Gregory Sams
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30. Some Other Directions

"Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it."

George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)
As I said in the first chapter, this book does not propose to offer answers to all the challenges that face us. But as we have seen in the insurance industry, society can develop a mechanism to provide all of society with the sort of service that we might imagine requires a coercive state to manage. This chapter puts forward some "imaginings" of overall governing structures, or principles no more complex or arcane than those of the insurance industry; structures that might develop in a climate where needs arise in society, needs which are no longer the preserve of the state to manage. It should even be possible to build some of them alongside the state's faltering structures
The most universal and essential product group of all is the food that we eat, usually more than once every day of our lives, regardless of where we live. Of course we need standards for our foods so we can guard against botulism in our canned food and be sure that the ingredients listed on a food packet are complete and accurate. We want to know that when a product is sold as organically grown, it fits some definition of organic that satisfies us. And we want to be sure that our food is not contaminated with heavy metals, toxic bacteria, rat droppings or other noxious contaminants.

Though the state would have us believe that it looks after all the above and more, today's increasingly conscious consumers are becoming more aware of the flimsiness of the state's protection, a state whose own involvement in the food chain has often led to dangers far more endemic and frightening than rat shit or even a touch of heavy metal. Typically the state will try to deny or cover up such dangers, assuring us that there has been no risk to human health. Occasionally they will actually suggest that consumers, if they want to be absolutely sure, should maybe buy a few less carrots or apples and be sure to peel them, or something like that. Then, one suspects, they take steps to ensure that such information does not unexpectedly leak out again in the future.

Where consumers are unconcerned about their food quality, no amount of regulations will make much difference in the quality of their diet. However, in many countries today, as more and more consumers recognise the connection between their health and their food chain, there certainly exists a market for a company - perhaps an extension of an existing consumer association - whose remit is to provide genuine product certification to food producers, incorporating regular testing of their product. This can be done with bonded personnel able to review a company's working recipes, relative to ingredient listing. It is in the interests of the food industry to have a standard of integrity that is trusted by the public. If such a standard is developed and maintained by a private organisation, its own existence will be threatened if it devalues its integrity by colluding with a food company to condone false or misleading data. In today's society there is always the chance of such activity leaking to a newspaper or TV investigator. If something is of value then it gets paid for, in this instance the most likely funding would be from a modest charge pro rata to volume sales of an individual company. There can be alternative validation schemes available so, for instance, separate companies may deal with organic or cruelty-free claims from those validating ingredient and nutritional contents.

But the intention here is not to map out each specific of how such a company might run or how it might deal with all the ifs and buts that any critic of such a concept could easily raise. Let's also not pretend we're so stupid that, if we are interested, we'll be confused by some jungle of different symbols. Such an industry is by its nature likely to standardise, though it may (or may not) begin with a confusing array of symbols. In the author's experience, however, when a consumer seeks to be assured that a product is free of animal products, or wheat gluten, or some or all chemical additives, or is produced without cruelty or is Kosher, then that consumer is willing to look for the symbol. Something similar has developed in the travel industry, without government intervention, with an international coding that lets you know everything about an hotel from the number of beds, to disabled access, to swimming pool or golf course, and catering facilities. At an even simpler level the vetting company can guarantee, like a company auditor, that everything the manufacturer says on the label is wholly true, accurate and not misleading.

Naturally, in the absence of state control, such a scheme would not be a mandatory requirement for all food manufacturers. Many retailers would choose to demand it of their large suppliers whilst performing in-house vetting of the small manufacturers, who keep supermarket shelves interesting and changing (and are easier to inspect at one small unit). Some brands' credentials might be so beyond reproach as to not need any outside standard, though such a manufacturer is probably likely to support it most. What we achieve with this service is another important weave added to the web of our food supply system, providing rapid feedback from the public to the food suppliers about the changing needs and perceptions of that society. This is not something that the state's management can ever provide.

In the same way, we are perfectly capable as a society to develop standards and means to ensure that our cigarette lighters do not explode in our face, that our cars run at the promised m.p.g., that dye-fast clothes do not run nor babies' mattresses explode into flames. While there should be no restrictions on appointing whomever we like (including ourselves) to act in "professional" areas for us, we are able to ensure through various accreditations or associations that our lawyer, doctor, publisher or trade mark agent has met certain standards of responsibility and expertise that we desire. Of course, we are usually more likely to be swayed by a good reputation and personal recommendation. Though obstructed by jealous state control of standards,* we should soon see an even greater development of independent product certification companies providing customer guarantees with responsibility. So you won't have to visit the farm to make sure your carrots are organic or check the stated "pH factor" on the soap you use.

* The American Heart Association recently initiated a scheme to certify and label saturated fat content in consumer food products. The Food and Drug Administration promptly slapped them down, as although no such information appeared on packs in any standard format, this was the responsibility of the FDA and not something to be handled otherwise.

No standards are of much use without a form of written codes, and regulations that govern the action to be taken in the case of their wilful or accidental transgression. Let's just look at civil law for now, which often does not involve coercion but requires some form of redress for damage, injury, poor service or break of guarantee. Though it might be more complex, it is quite possible for a system to evolve whereby companies and individuals making business exchanges, are voluntarily part of a large Assurance House that operates codes of conducts, regulation and law applying to their interactions; companies abide by this or lose their reputation and their ability to work within the business community. Integrity, guarantees, and liabilities can be financially backed by the "Assurance House," who may even require security from some customers. Support of this organization would be a basic cost of doing business for many, though street vendors, church fete sales, start up concerns and others may choose not to be bonded or to undertake some simpler and less reassuring scheme. The buyer must always exercise some intelligence and discrimination, as goes the old adage "let the buyer beware."

The already vast mechanism of practical civil law, which includes the use of arbitrators, does not need the additional weight of the state to support and maintain. Most companies, large and small, work with an extensive base of existing contracts and codes that are accepted and expected. Some companies and people work on a simple handshake, knowing their honour is enough assurance. Others can draft devious contracts that "legally" cheat the other side out of what was expected, or will openly break the agreement and challenge the aggrieved party to try and sue for justice through the courts at great expense. I do not intend to elaborate on how contracts could be guaranteed and the existing structure improved, other than that it will take the co-operation of banks and business as well as some new types of assurance and bonding companies. I believe the need for this to be so great that a solution will be created within business in order to ensure the ongoing survival and effectiveness of trade. Much of the structure that is required already exists.

Without the state, I hear you cry, who will tell us which side of the road to drive upon. Come on! With today's technology, and a privately owned or operated roads system we could figure out not only which side to drive on, but be charged according to just how much road is being used, based on some vehicle-type and mileage scale. We can also look forward to real attempts to reduce the scale of car pollution, since a private road company must eventually meet the costs of paying for environmental pollution caused by its operation, and face the risk of being sued for asthma cases in young children. According to one study, some 75% of road pollution is caused by just 20% of the vehicles on the road - not so hard to make a big difference. Imagine how much more efficient will be the use of motor vehicles when road usage is charged according to the demands made upon the road, rather than according to a ridiculous flat road tax system that charges the same to a customer driving 50,000 miles per year as to one driving 1,000. A private road company is also far less likely to treat its customers as the enemy to be trapped, fined and clamped for profit. Neither is a private company so likely to build unwanted new roads, when existing ones can be improved and maintained. Useless roads cost money to build, especially without the handy tool of compulsory purchase (read coercive for compulsory). Consider too, under private ownership, how long ago we would have developed truly intelligent traffic lights, rather than ever more complex intersections; lights that never had drivers stopping, idling and re-accelerating (causing needless pollution and road wear) when there was absolutely no reason to do so. Instead, we find needless traffic lights now destroying the smooth function of that great British invention - the roundabout.

And at last, we might use our wonderful technology to develop a machine that tests automobile drivers for whether or not they are competent to drive, rather than for a linear level of alcohol or any other substance. Someone on antibiotics and a glass of wine can be lethal - as can anyone dulled to near sleeplessness by Valium or other prescribed drugs. Really, there are enough pharmaceuticals to be tested for to justify posting a chemist and laboratory in every patrol van. The only sensible way to keep dangerous drivers off the road is to test whether they are dangerous or not with a cheap and universally accurate device that measures response, reaction, and motor coordination.

Another area of great concern is the control and reduction of crime without increased policing and incarceration. To this end I will hint at the principles that might help us develop solutions; whether the eventual mechanisms fit any predetermined format or whether such formats can be described now is not relevant. What is relevant is the knowledge that a complex system, such as society, has the tendency to develop means to govern and stabilize itself without falling into disorder and entropy.

And though it may not seem obvious, it is very much in the interests of the giant worldwide insurance industry to combat crime. The bulk of the industry supplies cover against risks of death, disaster, misfortunes, and unexpected events that involve no malevolent acts of mankind. As well as natural events, cover is also supplied against the risk of being robbed or injured in the course of a crime. Though some might argue that rising crime is good for the insurers because they get more policies from frightened people, we see this is starkly not the case in high crime American inner-city areas where crime is so bad they will not insure. There is no joy at the insurance office when a client is robbed or murdered, or when crime figures rise - any more than there is glee at increased hurricanes, fires, bus crashes or floods. When these events occur, so does a cost and a deduction from profits - when they occur too often then the insurer ultimately risks losing their shirt, since limited liability does not apply. Much of the industry growth today comes from new insurance such as that which comes with everything purchased on some credit cards, or bad weather insurance for outdoor events, or other areas where there may not be any exploitation of your fear - just a means to offset a perfectly straightforward risk.

Since the main cost to insurance companies is payouts to customers who make claims, their greatest interest is in reducing the number of claims. The point being made is: when the insurance companies start to build tools with which to prevent crime and pursue criminals they will not be victims of the "terminal toolbag" syndrome. They have nothing to gain from increasing crime and everything to gain from its reduction. They have nothing to gain from putting people in jail for crimes that have no victims, nor in putting the wrong people in jail just to secure a conviction. Indeed they have everything to gain from reducing the need for expensive jails as the main plank of their strategy to deter criminals from crime.

The insurance companies may need other allies from the business world and it is not hard to recognize that, with the assistance of the banking world, it would be very difficult for criminals, once detected, to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes. The world of business must certainly recognize that society's desire for a climate of reducing crime and immorality is an opportunity for profit to themselves, greater in the long term than that afforded by its proliferation. I am not proposing here just how this would work.* I am just pointing out that, should the opportunity arise, there are possibilities for the non-coercive part of our society to take an interest in (and actions that will lead towards) the ultimate objective of steadily reducing crime, rather than simply building an industry that feeds upon the growing problem.

*A concept developed at length by Professor Galambos - see Credits.

Taking a great leap of imagination, let us assume that we have somehow finally arrived at the idyllic situation where there are no states in the world to threaten our (now dissolving) borders, coercively dictate how we behave, all the time emptying our pockets of as much as they can. So how, in this bliss, do we ensure that another Hitler or Pol Pot does not secretly amass an army, build his own weapons, and overrun the nearest defenceless neighbour to hand? Surely someone needs to keep a large military force to guard against this threat and, moreover, how do we protect ourselves from some miscreant gaining control of this protective military machine unless we all have our own standing armies. Sounds a bit pessimistic? Consider extending the concept outlined for dealing with crime, so that it includes the cooperation of the telecommunication companies and the power companies; then it becomes virtually impossible for anyone to amass such a force and do anything seriously destructive with it against a world full of free people with industries that are independent, interdependent and connected naturally by a working network of their own feedback.

These are but leaps of imagination and I do not pretend to anticipate the means which humanity and the chaos of free selection will use to create the order and stability we seek, and rightly expect to govern vital aspects of our society. They do also rely upon an assumption by business of a level of morality to which most leaders of industry would profess, but to which few adhere. Whilst this might sound idealistic, it is more realistic than hoping that this level of morality will ever develop in the thought or actions of the world's political leaders. The corporate world of today, however entwined with the state on some levels, is still largely dependent upon the free wishes of the billions of people in this world and tends usually to produce the products that we demand. We have a choice.
- end chapter -
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From the book "Uncommon Sense - The State is Out of Date"
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