Consensualism over Coercion

Henry H. Lindner

We Americans are living in a state of intellectual and ethical chaos. We are torn between two absolutely incompatible ideas of what is right and wrong. One the one hand, we believe that people should be free to interact socially and economically in any way they please as long as both parties consent. America is a free country, isn't it? On the other hand, we believe that government should interfere wherever and whenever we, or some lawmakers, think it can do some good, prevent anyone from making a mistake, or correct a "market failure". So we sing the praises of our free country, yet we continually ask our government to make us less free--for our own good. Every law passed, every new regulation dimishes our personal freedom and our responsibility for our own actions and helps some people in the short run while hurting everyone in the long run. To understand the moral and economic ramifications of this unrestricted government interventionalism requires a level of philosophical understanding which is completely lacking in our society.

In order to think clearly about our society, we have to get beyond our political labels to the sociological reality. Capitalism, socialism, democracy, welfarism, civil rights, conservatism, liberalism, and equality; every one of these terms is contaminated with sociological contradiction. The concepts presented below allow us to hit philosophical bedrock by defining the two mutually exclusive forms of interaction among humans. The "social question" is this simple: Are we better off if we can interact with each other voluntarily for mutual benefit without coercive interference by the State, or is it better to have the government control our every action for our own protection? There is no reasonable middle ground. Once coercionism is accepted in any way, the society enters upon a slippery slope where every problem is answered with new regulations. These are the two and mutually exclusive theories about human social interaction:

CONSENSUALISM - Humans are born neither good nor evil. They are animals whose mind and behavior are largely shaped by their environment. When raised in a loving family and in a free and healthy society, they will be self-regulating, rational, productive, and ethical. Each human naturally strives to improve his and his childrens' lives. All human improvement, material and psychological, requires the freedom of each human to pursue his happiness within a system of voluntary, mutually-beneficial social and economic intercourse. Coercion or violence is the antithesis of all human values. Therefore, government, if it exists, should do nothing but define ownership and prevent the use of force by humans against other humans.

COERCIONISM - The doctrine that human relationships must be based upon use of , or the threat of force. Force is the use of violence to usurp control over a person's body, privacy or property. The coerced party does not participate voluntarily, he cannot act not as he would choose to act to further his interests. He is either forced to perform a certain act, or the range of his possible solitary or consensual activities is restricted. All government regulation is social coercion. This doctrine is based upon the theory—inherent in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition—that humans are basically irrational, lazy, violent, and stupid. Therefore, all human improvement, material and spiritual, requires that each human be forced to conform to the values and needs of his parents and society. Human society requires a coercive third party (government) to decide what is best for humans and to force them to act accordingly. Unhindered, unregulated solitary or consensual activities will create problems for individuals, and for society as a whole. There is no limit to any government's use of its powers, as long as it is "for the people's own good".

Discussion: All sane humans want to improve their own lives and those of their children. Their primary tool to accomplish their goals is their ability to reason. The social system must expect and even demand that every human use his reason and take responsibility for his actions. The primary rule of relationships is that no party is allowed to resort to physical force or the threat of same. All human intercourse, social and economic, should be consensual; all interactions and exchanges being voluntary for all involved parties. Each party willingly participates in any transaction because the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived costs. When coercion is absent from society and people act reasonably, then monetary profit reflects the degree to which one has created value for one's fellow man. Each individual has unrestricted control over, and undiluted responsibility for his own body, his privacy, and all property which he acquires as a result of his efforts and his consensual exchanges with others. Coercion, which is the use of force or the threat of force, can only prevent humans from acting to improve their condition in the most efficient way possible. The coercive authority of the state should be used only to prevent and correct coercive interactions among citizens. Coercive actions include property damage, of which pollution of someone's environment is an example.

The Slippery Slope to totalitarianism--The Interventionists dilemma

Partial intervention in any aspect of social intercourse creates a worse situation than previously existed and thus creates a demand for further intervention.

Intervention refers to any government involvement in any aspect of voluntary social or economic intercourse, i.e. regulation, licensing, government land ownership, labor laws, corporations, drug prohibition, etc. To make it more palatable, the coercive nature of government intervention is hidden as much as possible, as are the social and economic costs of the intervention. The government doesn't want its citizens to get restless. But the coercion is there; simply think of what happens if one doesn't comply with some regulation. Fines are levied; and if you don't pay the fines, you are apprehended and incarcerated. The coercive aspect of government regulation remains hidden as long as most people comply. Since most people try to follow regulations, and pay the fines when caught, the government is spared the embarrassment of grabbing thousands of non-violent citizens off the street.

Think with me for a moment: What is a free market? What are its features? What is the role of government in creating or destroying it? I'm sure you would agree that there were no free markets in Soviet Russia. Why not? Because the state eliminated private property and private profit (and a lot of private persons too). It set fixed prices for all commodities. It forced the people to use a currency that did not float on the world market. It outlawed the "black market" which was the closest thing there was to a "free market". Since our government has avoided the temptation to do all these things, do we therefore have a free market? Absolutely not. The American idea of a "free market" today allows the government to interfere as it pleases in individuals' freedom. It produces rules and regulations ad nauseum and is constrained only by the inertia of our constitutional system of checks and balances. As long as Congress approves, the President does not veto, and the Supreme Court upholds, we can lose any freedom we have - "for our own good".

So we still have to answer our question: What is a free market? A free market is nothing but social cooperation as defined above. In a truly free market, individuals are free to engage in any consensual economic interaction that they please. Whenever two people decide to make any kind of exchange, both believe that they will improve their condition; both agree to exchange because each believes he will gain. Both parties profit according to their personal scale of values. Thus unrestricted exchange is the necessary prerequisite for the unrestricted pursuit of happiness. The only rule inhibiting individual action in a free society is that there be no non-consensual interaction. No one can use force, or the threat of force to get what they want. No one can steal from another, or pollute his environment as that is the taking of a value from someone without their consent. Thus in a truly free society, coercion of individuals by individuals is outlawed and there is no governmental intrusion into the sphere of consensual social or economic interaction. Whatever one wants to do that doesn't coerce others is allowed. Whatever exchange one makes with others is allowed as long as both parties agree to the exchange. Any one can engage in any occupation he wants, buy any item he wants to buy, work for any wage he can obtain, sell any goods or services he wants to sell. Furthermore, he can rest assured that the government will not directly or indirectly subsidize or aid himself or his competition. Every intervention by government means that some individuals lose the freedom to improve their condition in the way they think best, and other individuals gain an advantage which they can exploit. Our country is being destroyed by coercion; be it government intervention, organized or unorganized crime, or theft and persecution perpetrated by lawyers and judges--called lawsuits.

Since the government cannot create wealth by producing profitable goods and services, its coercive interventions can only restrict citizens from doing what they would otherwise do to improve their own lot in life. Intervention is always restriction; it takes away choices in the name of protecting us from ourselves and each other. It prevents the creation of wealth. But when viewed narrowly from a particular individual's of business's interest, a specific government intervention can confer unearned profits and protection from competition. The government's promise to back savings deposits stimulates consumer demand for such accounts. The home mortgage tax deduction stimulates consumer demand for expensive homes--helps the wealthy and the construction industry, hurts those too poor to afford a home or unable to obtain credit. Every government intervention can be analyzed in this way; who it benefits and who it hurts and how it diminishes that welfare of everyone in the long run.

The problem is that people have no idea that society can be anything other than what they're used to. If the government delivered milk to each family's door every morning for decades, no one would be able to imagine that private business could supply milk at an affordable cost in just the form that the consumer wanted. This is the "vision problem" when it comes to what society might be like.

The American Constitution failed to stop the aggrandizement of the government because it was not nearly explicit enough. The Constitution of a Free State, and eventually of every Free State in a Free World, must contain the following:

"THE GOVERNMENT'S SOLE PURPOSE SHALL BE TO ASSURE THAT THE USE OF FORCE IS PROHIBITED IN ALL RELATIONSHIPS AMONG HUMAN BEINGS--MEN, WOMEN, AND CHILDREN."

"THE GOVERNMENT SHALL MAKE NO LAW PROHIBITING ANY ISOLATED INDIVIDUAL ACTION."

"THE GOVERNMENT SHALL MAKE NO LAW PROHIBITING ANY CONSENSUAL ADULT INTERACTION."

Consider what a truly consensual society would look like. Consider what life would be like if we are able to separate the State from every aspect of life. Its role would be limited to the negative one of defining property rights including money and preventing/redressing every form of coercion and violence among persons. How will such a consensual society differ from what we have now?

  1. NATURAL GOVERNMENT – limited to defining property rights (including environmental laws and money) and run by citizens chosen at random from the population.  All decisions made locally whenever possible.
  2. GOVERNMENT MONEY – Money is an extremely useful legal invention.  Government would create token money and spend it into circulation.  It would not borrow money from private banks as it does now.  It would not need to tax citizens, thus eliminating a great deal of pernicious intervention.  See http://www.monetary.org/
  3. NATURAL BANKING--Bank's would be forbidden to create money via loans as they do now.  Simple honesty requires 100% reserves.  Money creation would be the job of a limited government  
  4. NATURAL TRADE -- Any inhibition of consensual trade interferes with the very process of increasing prosperity. Inhibition of trade is an act of coercion which directly endangers peaceful coexistence.
  5. NATURAL PROPERTY LAWS -- Property rights have been inappropriately extended to patents and copyrights, leading to excessive rewards for the wealthy and clever who least need money. Prices are increased so that the poor cannot afford information or products that they need.
  6. NATURAL SERVICES -- There will be no licensing laws or granting of monopolies to any groups of doctors, lawyers, dentists, or others. Such laws merely increase the cost to the rest of the public, reduce supply of services, reduce quality of services, and promote moral and intellectual sloth. Every person must be free to offer any service to his fellow man. Each person must use their own judgment, and that of private opinion and research, to decide whose products or services to use. 
  7. NATURAL HEALTH CARE – By eliminating the physician and other monopolies and eliminating civil liability, we will free up the health care system to be both responsive and affordable.  No government-pay system would be required.
  8. NATURAL BUSINESS -- Every business will be a natural extension of private choice and action. Every business regulation only helps some businessmen at the expense of others, and the consumers always lose. Since most regulations demand more time, money, and staffing, they tend to favor established, large institutions at the expense of smaller competitors.
  9. NO CORPORATIONS -- Adam Smith warned us never to allow corporations to exist, except for temporary state purposes. He knew that they would distort all business activity, as indeed they have. Corporations are government created, government regulated bureaucracies that unnaturally separate ownership and responsibility. Corporate managers are free to enrich themselves and induced to follow short-sighted policies. A corporation is not ethical in its foundations, and cannot be expected to behave ethically. Ethical behavior requires completely private ownership, control, and responsibility.
  10. NATURAL CONTRACT -- Only custom and reputation are necessary to enforce contracts. Governments should not enforce agreements made by consenting adults. Such intervention on the part of government only encourages false confidence and careless behavior. The only incentive needed to ethical behavior in business is the need to maintain a reputation (a good credit record).   The parties of a contract can opt for arbitration should disputes arise.
  11. NATURAL CIVIL LIABILITY -- The present civil liability system poisons the natural goodwill existing among individuals in a market economy and strengthens the need for government regulation of every aspect of life. Each ruling by a court creates even more de jure rules that strangle our freedom and constrain us to conform to legal codes of behavior.  We must increasingly act or not act out of fear of lawsuits—not out of ethical concerns. Individual responsibility and morality disappear in direct proportion to government involvement in our interactions. Only public knowledge, opinion and custom are needed to discipline bad actors. Private insurance will handle the monetary aspects of any kind of tragedy. Criminal acts, i.e. non-consensual or violent acts are handled through criminal law.
  12. NO VICE LAWS -- It is self-defeating and stupid for a society to use violence to prevent consensual behaviors like drug use, gambling, and prostitution. As much as I or others may disapprove of these non-violent behaviors, we have no right nor need to use force to prevent them. We the people have grievously erred in thinking we could create a better society by outlawing acts performed privately by adults, or among consenting adults. Such laws have created most of the street violence in our cities, and are the root of organized crime. How can we have failed to learn from our experiment of Prohibition?
  13. NO GOVERNMENT CHARITY -- Government charity becomes civil right. Civil rights displace private morality and charity.  In this truly free society, the inherent morality and greater ease of life would make charity something that is rarely needed, and easily given when needed.
  14. NO LABOR LAWS -- Labor law as we know it was needed as a counterweight to illegitimate property, corporate and business laws that existed to support a capitalist class structure. We need to eliminate the source of the problem instead of creating more problems.
  15. NO TAXES -- The very limited government here outlined would create money and spend it into existence.
  16. NO RACIAL, RELIGIOUS, OR ETHNIC LAWS -- No society should ever write laws that require or outlaw discrimination. Every person has the right to associate or not associate with whom he desires. This applies to his private business behavior also. Ignorant racism does not disappear by passing laws, it disappears through time and experience.
  17. COMPLETELY FREE SPEECH, NO MEDIA LAWS, NO LIBEL LAWS -- Elimination of corporations and reduction in the role of government will do more than anything to free our media and our minds. Any person must be allowed to say whatever he wants about anyone at anytime. A free society will become a polite society as long as there is justice. A free society must be absolutely intolerant of injustice.
  18. POLLUTION A MATTER OF CRIMINAL LAW -- Damage to our shared environment has a non-consensual element. If you pollute my air without my consent, you are engaging in a form of theft or property damage.  Pollution is therefore subsumed under property rights.  Pollution has a cost to us all. Thus the government should highly regulate and control this aspect of behavior just as it prevents/redresses any form of coercion among persons.
  19. NATURAL LEARNING--THE COMPLETE SEPARATION OF EDUCATION AND STATE -- See my other articles concerning our government's enslavement of children in our society.
  20. NATURAL MORALITY--THE END OF LEGALISM – Legalism replaces scriptural commandments with human commandments.  Its just a new version of an ignorant old game.  Humans are not machines and words are not reality. We cannot and must not let our lives be controlled by lawyers and judges (priests) who manipulate word formulas to their benefit.  Coercion is evil because is destroys human relationships and human values, not because some law was passed by some legislature. Legalism in fact represents the intrusion of coercion into every sphere of human family and social life. In a natural and enlightened human society, the scope of the state will be reduced to a small fraction of its current unlimited role. Written laws will be needed only for the purpose of defining property rights and outlawing every use of, or threat of the use of physical coercion to control another person or take away his property without his consent. In such a society, government and legalism will be confined to their proper role and will not poison the morality of the society. Disputes among persons will be dealt with by arbitration. Communities will elect "wise men" to be their arbiters.

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