Optionality versus Voluntaryism

Abstract: In another one in the series of articles on the concept optionality, this article compares optionality with voluntaryism, to conclude that voluntaryism lacks the practical applicability of optionality.

What is Voluntaryism?

The concept voluntary can mean different things in different situations. Sometimes, voluntary work means one does not get paid for it, it is charity work. A volunteer may be asked to do work that involves risk or has other unattractive aspects.

As a philosophy, voluntaryism can go well beyond charity work or risky military operations, and apply to any transactions and relations between people and organizations, from the perspective that there should always be mutual, prior consent. As such, voluntaryism becomes a strong moral principle that condemns coercion and dictatorship, while offering a positive alternative vision. This in contrast to philosophies such as anarchy, chaotism and libertarianism that reject the rule of the Government without offering much of an alternative.

Carl Watner has for many years articulated voluntaryism as such a broad philosophy in the bi-monthly publication The Voluntaryist (P.O. Box 1275 Gramling SC 29348 USA). One problem is that voluntary decisions are limited to people who are able to make up their minds. Carl therefore hangs on to rather conservative values (property, honesty, family, etc.) where disputes go beyond such limits.

A more fundamental problem with voluntaryism is that, even if everybody were capable of having articulated views about everything they possibly could have a say in, they would be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of decisions they had to take and the number of times they would be asked to give their consent.

Voluntaryism may work if things can be satisfactorily decided between a few people, but as more people get involved, the number of interrelations that require consent can increase logarithmically. Voluntaryism focuses on prior consent of consumers of products and services, but in many cases it is practically impossible to discuss in detail all aspects of supply. Thus, a voluntary society either has a stagnating economy or it remains a Utopian dream. Voluntaryism may claim the higher moral ground, but it fails on practical grounds.

Where do Options differ?

The concepts optional and voluntary overlap considerably. Both imply that it is up to people to make a decision, rather than that they are forced into a specific direction. However, people who are asked to volunteer can usually only decide to agree or disagree; the fact that they can decide on something does not imply that they are offered the best option and, as a result, they may agree on a relatively bad choice. By contrast, having options implies there are a number of possibilities between which people can choose, each of which may constitute an attractive choice. Having options is more than being offered a yes-or-no choice.

The concept Optionality

The concept optionality implies that people should be offered more than a yes-or-no choice. Optionality gives people decisive power, but it does not concentrate solely on the consumer side. Optionality promotes an increase in the number of options available to people. Thus, optionality also has some important things to say about the way products and services are being offered by suppliers.

Optionality rejects a single supplier exploiting a monopoly. Optionality rejects collusion between suppliers leading to the formation of trusts and cartels. Such situations often result when one or more suppliers are being privileged over other suppliers by the Government. Optionality principally rejects the entire concept of government, not only because it is backed up by coercion and thus leaves people no choice, but also because a government typically derives its power from monopoly control over a given territory.

Optionality can be implemented in society without requiring prior permission from every person, as, over time, optionality will ensure that all the products and services that are offered are attractive ones - except of course for dictators.

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