Moral Standards In A Free Society
It is heartbreaking to see the abuse of those who can’t defend themselves. I’m an animal lover. I can watch some truly horrific things at the movies with no problems, but if the dog dies at the end I’m a blubbering mess. I haven’t eaten any meat except fish for 20 years because I don’t believe I could take the life of any other animal, except under extreme circumstances. Child abuse affects me on a similar, visceral level, as I think it does for most people.
No society is perfect, but moral issues such as abuse need to be addressed. On a recent episode of the Tom Woods Show, Julie Borowski admitted that this was one aspect of libertarianism and the non-aggression principle that she struggled with. Could parents be punished for not feeding their kids? Could people be punished for fighting dogs? Some minarchist libertarians may suggest that this is one area where the State needs to step in. While I understand that reaction, I don’t think that State intervention is necessary.
In a previous piece, “The State Is Obsolete”, I briefly made my case for a society where insurance would replace the court and police systems. Individuals could purchase an insurance plan which would compensate them for damages if they fall victim to a crime. The company would invest in the safety of the individual, and would protect their investment by employing private security. If two people had a conflict, insurance companies would arbitrate the dispute, the same way an auto accident is handled today. Insurance could be provided at a reduced rate for low incomes, or even free of charge as part of the philanthropic efforts carried out by many companies. It could also be subsidized by charity.
Insurance would not be mandated for the individual, but it would be required for participation in many aspects of society. Employers may require that employees purchase insurance. Companies dealing in cars, real estate, or guns might require their customers to present proof of insurance, to protect themselves from liability. Dealing with uninsured people would likely be considered risky. If an individual didn’t want to purchase insurance, and wanted to buy some land and live an isolated life, nothing would stop them from doing so.
These insurance companies would want to attract the most customers possible in order to keep their rates low and remain competitive with other firms. By allowing these firms to discriminate, they could require certain moral standards for their customers. Some of these standards would likely be controversial. A firm might refuse coverage to homosexuals, or offer additional benefits to heterosexual married couples, but not to married gay couples.
Personally, I would never purchase a plan from such a firm, so they would lose my business as well. As culture shifts, those firms with the moral standard most consistent with society at large would attract more customers, offer better rates and benefits, and become more successful. People wishing for a more restrictive moral standard, however, could still find a plan.
A number of competing firms could offer a wide range of moral standards and benefits. They would be more responsive to shifts in public demand than any government. The Democratic process requires a majority in order to enact regulations on individual behavior. A minority view could start in smaller firms, and grow as it becomes more popular. For example, a firm might offer discounts for those who install solar panels, thus creating an incentive for implementing renewable energy. While a desire for solar power may be a minority view, capitalizing on the demands of even a small segment of the population may be profitable for a firm.
There are certain moral standards which are so universal it is hard to believe that any insurance company would cover those who engage in them. I would place child and animal abuse in this category. Insurance companies may not invade the private property of their customers, but if an individual was reported to their insurance company an investigation would be conducted. If that individual was found to be at fault, they would face consequences ranging from increased premiums to dropped coverage.
Having your coverage dropped would essentially be banishment or ostracism. While an increase in premiums might be equivalent to a fine, losing coverage would be a far more severe punishment than most people currently receive. Personally, I’m comfortable with that. Prisons today are cages which keep those who have been banished from society confined. In the society I envision, those who have had their coverage dropped and are unable to buy a new plan from another firm might check into a prison voluntarily. A prison would simply be an extremely invasive and restrictive form of insurance. After some length of time, equivalent to a prison sentence, they might be allowed to purchase a new plan and rejoin society.
The society I’ve described is not radically different from what we have now, with some key differences. The companies, which take the place of governments, would be funded by voluntary exchanges rather than coercion. They would not be subject to the Democratic process, which is the tyranny of the majority, but by the voluntary participation of their customers. These insurance firms would also exist in overlapping geographical regions in competition, but not conflict with one another. They would have no incentive to engage in war, as their primary concern would be for the safety of their customers. Without a society organized in a just and moral fashion, we can’t expect to produce just and moral individuals.
I understand that what I propose is not a perfect system, but no perfect systems exist. People could engage in all manner of deviant activities if they chose to live without coverage. Those who live in remote locations are essentially beyond the reach of the law already, however. I think it is also important to note that violence and abuse are more common in poverty stricken areas. Nothing lifts people out of poverty like the free market capitalism. By allowing the standard of living to rise, as it has done in all economically free societies, violence in all forms will become less common.