I’m often surprised by the response I recieve when I try to convince my left-leaning friends to consider the possibility that the free-market can actually work in the relative absence of regulation, coercion, and intervention. It does not surprise me when they disagree. What surprises me is the degree to which they refuse to even have a rational conversation about it. In their defense, we laissez faire types are not known for our toleration of progressive economics anymore than they are tolerant of ours. But, I’m still shocked but how impenetrably monolithic people can be.
One case I often try to make, and that I think I could tell compellingly if I were given the chance, is that free people in a society with limited coercion will, more often than not, make ethical, morally defensible decisions. Not always. There will always be some few (sadly, often highly visible, high power, high income types) who are immoral, amoral, or just plain ol’ evil. But, as a group, free people will make good decisions.
For example, left to their own devices, free people across the financial spectrum will be philanthropic if they see a need. Take $10.00 from me and give it to a government to redistribute and I’ve given $10.00. Leave me with the $10.00 to do as I please and I may decide to give $15.00. Not always. But in general, when people feel less coerced and more empowered they also feel better about the world and are more prone to help others. For the record, my income-redistribution-proponent friends disagree. But, guess what? They generally want to just tell me I’m nuts instead of even entertaining my arguments.
Today, however, I read an article that gave me a glimmer of hope.
In the Spring 2014 issue of Reform Judaism magazine, there is an article on how Synagogues are rethinking their dues structures. The big change is that some of these institutions are moving to a “free will” model. They no longer have fixed dues, or a “sliding scale”. They let their members “pledge an annual contribution of their own volition” (pg 14). That alone made me happy. But better still was this important point from Rabbi David Judson: “…the fact shows that every URJ congregation that has moved to this model in the past five years has experienced either modest growth or stayed even.” (pg 18 – emphasis is mine).
Here we have a proof point from my very own spiritual tradition that demonstrates the validity of my claims. When you don’t tell someone to give you money, the open-ended ask yields equal or better results! While I often use the word “coercion” with respect to taxation, I have never used it in the context of my shul. But, since Rabbi Judson opened this verbiage up for me I’ll quote him again: “When congregants set their own donation level without any sense of coercion they almost always pay their pledge amount, and do so in a timely way. As a result congregations have fewer write-offs, better cash flow, and more precise budget projections.” (pg 19) I hope you see where I’m going with this. Letting individual volition drive contributions yields equal or greater revenue and better cash flow. It does not matter whether you are a sole-proprietorship, a multinational corporation, or a nonprofit religious institution, anything that improves cash flow AND revenue seems like a slam dunk.
I have a long way to go to get people to listen to my ideas (please prove me wrong but at least engage!). But I’m glad to see that the community of which I, myself, am part is beginning to see that the free human spirit will tend toward doing what’s right.