Down With Democracy?

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Mon Oct 01 2001 - 08:55:01 MDT

Down With Democracy by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Imagine a world government, democratically elected according to the
principle of one-man-one-vote on a world wide scale. What would the probable
outcome of an election be? Most likely, we would get a Chinese-Indian
coalition government. And what would this government most likely decide to
do in order to satisfy its supporters and be reelected? The government would
probably find that the so-called Western world had far too much wealth and
the rest of the world, in particular China and India, had far too little,
and hence, that a systematic wealth and income redistribution would be
called for. Or imagine, for your own country, that the right to vote were
expanded to seven year olds. While the government would not likely be made
up of children, its policies would most definitely reflect the 'legitimate
concerns' of children to have 'adaequate' and 'equal' access to 'free'
hamburgers, lemonade, and videos.

In light of these 'thought experiments', is there any doubt about the
consequences which resulted from the process of democratization that began
in Europe and the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century and has
come to fruition since the end of World War I? The successive expansion of
the franchise and finally the establishment of universal adult suffrage did
within each country what a world democracy would do for the entire globe: it
set in motion a seemingly permanent tendency toward wealth and income

One-man-one-vote combined with 'free entry' into government - democracy -
implies that every person and his personal property comes within reach of -
and is up for grabs by - everyone else. A 'tragedy of the commons' is
created. It can be expected that majorities of 'have-nots' will relentlessly
try to enrich themselves at the expense of minorities of 'haves'. This is
not to say that there will be only one class of have-nots and one class of
haves, and that the redistribution will be uniformly one from the rich onto
the poor. To the contrary. While the redistribution from rich to poor will
always play a prominent role everywhere, it would be a sociological blunder
to assume that it will be the sole or even the predominant form of
redistribution. After all, the 'permanently' rich and the 'permanently' poor
are usually rich or poor for a reason. The rich are characteristically
bright and industrious, and the poor typically dull, lazy, or both. It is
not very likely that dullards, even if they make up a majority, will
systematically outsmart and enrich themselves at the expense of a minority
of bright and energetic individuals. Rather, most redistribution will take
place within the group of the 'non-poor', and frequently it will actually be
the better-off who succeed in having themselves subsidized by the worse-off.
Just think of the almost universal practice of offering a 'free' university
education, whereby the working class, whose children rarely attend
universities, is made to pay for the education of middle-class children!
Moreover, it can be expected that there will be many competing groups and
coalitions trying to gain at the expense of others. There will be various
changing criteria defining what it is that makes one person a 'have'
(deserving to be looted) and another a 'have-not' (deserving to receive the
loot). At the same time, individuals will be members of a multitude of
groups of 'haves' and/or 'have-nots', losing on account of one of their
characteristic and gaining on account of another, with some individuals
ending up net-losers and others net-winners of redistribution.

The recognition of democracy as a machinery of popular wealth and income
redistribution, then, in conjunction with one of the most fundamental
principles in all of economics - that one will end up getting more of
whatever it is that is being subsidized - provides the key to an
understanding of the present age.

All redistribution, regardless of the criterion on which it is based,
involves 'taking' from the original owners and/or producers (the 'havers' of
something) and 'giving' to non-owners and non-producers (the 'non-havers' of
something). The incentive to be an original owner or producer of the thing
in question is reduced, and the incentive to be a non-owner and non-producer
is raised. Accordingly, as a result of subsidizing individuals because they
are poor, there will be more poverty. In subsidizing people because they are
unemployed, more unemployment will be created. Supporting single mothers out
of tax funds will lead to an increase in single motherhood, 'illegitimacy',
and divorce. In outlawing child labor, income is transfered from families
with children to childless persons (as a result of the legal restriction on
the supply of labor, wage rates will rise). Accordingly, the birthrate will
fall. On the other hand, by subsidizing the education of children, the
opposite effect is created. Income is transfered from the childless and
those with few children to those with many children. As a result the
birthrate will increase. Yet then the value of children will again fall, and
birthrates will decline as a result of the so-called Social Security System,
for in subsidizing retirees (the old) out of taxes imposed on current income
earners (the young), the institution of a family - the intergenerational
bond between parents, grandparents, and children - is systematically
weakened. The old need no longer rely on the assistance of their children if
they have made no provision for their own old age, and the young (with
typically less accumulated wealth) must support the old (with typically more
accumulated wealth) rather than the other way around, as is typical within
families. Parents' wish for children, and children's wish for parents will
decline, family breakups and dysfunctional families will increase, and
provisionary action - saving and capital formation - will fall, while
consumption rises.

In subsidizing the malingerers, the neurotics, the careless, the alcoholics,
the drug addicts, the Aids-infected, and the physically and mentally
'challenged' through insurance regulation and compulsory health insurance,
there will be more illness, malingering, neuroticism, carelessness,
alcoholism, drug addiction, Aids infection, and physical and mental
retardation. By forcing non-criminals, including the victims of crime, to
pay for the imprisonment of criminals (rather than making criminals
compensate their victims and pay the full cost of their own apprehension and
incarceration), crime will increase. By forcing businessmen, through
'affirmative action' ('non-discrimination') programs, to employ more women,
homosexuals, blacks, or other 'minorities' than they would like to, there
will be more employed minorities, and fewer employers and fewer male,
heterosexual, and white employment. By compelling private land owners to
subsidize ('protect') 'endangered species' residing on their land through
environmental legislation, there will be more and better-off animals, and
fewer and worse-off humans.

Most importantly, by compelling private property owners and/or market income
earners (producers) to subsidize 'politicians', 'political parties', and
'civil servants' (politicians and government employees do not pay taxes but
are paid out of taxes), there will be less wealth formation, fewer producers
and less productivity, and ever more waste, 'parasites' and parasitism.

Businessmen (capitalists) and their employees cannot earn an income unless
they produce goods or services which are sold in markets. The buyers'
purchases are voluntary. By buying a good or service, the buyers (consumers)
demonstrate that they prefer this good or service over the sum of money that
they must surrender in order to acquire it. In contrast, politicians,
parties, and civil servants produce nothing which is sold in markets. No one
buys government 'goods' or 'services'. They are produced, and costs are
incurred to produce them, but they are not sold and bought. On the one hand,
this implies that it is impossible to determine their value and find out
whether or not this value justifies their costs. Because no one buys them,
no one actually demonstrates that he considers government goods and services
worth their costs, and indeed, whether or not anyone attaches any value to
them at all. From the viewpoint of economic theory, it is thus entirely
illegitimate to assume, as is always done in national income accounting,
that government goods and services are worth what it costs to produce them,
and then to simply add this value to that of the 'normal', privately
produced (bought and sold) goods and services to arrive at gross domestic
(or national) product, for instance. It might as well be assumed that
government goods and services are worth nothing, or even that they are not
"goods" at all but "bads"; hence, that the cost of politicians and the
entire civil service should be subtracted from the total value of privately
produced goods and services. Indeed, to assume this would be far more
justified. For on the other hand, as to its practical implications, the
subsidizing of politicians and civil servants amounts to a subsidy to
'produce' with little or no regard for the well-being of one's alleged
consumers, and with much or sole regard instead for the well-being of the
'producers', i.e., the politicians and civil servants. Their salaries remain
the same, whether their output satisfies consumers or not. Accordingly, as a
result of the expansion of 'public' sector employment, there will be
increasing laziness, carelessness, incompeence, disservice, maltreatment,
waste, and even destruction - and at the same time ever more arrogance,
demagogery, and lies ('we work for the public good').

After less than one hundred years of democracy and redistribution, the
predictable results are in. The 'reserve fund' that was inherited from the
past is apparently exhausted. For several decades (since the late 1960s or
the early 1970s), real standards of living have stagnated or even fallen in
the West. The 'public' debt and the cost of the existing social security and
health care system have brought on the prospect of an imminent economic
meltdown. At the same time, almost every form of undesirable behavior -
unemployment, welfare dependency, negligence, recklessness, uncivility,
psychopathy, hedonism and crime - has increased, and social conflict and
societal breakdown have risen to dangerous heights. If current trends
continue, it is safe to say that the Western welfare state (social
democracy) will collapse just as Eastern (Russian-style) socialism collapsed
in the late 1980s.

However, economic collapse does not automatically lead to improvement.
Matters can become worse rather than better. What is necessary besides a
crisis are ideas - correct ideas - and men capable of understanding and
implementing them once the opportunity arises. Ultimately, the course of
history is determined by ideas, be they true or false, and by men acting
upon and being inspired by true or false ideas. The current mess is also the
result of ideas. It is the result of the overwhelming acceptance, by public
opinion, of the idea of democracy. As long as this acceptance prevails, a
catastrophy will be unavoidable, and there is no hope for improvement even
after its arrival. On the other hand, once the idea of democracy is
recognized as false and vicious - and ideas can, in principle, be changed
almost instantaneously - a catastrophy can be avoided.

The central task ahead of those wanting to turn the tide and prevent an
outright breakdown is the 'delegitimation' of the idea of democracy as the
root cause of the present state of progressive 'decivilization'. To this
purpose, one should first point out that it is difficult to find many
proponents of democracy in the history of political theory. Almost all major
thinkers had nothing but contempt for democracy. Even the Founding Fathers
of the U.S., nowadays considered the model of a democracy, were strictly
opposed to it. Without a single exception, they thought of democracy as
nothing but mob-rule. They considered themselves to be members of a 'natural
aristocracy', and rather than a democracy they advocated an aristocratic
republic. Furthermore, even among the few theoretical defenders of democracy
such as Rousseau, for instance, it is almost impossible to find anyone
advocating democracy for anything but extremely small communities (villages
or towns). Indeed, in small communities where everyone knows everyone else
personally most people cannot but acknowledge that the position of the
'haves' is typically based on their superior personal achievement just as
the position of the 'have-nots' finds its typical explanation in their
personal deficiencies and inferiority. Under these circumstances, it is far
more difficult to get away with trying to loot other people and their
personal property to one's advantage. In distinct contrast, in large
territories encompassing millions or even hundreds of millions of people,
where the potential looters do not know their victims, and vice versa, the
human desire to enrich oneself at another's expense is subject to little or
no restraints.

More importantly, it must be made clear again that the idea of democracy is
immoral as well as uneconomical. As for the moral status of majority rule,
it must be pointed out that it allows for A and B to band together to rip
off C, C and A in turn joining to rip off B, and then B and C conspiring
against A, etc..This is not justice but a moral outrage, and rather than
treating democracy and democrats with respect, they should be treated with
open contempt and ridiculed as moral frauds. On the other hand, as for the
economic quality of democracy, it must be stressed relentlessly that it is
not democracy but private property, production, and voluntary exchange that
are the ultimate sources of human civilization and prosperity. In
particular, contrary to widespread myths, it needs to be emphasized that the
lack of democracy had essentially nothing to do with the bankruptcy of
Russian-style socialism. It was not the selection principle for politicians
that constituted socialism's problem. It was politics and political
decision-making as such. Instead of each private producer deciding
independently what to do with particular resources, as under a regime of
private property and contractualism, with fully or partially socialized
factors of production each decision requires someone else's permission. It
is irrelevant to the producer how those giving permission are chosen. What
matters to him is that permission must be sought at all. As long as this is
the case, the incentive of producers to produce is reduced and
impoverishment will result. Private property is as incompatible with
democracy, then, as with any other form of political rule. Rather than
democracy, justice as well as economic efficiency require a pure and
unrestricted private property society - an 'anarchy of production' - in
which no one rules anybody, and all producers' relations are voluntary, and
thus mutually beneficial.

Lastly, as for strategic considerations, in order to approach the goal of a
non-exploitative social order, i.e., a private property anarchy, the idea of
majoritarianism should be turned against democratic rule itself. Under any
form of governmental rule, including a democracy, the 'ruling class'
(politicians and civil servants) makes up only a small proportion of the
total population. While it is possible that one hundred parasites may lead a
comfortable life on the products of one thousand hosts, one thousand
parasites cannot live off of one hundred hosts. Based on the recognition of
this fact, it would appear possible to persuade a majority of the voters
that it is adding insult to injury to let those living off of other peoples'
taxes have a say in how high these taxes are, and to thus decide,
democratically, to take the right to vote away from all government employees
and everyone who receives government benefits, whether they are welfare
recipients or government contractors. In addition, in conjunction with this
strategy it is necessary to recognize the overwhelming importance of
secession and secessionist movements. If majority decisions are 'right',
then the largest of all possible majorities, a world majority and a
democratic world government, must be considered ultimately 'right' with the
consequences predicted at the outset of this article. In contrast, secession
always involves the breaking away of smaller from larger populations. It is
thus a vote against the principle of democracy and majoritarianism. The
further the process of secession proceeds - to the level of small regions,
cities, city districts, towns, villages, and ultimately individual
households and voluntary associations of private households and firms - the
more difficult it will become to maintain the current level of
redistributive policies. At the same time, the smaller the territorial
units, the more likely it will be that a few individuals, based on the
popular recognition of their economic independence, outstanding professional
achievement, morally impeccable personal life, superior judgement, courage,
and taste, will rise to the rank of natural, voluntarily acknowledged elites
and lend legitimacy to the idea of a natural order of competing
(non-monopolistic) and freely (voluntarily) financed peacekeepers, judges,
and overlapping jurisdictions as exists even now in the arena of
international trade and travel - a pure private law society - as the answer
to democracy and any other form of political (coercive) rule.

Copyright 2000 by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is professor economics at the University of Nevada, Las
Vegas, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala.

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