Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hoppe on the Praxeology of Democracy

The traditional, premodern state form is that of a (absolute) monarchy. Yet monarchy was faulted, in particular also by classical liberals, for being incompatible with the basic principle of "equality before the law." Monarchy instead rested on personal privilege. Thus, the critics of monarchy argued, the monarchical state had to be replaced by a democratic one. In opening participation and entry into state government to everyone on equal terms, not just to a hereditary class of nobles, it was thought that the principle of the equality of all before the law had been satisfied.

However, this democratic equality before the law is something entirely different from and incompatible with the idea of one universal law, equally applicable to everyone, everywhere, and at all times. In fact, the former objectionable schism and inequality of a higher law of kings versus a subordinate law of ordinary subjects is fully preserved under democracy in the separation of "public" versus "private" law and the supremacy of the former over the latter.

Under democracy, everyone is equal insofar as entry into government is open to all on equal terms. Everyone can become king, so to say, not only a privileged circle of people. Thus, in a democracy no personal privileges or privileged persons exist. However, functional privileges and privileged functions exist. Public officials, as long as they act in an official capacity, are governed and protected by public law and occupy thereby a privileged position vis-à-vis persons acting under the mere authority of private law.

In particular, public officials are permitted to finance or subsidize their own activities through taxes. That is, they do not, as every private-law subject must, earn their income through the production and subsequent sale of goods and services to voluntarily buying or not-buying consumers. Rather, as public officials, they are permitted to engage in, and live off, what in private dealings between private-law subjects is considered "theft" and "stolen loot." Thus, privilege and legal discrimination — and the distinction between rulers and subjects — will not disappear under democracy. To the contrary. Rather than being restricted to princes and nobles, under democracy, privileges will be available to all: everyone can engage in theft and live off stolen loot if only he becomes a public official.

Predictably, then, under democratic conditions the tendency of every monopoly of ultimate decision making to increase the price of justice and to lower its quality and substitute injustice for justice and is not diminished but aggravated. As hereditary monopolist, a king or prince regards the territory and people under his jurisdiction as his personal property and engages in the monopolistic exploitation of his "property."

Under democracy, monopoly and monopolistic exploitation do not disappear. Rather, what happens with democracy is this: instead of a prince and a nobility who regard the country as their private property, a temporary and interchangeable caretaker is put in monopolistic charge of the country. The caretaker does not own the country, but as long as he is in office he is permitted to use it to his and his protégés' advantage. He owns its current use — usufruct — but not its capital stock. This does not eliminate exploitation. To the contrary, it makes exploitation less calculating and carried out with little or no regard to the capital stock. Exploitation becomes shortsighted and capital consumption will be systematically promoted.

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