This article was published in the Autumn 1994 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
A Service Provision Alternative
by Bobby Yates Emory

(to table of contents of FNF archives)
Plan for everything needed
Artificial mandate for government
How to convince
A way that works

Plan for everything needed

One of the central problems in convincing people of the possibility of a workable libertarian society is that we must show them how each of the goods and services they foresee as being needed will be provided. For goods and services customarily provided through government, people will be concerned about how little or no government could provide the services needed. Different people will have different concerns but we can predict many of the questions likely to be raised. First we must convince libertarians that we have an outline of a solution to each troublesome area. Later, when libertarians start trying to convince others that we have a better solution, it will be necessary to catalog each of the concerns raised and document solutions for those raised by more than a few people.

Most goods and services no problem

Most USA residents will not have concerns about most goods and services because they are accustomed to receiving them from the free market. If we take our message to other countries, we will need to customize the message to each country.

Some services are supposed to be a problem

Unfortunately, many people have been convinced that some services will not be provided if the government does not pay for them. If these people believe the services to be necessary, then it follows that we need government to provide them.

(back to top)

Artificial mandate for government

This conviction has been used to create an artificial mandate for government. Statists are able to persuade people "If the government doesn't do it, it won't get done."

Welfare statists think charity is a problem

One prominent example of this thinking is the need for charity. Most people believe that there will always be a need to provide help for some people who are unable to support themselves. Welfare statists used this unfortunate fact as the foundation for building an elaborate bureaucracy in almost every country in the world.

USA generosity

Many of the ideas behind socialism came from Europe, where generosity does not appear to be a strong tradition. The welfare statists and the socialists forgot to adjust their theories to local conditions when they brought them to the USA. USA residents are exceedingly generous. Of all the charitable giving in the world, 80 percent is in the USA.

If need perceived, response follows

When USA residents perceive that a need exists, they have consistently shown they will respond generously. Some charities, such as those providing seeing eye dogs for the blind, receive more money than is required to provide the quantity of help that is needed.

Minor needs funded, certainly more important ones will be

While not belittling the importance of seeing eye dogs for the blind, needing a dog is less life threatening than individuals being destitute or the country being without a defense. We can count on USA residents to be equally generous in more important areas. After the USA sets a good example, other areas may learn to be charitable also.

(back to top)

How to convince

Our problem may not be how to provide the funding for needed goods and services. We have many examples of successful charities to learn from. We merely need to adapt the techniques already developed to the areas where needs exist. Our major concern then becomes: How do we convince people that charitable means are reliable, feasible methods of financing the goods and services they feel are necessary but that will not be acquired by individual purchase?

Same old problem

This is another part of the same old problem libertarians have always faced: how do we convince non-libertarians that voluntary contributions can be counted on to provide for the society's need for charity? The new facet of the problems is: how do we convince libertarians that voluntary contributions can be counted on to provide for the society's need to be defended from other countries (among others)?

Definition is key

The key to convincing libertarians about the viability of voluntary contributions for financing courts, police, defense and similar goods and services may be in the designation of these services as public goods. By creating a special category, economists may have created our problem. If we can show people that "public good" is merely a mental abstraction used to discuss a theoretical economic construct and not a description of something that exists in the real world, we may break this mental log jam. Just as there is no such thing as perfect competition (usually all potential buyers do not have complete and accurate knowledge of all potential sellers), so there are no public goods, only services that provide benefits to many individuals. Any alleged public good one is coerced into supporting can be shown to have direct benefit to many individuals. To a typical resident of some other state, there is a direct benefit of providing a Federal Court for Detroit. If such a court is not provided, the cost of doing business will rise for automakers. Almost everyone has an interest in preventing further increase in the prices of cars. Admittedly, for each of us, our interest in keeping the price of cars from rising is small. If Jerry's Kids can gather together many people's small interest in supporting MD research, then another version of Jerry's Kids can collect our small interest in providing a Federal Court in Detroit. Yes, a United Way may be needed to collect all these contributions to many different needs together, and yes, a United Way introduces its own inefficiencies, but it is much preferable to a large, coercive government.

Counteracting civics texts

There are other mistaken notions children are indoctrinated with in the government schools that need correcting, but this is an excellent place to start.

Historical examples

During the early years of the USA, at least one warship was purchased through public subscription. Many communities in North Carolina, until recently, had truly voluntary fire departments and in many of them the tradition of voluntary fund raising persists. Many of the early schools in the USA were proprietary, but a significant minority were financed by local subscription.

Building a compelling case

If we wish to convince libertarians to consider voluntary contributions we will need to collect the data to support our case; documentation of historical and current examples, data on charitable giving, and descriptions of the operations of current charities and councils of charities. Then we will need to write a description of how this would work in the critical areas of police, courts, and national defense. To get the ideas widely read we would need to write a science fiction or fantasy story that incorporated the ideas.

(back to top)

A way that works

Voluntary contributions provide us with a solution to many of the dilemmas facing us. We can provide for necessary functions to be performed without creating a framework for building a government which will grow beyond the control of the citizens. It will be flexible and will easily grow as citizens perceive needs and contract when the needs no longer exist.  D


Bobby Yates Emory of Raleigh, North Carolina, has worked a career as a programmer and systems analyst at IBM. A longtime libertarian activist, he has run for offices from County Commissioner to U.S. Senator, and held political party offices from Precinct Chairman to Regional Representative to the National Committee.

 (to table of contents of FNF archives)      (back to top)