There are things we can accomplish as individuals and there are things that we can more effectively and efficiently achieve collectively. For the latter, we create what are called institutions to serve as instruments for getting things done. The lunch club introduced previously is a simple example of an institution.
The club, like all institutions, is an abstract entity. It does not have a physical existence other than the existence of the individual entities that constitute it. The members of the club exist physically but the club is only a set of rules that members of the club agree to abide by. The club exists in some Platonic realm though the benefits it provides to its members are tangible.
The benefits of the lunch club include companionship, the opportunity for discussions, etc. But there are costs too. For example, when the club chooses a particular cuisine on some occasion that is not to your liking, you incur a cost. When you join the lunch club, you weigh all the costs and benefits of joining. You join the club because you figure that the benefits exceed the costs.
The existence of any institution, thus, depends on whether the benefits exceed the costs as subjectively and objectively evaluated by the members. The lunch club continues to operate only as long as there are people who receive net benefits from membership. Being a member means abiding by the club rules. So now we come to the rules.
The rules fundamentally define the institution. Different sets of rules give rise to different institutions. In our simple lunch club, the rules are these:
- Anyone can apply to join the lunch club
- Existing members decide by a simple majority vote to admit a new member or not
- Anyone can stop being a member of the club without having to show cause
- Existing members may decide by a simple majority vote to terminate any member without having to show cause
- The lunch club meets every Wednesday at a restaurant
- The restaurant is chosen by a simple majority vote by the members present on the day of the lunch
- All members present must go for lunch to the chosen restaurant
- The apportioning of the cost of the lunch will be determined just before ordering of the lunch
- The style of the lunch — family style or individual style — will be determined by voting before lunch
- Unanimity is required for changing the rules of the club
That set of 10 rules is the “constitution” of the club. The constitution is binding on the members. A person knows before joining what being a member means. Specifically, the benefit of going out to lunch with nice people; and the cost of losing the freedom of privately choosing where to have lunch on Wednesdays.
Joining the club is voluntary (rule #1), conditional on being accepted by the club (rule #2). Therefore there is a barrier to entry. Furthermore, once you become a member, you are subject to coercion by the club — you are coerced into going to lunch to a restaurant that is not necessarily of your choosing. This illustrates an important point: that coercion by the collective is justified only if the member with full knowledge of the rules agrees to freely join the club.
Mark Twain Groucho Marx famously joked that he’d never be a member of a club that would have him as a member. Any club whose standards are so low as to admit him is a club that he would reject. But more serious than not joining a club is the problem of joining a club that you can never exit.
In our lunch club there are no barriers to exist (rule #3). Unlike the Hotel California (where “you can never leave”), you can stop being a member at will.
This is a serious issue. Collectives that don’t allow free exit are evil. Most nations are of that kind. For instance, the southern states wanted to secede from the United States of America. The northern states won the Civil War (1861- 1865) and forced the southern states to continue to be in the union.
I think it says something about a nation if the only way to keep it in one piece is the use of extreme violence. I would never agree to join any club that will not allow me to leave at will.
I am not against collectives at all. They are extremely useful. But they have to be voluntary. The root of nearly all evil in the modern world has been collectives that prohibit secession. OK, enough for now. In future bits, I will continue to examine the nature of clubs (collectives), constitutions (rules), democracy, etc.