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The Role of Trust in Favoring Free Societies

The idea of free societies based on capitalistic anarchy or minarchy are somewhat utopic. Similarly, the idea of delegative societies based on communism and socialism are also somewhat utopic. For libertarians who want to rationalize their intuition, it can be useful to reason through those utopic preferences with the following comparative thinking.

In a free society, we use competition and moral codes to mitigate our trust issues. People back-stab and coerce in the presence of limited resources. If we all assume that others might turn on us, we can, at least, turn to a system like the free market to ensure that voluntarism and competition give us the option to find the best deal. To justify our use of this system, we use:

  1. Market pressure (the action of pressuring business to high standards at the risk of losing customers),
  2. Reputation currency (the value of a business’ reputation as a producer of good vs. bad products), and
  3. Protection of private property (the moral case for individuals having a right to decide how they can best use their profits).

The problems with crony capitalism in a low-or-no government society become moot because the power structures aren’t enfranchised to pass legislation that gives unfair advantages to one business over another and, by extension, lobbying ceases to occur. If a government can’t pass advantageous laws, no one will lobby them because there’s nothing to lobby them for.

On the other hand, in a delegative society, people use distributive oversight and moral codes to mitigate trust issues. Once again, people still back-stab and coerce in the presence of limited resources. In delegative societies, the thinking is that this can be overcome by putting groups (or committees) of people in a position of power such that every member of society enjoys the privileges of basic utilities. By distributing resources fairly and according to the needs of every individual, no one should struggle to survive.

Both of these systems have flaws.

In a free society, we have to consider what happens to people who suffer from disadvantages that are no fault of their own, and we have to consider what kinds of personal interchange should be declared appropriate.

  • What do we do for people who can’t provide for themselves, like orphans or persons with disabilities that prevent them from working?
  • How do we approach intervention? For example, what kinds of self-defense or preventative offense warrant violation of the non-aggression principle?
  • What rights do individuals have, and who gets to decide? Do children have the same rights as adults? Do patients with Alzheimer’s have the same rights as people who don’t have Alzheimer’s? Do animals have rights?
  • When is the use of property or space an infringement on someone else’s rights? Do smokers aggress on people through the effects of second-hand smoking? Is pollution an aggression on everyone?

In a delegative society, people need to consider the economic downfalls as well as the problems that arise from social systems outside a government’s delegative powers.

  • How can a delegative society tackle existing social inequality? Is there a way to distribute opportunity in every scenario or will some people have to accept their lot and suffer disadvantages outside the economic sphere?
  • How does one morally incentivize production? What happens when free-riding becomes a problem? What happens if re-distribution can’t meet demand?
  • What role does consent play? What does a delegative society do to ensure that people will never be selfish? How can it ensure that people who are capable of high-performance will agree to work harder for the same amount?
  • How does a market operate without price signals? How can the appropriate levels of need or demand be determined if the value of a non-essential product can’t be ascertained?

However, where these flaws arise, trust is at the center of it all. The comparative difference between free societies and delegative societies is a matter of how the society decides to trust.

Free societies don’t trust anyone intrinsically – trust is earned through repeated exposure and reputation building. Delegative societies trust both everyone (as the collective) and no one (as the individual) intrinsically – trust is based on the assumption of conformity to superior moral standards.

People in free societies don’t trust businesses or government (or organized power structures) to hold positions of power over them. Consumers – which is everyone – hold power through their excess goods, but can only exercise that power through trade in an open market. Their greatest power is to leverage a deal by fostering the assumption (within a business owner’s mind) that there is always the threat of them buying from someone else. Consumers will walk away with the product they want. Businesses will have higher standards in order to compete. That kind of trade goes for workers too. In a free society, people won’t work for unfair prices, so businesses have to compete for the limited labor available, raising wages. Then, workers will consume job opportunities.

People in delegative societies don’t trust the individual to make moral decisions in the presence of people who suffer from disadvantage because they might choose to be selfish, so they create an abstract social fixture – the collective – to hold people accountable to each other by tying their self-interest to the interest of everyone else.

The reason a lot of small government libertarians choose free societies boils down to the argument that, through minarchy, the most basic public utilities can be maintained and further, that this can be done without excessively threatening free trade or the productive incentives of competition; and that this kind of solution is easier to organize and adapt than solutions offered for the problems afflicting delegative societies. As for anarchists – the idea, simply put, is that the market always finds a way.

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Mike Avi

Mike Avi is a student at Florida State University studying Economics and Portuguese. He is president of the university's College Libertarians RSO and a Campus Coordinator for Students for Liberty.

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