I am a voluntaryist.
I believe all trade should be free of coercion and free from intervention. I also believe that all trade is social. Any action or exchange of property for another action or property is a Social Contract, whether written or not. For example, I may have acquired a bucket of apples from a tree that I had subsequently planted and harvested from over the course of a year. This is labor that I CHOSE to do and, so long as I CHOOSE to do it in the future, it will continue to be my own personal labor. This is a legitimate form of labor because it is private labor; it is individual labor; and it is labor free from force by another. But this is not trade, and thus, is not a Social Contract (unless the contract is between me and the earth, or God, or something of that nature).
Now, lets imagine that another person (we’ll call him Person B) wants to trade me a bucket of oranges for a bucket of my apples. This is, prima facie, a legitimate trade, and thus, a legitimate Social Contract. Most aspects of this Social Contract are underwritten within the social norms of a collective group of individuals (which we will call a society). For example, it is assumed by both parties that once Person A trades his apples for Person B’s oranges, Person A no longer holds a right of property to those apples (and vice-versa). Voluntaryism also assumes that it is between Person A and Person B to set the desired worth of each piece of property. No third party can come in and tell Person A that he must trade his apples at a desired price to make it fair for Person B to trade. This is considered an illegitimate form of trade, and thus, cannot be a legitimate aspect to Social Contract Theory. Perhaps Person A feels that each one of his apples is worth two of Person B’s oranges. Person B may either agree or disagree with this notion; Person B may want apples so bad, or has such an abundance of oranges, that he is even willing to trade three oranges for each one of Person A’s apples. Perhaps Person B is not satisfied with the price that Person A sets on his apples and decides to forgo quality to get Person C’s apples at a lesser price. This group of individuals may even decided collectively (and by collectively, I mean unanimously) that there is a limit to the amount of property that a person can legitimately hold (but this is beside the point of the argument that I set forth in this essay), and they may even decide that some natural elements cannot be considered legitimate pieces of property (such as water); but regardless of these notions, this society cannot decide that one class of individuals within the society has more privilege than others. This is what John Tomasi calls Formal Equality, as opposed to Substantive Equality, where the society “fixes” the outcome to look more equal. Voluntaryist reject Substantive Equality, because they are not Utilitarian, that is to say, they are not worried so much about the outcome, as they are the ethic that brings about the outcome. A Voluntaryist society is based on formally equal protection of rights under the law. This means that anything that grants one person more protection, or better outcomes under the law, is not a right, but a privilege; And if this privilege is met by restricting the rights of another person in the society, then according to Voluntaryism, the privilege is illegitimate. Rights, then, are Negative; that is, a right to life, for example, does not force obligation onto another individual, but against another individual (I have a right not to be killed, you do not have an obligation to save my life; you cannot kill me, and I can save your life if I choose). Social Contract, then, is restricted to keeping trade free, and keeping individuals from setting privileges that make rights unequal. This is the basis of the classically liberal society, and the closest thing we have to this in our modern world is libertarianism. However a neo-classically liberal society (one that I believe Voluntaryism endorses), which admits a need for Social Justice (or substantive outcomes) and a need for protection of Formal Equality, will not put economic liberty above other liberties (as libertarians do), nor will it make economic liberty take a back seat or second order to civil rights (as modern liberals do). In my opinion, this is the most equal and legitimate form of Society. But there are probably still questions, which arise from specific circumstances, and that I will now consider.
Lets pretend that Person B acquired his bucket of oranges by forcing Person D to labor and collect oranges from a tree. According to Social Contract and Rights Theory, Person B does not have a legitimate claim of property over the oranges (even if he does hold a legitimate claim of property over the tree). The oranges would be said to belong to Person D, the person that did the labor. So, if Person B trades Person A the oranges for apples, it is Person D who legitimately owns the apples. However, Person D may not want the apples. He may still want his Oranges, which he labored over. This makes that exchange illegitimate. So, a normative rule of Social Contract can be summed up from this example: Voluntary Trade Can Only Stem from Exchange of Legitimate Labor.
Lets pretend that Person A snuck onto Person C’s land while Person C was sleeping. Person A digs up one of Person C’s trees and then begins the yearlong journey of cultivating and harvesting the fruit. It does not matter that Person A did a year of labor that helped produce apples. The fruit belongs to Person C, and while the labor may be considered preemptive reparation, the labor that Person A did, essentially belongs to Person C, which leads us to our second rule: Legitimate Labor Can Only Stem from Legitimately Acquired Property.
Lets pretend that Person D owns a plot of land with orange trees on it. He may choose to give a tree to Person B, with or without some sort of stipulation. Person B may labor and produce oranges that are at this point his oranges. But lets say Person D later decides that he is entitled to those oranges that Person B produced. This can’t be the case, because he has shifted the right of property to Person B. He would not be able to take oranges that Person B produced and trade with Person A because he does not have a legitimate ownership of this fruit. A third normative rule can be constructed: Legitimately Acquired Property Can Only Stem from Non-Coercive or Individual Action.
Lets pretend that Person A, having stole the apple tree from Person C’s land, forces Person B to exchange his oranges, which he acquired from the forced labor of Person D, for the apples. Now, the exchange of goods between Person A and Person B does not seem legitimate on three separate grounds. The acquisition of goods came about by illegitimate forms of Labor, by theft, and by coercive action. Our final rule for a legitimately constructed Social Contract, which is the culmination of the previous three rules, can now be established: Individual and Non-Coercive Action are the Only Legitimate Forms of Labor That Can be Voluntarily Traded.
As one can see, the previous scenarios will lead to normative principles that help create the voluntary society that legitimately establishes Formal Equality and keeps all individuals within a society free from coercion by others. I will go into a different set of actions and practices in the next post.
For more on thoughts like this I encourage you all to take a look at this.