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It’s a Voluntary Life

This essay by Sean Gale is the winner of VIA's 2020 Higher Education Grant essay contest.

The state has consistently used force to monopolize every aspect of human life, including the purge of voluntary association and transaction. This single statement is an immutable fact, as the list of laws, regulations, permit requirements, licensing, trade inhibitions, and wars against personal vices is nauseatingly long and wrought with violence. Conversely, there is a philosophy that resists tyrannous intervention, and seeks to bring about change in a free and nonexploitative manner. Voluntaryism, or the belief that the world should and would function without coercive and vile intercession, is one such belief.

The general populace appears unable to fathom that good can be done in the world without the hand of godlike men redirecting stolen funds to fuel an ever-hungry vacuous machine. If that mentality were to be lessened or dispersed, then the question remains: What would a world of voluntary transactions look like, and how would said world function? To answer in the simplest terms possible, this hypothetical place would not be absolved from the evils that plague the mortal plane, but would have strategies based on free will and choice that aid in the handling of complex and moral issues. A voluntary world is no utopia; however, the wickedness of man and the violence of the earth can be better handled through individualistic means. Choice would reign supreme in this scenario, and as Murray Rothbard once said, “There can be no truly moral choice unless that choice is made in freedom” (FEE.org, 2018).

Social welfare programs have neither ended poverty, nor done anything but create a cycle of dependence that drains money from the productive to give to their antithesis.

Firstly, social welfare is a system that statists consistently point to as if it is the only means by which those who have fallen on hard times can be lifted from poverty. In fact, many people use this one clause as a reason to submit to the state and resist voluntaryism entirely. Social welfare programs have neither ended poverty, nor done anything but create a cycle of dependence that drains money from the productive to give to their antithesis (Baetjer, 1984). In a world of voluntary association, economic strife would be lessened or managed via charity organizations, mutual aid societies, activist groups, food banks, friendly societies, educational and student led organizations, entrepreneurial endeavors unhindered by the state, religious groups, fraternal orders, and trade unions.

These organized groups already exist and have worked throughout history to support the wellbeing of their members and the general public. Examples include Odd Fellows, Free African Society of Philadelphia, Sanctuary Homeless Refuge, National FFA Organization, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Key Club, Shriners, Habitat for Humanity, Kiwanis, American Red Cross, 4-H, Boys and Girls Club of America, and Voluntaryism In Action to name just a few.

These entities can support members, perform community outreach, aid the impoverished, feed and care for the homeless, provide healthcare, educate youth, and assist the unemployed in finding jobs. In fact these organizations are so powerful at providing goods and services to those in need that “with the exception of churches, mutual aid networks constituted the most popular form of voluntary association in the US throughout the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A 1933 report by the President’s research committee estimates that one in three adult men were members of a fraternal society by 1920” (Adereth, 2020). Their effectiveness, and low cost of enrollment, made many organizations perfect for low income people to get aid.

The connective facet of each aid society or volunteer group is that the public good is being achieved via voluntary means. No one is being extorted through taxes, those getting help are being helped by real people void of state bureaucracy, and dependence on benefits is limited. Government welfare does not influence work or help to those who most need it and is vastly detached from the needs of the individual. Volunteer groups usually benefit their direct community, or one in dire need, through the work of average people. This directs the help from a complex, top down system to a one-way pipeline of goods and services to those who need them most. In a world of voluntaryism, these brotherhoods and organizations would be paramount to the benefit of all people in place of the current model.

The connective facet of each aid society or volunteer group is that the public good is being achieved via voluntary means.

Tangent to charity and volunteer work is the realm of business and the adjustment of price that would benefit lower income communities. Without state interference, people could use their resources and property to generate revenue that would potentially lift them from poverty. If someone did not have the means to do such, then they could sell their labor for a consented upon amount. These voluntary transactions would help provide for those that are suffering. Additionally, businesses would compete for labor and profit, meaning higher wages and cheaper goods for the general populace. The limited supply of money and goods would drive costs down due to price being reflective of consumer demand, leading to an overall benefit to all parties involved. Businesses would have no state enforced monopoly that allows them to be detached from the purchaser, meaning they would have to appease patrons in order to make money. Voluntaryism would promote free markets that better suit the needs of the consumer and do not leave them falling for enforced prices and involuntary transactions.

An example of the previous paragraph’s content would come in the form of the pharmaceutical industry. Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Merck, Gilead, Amgen and AbbVie are all companies that reside in the United States and are given monopolies over their market through the FDA and intellectual property laws (Compton, 2020). People could receive cheaper drugs if the market were not dominated by the same six companies, and if other innovators had the opportunity to benefit the healthcare industry. Instead, the state currently allows these companies to monopolize medicine and line their pockets with taxpayer and private dollars. Without these special protections they would have to modulate production for end users thus benefitting those with limited funds for treatment.

Another important facet of voluntary lifestyles is the internal locus of control that it propagates. People will have less ability to blame parties beyond their power for the circumstances of their lives, and the state would no longer be able to arbitrarily create criminals. Instead of leveraging power and violence, people will be forced to make good arguments for their causes and will no longer have the authority to condemn others for life choices that do not involve the former party. This will be especially important regarding victimless crimes, with an extreme focus on drugs and possession. What substances one seeks to put in their body is between them solely, however, the state does not see it that way. In fact, inmates with drug charges constitute 46.1% of the total prison population according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Poverty can tend to influence choosing alternative ways of making money, criminality, and substance abuse, and criminalizing that merely enslaves the poor to the prison-industrial complex. It is a vicious cycle, but not one that a voluntary world could not solve. The lack of arbitrary imprisonment would allow people to make money through unconventional means and use what substances they see fit. Aid for addicts would be given on a voluntary basis, as it vastly is through the innumerable private halfway houses and narcotics programs, though would perhaps lack the forced nature that the state uses to enroll people in such. A voluntary society would remove the life-ruining effects that the state imposes for victimless offenses, leading to a far more productive and happy society.

On another note, society’s problems can never be truly eradicated due to the nature of this broken world; however, through voluntary means, the blunt of disease, injury, death, famine, natural disaster, poverty, and loss can be better aided as each instance occurs. These unfortunate yet immutable facets of human existence can be better addressed when the person is the highest level of authority, and needs are handled on a purely individual level. It should also be noted that many problems in society would cease to exist due to the absence of an abusive and coercive state.

Money that is taxed from the poor can instead be used to care for their needs, an incentive to work and self-reliance would be bolstered, those experiencing financial woes could create new businesses which would flourish without state associated fines and permits, and intellectual property would not stop innovation from reaching areas that many monopolies feel are not worth the investment. The state creates innumerable societal issues that negatively impact everyone, especially those susceptible to welfare dependence. Adopting the voluntary lifestyle would combat regime dominance and put power in the hands of everyone instead of those who believe it is their right to dictate how everyone should live their life.

A voluntary life has choice as its cornerstone and freedom as its pinnacle.

Additionally, to think the state has aided in the end of societal issues, or has impaired such, is fundamentally flawed. Poverty is as rampant as ever, especially considering government intervention during Covid-19. Voluntaryism provides numerous ways to treat human problems and leaves the solutions to be as creative and individual choice-based as possible. The said philosophy does not provide a clear-cut, one size fits all solution to complex and nuanced issues, which appears to model the complexity and nuance of the individual. Government does the exact opposite by creating problems and enforcing poor, broad fixes that almost never truly address what they were intended to. The solutions to life’s multitude of calamities should be derived from free will and be given directly from the grace of those who seek to do good. An action cannot be good when the means to achieve it were wrought in theft and violence, as the perpetrator merely committed evil to benefit who they saw fit.

A voluntary life has choice as its cornerstone and freedom as its pinnacle. The world would function based on consent and aiding those who need it from a place of goodness rather than immorality. The ills of this mortal coil would not simply dissipate because the system has changed—however, the escapes from said ills would be numerous and not monopolized by a force driven entity. All solutions listed are but a drop in an endless ocean of creative, complex, and personalized possibilities for a voluntary society. This “perfect” world would never be truly utopic, however, the means to solve world problems would be morally justified. Voluntaryism is thusly the supreme societal format as it relies on the individual needs and wants of people rather than the needs of the elite beings elevated above all others.

 

Works Cited

Adereth, Maya, et al. “The United States Has a Long History of Mutual Aid Organizing.” Jacobin, www.jacobinmag.com/2020/06/mutual-aid-united-states-unions.

Baetjer, Howard. “Does Welfare Diminish Poverty?: Howard Baetjer, Jr.” FEE Freeman Article, Foundation for Economic Education, 1 Apr. 1984, fee.org/articles/does-welfare-diminish-poverty/.

Compton, Michelle. “Big Pharma – Drug & Device Companies, Lawsuits & Facts.” Drugwatch.com, 20 Apr. 2020, www.drugwatch.com/manufacturers/.

“Federal Bureau of Prisons.” BOP Statistics: Inmate Offenses, www.bop.gov/about/statistics/statistics_inmate_offenses.jsp.

Galles, Gary M. “33 Choice Quotes from the Great Murray Rothbard: Gary M. Galles.” FEE Freeman Article, Foundation for Economic Education, 2 Mar. 2018, fee.org/articles/33-choice-quotes-from-the-great-murray-rothbard/.

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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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