay a fee to make their operations into “sponsored” PokeStops, thereby drawing Pokemon GO-playing customers.

Pokemon GO Players Help Businesses Recover
Image Credit: Niantic

But now Niantic is taking a different approach—one that will let Pokemon GO Players help businesses recover. “At Niantic, we are passionate about bringing communities together and lifting one another up, through the good times and the challenging times,” the company said on their blog. “We understand that many local businesses have experienced unprecedented hardship over the past few months, and we want to help.”

It’s one thing for a big company like Niantic to help businesses, but where to the players come in? The blog continued: “We are inviting Pokémon GO players to nominate their favorite small, local businesses to participate in the Niantic Local Business Recovery Initiative. As part of our efforts to assist the economic recovery of local businesses, we are committed to supporting 1,000 nominated businesses by providing them complimentary promotion in Pokémon GO for one year.

In other words, Niantic will turn the winning storefronts into PokeStops and Gyms in the Pokemon GO game. The businesses will even have access to exclusive in-game promotions. This will raise awareness of the small businesses, draw more traffic to the stores, and help them on the road to economic recovery.

The nominations are open until 31 July, so if you’re a Pokemon GO player head on over and nominate your favorite local business that’s in need of a boost! If you don’t play Pokemon GO, then take a moment to appreciate how people voluntarily help each other in new and innovative ways.

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Why is Housing So Expensive?

Something that VIA frequently gets requests for is help with rent payments. Why is it difficult for so many people to afford housing? Why is housing so expensive? The standard answer is that it’s those lazy landlords, sitting on piles of money and smoking cigars, who are to blame. This seems to make sense at first glance—after all, aren’t the landlords the ones who are charging the rent? But lets take a closer look by examining a case from a simpler time: that of Pa Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie.

Pa Ingalls, though frequently short on luck, was an entrepreneur at heart. Anticipating that a thriving town would one day stand on the rolling grasslands, he picked a deserted spot nearby and started building a farm. This is called homesteading—in the words of John Locke, Pa Ingalls had “mixed his labor” with the land, and in doing so made it his property. He had built a nice little farm when disaster struck—worse than a prairie fire or drought. The United States government decided that it owned the land that Pa Ingalls had built on, and he had to leave to make room for indigenous Americans (who were, incidentally, forced to moved from other land that the government had also decided it owned—but that’s another story).

Fast forward a hundred and fifty years, and we see that the cause of the Ingall’s housing crisis is the same as our own: the government. At the simplest level, a person who needed a house could simply go to an unowned spot of land and build a shelter—not an ideal long-term solution, but everyone has to start somewhere. This simple expedient is forbidden, however, because the government has decreed that it owns all the land in America. Why, when it has not done anything at all to the land to make it the property of the government? Because, that’s why—and if you build a house on it, you’ll only be kicked off and have your house stolen—if you’re lucky.

In a free market, the high price of housing would cause people to want to build more housing—because they want the profits.

Fortunately, in a complex economy, there are people who are much better at building a house or apartment than the average person. In a free market, the high price of housing would cause people to want to build more housing—because they want the profits. But with more housing available, the price would decrease, since renters would have more options. So what stops that from happening? Again, the government. In addition to directly increasing the cost of housing—such as through property tax—the government indirectly increases the cost. Zoning laws, building codes, and other rules and regulations prevent new housing from being created when it is needed. Not coincidentally, this makes some people demand that the government Do Something, which usually leads to more government control over people’s lives.

That’s where voluntaryism comes in. Right now, all we who are more fortunate can do is help people pay the high costs that government has imposed on everyone. But in a truly free society—one without Big Brother telling everyone what to do—how would housing be provided for the less fortunate? The possibilities are nearly endless. Simple charities—to build new housing or pay bills—would be one way. Subsidized or even no-cost housing could be made available by businesses—people are much more likely to shop at a store they live right next to than one across town. Microliving in low-cost rental living pods, house-sharing agreements, and other creative voluntary arrangements would flourish. The answer to “why is housing so expensive?” can be summed up in one word: government. But in a voluntaryist society, the solutions to the housing problem are limited only by human imagination and initiative.

This article was originally published by Being Libertarian.

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Voluntarily Funded Police Agencies

The killing of George Floyd sparked another debate about the power of the police in the United States. Although the focus was quickly turned to race, with accompanying rioting and looting, the fact is that police violence continues to be inflicted on Americans regardless of skin color. While racial disparities due to racism and other factors certainly are a component of the problem, it’s not the root of it. The root is in the imbalance of power between the police and the people.

The police have what’s called “qualified immunity,” meaning that you can’t sue them when they violate your rights. They’re subject to internal police discipline—the discipline of other cops who have every incentive to go easy on the offender. In essence, police form a class that is protected by the government from direct consequences of their wrongdoing, being allowed to get away with crimes that anyone else would be arrested for.

Not only do government police enjoy protection from direct consequences of their actions, but their method of funding completely dissociates them from indirect consequences of their actions: police are paid with tax money. You do not have a choice about paying the police, no matter how poorly they protect you, and no matter how many times they mistreat and kill people. The police are paid with funds that are forcibly taken from you—and if you try to withhold your money, the police come to take it, or to put you in prison. There are currently no voluntarily funded police agencies. What this means is that the government police have a virtual monopoly on the provision of police service.

Would you want to finance the people who killed George Floyd? Because you do. Without your consent, your money is taken from you and given to them, enabling more of the same behavior.

It’s a fact of economics that when an organization has a monopoly the quality of the good or service decreases and the price increases. This is no less true in the area of defense and law enforcement. With no competition, there is no incentive to provide better service. It’s true that there are alternatives to police—there are private security agencies. However, due to the nature of government police, this is not true competition because you have no choice but to pay the government’s police.

When you hire someone to perform a service and they do not perform the service as expected, or they’re too expensive, or any other reason, you can hire someone else. In the last instance, you can attempt to either perform the service for yourself or do without. But no matter how bad the government police are, you cannot truly choose another service—or even choose to stop paying them.

Together, the virtual monopoly, the immunity from prosecution, and the forced funding mean that the police are almost totally insulated from the natural consequences of their decisions. It also enables activities that benefit the police but do not protect the citizens, like civil asset forfeiture (theft), detainment (kidnapping), “reasonable use of force” (assault), and as we see over and over, killing.

But the most likely scenario is that with private police agencies George Floyd would not have died, because police officers would see people as customers and potential customers instead of as criminals and potential criminals.

The question should now be asked: what are the natural consequences on the market of the actions the government police engage in? Ask yourself: would you want to voluntarily pay an agency whose employees could pull you out of your car and beat you without any repercussions? Would you want to support an organization that, when you ask them to check if your neighbor is alright, they shoot and kill her?

Would you want to finance the people who killed George Floyd? Because you do. Without your consent, your money is taken from you and given to them, enabling more of the same behavior.

If the Minneapolis Police Department had been one of several voluntarily funded police agencies competing for business, the officer responsible for Floyd’s death would have been immediately arrested. If the (private) MPD had any business sense, they would have arrested him themselves to demonstrate their trustworthiness and try to salvage their reputation with their customers. But the most likely scenario is that with private police agencies George Floyd would not have died, because police officers would see people as customers and potential customers instead of as criminals and potential criminals.

While racism certainly exists in the government police force, it’s not the core problem. The ultimate issue is that police officers are protected from the consequences of their actions. No amount of government action will make them accountable. No new government oversight committees or investigative powers will reform the police, because those bodies will have the same problems of immunity and involuntary funding. The only way to reform the police is to break the government monopoly: remove their immunity, remove their involuntary funding, and allow private agencies to freely compete for the honor of keeping Americans safe.

It’s time for voluntarily funded police agencies.

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