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The search for truth in human action

The Tyranny of the Majority, vs the Unanimity of Liberty

he Founding Fathers despised democracy. They called the idea of 51% voting to impose its will the “violence of majority faction“. Poor Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of effort and political capital proving he wasn’t a closet democrat. When writing Democracy in America, French philosopher Alexis DeToqueville coined the phrase Tyranny of the Majority referring to an idea from Plato’s Republic.

Majority rule imposes the will of a mere half of the population, plus one vote, upon minorities in each issue.

It is just as wrong to violate someone else's rights, even if you outnumber them and have a vote

It is just as wrong to violate someone else's rights, even if you outnumber them and have a vote

You need only to look at how this impacted blacks in the US to understand how evil majority rule over the minority is.

The Founders sought to solve this problem, by banning democracy in America, setting up a Republic where the majority could never legally vote to violate the natural rights of the minority. The only powers allowed to the Federal government were those listed in the Constitution, with the 9th and 10th articles of the Bill of Rights banning it from doing anything else, even if the majority voted for it.

Majority as Consensus

Of course the Federal government has been corrupted enough to overstep its legitimate authority, but that’s another article.

The modern apologists for majority rule, who unfortunately have managed to get the word “democracy” spun into a positive thing in public schools, defend their tyranny over minorities by saying “hey, at least we can be sure that there isn’t a larger group who opposes a vote, than the group who supports it”.

Advocates of liberty, though, object that you still should not violate the will of ANY people, in a free society. They say that you have no more authority to violate the rights of another because you are a large group, than if you are one man trying to impose your will on your neighbor. At least not legitimately.

Of course, the obvious retort is “hey, the only way to solve the problem of having minorities on issues is to have a unanimous vote…and that’s impossible! If we depended on unanimity, then nothing would ever get accomplished at all!”

majority-rule-orourkeBut this isn’t true:

Unanimous Self-Government

A free market is based, purely, on unanimity.

This is because the fundamental principle of liberty is private property:

Each person is a government of one, over his rightful possessions, starting with his own body.

But if someone wanted a vote on what everyone in the country is going to have for supper tonight, the odds are that he would not be able to get everyone to agree on the same thing. So if this were a power of the government, up to half of the population, minus one vote, would have their right to choose what to eat violated.

Of course that’s if there are only two options…which is a sort of farce of an election in the first place. With a real selection of all things people might reasonably desire for supper, probably more than 99% of people will be forced to eat something they would not have chosen.

And, let’s face it, with how goofy people are, you’re almost always going to end up being forced to eat something you don’t even like, much less want for tonight.

Eccentric sitcom character Mrs. Slocombe used to emphasize a decision by saying "and I am unanimous in that!"

Eccentric sitcom character Mrs. Slocombe used to emphasize a decision by saying "and I am unanimous in that!"

On the other hand, if each man governs his own life, as in a free market, then you may choose not only exactly what to eat, but even when to eat it.

Every time you are hungry, there is a vote, and you are unanimous. Sure, it’s limited to what you can afford, but what better way to determine what a meal is worth than that? Imagine if the majority were always voting themselves caviar and steak, bankrupting society.

With majority rule, you only get rare input at all, and only one option is selected, with most people being losers in the process.

But with the free market, you vote every instant, of every day, and are able to reverse yourself at will.

Of course, this also applies to groups, not just individuals, because their membership is purely voluntary, unlike an authoritarian government:

Sure, your chess club or paintball team may have majority votes, but your participation in them is purely consensual. Each moment of your life, you are free to leave, and if you stay you are voting unanimously for your own membership.

If you leave an organization in a free society, they are not going to blockade your house until you’re forced to fire on them, and then claim you started a hostilities, invade, and conquer you.

democracy.sucksIf the majority of your local town council votes to condemn your perfectly sound family home, just to put up a strip mall that will bring them more tax money and campaign contributions, it does this in violation of the unanimity of private property rights, and you can’t simply withdraw your membership.

Don’t worry; in two years you’ll be allowed to cast a single vote against at least one of those politicians who stole your home…if you still live in town, and at a legal residence, not in a cardboard box.

You might even try to get 51% of all voters in your city to set aside all other issues and vote for the single challenger to each of those bad politicians.

Of course, if your private property rights were protected as they should be, you wouldn’t be in this predicament. Maybe you should just push for laws protecting those rights in general, so such things couldn’t happen in the first place.

While majority rule imposes tyranny over minorities, capitalism, through private property rights, protects even the smallest minority, that of the individual, with unanimity.

Words of the Sentient:

The political principle that underlies the market mechanism is unanimity. In an ideal free market resting on private property, no individual can coerce any other, all cooperation is voluntary, all parties to such cooperation benefit or they need not participate.

— Milton Friedman, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits, The New York Times Magazine

Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority

— James Madison, Federalist Papers #10

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.

— John Adams, , letter to John Taylor, April 15, 1814


August 28, 2009 Posted by | Economy, Philosophy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Why Deflation is Bad…for You, Private Property, and Capitalism

Politicians and journalists are worried, right now, about a downward spiral of deflation, of the type that normally comes in an economic depression.

They are pointing to two signs we are having bad deflation…first, the falling price of commodities like oil, and the disappearance of money in this economic failure causing demand to plunge. One of those is actually good, the other is very bad.

When prices go down naturally, because of an increase in efficiency or improvement in technology, it is good for everyone. 

For example:

  • Improved efficiency makes the manufacture of computers cheaper, while more advanced computers make the old versions cost less.
  • Food used to take up most of humanity’s effort, therefore most of  a family’s cost of living, but has declined to third or fourth place as technology and efficiency allowed us to grow more with less.

The decline in oil prices, returning to only double their normal level, will cause a good kind of global price decline, because most prices are effected by the cost of the energy required to create and deliver products and services.

But, again, those specific cost reductions are not deflation.

What Are Real Deflation and Inflation?

When money deflates, people choose to just hold onto it, starving the marketplace and causing a spiral of ever more deflation

When money deflates, people choose to just hold onto it, starving the marketplace and causing a spiral of ever more deflation

In real economic terms, inflation and deflation happen when the ratio of money to economic wealth changes. If the amount of money becomes greater, in comparison to the economy, then you get inflation. Because the most common result of this is for prices to increase, we confuse the terms and call general price increases “inflation”, but actually it’s the change in ratio that is inflation.

The eleven trillion-plus dollars of capital that have purportedly vanished in the past few months represent a huge decline in money supply, causing actual deflation. This failure was caused by the inability of central authority to manage money any better in the US than it could provide shoes and food in the Soviet Union.

Prices Can Increase Without Inflation, Too

Prices can actually increase for other reasons, and that’s not really inflation. For example, when oil increased 600% in price, it drove up the cost of production, without regard for the number of dollars in the economy. This general price increase was NOT inflation.

And when prices decrease for other reasons, it’s not deflation.

Inflation is Harmful

We all know that when the ratio of money to wealth increases, causing inflation, it is bad for the economy, and especially for the poor and middle classes. This is because it usually drives up prices, and the poorer you are, the more of your wealth and well-being is in cash.

Poorer people depend on cash they have in a bank, or other savings. They are paid by employers who give them only a set rate, plus raises for special reasons like increased skill.

Wealthier people tend to have more of their wealth in assets like, stocks and real estate, that will simply increase in price, sheltering them from some of the effect if inflation. They get cost of living increases in salary every year, on top of any other raises.

Deflation is Harmful, too

But the opposite kind of damage occurs if you have deflation, and is compounded by a new problem.

First, deflation artificially drives down prices. To a person with no real assets or investments, this sounds good, because “stuff costs less”.

But it comes at a horrible price.

Deflation punishes investments that can raise people from poverty, both personal investments, and business growth

Deflation punishes investments that can raise people from poverty, both personal investments, and business growth

For example, the decline in prices includes wages. Deflation is universal, with a shortage of money everywhere, so that your income will decline, along with the price you pay for things. What good is cheaper stuff, if you also have less money?

So people with fewer assets and no investments will more or less end up breaking even. But they still lose out in the end, because they become blocked from gaining assets, trapping them in relative poverty.

For example:

How Deflation Traps the Poor and Middle Class

Imagine you’re buying a house. Not on a sub-prime loan, but one where your income is perfectly fit for the home you’re getting.

It’s probably a thirty year loan. So you’re going to be stuck paying on the original price of your house, for thirty years, at the original size of house payment.

Now remember that your income (in dollars) is getting smaller every year. That’s deflation.

And the price of your house, too. Each year, its is worth fewer dollars, yet your original debt is the same. And so are your payments.

Within just a few years, you are making far less money, but are stuck with the same size house payment you always had.

While you still have to pay the same percentage of of your paycheck income for food, electricity, and so on, your house payment takes up a higher percentage of that money every year.

Soon, your income has shrunken to the point where you cannot make your house payment at all. Not even if you paid your whole check to the bank every week.

And worse, you can’t simply sell his house to get out of it. The price of your house has also declined every year. Selling it now that the payment is too high won’t even pay off your remaining house debt.

Of course people would quickly learn this, and that they simply cannot buy houses, unless they are so incredibly wealthy that they can save up enough to pay cash. 

But even those wealthy people who can pay cash for a house now face the situation where buying a house is a horrible investment, because the house’s value will decline, in dollars.

It would actually be better to leave the money in a vault, and rent monthly, even for a billionaire, because the money’s value increases, while the house’s price declines. One thousand dollars will be worth more next year, if you simply stick it in your mattress, than one thousand dollars worth of house will be worth in that same year.

In fact, owning land becomes a losing proposition. With even the wealthy better-off renting, who’s going to actually be the landlord?

Deflation Attacks Economic Freedom

In fact, ALL property ownership becomes punished!

With deflation, anything you buy does not just depreciate with use and age, but declines in value every year with prices, compared to if you’d simply kept the money.

Today, you could buy that console game, or car, or collectible, and then sell it on eBay a few years from now and recoup part of the cost. But with deflation, the price you recoup is even farther from if you’d kept the cash in the first place.

Deflation Destroys Capitalism

Deflation punishes investment and property ownership, attacking capitalism at its roots

Deflation punishes investment and property ownership, attacking capitalism at its roots

In fact (and this is where the entire economy implodes from deflation), simply holding on to your money is rewarded versus ANY investment, in a deflationary economy. If you put your money in a big ol’ vault, removing it from the economy entirely, it grows in value every year. But if, instead, you buy stocks, or invest in commodities, then your money is gone, replaced with an asset that becomes worth less every year, in dollar terms.

The growth of every business, in fact, would be undone by the rate of deflation. Now from the company’s standpoint, that is fine, because its expenses decline every year by the same amount.

But from an investor’s standpoint, a company growing at 2% per year during 3% deflation would mean you lose 1% over just stuffing your money in a safe. And yet you also risk, when investing money.

Why bother investing even in a company you think might grow at 5%, when you could have a 100% safe 3% investment in a vault under your mattress? So, really, the company facing deflation is NOT fine, because it discovers that it’s far harder to get investors. In fact, the entrepreneur who would have started that company is 3% punished each year for the effort, making him that much less likely to even bother.

With investors discouraged because of deflation, it becomes harder to create wealth. Capitalism, in fact, becomes almost impossible:

  • An entrepreneur can’t get investors for his new project.
  • There’s less reason to buy stocks, so companies can’t raise capital.
  • You can’t get a loan to start a business, because your company’s income would decline every year, yet the loan payment would stay as large as ever.

With deflation, the very engines of capitalism all die out.

Speculation Defines Capitalism

It is the uncertain investment on the wild new idea that makes capitalism superior to central planning. Anyone can decide to invest in a “sure thing”: if that were good enough, socialism would work, because a government bureaucrat could declare money for the obvious solution. It’s diverse people choosing to risk money on many different wild ideas that lets the best solutions rise to the top.

But that very kind of capital investment, in a deflationary economy, is punished, because you get such a good deal by not investing in anything at all, but holding your money in a vault.

All of this, by the way, is aside from the additional destruction caused by the lack of downward price elasticity on many commodities and time-based investments. That’s much more arcane, but a key source of economic depression, that I’ll get into some other time.

For now, it’s enough to realize that prices being FORCED downward by deflation includes your pay, and the value of any investments you make, so that private property ownership, borrowing, and investing, in fact all capitalism, is crippled under deflation.

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Economy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


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