Sunday, December 18, 2011

Voluntary Coercion: Is It Really Voluntary? Is It Really Coercion?

Have trouble getting up in the morning? Perhaps the negative consequences aren't big enough.

You can make the consequences as big as you want, though, by using this super keen money destroying alarm clock!

Couldn't be simpler. You just have to decide how big a prospective loss will be big enough to motivate you to get out of bed, and then put that amount of cash in the shredder hopper. Then, when the alarm goes off, you have one minute to get up and turn off the money killer. If you don't, it starts LOUDLY shredding your cash.

Since it goes one bill at a time, you might put a $1, a $5, a $10, a $20, a $50, and then some $100s. If it shreds slowly but loudly, say one bill every 30 second, you can "buy" an extra minute of nappy-nap for $6. But then the price goes up rapidly.

Now, I never have trouble getting up, and usually wake before the alarm. So stuff like this makes no sense to me. But it does raise some interesting questions.

1. The remorseless, mechanical money muncher is an effective commitment device. YOU put the money in, and you set the time you want it to start munching. So is it voluntary, or coercive, or both?

2. The advantage of the thing is the knowledge that it cannot be stopped, or argued with, or reasoned with. It will destroy unless you act the way you want to act, at the time you sign the "contract." But you do NOT want to get up, when the alarm actually goes off. (If you are the sort of person who might need this clock, that is.) Isn't this a pretty good description of the state? We agree to be coerced, if we disobey. And the state has no discretion, because it punishes all transgressions equally.

3. Should the thing be legal? After all, destruction of money is a federal crime. Of course, the point of the clock is that you will NOT destroy the money; that's why you put the money in a place where it COULD be destroyed.

UPDATE: Chris Conover comments, on Facebook: It's a great idea that technically, the state deems illegal. That, in a nutshell, describes too much of what the state does these days: prohibiting voluntary (read: mutually beneficial) acts between consenting adults. In this case, if the state were to enforce its ban on destroying currency, it would be prohibiting a consenting act between one's present and future self.


  1. BDSM. Only ... it's not coercion if there's a safeword, and if it is coercion then it's illegal if the bottom really changes their mind.

    Just like enforcible contracts always have an alternative to performance of the contract, like penalties.

  2. Great example of a pre-commitment strategy. My only quibble concerns your comparison with the state: I certainly don't recall consenting to be coerced.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?