OUR LEXICON: The Voluntary Sector vs. The Coercive State

People constantly use these terms . . .

  • The Public Sector
  • The Private Sector

I want to argue that these terms are deceptive, and cause mischief in the mind.

I think we should stop using them entirely, and instead depict the distinction in the following way:

"The Voluntary Sector vs. The Coercive State."

Here's why . . .

  • The word "public" is mostly used when referring to anything involving The State.
  • The word "private" is always used in reference to the rest of society.

But does this really make sense?

Private has a connotation of "walled off" and "exclusive," but in fact nearly all private businesses are open to the public, and access to so-called public institutions is often more restrictive than it is for so-called private property.

In addition, many businesses are described as being publicly owned, because they belong to large numbers of shareholders, but this use of the word "public" doesn't mean that these companies are owned by The State. You see, the way we use these words is inconsistent, and often contradictory.

Most importantly, using the word "public" as another name for The State deceives people into thinking they have more control over The State than they actually do.

It seems to me that the true distinction we ought to make is as follows . . .

  • The so-called private sector is based on peaceful, voluntary transactions and relationships. Therefore, we should call it The Voluntary Sector.
  • The so-called public sector -- The State -- is based on violence and threats thereof. Do what we say or else we will hurt you. Everything done by the politicians and bureaucrats who run The State is based on coercion. Therefore, the term we use for this sector should reflect this coercive reality.

Now we could use the term The Coercive Sector in order to create an exact parallel to The Voluntary Sector, and this term should be a part of our lexicon, but I think this would actually be an imprecise way to speak. The two terms we use most often should not be precisely parallel because the reality of what is being described is not exactly parallel. It isn't only that one side is voluntary, and the other side coercive, it's also true that . . .

  • One side, The Voluntary Sector, really is a sector, because it's made up of millions of institutions that provide us with a boundless array of benefits and choices, while . . .
  • The other side is not a sector, it's a monopoly, because it doesn't present us with a host of choices, but instead gives us only one choice, the Statist choice dictated to us by politicians and bureaucrats.

For this reason I think we should use terms that are not exactly parallel. We should talk about The Voluntary Sector and The Coercive State.

Now, this basic concept can also be rendered in other ways. Just as the Eskimos are believed to have multiple words to describe snow (because the subject is so important to them), we too can benefit from having multiple ways to describe the distinction between The Voluntary Sector and The Coercive State. For instance, we could talk about . . .

  • The Peaceful Sector
  • The Violent State
  • The Choice Sector
  • The Monopoly State

The important thing is to strive to use terms that focus on the most crucial distinctions . . .

  • The Voluntary Sector uses peaceful means to give us a variety of choices
  • The Coercive State uses violent means to restrict our choices in a monopolistic way

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This essay is copyrighted by Perry Willis -- (c) 2011. It will be part of an upcoming book. Permission to re-distribute or re-print this message for non-profit educational purposes is granted and encouraged, as long as proper attribution is given, and you provide a link to the original source. Permission to use this message for commercial purposes is denied.