It’s been like something from the kind of Christmas movie that doesn’t get made anymore. All over the country, anonymous people have been showing up at Kmart stores (and a couple of other chains) and paying for thousands of dollars worth of Christmas presents for strangers.
Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody seems to have organized it. As far as anyone can tell, it’s just people voluntarily helping people — without having any politician or bureaucrat force them to.
I’d read about the phenomenon last week, and I saw a story in the Birmingham paper Tuesday about it happening at several local stores. The largest single contributor paid $6,400 at one local Kmart toward other people’s layaways. So what is going on?
I think it’s simple. There are a lot of really good-hearted people who truly want to help others. Maybe you don’t really have to hold a gun to folks’ heads to get them to want to help people. And maybe those folks prefer deciding for themselves what to do with the money they donate — instead of having government bureaucrats decide for them.
Voluntaryism is the notion that all human interaction should be voluntary. (It’s not a great word that rolls smoothly off the tongue, but I’m not the one who coined it, so don’t blame me.) If two people want to trade with each other, that’s fine. And if one person wants to give something to another, that’s fine, too. As long as there’s no coercion involved, people should be able to voluntarily interact with each other however they choose — and it’s nobody else’s business.
The alternative to voluntaryism is coercion — having someone decide for others how they’re required to spend their money (through taxes), their time (through a military draft or other “national service”) or even their lives (in totalitarian states that dictate what careers people can pursue). A coercive state decides who you can trade with, who you’re required to support with your money and even who you’re required to kill (or be killed by).
People of this country are generous with their time and money. Not all of them are, of course. But many of them are. If people are left alone to make their own decisions — about their money and their lives — they’re going to make far more charitable decisions than you might believe.
Human nature can be dark and evil and mean. But humans can frequently learn to be loving and caring and generous. If you teach them that it’s a government’s job to take care of people, many of them are going to believe that. But if you leave all decisions at a voluntary level, you’re going to get some amazing results at time. You’re going to have folks walk into stores and pay bills for strangers — people they’ll never even meet — just out of the goodness that’s in their hearts.
Writing a check to a tax collector isn’t a virtuous act. It’s an act of duty, obedience or fear. Giving money to people because you simply want to is virtuous. The coercive state doesn’t produce virtue. Voluntary action does. The secrets Santas in the country right now are a good example of how voluntary actions spreads when you let people live their own lives. We need to do more of it.