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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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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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Voluntaryism Means More Cajun Navies

This piece by Dan Johnson was the winner of VIA’s inaugural essay contest.

The 5-year-old Rescue

“He’s hanging on to the tree branch,” a voice crackled across the line. “A kid…he looks 5 years old…is hanging on to a tree branch.”

“What street?” another voice responded. “X and X.” “Okay, we need our closest boat to respond.”

The line went silent. Too long. Then a third voice cracked over the radio “We got him! He’s in the boat.”

Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. A few claps and cheers from listeners. Then, it was back to work. The rescue was impressive, but there were thousands more that needed help, and many more weeks of work ahead.

Broader Disaster Picture

It was August of 2017 and Hurricane Harvey had blasted the coasts of Texas and Louisiana, dumping 33 trillion gallons of water on the southeast United States. Houston was at the epicenter of Harvey’s fury with most areas receiving over 30 inches of rain, leaving hundreds of thousands without power and bursting lakes, streams, and levees designed to protect residents from lesser storms.

While federal and state agencies—including the U.S. Coast Guard—mobilized quickly and were on the ground within hours of landfall, there was one group that received more praise for being at the heart of the disaster (and rescued more people) than anyone else: the Cajun Navy.

On that day in August, I was listening in to the “Navy” Houston relief channel. A friend had noticed my interest in how the Cajun Navy had rescued Louisiana residents during the 2014 floods, and had offered to let me listen in as they worked their operations during Harvey.

The Cajun Navy had begun as a rag tag group of citizens with shallow water boats who, after the miserable federal response to Hurricane Katrina, decided to work together to protect their neighbors from any future Louisiana flooding. On the day after Harvey struck, they felt a strong urge to help their more southern neighbors, and posted a video of a convoy of boats and trucks headed to perform water rescues in Houston.

"These were hundreds of volunteers, doing what needed to be done for humans they’d never met, simply because it was the right thing to do."

The rescue of the 5-year-old—and the realization of how much impact this cooperation between citizens could have—was too much for me to take sitting on the sidelines. I asked a coordinator to put me to work, and that they did. I spent every free hour calling people who would post their location on social media asking for help. I would ask about their emergency situation, how many needed help, and how high the water was. Point, click, call. Receiving twitter confirmation that someone you alerted rescuers to was rescued is a high I don’t know that I’ll ever get over.

There were hundreds of people involved in the operation. From rescuers, to social media, to logistics and dispatch, people across the entire country were powering the Navy’s operations. These were hundreds of volunteers, doing what needed to be done for humans they’d never met, simply because it was the right thing to do.

Numbers in any disaster are sticky and hard to exactly pin down. Rescuers have better things to be doing than paperwork. However, it is estimated that the hundreds of volunteers of the Cajun Navy, just Americans doing what we do best, rescued over 6,000 Houstonians from catastrophic flooding. The United States Coast Guard, with a $4.6 billion budget by comparison, rescued about 4,500.

More than Disaster Relief

Disaster relief is often where it’s most easy to see, as the reporters are on the ground and the news cameras are rolling, but this type of voluntary cooperation happens all the time. It is in everything from the classic example of helping an old lady cross the street or helping a single mother through tough times to the thousands of Americans who pitch in to help veterans recover from the horrors of war.

In 2018, American voluntaryism smashed records with 30% of Americans volunteering a total of 6.9 billion hours in a single year for their communities, churches, and vulnerable populations. There are over 314,000 public charities in the U.S. today, and that number is growing every year.

Hundreds of millions of us donate to crowdfunding sites to help people pay for unexpected expenses, get new ventures off the ground, and help others in need. To some this seems like a tragedy, but over 120 million donations worth over $9 billion later, we can see how generous Americans are to their fellow Americans in time of need.

Charities and purpose-driven for-profits are outperforming government agencies at nearly every turn, and we are gradually losing faith in government to solve complicated social problems. Even though these voluntary actions may not get the media coverage and press conferences of suit-wearing politicians, this robust social safety net is upheld by millions of Americans working to lift up Americans in need.

A Solution to our Toxic Political Climate

And yet, according to Gallup polling, 77% of Americans believe we are more divided than ever before. This has manifested itself on both sides of the political spectrum in such ugly ways as public shaming, cancel culture, and even violence. Many of us can recall a time in recent years where a friend or family member was “unfriended” on social media or was cut out of someone’s life purely due to their political views. Blame has been laid at the feet of many things for this: social media, angry words from politicians, rampant sexism and racism—even Russian propaganda.

"We line up to the ballot boxes like lining up for war—to the victors go the spoils, and to the losers, they shall pay."

The answer is far more simple. Instead of relying on the very cooperation we so enjoy and participate in in our daily lives, we have turned to forcing our neighbors to adopt the solutions we think are best for them. We line up to the ballot boxes like lining up for war—to the victors go the spoils, and to the losers, they shall pay. We fear the American who dresses different, holds different personal views, and votes for people we disagree with. We are players in a winner-take-all game, and we’ll be damned if we’re going to lose.

That’s not how the men and women of the Cajun Navy viewed it. There was no regard or consideration for color, sex, or political affiliation. When certain reporters, for ratings, tried to sow such division, it was resoundingly rejected by both volunteers and those they were trying to help. What if we instead adopted their attitude—not just in disaster relief, but for each of the problems we are trying to solve?

What About Voluntaryism?

There’s actually a name for this philosophy: it’s called voluntaryism.

Like all ideologies, voluntaryism is the pursuit of an idea. Also, like all ideologies, the idea is the ideal, unlikely to be fully realized at any point, but still the north star that guides us towards a better future.

Voluntaryism simply states that the ideal is that all human interaction should be voluntary—that we build better communities, better societies, and a better world when we use cooperative means to solve problems rather than those where we take from our neighbor to benefit ourselves.

Voluntaryism means more Cajun navies everywhere. It is Cajun food banks. It is Cajun health clinics. It is Cajun shelters. It is Americans doing what we do best: it is helping one another.

"I choose to believe in my fellow Americans. That’s why I’m a voluntaryist."

Voluntaryism is also bigger than that. Voluntaryism is every win-win transaction in business, in charity, and in society. If the hammer and sickle represents communism and the raised fist represents socialism, it is the handshake that represents voluntaryism. Not me, not us versus them, but you and me together.

Perhaps that is too radical a proposition for America today. Perhaps we are too angry at each other to cooperate. But it is in the rough times that our values truly matter, and I choose to believe in us. I choose to believe for the 5-year-old who will live because of the kindness of strangers, for the dialysis patient who was airlifted by private helicopter, and for the family on the 3rd floor rescued by a fisherman from Louisiana.

I choose to believe in my fellow Americans. That’s why I’m a voluntaryist.

Dan Johnson

Dan Johnson

This guest post is by Dan Johnson. Dan is the founder of We Do Better, an organization concerned with the best outcomes for Americans in need.

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What are Natural Rights?

We’ve all heard of Rights: Equal Rights, Human Rights, and various types of political or social “rights” du jour. Amazingly, there are many people who have never heard the term “natural rights” before and don’t know what that means, or don’t have an accurate and clear understanding of what rights are because the term is so often misused. So what are natural rights?

Philosopher John Locke wrote extensively and passionately about natural rights, which include the right to life, liberty, and property. Locke asserted that these rights are inherent in our nature as humans. This means they cannot be given nor taken away by any governments, politicians, nor documents such as the Constitution of the United States or the Bill of Rights—we simply have them.

what are natural rights
“All mankind...being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” —John Locke

Other natural rights that stem from Locke’s trifecta include the right to self-defense, the right of free movement, the right of privacy, the rights to free and independent thought and speech…the list can go on and on. Essentially, the key to remember here is that a natural right is something that you have the power of choice and action over that does not use force or coercion on others. As Ayn Rand wrote in her book The Virtue of Selfishness: “Remember that rights are moral principles which define and protect a man’s freedom of action, but impose no obligations on other men.”

Right To Life

“All mankind…being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” —John Locke

By your own efforts, you have the right to work to obtain food, housing, and healthcare. Something that often gets muddled in discussions about this natural right is that some people think these things are owed to them by society. But something is not a true “right” if you use force or coercion to take the things you want and need from others, because that would be encroaching upon their natural rights.

You do not have the natural right to slave labor, which is what you are advocating for if you are demanding food, housing, healthcare, and other life-sustaining goods and services to be given to you for free. Ayn Rand put it this way: “No right can require the material implementation of that right by another man.”

Voluntary exchange and mutual cooperation ensure that everyone’s natural rights are respected, and the more the state can be kept out of transactions between consenting individuals the more freedom, prosperity, and higher quality of life everyone can enjoy.

Liberty

“I have no reason to suppose that he who would take away my liberty, would not when he had me in his power, take away everything else.” —John Locke

This is a word that some people often misuse in a similar way to the word “rights.” They talk about freedom from poverty, freedom from hunger, freedom from debt, etc. Others think of freedom as the license to do anything, without consequences. Both of these approaches are mistaken.

Poverty and hunger are the natural state of humans, and “freedom” from them makes as much sense as talking about freedom from youth or old age. Debt is something that is voluntarily undertaken, and to be “freed” from a debt voluntarily incurred is as silly as saying that you’re “free” from a restrictive piece of clothing you put on—true in a literal sense but not a philosophical one.

The “freedom” from the consequences of your actions is not freedom or liberty at all, because with that liberty you would be able to kill, steal, and enslave others with impunity—not liberty at all, but tyranny. Liberty can only be liberty if everyone possesses it, and so the only possible meaningful definition of liberty is that it is liberty from the interference of others—including the state.

Freedom from the state is important for the preservation of liberty and the other natural rights of individuals. This is what some of the Founding Fathers tried to guarantee with the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, but as Lysander Spooner wrote: “The Constitution has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.” Sadly, the only person who truly has the power to defend your personal liberty is yourself, and no government office can be relied upon to safeguard this treasure.

what are natural rights
The US Founders believed that every person had the same rights to life and liberty, and to pursue happiness--and these rights did not come from government.

Property Rights

“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.” —John Locke

Writer and economist Murray Rothbard has argued that all natural rights can be traced back to property rights alone: your body is considered your property, therefore you have the natural right to consume whatever you wish and move your body wherever you wish (so long as you respect the private property rights of others).

You have the natural right to preserve your body (your property) via self-defense. Owning property such as land gives you the means to provide life-sustaining food and shelter for yourself. The work of your body—physical and mental—can be traded with other people for property, including food and shelter.

Natural Rights and Voluntaryism

What does this have to do with voluntaryism? Voluntaryists believe in social and financial transactions based strictly on consent. This is completely in line with respecting the natural rights of others and ourselves.

The more you understand about natural rights, the clearer it becomes why we should assert them and defend them. A society free of force and coercion is a society firmly rooted in an understanding of natural rights, and a voluntaryist philosophy naturally and effortlessly follows.

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Charity Never Faileth

Many people associate the word “charity” with classic Christian teachings about love and kindness. The apostle Paul said “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Jesus encouraged his disciples to love their neighbors and help the poor. Charity is clearly an important part of Christian teaching and living. However, many well-intentioned people confuse the charity and goodness that Christianity teaches with the welfare programs of the government.

This is an easy mistake to make. After all, doesn’t the government help people that are in need? And the money for that comes from taxes, so we shouldn’t complain about paying taxes, right? Many people who learn about voluntaryism and similar philosophies are impressed by the emphasis on individual liberty, but are concerned with what they perceive as a lack of compassion. A research scientist named Dr. Mary Ruwart phrased it this way in her essay “Arriving at Libertarianism”: “Raised as a Catholic, I could not reconcile the concept of ending tax-supported welfare with Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors” (I Chose Liberty p. 502).

Dr. Ruwart’s dilemma is one that is shared by many people. But once you realize that government action means force—violence—the situation becomes much clearer.

"If people needed helping, I should expend my energy to offer help, rather than forcing others to provide it."

“In considering this dilemma, I suddenly became aware of the pivotal point: although refusing to help others might not be very loving, pointing guns at our neighbors to force them to help those in need was even less so. Honoring our neighbor’s choice was more loving than the forcible alternative. If people needed helping, I should expend my energy to offer help, rather than forcing others to provide it” (ibid).

Dr. Ruwart realized the key difference, something that we at Voluntaryism in Action are passionate about: the voluntary nature of the giving. When you give to a needy person because you want to, not only is the needy person helped, but you are uplifted. In Christian terms, you come closer to God—and in anyone’s terms, you become a kinder, better person. Sometimes people say that government welfare and taxation just makes it easier to help the poor—but that’s why VIA is here! We and organizations like us exist to make it easier for you to give voluntarily. To us, it’s just another manifestation of how voluntaryism is a philosophy that really works. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, that “Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

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Government Welfare vs Voluntary Charity

At first, the prospect of government giving welfare to people might seem like a net good. “What heartless person could oppose these poor people receiving aid?” one might think. However, if the process of government welfare is examined, its surprisingly sinister nature becomes apparent.

In the first place, the money that the government spends is not its own—the money has been taken from other people via taxation. There are many different ideas on the morality of taxation—everything from it being a necessary part of society to it being outright theft. No matter your opinion of taxation, the fact remains that the tax money can no longer be spent as the tax payer wishes, but is now disposed of at the discretion of the government. Not only that, but since taxes are mandatory collections as part of a cold bureaucratic system, the taxpayer exercises no volition in the matter and cannot claim to have done a good thing—in fact, he cannot claim to have done anything at all. As Nobel laureate economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom, “We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else’s expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice. The members of a society who are in all respects made to do the good thing have no title to praise.”

“Very well,” one might say. “I can’t be praised for something that I had no say in, but isn’t the welfare recipient still better off, and all society better off by extension?” Not necessarily. For when the welfare system is examined, we see that people are given money if they earn below a certain income, or work less than a certain number of hours. The intent, presumably, is to help make up for their small income—as some people say, they don’t get a “living wage.” But if we look at it at a slightly different angle, it’s plain to see that the welfare recipient is in fact being paid to earn less than a certain amount! For illustration, let’s say the cutoff for government welfare is $20,000; everyone who makes $20,000 or less receives $5,000 from the government. A person who makes $20,000 per year but could get a harder job that pays $25,000 per year will be discouraged from getting the higher paying job! Why should he work harder when he can change nothing and still get paid? Of course, not every welfare recipient thinks like this—some genuinely only want a little help getting back on their feet. But what the government welfare amounts to is a subsidy of under- and unemployment. That can’t be said to really help the welfare recipients—or anyone else in society.

Well, almost anyone else. There is one class of people who are helped by people being on welfare: politicians and government bureaucrats. The politicians, by having a false appearance of charity (how sincere is the charity when you’re giving away other people’s money?) can get more votes. The government’s “humanitarian” bureaucrats keep their jobs as long as people are on welfare—their good requires that other people be in want. Isabel Paterson put it this way in The God of the Machine: “What kind of world does the humanitarian contemplate as affording him full scope? It could only be a world filled with breadlines and hospitals, in which nobody retained the natural power of a human being to help himself or to resist having things done to him.”

Waiting on government welfare during the Great Depression.

How does this frightful picture compare with voluntary charity? For one thing, nobody is forced to give to anyone unless they want to—and nobody is forced to accept charity unless they really want and need it. Because of this, charitable people are able to choose who they give to—and in what way. It can be on a local level, either personally or in small groups, or through larger charities like VIA. This personal approach is almost always more effective than politicians dispensing welfare funds through a rigid bureaucratic structure designed to benefit whomever can lobby most effectively.

Voluntary charity also differs in that it’s aimed toward the long-term prosperity of everyone involved. The givers receive nothing in exchange for helping those less fortunate except a feeling of satisfaction—either from obedience to religious doctrines or just plain human kindness—at having helped their fellows. Like in any other voluntary transaction, the spender is anxious to get the most out of their money—in this case, they will want it to do the most good it can. And the most good it can do is to get people to a point where they no longer need charity! Therefore, the giver of voluntary charity has an incentive to maximize the well-being of the receiver of the charity—he has no reason to keep poor people poor, as does the politician.

The recipient of voluntary charity is also in a better position. Faced with people who are genuinely interested in their long-term success, the recipient is able to ask for whatever help he needs as opposed to having to meet the unyielding requirements of the government welfare system to receive a one-size-fits-all benefit. The recipient also has an additional incentive to make an effort towards financial recovery, because with a plan to follow and goals to achieve—thereby showing the giver the good their gift will do—he’s more likely to receive donations than someone simply asking for a handout.

For all the reasons above and more, we at VIA believe that voluntary charity is vastly superior to government welfare—for the giver, the recipient, and society at large. We believe it so much that we’re here doing it now, every day, with all our hearts—and we invite you to join us, voluntarily. After all, as Murray Rothbard said, “No action can be virtuous unless it is freely chosen.”

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What is Voluntaryism?

Writer Auberon Herbert coined the term “voluntaryism” in the 19th century. A classical liberal philosopher and individualist, he was an advocate for individual liberty, private property, and voluntarily-funded government. He argued that government should never initiate force and should only be a vehicle for defending individual rights. In his essay “The Principles of Voluntaryism and Free Life,” he writes that in a voluntaryist society “the state employs force only to repel force—to protect the person and the property of the individual against force and fraud; under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them.”

Voluntaryism is a philosophy based on consent consistently applied in all human interactions. Consent—uncoerced, positive agreement—is an integral part of a society based on natural rights, including freedom of association, private property, and self-defense. This sounds great to most people when they first hear it, but some struggle when applying this consent-based philosophy in all social practices—perhaps especially when it comes to taxation.

what is voluntaryism
British writer and politician Auberon Hurbert

Voluntaryism rejects forced taxation as a valid mode of funding governments and their social programs because it is impossible, as things are currently organized, to obtain consent from each individual—not only in the appropriation of these funds, but also in the ways taxpayer dollars are used. Under taxation, pacifists are forced to fund war, vegans are forced to subsidize dairy farmers, pro-life advocates are forced to fund abortion providers, homeschoolers are forced to fund government schools they don’t use, and everyone is forced to pay the salaries of the unelected bureaucrats who administrate these operations. There are too many examples of conflicting interests to even list because individuals vary too much for central planning to accommodate everyone in a truly ethical way.

If at some point in the future we could individually opt-in to the government services and programs we wanted to pay for and opt-out of the ones we don’t like, and create what Herbert called a “Voluntary State,” that would be a different story! But for now, the voluntaryist philosophy states unequivocally that taxation is theft. What the money is used for, whether we like and use or benefit from the programs it funds or not, does not change this fact: that if you refuse to pay your taxes you will be robbed of property, forcibly jailed, and/or killed by the state. There is no consent, and it is not voluntary. The voluntaryist will assert that this kind of aggression and coercion against individuals is immoral. Force and aggression, according to voluntaryism, are only appropriately applied in self-defense of person and property.

VIA’s mission is to show the world that voluntary philanthropy is not only already extremely common, but much more efficient than government welfare programs (which divvy out pennies for every dollar they appropriate), as well as being the most moral way to provide charity. We reject the state’s use of coercion, force, and aggression—even when their gains are used to help the less fortunate. We are here to show the world that we can provide ethical, direct charity to individuals in need with the consent of all parties involved, through purely voluntary interactions.

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