Re: Down With Democracy?

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Thu Oct 04 2001 - 23:00:02 MDT

On Wednesday, October 03, 2001 3:48 AM Charlie Stross
> Okay, here it is again, along with my comments. Note that this is just
> the bits I snipped out -- I'm in the grip of a bad dose of RSI right now
> so I am _not_ going to do a detailed rebuttal to the entire article.

Hope you are well...

>> Down With Democracy by Hans-Hermann Hoppe
>> from
>> 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. ...
> This assumes that democracy comes with no system of checks and balances.

True, though every extant version of democracy -- if by that we means
societies where the government is elected into power -- there are systematic
instances where property rights are violated, such as taxes, eminent domain,
seizures, and the like. Also, what is up for grabs usually changes and
generally expands. E.g., in the US today, people are taxed at historically
higher rates. While there might be a tax reduction in certain areas, the
overall trend is upwards.

This upward pace accelerated with the transition from monarchies to
democracies between the 1700s and the 20th century. (Monarchies are no
angels either, though historically they were more restrained in taxation and
the like. Hoppe, in his _Democracy -- The God that Failed: The Economics
and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order_, argues that this is
because monarchs have an interest in increasing their future income, while
democratic rulers only have an incentive to consume during their term of
office. I'm not sure if I buy that. The historical data fits with his
view, but it also fits with the view that traditions have been broken in the
past 200 years which restrained lots of things, good and bad.)

> As it happens, all the participants in a democracy have a personal
> incentive for preserving their own property rights -- their own.

This depends on the system as a whole. Naturally, each person has an
incentive for her or his own self-interest -- almost by definition.:)
However, if the social context is such that private property in some area is
not respected, then people will not attach as much value to it. This
explains the classic tragedy of commons problem.

In extant democracies, there are, to be sure, movements to defend property
rights. E.g., in the US, there's a whole movement that sprung up in the
wake of environmental legislation that effectively revoked much private
property. However, the general incentive in such systems is not to protect
what's yours so much as to get what isn't yours. People, in general, don't
think about the long term consequences of policy but mostly of short run
gains. This is why when biased laws are passed -- and I've been a firsthand
witness to many on the local level -- because most people don't have much of
an incentive to stand up against them. If, e.g., all Americans are being
taxed one penny to pay for some pork project, then each of us has an
incentive of exactly one penny to fight that. (Surely, some of us might
take a longer range view, seeing that one penny as part of a larger whole
and it's impact whne rolled together with all 290 million pennies, but most
people aren't going to look past the penny.) However, imagine a small group
of, say, ten people is going to recieve that one penny from each American.
That small group will get, on average $2.9 million. That's worth putting up
to -- you got it! -- $2.9 million in effort to get at.

The same reasoning applies to other government projects. Each project that
is offered up as helping the community always really helps certain specific
people -- or certain people more than others. (Often even with poverty
relief, the poor don't get most of the benefit.) For example, government
bailouts of the investors -- in the Mexican bailout of the early 1990s, the
IMF loans to the Far East during the late 1990s, the arranged bailout of
LTCM by Alan Greenspan -- were all proportedly meant to help the whole
economy -- of the US or even of the world. In essence, what actually
happened was US taxpayers funded reckless investments by mostly US brokers.

> This
> is maximized in societies where social mobility -- upwards, as well
> as downwards -- is maximized; the greater Joe Average's prospects for
> maximizing their personal wealth, the greater the incentive Joe Average
> has for not over-taxing the very rich.

Hoppe brings up a point about class consciousness in __Democracy -- The God
that Failed_ that speaks to this matter. Under monarchy, he argues, that
since those who rule and those who are ruled are basically hermetically
separated, with rare exception, the ruled have an incentive to watch and
attempt to keep their freedoms and prerogatives. Since there's no exchange
between the classes, there's no hope of losing some capability in general so
that one might have some privilige later on.

> He's also neatly side-stepped the issue of constitutional or basic laws
> that prevent a democracy from making fundamental changes without achieving
> near-unanimous, as opposed to majority, support. Bring in such provisions
> and his whole argument falls through.

Not so. Constitutional limits on power have been sidestepped or ignored in
too many instances to seriously make this a good counterargument. A
constitution or other limits on power are only good if people actually
respect them -- whether because those in power have internalized such limits
or because there are counterveiling forces.

>> .... The rich are characteristically
>> bright and industrious, and the poor typically dull, lazy, or both.
> He missed out "sickly" or "unlucky".
> I have a friend who has a medical degree. She's damn near bankruptcy. Not
> through high living, but because she didn't get on with the medical
> establishment, and so went into practice as a homeopath -- then had a run
> of really bad luck (buying a home in a neighbourhood where property values
> were going downhill, moving out and leasing it to an asshole who defaulted
> on the rent and skipped out of the country, that sort of thing).

Your point being?

> Hoppe is advancing an argument based on social determinism, not realism:
> in
> his universe, everybody gets what they deserve. We, as extropians, are
> supposed to believe in self-improvement. A corollary of this is that it's
> possible for *other* people to improve ... including those who we might
> currently see as social basket-cases. Whereas Hoppe is espousing the
> position "once a peasant, always a peasant".

I'm not sure he's advancing that point. It seems to me he's saying that if
something befalls someone, others should not be forced to make good for the
befalling -- unless they are to blame, in the conventional sense of the
word. E.g., I'm not to blame for your doctor friend's financial situation,
so I should not be taxed to help her out. (Granted, you and I might help
her out, but we should not be forced to do so.) The same logic applies to
the dull, lazy, etc.

If this were the case, too, I think lots of people would help them out, but
it would be limited and there would be no positive feedback loop created
between antisocial behavior and the state. And this comes down to the issue
of improving people in general. If you really want to improve people, then
don't take away all relevant reasons to improve.

Imagine, e.g., trying to teach someone calculus by giving her or him the
answers to the test and disregarding whether she or he studied or made any
effort. If you did that to everyone, with the exception of a few math
geeks, most people would not learn. The same thing happens when you set up
an institutional framework where learning -- how to create wealth, get a
job, do something useful -- is independent of results. (Doesn't this
explain why a lot of well off kids wind up doing nothing and often they
spend spend spend their parents' wealth?)

I don't want to go over everything in your criticisms. I think this is
enough for now.


Daniel Ust

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