Monday, November 29, 2010

Societal Change Without Government Force

In Issue 10 Carl shares with us an example of a societal problem that was solved without government intervention: the move to the standard time zone. According to this article, the need for time zones didn’t really exist until the railroad industry began. People were moving faster across the continent which increased the need for accurate coordinated timekeeping, particularly when it came to figuring out rail schedules.

The article goes into detail about how organizations were formed to resolve this issue and although it sounds like it was still pretty difficult and tricky to coordinate, a plan was created. As you might expect, there were those who objected and didn’t want to be controlled by the railroad industry. But in the end, most people saw the benefits of the change which was officially completed on November 18th, 1883.

There are two important points made in this article about government. One is that these time zones were well in place before any government organization made them “official” and the other point is that government force was not used on anyone to get compliance. Carl writes:

“Any old curmudgeon who wanted to continue operating on his old time had the right to do so. He might miss his train or be late for the movies, but no one would throw him in jail for refusing to live by standard railroad time. The fact that the large number of people living around him operated on standard time would be the strongest inducement possible for him to change his habits. Public opinion has the power to change behavior and influence our activities in ways that legislation and government cannot touch. Peaceful, evolutionary change based on the voluntary principle is the voluntaryist way, not the resort to either bullets or ballots. Thus, this history of standard time proves that voluntary social movements can achieve important and long lasting improvements without resorting to governments or coercion.”

This makes me think of one particular societal change that’s happened here locally and in many other areas concerning smoking in restaurants. My biggest disappointment in relation to smoking laws is that I could see that changes were already happening spontaneously simply because society was beginning to demand change. As more and more people rejected smoking, more and more places of business became interested in serving them in smoke-free environments.

Yet there were those who were not content to let this change happen freely and spontaneously, no, they wanted ALL restaurants to change and conform IMMEDIATELY and they were willing to use government force to make it happen. This is too bad because I could see it was happening already and government did not need to be involved at all.

But instead we just ended up with another “example” of why we need government. If only we could have given it more time.

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