Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Voluntary Situation or Not?

COLUMN NOTES: I was spanked for this one by a voluntaryist friend of mine. He made some great points and I want to share them here. First, in general he's not too fond of the United Way. He had an amazingly bad experience when a previous employer treated him badly, even threatened him with a bad job review if he did not donate. He's not the only one and I heard stories even before I wrote this piece and so kind of wondered if I'd hear from anyone about it. He gave me a link he found that shows there are others who have less than favorable views on how companies raise funds for the United Way.

He also pointed out to me that many organizations that get United Way funding are government organizations and/or already funded by the taxpayer.

He also really didn't like the idea of giving a "voluntary salute to the mayor." (For the record I didn't write that headline.) My friend's view on this revolves around the idea that all of these people are parasites living off of coerced funds. But let's hear from him in his own words:

"It bothers me on another level because I can't see someone who lives at the expense of others, who literally lives off of the looted earnings of working people, as having done something praiseworthy because they drop a few of their stolen coins in a box marked 'charity'. Big f'n deal if a mugger drops a few dollars into the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time, it wasn't his money to take or give. Same way with your mayor and all his tax-parasite employees. Every dime they donate to United Way was stolen from someone else."

And he also said this:
"Giving a 'voluntary salute to the mayor', TO ME, would be like giving a salute to Hitler because he started a voluntary charitable organization
-The Winterhilfswerk (WHW) was an annual drive by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (the National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization) to help finance charitable work. Its slogan was "None shall starve nor freeze". It ran from 1933-1945 during the months of October through March, and was designed to provide food, clothing, coal, and other items to less fortunate Germans during the inclement months.-

Hell, southern plantation owners used to voluntarily give presents and clothes to their slaves, particularly at Christmas- Praiseworthy?

Ted Bundy took time off from his serial rape/murder spree to voluntarily donate his time to work the phones at the local rape crisis hotline - true story- praiseworthy?"

I will certainly not argue with that logic and I think he makes good points but I still hold on to hope that writing this column may have caused someone, who's not quite where my friend is philosophically, to perhaps think more about voluntary actions versus using the government gun.

What do you think?

HARBESON: I voluntarily salute the mayor

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — This week, I would like to focus my energy on commending and praising Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan. For the third year in a row, he’s helping promote the United Way by entering into a friendly competition with New Albany Mayor Doug England.

The cities compete in a contest to see who can get the most city employee participation. The winner gets possession of a traveling trophy and the loser has to sweep the street around the winner’s city hall.

I find it very refreshing to see local politicians putting their energy into promoting something that is voluntary. It’s also kind of jarring because it’s so odd to see this happen with no ordinances written, no property being forcibly taken from other people, no one controlling anyone else — just respect and voluntary action. And yet it still works somehow.

The United Way is a well-respected organization but it’s not the only one out there. There are hundreds of ways people help each other. Some people also choose to help others by giving time and talent, rather than money. And yet, thousands of dollars are raised despite the fact that the employees are free to decide how much, and if, they want to participate.

Of course, adding the competition factor is a nice way to inject some spark into this charitable effort. The mayors and city employees may give a bit more to the United Way as a result because competition can help motivate people.

Isn’t it interesting to see government officials so deep into freedom-oriented ideas of competition and voluntary cooperation?

To watch how this plays out compared to other work mayors do using government control is instructive. There is no controversial edge to this; it’s just one of those fluffy feel-good stories. There are no critics, no one is forced into it kicking and screaming, everyone involved is respected enough to make his or her own decision.

This kind of action brings forth a completely different energy doesn’t it? It’s by far the best thing Galligan has done since taking office.

This really shouldn’t be so surprising and normally it’s not. Businesses do similar contests and competitions for charitable giving. Charitable giving goes on constantly, some of it through institutions and organizations and there’s also plenty done without any institutional involvement whatsoever: family helping family; friend helping friend. Hardly any of this makes the news because it’s just the normal way we live our daily lives.

But when government officials do it, it’s kind of like a man bites dog story.

If only we’d see more of this type of action from our local politicians. Playing cheerleader for local charities and businesses would be a great way for the mayor to spend his energy. There’d be less time to think about ways to spend other people’s money, which means there’d be more out there for charitable giving and investing in local business. More cheerleading and less controlling would make us all better off, don’t you think?

What would life be like if politicians just got out of the way and let businesses and charities do what they do? I would love to see much more action promoting voluntary methods of interacting with our neighbors and giving individuals the respect to make choices that work for them, their families and their individual situations.

So, Mayor Galligan, let me say well done, sir. Please, do more work cheerleading for voluntary and business causes and put less energy toward using government to control. You could create a more peaceful community everyone would enjoy.

— Sellersburg resident Debbie Harbeson doesn’t mind mayors playing cheerleader, and even using pom poms, but she draws the line at those skimpy uniforms.


  1. Debbie, I think your semi-obscene friend has made an incomplete analysis here. He (or she, maybe, but I'm guessing "he") refers to the money in the mayor's pocket as "stolen coins" and "looted earnings of working people." This is partly true, and partly false. Each working person involved is an individual, and the willingness to be taxed varies from one person to another in this crowd that we're in danger of treating as an undifferentiated mass. Theft and looting are activities which presuppose unwilling victims -- and also perpetrators who are aware of what they're doing.

    The "victims?" Our supervisors, I'm happy to say, are still substantially outnumbered by We the Supervised. If most of us were seriously unhappy about current arrangements, the mayors and their minions would already be hanging from lampposts -- or, at least, forcibly returned to private life.

    The perps? A thief knows himself to be stealing. A looter knows himself to be looting. Some politicos, no doubt, are intentional and aware concerning their depradations; those would be like your Detroit mayors who occasionally find their way to the slam. Most, I'm guessing, are actually befuddled in their own minds. Is what they're doing wrong? Certainly. But there are degrees of wrongdoing. Not everyone who kills a person is a murderer.

    Even in the case, cited by your friend, of a mugger who drops a few bucks of the swag into a Salvation Army kettle, it is at least in principle valuable to consider distinctions. Consider two muggers: mugger A, who's the kettle-dropper, and mugger B, who keeps every penny for himself. Both are criminals. Both deserve contempt from all of us. Mugger A, however, is more praiseworthy than mugger B, even if by only 0.1%.

    In any case, I do not see that a voluntaryist, such as yourself, is under any positive obligation to be always and exclusively snarling the pure, 100-octane doctrinal truth at all within earshot. When someone -- even a tyrant -- chooses to do something that includes some small element of voluntaryism, instead of a hundred-percent statist alternative, to take notice, and give a few gentle words of encouragement, certainly does not constitute complicity in the tyrant's background offenses against liberty.

    Or so it seems to me.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Jim. I'm not sure when you wrote this, but I found it in my blogger spam comments, so sorry if it took a while to get posted. Not sure why that happened.

    I can probably argue both sides of this situation and still may not be fully settled on how I feel about it all.

    At any rate, I appreciate everyone helping me think it through. :)

  3. Ah, Blogger! I'm not sure I've ever had any legitimate comment falsely imprisoned as spam, but I've had vast amounts of spam slide through their detector with no apparent trouble at all. That's why I re-enabled the "word verification" thing on my blog, after a very brief experiment with relying on Blogger spam detection. Not much good, in my limited experience.