Cooperation not Coercion

If your business model requires you to force people to do something they don’t want to do, you are doomed. – From a seminar I attended

When we debate the virtues of the free market vs. governmental enterprises we should really emphasize the cooperative aspects of the free market more than we do.

This is a blinding flash of the obvious to some of the folks reading this, but it wasn’t obvious to me until very recently. Judging by the arguments I hear or read conservatives make it is not obvious to at least some other folks.

For all of my adult life I have been involved in getting groups of people to work together towards common goals. First as an infantry officer in the Army and most recently as a project manager and process improvement consultant in the information technology field.

I have made some observations about my experience:

Coercion is sometimes necessary, but it is hard to accomplish, unpleasant to do, inefficient and very often unsuccessful. But it really appeals to some folks.

Cooperation often looks inefficient and disorganized, takes patience to create and maintain, but if you can get it, it works really, really well. And cooperation appeals to a lot more people than coercion.

A lot of people who talk about cooperation, really mean coercion.

For cooperation to be effective it does not require everybody to take part; just enough people to get the job done, or make a profit, or support a volunteer fire company, or a museum etc.

I was trying to work this into something coherent but, as usual, the wisdom of my innate laziness allowed me to wait until I found someone who could state things better than I could. Take a look at this:


To which I will add these thoughts:

  • Conservatives tend to emphasize the freedom and competition of the free market. Those concepts resonate with us. But, I have noticed that a lot, perhaps the majority, of people, really don’t like confrontation. When we say competition they hear confrontation. And, I have noticed, a lot of people really are scared of freedom. We say freedom and they hear: “alone”. And they are not cowards, idiots or wanna-be serfs. If you have ever been really alone, in the middle of nowhere or even a dangerous somewhere, you probably have had the same feeling. Everybody makes puppy noises sometime.

  • Cooperation is pretty appealing to everyone. The most independent and type A among us call it teamwork, or “making a deal” or maybe “being neighborly”. But, as the Jonah Goldberg article and the Leonard Read article he cited point out, they are talking about cooperation. This cooperation can reach such scale and complexity that is beyond the ability of most organizations to intentionally design it.

My conclusion is that when we are talking about how to best organize ourselves to meet our needs and solve our problems we should emphasize the superior cooperative aspects of the free market as much or more than the need to preserve our freedom and the benefits of competition.

Whenever someone says “We need to do something!” and proposes a giant new federal program to do it. We should say: “We should do something and we think it is better to rely on cooperation rather than coercian” and point to some real life examples of how the big government programs like the one proposed have been costly, coercive and ineffective in contrast to cooperative enterprises, whether for profit or non-profit.

A quick example. When Hilary Clinton put together her health care proposal back in the 90’s, one of the most effective arguments against it was when someone did a count of all the times the bill provided for jail time, fines, loss of licenses or other coercive mechanisms. That is all a lot of people needed to hear. Yeah universal “free” health care sounds great until people understood the unavoidable coercive nature of any such program. The Obam team avoided that problem by selling us a “pig in a poke” when they rushed the bill into law without ever producing an authoritative record of the bill before the vote.

However, in most other cases that isn’t possible. And our constant argument should be (in most cases) “cooperation not coercion”.