The points made in this article highlight the total incomparability of Democracy and naked Capitalism a point I have made many times. Putting aside the immorality of having a powerful and mostly idle super ownership class looting the lions share of the wealth created by labor by mere virtue of ownership mostly due to the fortunes of birth, it should be obvious that a society where so much power in concentrated in so few can never be stable or prosperous. Just as the American revolution broke the power of the ruling royals of that time so there needs to be another revolution to break the power of the plutocrats who are the current rulers of the United States and most other countries. If this doesn’t happen we may be facing the kind of negative Utopia envisioned by George Orwell in his insightful book ” 1984″.
Libertarians For Oligarchy?
It’s an unusual day when Arnold Kling agrees with Paul Krugman.
But over at AEI’s online magazine, the libertarian Kling endorsed Krugman’s oft-asserted claim that the western world is moving into a new era of economic oligarchy. But whereas Krugman rails against this trend, Kling imperturbably accepts the apparent trend as the inevitable working of economic forces:
The recent trend in job polarization raises the possibility that gains in well-being that come from productivity improvements will accrue to an economic elite. Perhaps the middle-class affluence that emerged during the latter part of the industrial age is not going to be a feature of the information age.
Instead, we could be headed into an era of highly unequal economic classes. People at the bottom will have access to food, healthcare, and electronic entertainment, but the rich will live in an exclusive world of exotic homes and extravagant personal services. The most popular bands in the world will play house concerts for the rich, while everyone else can afford music downloads but no live music. In the remainder of this essay, I want to extend further this exercise in imagination and consider three possible scenarios.
If Kling is correct, similar trends should soon manifest themselves throughout the Western world. The United States is leading where others must soon follow.
Let’s interrogate this thought a little. Kling envisions (without much alarm) a world in which most of the gains from improved productivity are captured by a relatively small number of Americans: at best the top 60 million out of 300 million, more realistically the top 3 million or even possibly the top 300,000.
What happens in that scenario to political democracy?
After all, sooner or later everybody will wake up to what is going on, assuming they have not woken up already. The bottom 240 million or 297 million or 299.7 million have the votes. Won’t they try to use those votes to redistribute away from their new information-age economic betters?
More relevantly: won’t the information-age economic betters resist? Won’t they begin to perceive political democracy as a threat to their interests? Won’t they begin to work to subvert and curtail it?
It’s an ancient chestnut of political thought that the distribution of power follows the distribution of wealth. If and when wealth becomes more concentrated, so does power. That’s the story of the classical commonwealths, of the formerly participatory city-states of medieval Germany and Italy. If Kling is right, won’t it be the story of the United States too? How long can an economic oligarchy remain a political democracy? Why would it? Wouldn’t the oligarchs be reckless to permit it?
I’m not suggesting here that anyone will overthrow the Constitution or anything like that. The forms of American constitutionalism will remain intact, just as the forms of the British monarchy remain intact. We’ll still have elections, just as the British have royal weddings. (Indeed, many have noted that royal weddings have become more splendid and expensive exactly as power has ebbed from the monarchy. Back when monarchs ruled, the weddings were much less extravagant affairs.)
And after all, the Constitution that is now cherished as the bedrock of democracy served for three-quarters of a century to shield the economic interests of the Southern slaveocracy. If tightly restricted political power could be consistent with the Constitution from 1787 to 1861 it could be well be rendered so again.
Forms after all are much more conservative than realities. And in reality, the distribution of power tends to follow the distribution of wealth. If only a comparative few own, then only a comparative few will rule.
If it’s indeed inevitable as Kling hypothesizes that wealth must concentrate in the information age, then it’s equally inescapable that democracy must yield to a new political system that better protects the interests of those who possess it.
Understand that implication–and brood on it.