October 20, 2012
I hit a nerve whenever I write about voting and democracy.
Point out the sheer lunacy of the civic religion and a certain group of readers will blow their stacks, sending back long emails stuffed with long words, calling me things like “intellectually vacuous” and insisting I’m full of “self-aggrandizement.”
Such is the case with an email from Laissez Faire Today reader B.R., who says he doesn’t normally like to start his criticisms with name-calling but believes the idea of not voting is “so astounding” that it “requires an equally strong tactic to stop its momentum in its tracks.”
I hate to break it to B.R., but the nonvoting train left the station a long time ago. For the last 50 years, 40-50% of eligible voters have chosen to stay home on presidential Election Days. President Obama’s campaign in 2008 actually pumped life into the election process.
However, since the promised changes never occurred, Americans will likely stay home on Nov. 6. We can only hope. Meanwhile, globally, Wikipedia reports that voter turnout has decreased five percentage points over the past four decades.
BR then proceeds to school me on “the four basic types of government power acquisition.” So BR’s assumption is that government must acquire power. Individual sovereignty is out of the question. He says that government power is inherited, bestowed, seized, or chosen.
Therefore, since I’m not for choosing, I, according to BR, “must be in favor of despotism and tyranny. This is where logic must take us.”
B.R. is assuming that since we have elections in the U.S., we don’t have tyranny or despotism. I would contend that we have both. The tyranny of the majority has elected despots at every level of government from the local school board to the president of the United States.
Why is that? Democracy itself is the problem. It attracts the wrong people to leadership positions. As F.A. Hayek famously argued in The Road to Serfdom, in politics, the worst get on top, and he outlined three reasons this is so. First, Hayek makes the point that people of higher intelligence have different tastes and views. So, as Hayek writes, “We have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive instincts prevail,” to have uniformity of opinion.
Second, those on top must “gain the support of the docile and gullible,” who are ready to accept whatever values and ideology are drummed into them. Totalitarians depend upon those who are guided by their passions and emotions, rather than critical thinking.
Finally, leaders don’t promote a positive agenda, but a negative one of hating an enemy and envy of the wealthy. To appeal to the masses, leaders preach an “us” against “them” program.
“Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things,” Hayek explains. “The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule.”
Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” has something to do with it. Maslow’s hierarchy is taught in most business management classes and is depicted as a pyramid.
Maslow’s view was that the basic human needs — thirst, hunger, breathing — must be satisfied before humans can accomplish or worry about anything else. The next level of the pyramid is the need for safety. After satisfying thirst and hunger, humans are concerned about their continued survival. If a man is constantly worried about being eaten by a tiger, he doesn’t concern himself with much else.
Once other needs are satisfied, according to Maslow, humans seek the belonging and esteem needs. These first four needs are considered deficit needs. If a person is lacking, there is a motivation to fill that need. Once the particular need is filled, the motivation abates.
This makes these needs different from the need at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, the need for self-actualization. The need for self-actualization is never satisfied, and Maslow referred to it as a being need.
Maslow believed only 2% of humans become self-actualized. That means many are stuck a step or more below seeking actualization.
Maslow described lower and higher esteem needs. And while the higher form of esteem calls for healthy attributes such as freedom, independence, confidence, and achievement, the lower form “is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, even dominance.”
Most psychological problems manifest themselves in this lower esteem area. We see these qualities displayed by virtually all politicians in democracy: the constant need for status and recognition. The ends — compensating for an inferiority complex — justify whatever Machiavellian means.
So while B.R. thinks democracy is so hot, the fact that democracy is open to any and all who can get themselves elected either through connections, personality, or personal wealth means it is a social system where leadership positions become a hotbed for sociopaths.
B.R. doesn’t sound like he’s too wild about inherited power — monarchies — but as Hans Hoppe points out in The Great Fiction, governments that will stay in the family have much more incentive not to steal from their citizens, as opposed to short-term caretakers in a democracy that have every incentive to take as much as they can in the short time that they will be in power.
B.R. contends that it is axiomatic that “All you need to do is convince a majority of the voters to agree with you and your position or candidate.”
The problem is that democracy promotes the opposite of freedom. As Hoppe explains:
“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.’”
One assumes B.R. is a productive person who believes that he can influence other productive people into joining his cause and electing the right politicians who will enact the right (or get rid of the wrong) laws. History, I’m afraid has just flat proved B.R. wrong.
In a recent interview, Hoppe — the author of The Great Fiction: Property, Economy, Society and the Politics of Decline, which can be yours free, along with so much more, if you become a member of the Laissez Faire Club — explained:
“It is democracy that is causally responsible for the fatal conditions afflicting us now. The number of productive people is constantly decreasing, and the number of people parasitically consuming the income and wealth of this dwindling number of productive people is increasing steadily. This can’t work in the long run.”
Finally, B.R. accuses me of triangulation. That I’m setting myself up to be “above it all.” My no vote message make me feel better, “but it’s, in fact, harmful,” he writes. “If the ‘good’ among us refrain from participating, then only the ‘corrupt’ will participate and, by default, own government.”
However, in the words of Sy Leon, “A choice between the politicians is not a choice — it is a surrender.” It is a surrender to the idea that these empty suits we elect actually run the government day to day. That a vote for this one or that one will prompt change in Washington or your nearest state capital or city hall.
No matter who wins, the government gets elected. The millions of government employees will wake up on Nov. 7 and trudge off to their assigned work areas. They will march to the beat of their bureaucratic drummer — just like any other day. They will do all they can to spend their budgets, keep their jobs, and convince elected officials they are important. They never go away. The elected politicians and their political appointees are transitory decorations; the real structures of the nation-state are permanent and constitute the core of what is called “the state.”
The idea that you can change all this by spending a few quality minutes making your enlightened choices in a voting booth is complete fantasy. There comes a time in a person’s life when they should face the facts and stop believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and change through politics.
H.L. Mencken wrote, “The average American legislator is not only an ass, but also an oblique, sinister, depraved, and knavish fellow.”
This is not company you want to keep or endorse. To do so makes you even worse.
Douglas E. French is senior editor of the Laissez Faire Club. He received his master’s degree under the direction of Murray N. Rothbard at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after many years in the business of banking. He is the author of two books, Early Speculative Bubbles and Increases in the Supply of Money, the first major empirical study of the relationship between early bubbles and the money supply, and Walk Away, a monograph assessing the philosophy and morality of strategic default. He is founder and editor of LibertyWatch.