The forefathers of modern Voluntaryist thought, from Lysander Spooner to Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, have set forth excellent principles on which to found an individualist code of ethics. Liberty and Voluntaryism have begun to take roots in mainstream academia. Scholarship at Mises.org and LewRockwell.com provide great resources on philosophy and economics, and liberty-oriented think-tanks like The Independent Institute and Reason Magazine help emphasize Voluntaryist pursuits in our current time.
The common motif in the movement is getting government out of our lives and wallets. However, the means to the end differ across a spectrum – some advocate for government policy change; some advocate for grassroots movements; others, like the Seasteading Institute, suggest that we create new experimental islands; and even some suggest the black market will overshadow the government’s control.
These suggestions/theories all have their merits, but few can articulate a practical policy which can shift the government expediently into a fully voluntary society.
To fill the gap, I would ask for the Voluntaryist movement to get behind the “not-for-profit” government model as a transition argument.
What does that mean? Well, it means that, like any not-for-profit corporation, the United States government will no longer maintain a monopoly on anything, but will instead compete with the private market for revenue and services.
In order to survive, the U.S. government will have to rely on voluntary contributions from individuals who will have the ability to make specific or general gifts to the government.
The underlying principle is this: When the government no longer has the ability to collect money with the threat of force, only that which people truly value will be funded.
So, for example, if people no longer want a massive department of defense bombing every country possible, the people will simply no longer fund the military and will drain it of its resources.
Likewise, if the people are tired of the BATF or the Department of Education, the people can choose to specify where their money will go, if at all.
The benefits are numerous:
- The government can no longer ignore the financial will of people.
- Programs which receive little support will go defunct by virtue of not being funded.
- Private alternatives will be given the chance to arise (such as private education, postage, security, etc.)
- The government will be unable to do more than what the people are voluntarily funding it for.
The best way to initially effect this policy is to allow earmarks to specific departments. How the departments carry out their function should be left to policy initiatives instead of funding because earmarks per issue will be very burdensome to carry out (just imagine if the government accepted funds for courts but the donor exempts “rape” cases – very tough to manage the request and even tougher not to intermingle funds). Also, funding by department will swiftly reveal what programs the public finds most/least valuable.
Of course, moving toward a “not-for-profit” form of government shouldn’t be the end of the story. The people of America ought to advocate for government downsizing in other ways such as decriminalization, budget cuts, and dismantling.
I believe that no single act (short of ending government itself or maybe ending the Federal Reserve) could be more profound at reshaping the political sphere for liberty. Everything the government does will hinge on its ability to pay. When the public can cut the government off like any other product, the people gain significant control over their lives.
This turning of government into a not-for-profit could be likened to the Articles of Confederation, but it should go beyond the Federal government to include states, counties, cities and other subdivisions.
When the government is totally dependent on the free will and grace of the people’s wallets, then it will finally have to meet their demands or face radical losses.
COMPARING CURRENT NOT-FOR-PROFIT PHILOSOPHY TO THE GOVERNMENT NOT-FOR-PROFIT
The reason the not-for-profit model is so attractive is that it forces the government to engage the people if it wants money. Much like any other good or service provider in the free market, the government will likely have to prove its worth in order to receive benefits. This requires a two-way relationship that truly looks to the values of the constituents, not just to the expected coercive force producing wealth. It also promotes transparency, as any attempts to hide what is going on will further skepticism followed by detraction. Just like any other not-for-profit, if the government cannot demonstrate what it is doing with your money, you and the other supporters will be reluctant to give. If the government is not perceived as producing efficient value, the people are all the more likely to turn to the free market for a solution.
Some may argue that this will cause a collective action problem where the rich/business owners end up paying more because the poor won’t pay anything. This may be true, but is that not already happening in the current market? Does not a majority of taxes already come from the rich and business owners?
Being the case, the business class of America has an incentive to bear the burden if they find that the American governmental system provides them value. For example, if business owners think the local courthouses and police are doing a great job at stopping theft and vandalism, they will be incentivized to continue to donate. In a sense, it could be a point of pride for businesses to advertise their contribution to the government. Just like Walmart has poster boards showing who they support in the community, a business may advertise their support of certain things like the police, courthouses and national defense to tell the community they care. Sounds superficial, but that’s already our state of public relations and marketing.
As for outcome, if there is underfunding, and that causes a material harm to the public through increased crime/violence, then it is logical that businesses and individuals will give more money to the government if they think it is worth it. (Or possibly find a better method in the market if that is attractive).
This concept already comports with the current model of government. No place is crime-free, and, when crime increases or other social problems arise, members of the legislature craft legislation and present it to the public to address the issues. Why couldn’t this same process be done at the local level, including not just policy but the strings to the purse itself?
To summarize other concerns, the not-for-profit model of government shares no different critique than that of the theft-funded (tax) government. Fear of government bribery? Already exists. Fear of new criminal demographic changes? Already exists. Fear of nuclear threats? Already exists. Fear of money going missing? Have you been reading the news?
The only change the people will find between the not-for-profit and the tax-funded government is that they will save money on tax compliance (because it doesn’t exist), save money on wasteful government spending, and save their psyche from the constant threat of force against person and property.
So please, take the time to think through what I am advocating. Use this model as a way to convince others that there is a practical, intelligent method for moving America toward a voluntary society without facing a total collapse.
The “not-for-profit” government model is not the total solution (or end), but what other policy can transform the government toward voluntaryism while still maintaining a semblance of stability? If you can think of it, we would love to hear it.