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Monthly Archives: April 2011

“Measuring” the Welfare State: The Dangers of Econometrics in Determining Policy

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In a 2003 article in the Journal called Social Forces, titled “Public Employment, Welfare Transfers, and Economic Well-Being across Local Populations: Does a Lean and Mean Government Benefit the Masses?,” Linda Lobao and Gregory Hooks set out to answer the question presented in the title of their article. They set out to examine whether “a larger public sector and more generous social welfare transfers help or harm local populations,” (519) and they use the US county level to examine statistics and make their case. They compare the decades 1970 – 1980 and 1980 – 1990 since these are two decades that are recognized as Keynesian, big government, and Post-Keynesian, minimalist government, respectively. Observing the impacts of the policies of these two decades, they argue, should provide empirical evidence as to which is most successful in promoting the “economic well-being of local populations.” However, as is always the case with econometrics and observing complex human interaction with statistical abstraction, causal factors for the trends observed are not established a priori and even the slight correlations that may be perceived in the presented data are not really strong enough to make a judgment, pro or con, regarding the authors arguments.

The authors present two schools of thought regarding public employment, welfare transfers, and size of government: the “neoliberal school, whose inspiration is neo-classical economics and liberal political philosophy, contends that where the state offers citizens minimalist social protection from [engages in minimalist intervention against] private market forces, economic development flourishes and general incomes will be higher;” the “Marxist…radical political economy schools,” interject “that in regions and periods where the state was more interventionist on behalf of citizens, incomes were higher and income inequality lower.” (520) The authors’ “neoliberal school” closely reflect the “liberal” welfare regime (they do not argue that this school seeks to abolish the welfare state just minimize it) as described by Esping-Andersen, who attributes include: “a limited array of governmental obligations, generally modest social benefit levels, strict criteria for eligibility, a preference for targeting public money very narrowly to the “needy” rather than the citizenry at large, and active encouragement of market solutions” for achieving economic well-being. (Hicks and Esping-Andersen, 2005, 512) The competing view presented by the authors fits Esping-Andersen’s “Institutional” Welfare State “by defining the scope of public welfare responsibilities extremely broadly, by giving high priority to social equality and redistribution, by actively attempting to secure citizen’s welfare ‘from cradle to grave,’ and by striving toward universalism in coverage and eligibility. (512)

The authors, very competently, present the neoliberal argument that “private market mechanisms, even when imperfect perform better than state planning. Government [intervention] inherently distorts competitive market processes operating among populations; the market interference is at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.” (523) They present four reasons that neoliberals say cause the negative effects of the welfare state: reduces labor supply by employing citizens in government or by allowing them to choose leisure over work due to welfare transfers; perverts business incentives by rewarding certain businesses or by increasing the cost of business by bidding up labor costs or raising costs through other egalitarian regulations; misallocates resources “toward undeserving and under performing populations,” regions, and businesses; and finally by pitting the interests of the poor, receivers of redistributive and egalitarian policies, and the non-poor, the providers of the resources that are being redistributed. (524-526) The consequences will be lower overall income, the atrophy of cultural and familial relationships, and an ever growing state that becomes more and more unchallengeable as dependency on it grows.

When presenting the contrary schools argument, Lobao and Hooks put forward very little effort to contradict the neoliberal schools arguments a priori. They a make a few ad hoc pleas, without much evidence or reasoning, that the conclusions of the neoliberal school are misguided but they mostly argue that the goals of the radical political economy schools are simply different: equality of outcomes through redistribution and increased overall income. (527-528)

The authors then set out to statistically show through econometrics how effectively the policies of both schools achieve the welfare state goal of reducing inequality and the shared goal of increasing overall income, the neoliberal is satisfied if all classes or individuals increase their wealth and do not concern themselves if certain groups or individuals gain wealth at a faster rate, thus increasing inequality while also increasing overall income. The authors focus their study on the county level econometrics of aggregate population since both schools have both done extensive research that “extrapolate[d] from national trends to anticipate sub-national shifts” in income and inequality. (528) The authors go into great detail on their methods of viewing the data, weighting variables, and testing hypothesis in an honest and rigorous effort to validate their analysis.

The authors analysis of the data indicates that in “counties with greater federal employment and where income transfers better cover the needy population…[there is] significantly higher median family income. Higher AFDC (Aid to Family with Dependent Children) benefits and a larger public adminstrative sector have no significant relationship to median family income. Only state/local government employment is significantly related to lower family income.” (537) The authors also found that “the state’s effect on income growth and redistribution showed no strong differences between Keynesian and post-Keynesian decades.” (538)

The Weakness in Lobao and Hooks’ Argument and in Econometrics in General

In the introduction to the first edition of his book, “America’s Great Depression,” Murray Rothbard describes the inherent flaws of econometrics:

“…economic theories cannot be “tested” by historical or statistical fact. These historical facts are complex and cannot, like the controlled and isolable physical facts of the scientific laboratory, be used to test theory. There are always many causal factors impinging on each other to form historical facts. Only causal theories a priori to these facts can be used to isolate and identify causal strands.” (xxxviii)

In other words, due to the complexity of society and human interaction the facts of given events, and especially the facts of general periods in history, cannot be isolated to test for causal relationships. Instead causal theory must be developed by tracing the logical connections from axiomatic principles, or self-evident truths. Also, due to the complexity of historical fact, the statistics that numerically represent these facts can be interpreted many ways and manipulated, sometime unintentionally or through neglect, to present an inaccurate picture, usually biased towards whatever the presenter is advocating. Many of these pitfalls, or techniques, can be quickly perused or understood from Darrell Huff’s, “How to Lie with Statistics.” Huff and others note that biased sampling, using the best looking average (mean, median, mode, and several other techniques exist), excluding relevant data (intentionally or because its existence is unknown), the correlation vs causation and post hoc fallacies(“b” comes after “a:, therefore “a” must cause “b”), incomparable or vague measures, etc. will lead to faulty analysis and unfortunately encountering some of the aforementioned problems to some degree is inevitable in all statistics. Rothbard goes on to explain how policy formulation plays out when based on econometrics:

“Suppose a theory asserts that a certain policy will cure a depression. The government, obedient to the theory, puts the policy in effect. The depression is not cured. The critics and advocates of the theory now leap to the fore with interpretations. The critics say that failure proves the theory incorrect. The advocates say that the government erred in not pursuing the theory boldly enough, and that what is needed is stronger measures in the same direction. Now the point is that empirically there is no possible way of deciding between them. Where is the empirical “test” to resolve the debate? How can government rationally decide upon its next step? Clearly, the only possible way of resolving the issue is in the realm of pure theory—by examining the conflicting premises and chains of reasoning.” (xxxix-xl)

In the case of the data presented by Lobao and Hooks, proponents of the neoliberal school could argue that neoliberal policies were not taken far enough and that is why they did not to have much, if any, impact on overall income growth, and they would have plenty of their own statistics to back it up. For example, Tax levels, as a percent of GDP, was unchanged in the 80s compared to the 70s (Even though the income tax was reduced, social insurance taxes were increased).(www.usgovernmentrevenue.com) Federal spending actually increased from 18-20 percent of GDP in the 70s to 21-23 percent in the 80s. (www.usgovernmentspending.com) Comparatively low prime interest rates for most of the 1970s and record high prime interest rates through the first half of the 1980s could also explain the expansion and contraction of the US economy during these time periods. Economic lag of decisions made in the previous decade, such as the dissolution of the Bretton-Woods agreement, which was the dollars last attachment to the gold standard, and a many many more reasons could be provided to explain overall income or even wage inequality differences between the two sampled decades. The authors themselves declare in their conclusion that there is “no strong differences between Keynesian and post-Keynesian decades.” (538) If there is no strong difference between decades, that seems to invalidate the rest of their analysis that one policy performed better than the other based on comparing the supposedly representative decades.

Policy regarding the welfare state is best considered by elaborating on the “basic axiom of the ‘right to self-ownership,’” which “asserts the absolute right of each man, by virtue of his (or her) being a human being, to ‘own’ his or her own body…[and] since each individual must think, learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and flourish, the right to self-ownership gives man the right to perform these vital activities without being hampered and restricted by coercive molestation. (Rothbard, 2006, 33-34) The next logical step is that if man owns himself, to include his will and his physical body, then he must own his labor which is their result. Further, once his labor is used to transform unclaimed, or unused, resources found in nature, the product is now also owned by that individual. This is the same idea expressed by English philosopher John Locke, who was a main source of inspiration for the founding fathers of the United States:

“…every man has property in his own person….the labour of his body and the work of his hands…are properly his. Whatsoever, then, he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined it to something that is his own, and thereby makes it property.” (Locke, 1948, 17-18)

If the above principles regarding “self-ownership” and basic property rights are accepted as true then there are only three ways to acquire property ethically. 1) Mix one’s labor with resources in their natural state. 2) Inheritance or gift, absent coercion. 3)Free exchange between consenting parties. Any other method would violate the basic axiom of self-ownership and the logical extensions of that axiom. The welfare state is the understood not as an answer of “Who gets what from government?” but instead as an answer to “Who gets what from whom through the coercive proxy known as government?” Government has to violate the self-ownership principle, and therefore either partially or wholly enslave individuals, in order to confiscate and then redistribute their property. This makes the welfare state and all other forms of coercion unethical simply to their assault on the natural right of self-ownership.

Works Cited

Lobao, Linda. (2003). Public Employment, Welfare Transfers, and Economic Well-Being across Local Populations: Does a Lean and Mean Government Benefit the Masses?. Social Forces, 82(2), 519-556.

Locke, John. (1948). An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government. In E. Barker (Ed.), Social Contract (17-18). New York: Oxford University Press.

Hicks, Alexander & Esping-Andersen, Gosta. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M.
Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (509-525). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Huff, Darrell. (1993). How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton and Company, Inc.

Rothbard, Murray N. (2005). America’s Great Depression. (5th ed.) Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Rothbad, Murray N. (2006). For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (2nd Ed.) Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Filed under Economics, Politics
Apr 29, 2011

Immigration Policy and Private Property

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In an article titled, “The Politics of Immigration and National Integration,” Thomas Janoski and Fengjuan Wang declare that due to recent trends, such as the exit of the baby boomers from the work force, economic hardships, and globalization, the politics of immigration is moving from being a background issue for most people to an “explosive issue” that “will be a cauldron of emotion and wills for the next half century.” (630) They also set out to “provide a complex explanation of immigration and naturalization laws” that explains the both the points of view of sender and receiver nations, as well as the support and opposition towards immigration that has almost always crossed party lines. (653) However, it is more likely that universal principles that apply to all human action, immigration / emigration are not exceptions, will be able to bring further clarity to these theories and will also lead to an ethical understanding of how best to address the issue of immigration. The foundation of true liberty is private property, that stems from the right of self-ownership, and it is also the ethical response to immigration and even though this theory will be shown to not be complex in nature, the required paradigm shift from government’s desire to control and people’s dependence on government control will be quite difficult to accomplish.

Janoski and Wang describe how both support and opposition to immigration, in the receiving country, is bi-partisan and bridges interest groups that are normally at odds. Supporters of expanded immigration policy has usually been made up of “largely Democratic ‘cosmopolitans’ who wanted an expansion of citizenship,” that would likely lead to an expanded voter base; and also, “’free market expansionists’ who were more interested in easing labor shortages.” (631) The opposition has been traditionally made up of labor and welfare state advocates, both groups tend to be largely Democratic, who seek to restrict immigration in order to protect the jobs and benefits of existing citizens against competition from immigrants who are usually eligible and possess the appropriate skills to compete with those most dependent on these policies. The other traditional opposition group has been cultural conservatives who wish to preserve the existing culture and limit the influence of “outsiders” on policy or society as a whole. Janoski and Wang then describe four types of politics that decide immigration policy in a receiving country based on how diffuse the costs and/or benefits are: interest group politics, clientelist politics, entrepreneurial politics, and majoritarian politics. However, the overarching theory of cost-benefit analysis is sufficient to provide the causal factors for both support and opposition to immigration. Those who support immigration seek to expand immigration in order to expand their political or member base; lower labor costs; or perceive it is as a means to some other subjective goal. Opposition wishes to protect the status quo or existing citizens, or they also see further expansion of immigration as a threat to their subjective goals. Immigrants themselves perceive that exchanging their current situation for a situation in which they are pressured to assimilate and forced to interact with foreign cultures and people will beneficial in achieving their individual goals. Sending nations support emigration so long as the perceive potential gain from remittances or the return of a more experienced work force; and they oppose emigration when it erodes their revenue base or is subversive in nature.

Since all sides are seeking their own economic benefit, according to what they value most, they are all justified in either their support or opposition. The problem then becomes how can there be an overarching policy that addresses all of their just concerns? The answer is you can’t and if you try you will be arbitrarily choosing winners and losers in the debate and coercing one side to “accept” the views of another group. The most ethical response then is to not have a centralized or overarching policy but many policies based on the preferences of individuals or ideologically homogenous communities and private property as explained by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in, “Democracy—The God that Failed:”

“All land is privately owned, including streets, rivers, airports, harbors, and so on. With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property owned by others. With respect to to other territories, the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (voluntary zoning), which might include residential versus commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, [or even as far as] no sale to Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or without children, or smokers for example.

Clearly, under this scenario no such thing as freedom of immigration exists. Rather, many independent private property owners have the freedom to admit or exclude others from their own property in accordance with their own unrestricted or restricted property titles.” (2007, 139)

The end result would be that all groups could pursue their economic interests and values simultaneously and while some communities may have restrictive limitations that are repulsive to the mainstream, the result will be self-segregation of people who hold those repulsive views into their own communities. Also, those communities that have the most successful immigration policies will be imitated by other communities seeking prosperity until the majority of communities strike the most optimal balance in immigration policy.

Works Cited:

Janoski, Thomas A. & Wang, Fengjuan. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (630-654). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. (2007). Democracy—The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Filed under Immigration, Politics
Apr 29, 2011

On Bureaucracy: Mises Versus Weber

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When people think of government, specifically democratic government, they think of politicians or elected officials. They imagine representatives whose power is temporary and can be influenced by possibility of losing popular support and elections. However, “bureaucracy is the largest part of any government if measured by the number of people engaged or by fund expended” and is defined as “the totality of government offices or bureaus that constitute the permanent government of a state.” (Oszlak, 2005, 488-489) Elected officials and policy makers, for the most part, legislate or dictate goals, that ideally reflect the goals of the people they represent, but bureaucracy is the means through which those goals are pursued. The regulations, actions, and compulsion necessary to achieve the tasks and goals of policy makers emanate from bureaucracy. In other words, policy makers create an outline of action and bureaucracy is the source of the content and substance that is the state. Since bureaucracy is, by nature, “more permanent…than politician” it “makes the politician…more subject to bureaucracy” instead of the more common assumption of the bureaucracy being subject to the politician. (Anderson, 2004, 8-9) While the literature and theory on bureaucracy is disproportionately less, relative to its size and influence, compared to other components of the state, two major theorists have provided needed insight into this monumental, but intellectually neglected, institution: Max Weber, in “Economy and Society”, and Ludwig von Mises, in “Bureaucracy.”

Weber and Mises each approach bureaucracy from very different angles which, not coincidentally, leads them to starkly different observations and conclusions regarding the nature of bureaucracy and its impact on society. For Weber, his theories on bureaucracies are part of a “purely formal and typological discussion.” (Weber, 991) He describes the traits of the “ideal type” of bureaucracy as “arranged in a clearly defined hierarchy of offices;…compelled by the impersonal duties of their office; units and positions are arranged in a chain of command; …functions are clearly specified in writing, so there is specialization of task and a specified sphere of competence; and the bureaucrats behavior is subject to systematic control.” (Oszlak, 2005, 489) However, Weber focused much less on the cause of bureaucracies or the reasons they deviated from his ideal type, nor did he explain the axiomatic principles from which his ideal type was derived from. Instead he relies on historical relativism and a general institutional perspective that is biased towards “collective phenomena” as opposed to individual action in determining causal factors to describe bureaucracy, which he already accepts as both “inevitable” and “indestructible”, in abstractions of reality, whose generic nature and basis in flawed perception make the discovery of core “truths” impossible (Anderson, 2004, 6-9). Instead the observations are simply used as a means for predicting outcomes and do not attempt to answer “Why?”

Mises, on the other hand, relies on axiomatic principles to explain his theory of bureaucracy. The first principle is the “axiom of human action,” which can be described “simply as purposeful behavior” and is inherent to human beings “by virtue of their existence and their nature;” further human action “can be undertaken only by individual actors.” (Rothbard, 2004, 1-2) The second principle applicable here is the “Law of Marginal Utility,” which states that “things are valued as means in accordance with their ability to attain ends valued as more or less urgent.” (Rothbard, 2004, 21) For Mises, both bureaucratic action and non-bureaucratic action are undertaken by individuals with purpose toward some end, the difference, then, is that bureaucracy seeks ends without consideration for profit and non-bureaucratic institutions actions are profit driven. This concrete definition would apply to many if not all of the same institutions described by Weber and others as being a bureaucracy, but it also has the added advantage specificity and clearly separated categories to prevent overlap or contradictions in the conclusions that can be drawn from it. This definition applies to government, business, charity or any institution that takes actions without consideration for profit or to the degree in which their decisions are not made based on profit. In other words, the less an institution considers profit the more bureaucratic it becomes and vice versa.

In modern society not seeking “profit” is often viewed as altruistic or positive but this usually stems from a misunderstanding of “value” and the only way to translate “values” to “actors” providing goods or services to the public. As stated in the “Law of Marginal Utility” earlier, goods and services do not have inherent value but are only worth as much as the ends they to be used in attaining for according to the urgency of each individual. The only way for individuals, who all value things differently, to communicate these values to the producers of goods and services, so that capital resources are used efficiently to produce the most aggregate value, is monetarily or terms of exchange. This causes a problem for bureaucracies, as they do not consider profits, since they are not able to form computations of the value of the goods and services they provide and therefore, have to rely on the “guesses” of bureaucrats in the use of their resources, which will inevitably lead misallocation.

Both Weber and Mises viewed bureaucracy as destructive to society, Mises more definitively so. They both also foresaw the continued expansion of bureaucracy. Mises believed this expansion was due to the “interventionist”nature of State bureaucracy that forces institutions that were once profit seeking to adapt in order to “guard itself from destruction” by “incur[ring] all sorts of expenditures for matters not related to business” and act according to regulations imposed by government bureaucracy that force “production and consumption to develop along lines different from those prescribed by an unhampered market.” (Anderson, 2004, 12-14) The continued expansion of bureaucracy and regulations will reduce innovation and creativity, they will be replaced with compliance and obedience, and destroy the lines of communication between consumer and producer; as well as lead to massive waste through misallocation of resources.

Anderson, William P. (2004) Mises Versus Weber on Bureaucracy and Sociological Method. Journal of Libertarian Studies 18 (1) 1-29

Oszlak, Oscar. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (482-505). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Rothbard, Murray N. (2004) Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market. (Scholar’s ed.) Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Apr 13, 2011

American Government: True or Perverse According to Aristotle?

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Its been over 2000 years since Aristotle provided his insights into all areas of philosophy, including politics, and yet many of his observations are still useful today. One concept that still has value is that of “true forms of government” and perversions of those forms. Aristotle explained that “true forms of government…are those in which the one, or the few, or the many , govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.” (Tilly, 2005:424). He also provided three examples of true forms of government and their perverse forms: Monarchy is the rule of one for the common good and tyranny is the perverse form where the king or dictator seeks his own interest to the detriment to the common interests; Aristocracy is the rule of rich benefactors of society while oligarchy is rule by rich exploiters of their lessers; the final example is Constitutional government is the rule of the masses through established law, again for the common good and the perversion, according to Aristotle, is democracy where the masses live parasitic lives exploiting the rich whom they outnumber and replacing established law with arbitrary decrees. (Tilly, 2005: 424) Another category not included by Aristotle that follow the rule by one, few, or many and perversion based on pursuit of common or contra common interests could be voluntary society, the rule by none with members seeking the mutual benefit of one another through market based exchange, and its perversion lawlessness, a dog eat dog world where each member seeks to gain through the coercion of his neighbors. Even with this fourth category this form of categorization is to simple to capture all of the complexities and subtleties of government types, mechanisms, and their various perversions, nor does it seem to recognize the various degrees of perversion between the “true form” and the perverse form. Also, it does not address the major controversy of discerning what is in the “common interest” or who decides what is in the common interest. There are very few, if any, issues that will have unanimous agreement and so each decision pursuing one goal over another will be against some part of the common, and yet they will be obliged to follow regardless due to the nature of the state as being a monopoly of coercive power over the geographic area they reside in.

When applying these categories to modern American government, it is necessary to create another category not mentioned earlier. Aristotle mainly addressed government of direct rule, either by one, few, or many, but America is not ruled directly but through representatives. The power holders are not in the polity, per se, but use proxies to exercise their will. The true form of this government would be representative constitutional government, where the representatives act in the, so called, common interest within strict limits of established law and the perversion is corporatism, where the representatives’ actions are detrimental to the public in order to gain favor or wealth from organized interest groups or from wealthy individuals or businesses. Currently, it would seem that American government is closest to this perverse form, corporatism. The masses have very little political participation, usually limited to a portion voting once every 2-4 years, with not further recourse or actions available to them for the remaining duration of time. However, organized interest groups and wealthy members are able to lobby and influence the polity at will and they find ways to use state coercion against the masses and each other to gain a perceived advantage, as opposed to seeking mutually beneficial means to achieve advantage, though perhaps slower or lesser than what is possible to achieve by exploiting others through the state.

The very nature of any state is to move towards its perverse form of government. All of the precautions taken during its formation such as federalism, written constitution, division of powers, etc. are simply recognition of this natural degradation and are meant to act as resistance to slow the inevitable process. The only way for this process to be “reset” is for the government to become intolerable to the people, causing them to revolt and re-establish a new state so that the process can begin again. This again was recognized in the formation of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…” The only possible category that can avoid this cycle is that of the voluntary society. So long as all individuals are able to leave and/or form new government-like institutions, then each institution will be forced to act in the common interest since its members will leave, since there is no monopoly or arbitrary exertion of coercion based on geographic boundaries, if the perceived costs of being a “citizen” or member of that institution ever exceed the benefits. All members will be voluntary and their consent to the authority of their chosen institution will be explicit, as opposed to the “implied consent” that existing governments claim to have.

 

Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (423-440). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Its been over 2000 years since Aristotle provided his insights into all areas of philosophy, including politics, and yet many of his observations are still useful today. One concept that still has value is that of “true forms of government” and perversions of those forms. Aristotle explained that “true forms of government…are those in which the one, or the few, or the many , govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.” (Tilly, 2005:424). He also provided three examples of true forms of government and their perverse forms: Monarchy is the rule of one for the common good and tyranny is the perverse form where the king or dictator seeks his own interest to the detriment to the common interests; Aristocracy is the rule of rich benefactors of society while oligarchy is rule by rich exploiters of their lessers; the final example is Constitutional government is the rule of the masses through established law, again for the common good and the perversion, according to Aristotle, is democracy where the masses live parasitic lives exploiting the rich whom they outnumber and replacing established law with arbitrary decrees. (Tilly, 2005: 424) Another category not included by Aristotle that follow the rule by one, few, or many and perversion based on pursuit of common or contra common interests could be voluntary society, the rule by none with members seeking the mutual benefit of one another through market based exchange, and its perversion lawlessness, a dog eat dog world where each member seeks to gain through the coercion of his neighbors. Even with this fourth category this form of categorization is to simple to capture all of the complexities and subtleties of government types, mechanisms, and their various perversions, nor does it seem to recognize the various degrees of perversion between the “true form” and the perverse form. Also, it does not address the major controversy of discerning what is in the “common interest” or who decides what is in the common interest. There are very few, if any, issues that will have unanimous agreement and so each decision pursuing one goal over another will be against some part of the common, and yet they will be obliged to follow regardless due to the nature of the state as being a monopoly of coercive power over the geographic area they reside in.

 

When applying these categories to modern American government, it is necessary to create another category not mentioned earlier. Aristotle mainly addressed government of direct rule, either by one, few, or many, but America is not ruled directly but through representatives. The power holders are not in the polity, per se, but use proxies to exercise their will. The true form of this government would be representative constitutional government, where the representatives act in the, so called, common interest within strict limits of established law and the perversion is corporatism, where the representatives’ actions are detrimental to the public in order to gain favor or wealth from organized interest groups or from wealthy individuals or businesses. Currently, it would seem that American government is closest to this perverse form, corporatism. The masses have very little political participation, usually limited to a portion voting once every 2-4 years, with not further recourse or actions available to them for the remaining duration of time. However, organized interest groups and wealthy members are able to lobby and influence the polity at will and they find ways to use state coercion against the masses and each other to gain a perceived advantage, as opposed to seeking mutually beneficial means to achieve advantage, though perhaps slower or lesser than what is possible to achieve by exploiting others through the state.

 

The very nature of any state is to move towards its perverse form of government. All of the precautions taken during its formation such as federalism, written constitution, division of powers, etc. are simply recognition of this natural degradation and are meant to act as resistance to slow the inevitable process. The only way for this process to be “reset” is for the government to become intolerable to the people, causing them to revolt and re-establish a new state so that the process can begin again. This again was recognized in the formation of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…” The only possible category that can avoid this cycle is that of the voluntary society. So long as all individuals are able to leave and/or form new government-like institutions, then each institution will be forced to act in the common interest since its members will leave, since there is no monopoly or arbitrary exertion of coercion based on geographic boundaries, if the perceived costs of being a “citizen” or member of that institution ever exceed the benefits. All members will be voluntary and their consent to the authority of their chosen institution will be explicit, as opposed to the “implied consent” that existing governments claim to have.

 

Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (423-440). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Its been over 2000 years since Aristotle provided his insights into all areas of philosophy, including politics, and yet many of his observations are still useful today. One concept that still has value is that of “true forms of government” and perversions of those forms. Aristotle explained that “true forms of government…are those in which the one, or the few, or the many , govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.” (Tilly, 2005:424). He also provided three examples of true forms of government and their perverse forms: Monarchy is the rule of one for the common good and tyranny is the perverse form where the king or dictator seeks his own interest to the detriment to the common interests; Aristocracy is the rule of rich benefactors of society while oligarchy is rule by rich exploiters of their lessers; the final example is Constitutional government is the rule of the masses through established law, again for the common good and the perversion, according to Aristotle, is democracy where the masses live parasitic lives exploiting the rich whom they outnumber and replacing established law with arbitrary decrees. (Tilly, 2005: 424) Another category not included by Aristotle that follow the rule by one, few, or many and perversion based on pursuit of common or contra common interests could be voluntary society, the rule by none with members seeking the mutual benefit of one another through market based exchange, and its perversion lawlessness, a dog eat dog world where each member seeks to gain through the coercion of his neighbors. Even with this fourth category this form of categorization is to simple to capture all of the complexities and subtleties of government types, mechanisms, and their various perversions, nor does it seem to recognize the various degrees of perversion between the “true form” and the perverse form. Also, it does not address the major controversy of discerning what is in the “common interest” or who decides what is in the common interest. There are very few, if any, issues that will have unanimous agreement and so each decision pursuing one goal over another will be against some part of the common, and yet they will be obliged to follow regardless due to the nature of the state as being a monopoly of coercive power over the geographic area they reside in.

 

When applying these categories to modern American government, it is necessary to create another category not mentioned earlier. Aristotle mainly addressed government of direct rule, either by one, few, or many, but America is not ruled directly but through representatives. The power holders are not in the polity, per se, but use proxies to exercise their will. The true form of this government would be representative constitutional government, where the representatives act in the, so called, common interest within strict limits of established law and the perversion is corporatism, where the representatives’ actions are detrimental to the public in order to gain favor or wealth from organized interest groups or from wealthy individuals or businesses. Currently, it would seem that American government is closest to this perverse form, corporatism. The masses have very little political participation, usually limited to a portion voting once every 2-4 years, with not further recourse or actions available to them for the remaining duration of time. However, organized interest groups and wealthy members are able to lobby and influence the polity at will and they find ways to use state coercion against the masses and each other to gain a perceived advantage, as opposed to seeking mutually beneficial means to achieve advantage, though perhaps slower or lesser than what is possible to achieve by exploiting others through the state.

 

The very nature of any state is to move towards its perverse form of government. All of the precautions taken during its formation such as federalism, written constitution, division of powers, etc. are simply recognition of this natural degradation and are meant to act as resistance to slow the inevitable process. The only way for this process to be “reset” is for the government to become intolerable to the people, causing them to revolt and re-establish a new state so that the process can begin again. This again was recognized in the formation of the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government…” The only possible category that can avoid this cycle is that of the voluntary society. So long as all individuals are able to leave and/or form new government-like institutions, then each institution will be forced to act in the common interest since its members will leave, since there is no monopoly or arbitrary exertion of coercion based on geographic boundaries, if the perceived costs of being a “citizen” or member of that institution ever exceed the benefits. All members will be voluntary and their consent to the authority of their chosen institution will be explicit, as opposed to the “implied consent” that existing governments claim to have.

 

Tilly, C. (2005). Regimes and Contention. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (423-440). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Apr 6, 2011

Resources of Power: Fear, Love, and Dependency/ Machiavelli’s Prince and Modern Politics

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Throughout chapters XV and XVII of “The Prince” by Machiavelli, it becomes apparent that power is the goal, to include increasing and maintaining power, as opposed to a means to achieve other goals.  Also, it is necessary to view “the prince” as power incarnate, so that what ever benefits the prince benefits the pursuit of power and vice versa.  This helps to make sense of troubling “principles” advocated by Machiavelli, such as the prince “need not make himself uneasy at incurring reproach for those vices without which the state can only be saved with difficulty, for if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.”  (Machiavelli, Chptr. 15)  If power is the only true goal for the prince then it would follow that anything that advanced that goal would be virtuous and that other moral guidelines or cultural views would be moot, and adhering to them would, according to this view, be considered a vice to the degree that they detracted from the goal of increasing or maintaining power.  In chapter XVII of “The Prince”, Machiavelli continues with another principle, that should be troubling for those not in power, that it “is much safer to be feared than loved” since “men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince” it would be wise for a prince to “establish himself on that which is in his own control” and not rely on that which is in the control of others.  The only limit Machiavelli puts on the prince in regard to using fear to establish his is power, is to “avoid hatred” as that may make “the prince” intolerable and lead to his ouster.

Piven and Cloward, in their essay “Rule Making, Rule Breaking, and Power”, tend to classify power as a means to achieving and individual’s or group’s goals through a series of “zero-sum” contests.  They cite Max Weber’s definition: “power is understood as ‘the chance of a man or a number of men to realize their own will in a social action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action” (Janoski, 2005, 35) and that of R.H. Tawney: ( power may be defined as the capacity of an individual, or group of individual, to modify the conduct of other individuals or groups in the manner which he desires, and to prevent his own conduct being modified in the manner in which he does not.” (Janoski, 2005, 35)  Their view of power posits that most, if not all, human interaction involves one dominant party who exploits the dependency of another party, or uses force as their source of power, in order to gain at their expense.  The authors seem to conclude, as a result of this view, that seeking power to exercise over those who have much few resources to exert influence through “social interdependence” is a vice, or social harm and that power should be diffused so that the degree that one party gains at the expense of another party is minimized as much as possible.  However, this is not to say that individuals or groups who did not wish to act socially responsible could not use Machiavelli’s principles to gain power and increase their exploiter status, it just is not the position advocated by Piven and Cloward.

When Machiavelli wrote “The Prince,” it was with monarchy in mind.  The advent of the modern state, new tools and resources of power have been developed and some of the principles found in “The Prince” have become outdated.  However, several tactics advocated by Machiavelli have been modified and carried over to the modern state.  One of the primary differences, though, is that politicians are not power incarnate since they are mere “caretakers” of the state and the expanse of its sovereignty.  Whereas the King was the state, politicians are seen as representatives, sent to enact their constituent’s wills through the state, or as employees of the state.  This “caretaker” position drastically reduces the incentive to seek “absolute power” or power as a goal in and of itself.  Since politicians are only temporarily in power and can not, necessarily, pass power that they gain to their heirs, they are more focused on using resources of power, or “political capital” accumulated by their predecessors or during their temporary terms to achieve more immediate goals that can increase their actual wealth or that of their heirs.  This divergence from the goal of “the Prince” will definitely have an impact on the strategies they pursue, as they will be more short term and consist of utilizing, or spending power, as opposed to building and maintaining it.

The state, itself, is seen as a more ambiguous and anonymous phenomenon that is supposedly created by the “collective consciousness” or “general will” of the people.  However, as Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book, “Socialism:”

“All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.”
The modern state has achieved the illusion of dichotomy, being divided into one part consisting of some metaphysical representation of the “general will,” the State, and the other of individuals in the employ of the State , and thus theoretically subordinated to the “general will,” politicians and the bureaucracy.  However, as with anything supernatural or based on superstition, closer examination reveals that there is no real evidence of its existence, no actions that can be directly attributed to it, without use of its supposed proxies, no boundaries the demarcate where its existence begins or ends, or any other measure of reality that can be applied to it.  Instead, objective observation, reveals that the masses are still subjected to the coercive power held by a few elite individuals, who when the curtains are pulled back, like in the Wizard of Oz, are normal men acting in their own self-interest.

This illusion of a dichotomous state allows politicians and the bureaucracy to more easily achieve the ideal means to power, according to Machiavelli, fear and love simultaneously.  The ruling elite, presenting themselves as representatives of the masses, can gain the love of the people by advocating for favors on their behalf, while their losses and necessary fear can be attributed to the State.  This phenomenon is apparent in most polls where the American Public, usually, approves of their own Congressman but holds Congress itself in the lowest regard.  They view the system as working against them, and every favor achieved by their representative as being wrestled from the tight jaws of the fearful State on their behalf.  If the public ever realized that the individuals and the State are one and the same the illusion would crumble.

The members of the State are also to achieve both love and fear through dependency, or the threat of withdrawing “love.”  Authoritarian parenting uses this technique to control children.  Children are made to believe that their parents’ love is conditional and can be lost if they do or do not act a certain way.  This method of control tends to be more effective at controlling behavior than fear of corporal punishment or overt reward/punishment schemes.  The State has realized the potential of utilizing this technique on its populations and so attempts to increase dependency and remove competitors of services it provides so that the threat of losing government services has that much more impact on controlling its citizens.  This also fits with Piven and Cloward’s theory of interdependence as a power resource, where the State attempts to raise the dependence of other parties while at the same time reducing its dependence on them so that it can more effectively exploit them with little resistance.

The reason for all the manipulation and illusion to maintain and increase power is because the ruling elite realize that their power truly comes from the people they rule and the legitimacy they grant them and that if the masses realized this, if they are not controlled by sufficient fear or love of the current power holders, they could take that power back at any time.  French philosopher, Etienne de la Boetie, in “The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude”, explained it best:

He who thus domineers over [you]…has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves?  How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you?  The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own?  How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if had no cooperation from you?…..you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and mightier to hold you in check. (1975, 52)

While Machiavelli’s principles may have been meant for monarchs, the techniques chosen by the modern holders of power should be no less unsettling and if Piven and Cloward are correct that the exercise of power leads to “zero-sum” contests with one party as the exploiter and the other the exploited, then we should recognize that the State is, or strives to be, always the exploiter and we should not give it a pass or make an exception for it in our agreed upon principles and ideas.

Works Cited:
Boetie, E. (1975). The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. New York: Free Life Editions.
Machiavelli, N. (1916). The Prince. The Macmillan Company.
Mises, L. (1982). Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund Inc.
Piven,F.F., & Cloward, R.A. (2005). Rule Making, Rule Breaking, and Power. In T.A. Janoski, A.M. Hicks, & M.A. Schwartz (Eds.), Handbook of Political Sociology: States, Civil Societies, and Globalization (33-53). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Filed under Philosophy, Politics
Apr 2, 2011