An often-misunderstood concept in Voluntaryist principles is the difference between “consent” and “compliance” to a coercive threat. Consent involves a willingness to engage in an activity or transaction free of violent threats in that activity or transaction. Compliance is where a person only participates in an action under a direct threat or a manifested violence against their body or property, or out of concern for another and a threat against that other person’s body or property.
For a common example, think of what takes place when a mugger points a gun at an unsuspecting person and demands that the person hands over their money or be shot. The person who hands over the wallet under this duress is acting under compliance, not consent. The delineating factor is that the mugger is making a direct threat against the person to produce the result of attaining the wallet, and that threat involves an unethical initiation of force against the body and property of the victim. Notice here that the core element that distinguishes the action from “consent” is that the threat is:
1.) directly tailored to producing the interaction result AND
2.) is an unethical threat of initiatory force or a threat to wrongfully breach one’s contract with the affected party
These two elements are key to satisfying the change from a label of “consent” to a label of “compliance” under the duress of coercion.
Let’s look at another example of where someone may mistake a consensual transaction as “compliance.” Imagine a family is driving on a road trip in a remote area and their car gets a flat tire on a Friday night. Unfortunately, the nearest repair shop has unusually higher prices than most shops for replacing tires, and the next available one is not only a great distance away but won’t even be open until Monday morning. The father angrily decries his handing over money to fix the flat as “highway robbery.”
In this case, the father is wrong as his choosing to pay the higher price to get his car back on the road is not being made under a threat from the car repair shop owner toward him. The car repair shop is not making or threatening unethical initiation of force and has no other contractual duty to uphold toward the father in replacing the tire. The father is choosing to pay the higher price as a subjective calculation that he values getting back onto the road more than the money he is handing over, and the other threats that may loom, from dealing with the outdoor weather, to dealing with the creatures and bugs outside, are independent of the repair shop and the owner’s actions.
As you can see from these examples, when someone makes a threat of initiatory force to produce an action from others, that is what changes the nature of the relationship from one that is consensual, to one that is being forced under duress.
Of course, there may be more complicated examples where, through a chain of actions, someone’s tough situation may have arisen by economic and social engineering in a larger scale, such as with laws that make a particular product more expensive, or the Federal Reserve printing money to inflate currency and soak the public. However, these broader actions are not due to those in the market who are otherwise offering goods and services based on their costs and risks. The fault lies specifically with those who are carrying out the unethical initiations of force, namely, the politicians and their enforcers.
Keeping these principles in mind will help bring clarity to situations where someone claims that they are being exploited or abused under duress but are actually just having to make difficult decisions about their personal risks and rewards due to their life circumstances.
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