Down with Democracy

Expansion of the franchise to one-man-one-vote has set in motion a seemingly permanent tendency toward wealth and income redistribution.

By Hans-Hermann Hoppe
  • Monday, November 15, 2004

Imagine a world government, democratically elected according to the principle of one-man-one-vote.

What would the probable outcome of an election be? Most likely, we would get a Chinese-Indian coalition. And what would this government most likely decide to do in order to satisfy its supporters and be re-elected? It would probably find that the 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 systematic wealth and income redistribution is called for.

Or imagine, for your own country, that the right to vote was expanded to 7-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 "adequate and equal" access to "free" hamburgers, lemonade and videos.

In light of these "thought experiments," is there any doubt about the consequences of the process of democratization in Europe and the United States since the second half of the 19th century? 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 redistribution.

One-man-one-vote combined with "free entry" into government -- democracy -- entails 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. Majorities of "have-nots" will relentlessly try to enrich themselves at the expense of minorities of "haves."

This is not to say that the redistribution will be uniformly one from the rich onto the poor. To the contrary, it would be a sociological blunder to assume that will be the sole or even the predominant form of redistribution. After all, the "rich" and the "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 "non-poor," and frequently it will actually be the better-off who get themselves subsidized by the worse-off. Just consider the almost universal practice of offering "free" university educations, whereby members of the working class, whose children rarely attend universities, are made to pay for the education of middle-class children!

The key to an understanding of the present age is recognizing it is characterized by the conjunction of two fundamental principles: That democracy is a machinery of popular wealth and income redistribution, and that one will end up getting more of whatever it is that is being subsidized.

All redistribution, regardless of the criterion on which it is based, involves taking from the original owners and/or producers and "giving" to non-owners and non-producers. The incentive to be an original owner or producer of the thing in question is thus 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 subsidizing malingerers, neurotics, the careless, alcoholics and drug addicts through insurance regulation and compulsory health insurance, there will be more illness, malingering, neuroticism, carelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.

Most importantly, by compelling private property owners and/or market income earners 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 and their employees cannot earn incomes unless they produce goods or services that are sold in markets. The buyers' purchases are voluntary. By buying a good or service, the buyers 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 that 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. 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. 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.

After less than 100 years of democracy and redistribution, the predictable results are in. For several decades, 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, incivility, psychopathy, hedonism and crime -- has increased. If current trends continue, it is safe to say that the Western welfare-state social democracy will collapse just as Russian-style socialism collapsed in the late 1980s.

The central task ahead of those wanting to turn the tide and prevent an outright breakdown, then, is the "delegitimization" of the idea of democracy and its recognition as the root cause of the present state of progressive "decivilization." To this purpose, one could 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 United States -- nowadays considered the model of a democracy -- were strictly opposed to such a system. Without a single exception, they thought of democracy as nothing but mob rule. Considering themselves members of a "natural aristocracy," they advocated an aristocratic republic rather than a democracy.

More importantly, it must be made clear again that the idea of democracy is immoral as well as uneconomical. Majority rule 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 moral outrage. Democracy and democrats, rather than being treated with respect, should be treated with open contempt and ridiculed as moral frauds.

On the other hand, as for the economic justifications often offered for 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.

Lastly, in order to approach the goal of a non-exploitative social order, the idea of majoritarianism should be turned against democratic rule itself. Under any form of governmental rule, including democracy, the "ruling class" (politicians and civil servants) makes up only a small proportion of the total population. While it is possible that 100 parasites may lead a comfortable life on the products of 1,000 hosts, 1,000 parasites cannot live off of 100 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 thus to decide, democratically, to take voting rights away from government employees and everyone who receives government benefits -- whether welfare recipients or government contractors.

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 most "right" -- with the consequences predicted at the outset of this essay. 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 and villages -- 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 judgment, 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 and freely financed peacekeepers, judges and overlapping jurisdictions -- a pure private law society -- as the answer to democracy and any other form of political (coercive) rule.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute; and editor of The Journal of Libertarian Studies. "Democracy: The God That Failed," from which the above article was adapted for the Nevada Policy Research Institute, is his eighth book. His website is www.hanshoppe.com.


blog comments powered by Disqus