Monday, May 17, 2010

Democracy Posts

Lots of people have been pessimistic about democracy lately:

- Khaled Haroub on what has deterred democracy in the Middle East.

- A new NBER working paper finds that joblessness leads people to question the efficacy of democracy and demand "rogue leaders".

- People over at Crooked Timber fault Dani Rodrik's recent piece suggesting that democracy, globalization, and the nation-state do not play nicely together and that we have to pick two of the three at any given time. I had some reservations about the Rodrik post too, btw.

Hans Hoppe would be thrilled at all these democracy fears!

Note: that last line is a deliberate attempt to draw out Curt Doolittle, who recently admitted in the comment section that: "I found you via my daily search for the term "hans hoppe" because I prowl the web defending him from those who fail to understand him. You seem to understand him perfectly". I want to (1.) check out how thorough this guy is, and (2.) maybe even get some thoughts from him on Hoppe's views on democracy - which I do genuinely find problematic, but would freely admit I might not entirely understand. Curt suggested that I understand Hoppe's views on property rights - let's see how I do on democracy.


  1. Well, you found me. But it's not hard to. Just use Google. I'm all over the place. My site for political economy is

    Hoppe's argument in 'Democracy, the God That Failed' is a very complex one, and the argument consists in layers.

    Hoppe does NOT address the behavioral reasons WHY it's hard for well intentioned people to maintain a democracy - but it's a boiling the frog problem (see Mandelbrot on reinforcement of memories) . Hoppe does address the incentives problem, and it turns out he is accurate. But that is nothing new, Mises discusses it at length in Bureaucracy. Plato and Aristotle discuss it. Machiavelli discusses it's inverse. Pareto, Mosca, ... the list goes on.

    In simplest terms, under parliamentary hereditary monarchy, monarchs are incentivized to capitalize culture, human knowledge, built capital, and land. Under democracy, politicians are incentivized to consume previously capitalized culture, human knowledge, built capital, and land for political purposes.

    This is just an expression of the behavior of humans regarding property whether they are individuals, groups, tribes or nations: the tragedy of the commons, which creates the incentive to consume faster than anyone else as long as it can be done unaccountably. Versus the saving incentive, which encourages individuals to accumulate resources in order to prepare for uncertainty.

    Happy to help explain any part of Hoppe's argument. I know the holes in it if you want to call them holes, (he starts with a necessary argument and then switches to a preferential argument) and I think I have plugged those holes by getting away from natural law, or the closed-system of misesian praxeology, into necessary arguments dependent upon memory, scope, calculation and incentive. But thats an even more complicated problem to discuss.

    Roderick is right, but he DESIRES the global village because he is an economic totalitarian. He understands the monetary economy, but he does not understand the status economy. People are more sensitive to status than to money. Money is driven by status. So he's operating on a false premise, which is convenient for an economist - it allows you to confuse your data with 'truth'.

    In other words MONEY AND REDISTRIBUTION ARE A RUSE to cover for STATUS redistribution. And while people will tolerate monetary redistribution, they will NOT tolerate status redistribution. They want to keep their relative positions.

    The middle east problem democracy is more difficult because the concept of status is different, and it's different for the same reasons we have a problem understanding military competition with raiding cultures (theirs) versus heroic cultures (ours) [see Kagan's military history]. In fact, their status system is not objectively meritocratic. And that's the problem we have with it. And the problem they have with ours. They understand the problem better than we do. They do not understand however, that there is only equality in ignorance and poverty. And that is the problem for the muslim world. Male Ignorance.

    So Haroub is correct. However, that is an upper class minority statement, not a populist one. As Iran has demonstrated, the populace if given it's political freedom will vote in totalitarianism, because it is the tribal preference. Marxism requires totalitarianism. Egalitarianism requires totalitarianism unless all are equally impoverished.

    And there is nothing special about that preference. All democracies succumb to totalitarianism. (Which I an also discuss at length if you wish.)

  2. Because it is not possible for people to consent to the use of property only to the definitions and terms of property. The reason that we have a 'market' and prices is necessary ignorance and incentive in a division of knowledge and labor in time. The argument among libertarians is only over whether knowledge and incentive is more important. I think the point is irrelevant, because mises incorrectly (and hayek as well) defined calculation. Something mandelbrot and taleb and many others have not solved. Although I think Hoppe and Salerno, Block and Herbner understand this problem better than anyone else, I think that they are missing half of the equation, which is why the overrate incentive.

  3. An aside:
    Here are basic rules of thumb when using the english language:
    0) it takes about 50 words to state a confirmation bias
    1) it takes about 200 words to state a confirmation bias by analogy
    2) it takes 600 words to logically state a confirmation bias
    3) it takes 1500 words to insert a new idea to a debate
    4) it takes 2500 words to defend a new idea in a debate
    5) it takes 5000 words to create a complete argument for an extension of an idea
    These are rules of thumb. Why? because the act of presenting an idea that is unknown requires both illustration of it's explanatory power, and refutation of it's counter-arguments.
    Short posts are just for people who you want to agree with you. :)

  4. Fascinating thoughts - and thank you for taking that post of mine in good humor.

    Reading more of Hoppe on property rights has indeed helped me come around to this understanding of his views on monarchy, which I don't think were entirely clear to me before.

    One lingering concern is whether efficiency is really a viable basis for a political philosophy (I think this is what you mean by necessary vs. preferential argument too???). Perhaps a monarchy is efficient. So? Is it just? Is it ethical?

    You've also only demonstrated the efficiency of monarchy (if you've even demonstrated that) - the monarch may be incentivized to act in certain ways, but it's not clear to me that his actions are optimal if they're only aligned with his own preferences. You gloss over your justification of capitalizing monarch and a consuming politician far too easily. Presumably, optimality would require a balance of consumption and investment of the culture and knowledge that you mention. So (1.) there's no reason to privelege a capitalizing monarch over a consuming politician, (2.) I'm not sure its even true that politicians wouldn't capitalize culture adn monarchs wouldn't consume it, and (3.) assuming monarchs and politicians both capitalize and consume, who is to say that the monarch is going to strike the optimal balance better than the politician?

    I'm also a little confused - where is the tragedy of the commons, exactly? I've heard a Hoppe lecture where he notes this advantage of monarchy, but why is monarchy superior to a democratic state where property is also held, but by the public? Is the concern that political authority and property are divorced in a democratic state, but not in a monarchy? Also, why couldn't Hoppe's argument for monarchy also be used to justify a communist state ruled by a party elite? What would the difference be?

  5. Hoppe's crit of democracy is based on the way that the system has been corrupted by what Bill Hutt called "the vote buying motive" which is indeed the Achilles heel of democracy. If you adopt Popper's minimal definition of democracy as a system where the leaders can be turned over without violence, then it becomes a matter of working on the institutions and traditions to make things work better - no quick fix and certainly no definitional fix by playing with words. Check out the classical liberal agenda: (1) the usual suite of freedoms (2) limited government under the rule of law (3) secure property rights (4) a robust moral framework including honesty, compassion, civility, personal responsibility and civic resposibility. Wherever thinks are improving on a sustainable basis, one or more of these principles is doing the heavy lifting.

    For the longest footnote on Plato, see Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies. Check out the condensed version of the chapters on leadership and justice.

    Rafe Champion

  6. Thanks Rafe - I like your definition of classical liberalism and would agree these do the heavy lifting of progress (or at least enable the heavy lifting). I think its probably far to broad a definition of classical liberalism for some peoples' taste, but I would agree with it.

  7. Thanks Daniel, yes, too broad indeed. Sometimes I say "the minimum state" but of course everyone can say that, while they have very different concepts of the minimum required!

    On the moral framework, of course that is a matter for individuals rather than the state. Moralizing has been brought into disrepute by moralists, especially in progressive circles, because it was too often narrow in focus and backed up by supernatural authorities. But I think it belongs on the list.

    The idea is to get as quickly as possible away from definitions and into policies, the problems they solve, the problems they create, the costs and benefits, the downsteam effects (the ecological approach!). And the research agenda that they create, to get synergy between scholarship, research and praxis.


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