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Voluntary, involuntary, and trust associations

20 January, 2016 - 15:59

The fact that there are two kinds of action which can create an association with another person suggests one basis for classifying associations into different types. The additional fact that there are always at least two parties to an association (the actor and the person whose satisfaction is changed by the actor) provides an additional basis for defining types of association. The first person's action either takes place with the consent of the person to be affected, or it is unilateral, without the affected person's consent.

Combining these two considerations we find three possible types of association (and one impossible type!) as shown in Table 2.2:

Table 2.2 Types of Association
  Sanctions Inducements
Unilateral 1. Involuntary associations 2. Trusteeship associations
Mutual consent (Impossible!) 3. Voluntary associations

An involuntary association is created by the unilateral imposition or the threat of sanctions. They may be extremely gross or high subtle. A grossly involuntary association exists, for example, when the victim hands over his wallet in response to the robber's threats. This association involves a sanction that will be imposed unless the victim cooperates, and if the victim could have nothing at all to do with the robber he would gladly do so. But there is no such choice, for their relationship has been unilaterally established by the robber.

Air pollution exemplifies a more subtle involuntary association. Here, the sanction is imposed but not threatened, and the polluting companies, for example, have no desire to manipulate the actions of others. They merely want to achieve cheaply what otherwise would be more costly. They dump waste products from their enterprise into the atmosphere. The pollution is a sanction because it reduces attainments of the people who breathe the air—their long-term health and longevity and the general attractiveness of environment. If the magnitude of the sanction is great enough to be perceived, then an association is created between the company and the people breathing the air and that association is involuntary.

A second type of association, which we will call trusts, is created by unilaterally conferring inducements. The most familiar example is the association between parents and children in the nuclear family. Children, especially when very young, are in no position to give or to withhold consent to associate with their parents. The association is created unilaterally by the parents, but their actions—creating, housing, feeding, clothing the child—are inducements from the child's point of view.

Voluntary associations, a third type, are created by the exchange or transfer of inducements or expected inducements by mutual consent. Traditional difficulties fitting the family into general social analysis may derive from its two-dimensionality. Although it is a trust association between the parents (jointly) and their children, it is a voluntary association between husband and wife. Voluntary associations can be far larger than a family. Four of the predominant institutions in modern America —corporations, labor unions, political parties, and churches—are basically voluntary associations.

The fourth combination of types —sanctions by mutual consent—can exist only when sanctions are falsely expected to be inducements by the party who consents to them. (Since sanctions reduce another person's net satisfaction below what it would be if the actor did nothing at all. Naturally, no one who sees it for what it is would consent to such an action.) Instead of recognizing a fourth type of association, "mistakes", we will regard these as a special type of voluntary associations. Hence, the definition of voluntary associations is in terms of inducements or expected inducements.