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Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Voting, Interest Groups, and the State | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on August 25, 2021

The power of bureaucrats to corrupt governance is artfully captured by Ludwig von Mises in his book Bureaucracy: “Representative democracy cannot subsist if a great part of voters are on the government payroll. If the members of parliament no longer consider themselves mandatories of the taxpayers but deputies of those receiving salaries, wages, subsidies, doles, and other benefits from the treasury then democracy is done for.”

Even more striking is that union members regularly constitute at least 10 percent of the delegates at the Democratic National Convention, making them the single largest organizational bloc of Democratic Party activists.

https://mises.org/power-market/voting-interest-groups-and-state

Lipton Matthews

The implementation of voter ID laws to prevent fraud has led some to argue that voting rights are under assault by the state. But this mistaken assumption is predicated on a false premise, because voting is not a right. Rights exist independent of the political regime, so even though communist states abrogate human rights, this does not alter the fact that people still have a right to own property and express religious beliefs. Essentially, voting is a mechanism implemented by the state for political purposes.

Voting permits citizens to participate in governance by declaring support for various policies. But failing to entertain some opinions could enhance living standards, as economist Bryan Caplan intuits in his provocative book The Myth of the Rational Voter. Caplan rightly argues that politicians fixate on delivering the goods of democracy instead of enabling markets to facilitate the long-term development of society. The average voter rarely appreciates the intricacies of governance, and as a result, succumbing to his demands may prove to be disastrous. After all, it is not unusual for voters to espouse support for economically harmful policies like trade protectionism and occupational licensing.

Moreover, voting offers an opportunity to undermine rights, because individuals are given the prerogative to determine benefits for other people. In 2013, for example, Swiss voters rejected a proposal to cap executive pay. Despite the logic of their choice, Swiss voters really had no business influencing the compensation of executives. Politicians and citizens alike should direct their focus toward elevating the caliber of governance rather than expanding democracy. But ultimately doing so requires a recalibration of our perception of the state.

Like the corporation, the state is a legal fiction entitled to select the criteria for participating in governance. For instance, in a company, board members are not obliged to act on the recommendations of junior employees. Yet this stance does not deter directors from advancing the interests of workers. Hence the fear that voting restrictions ensure that the concerns of some groups are avoided is unwarranted. A case in point is that though children are unable to vote, politicians still champion their cause. Their devotion to children is illustrated by laws against child labor and abuse. Likewise, people suffering from serious cognitive deficits are unable to vote, yet this has not discouraged politicians from lobbying for the mentally disabled. Neither did the exclusion of women from the political arena prevented politicians from privileging their concerns, as Ernest Bax noted in his 1896 publication The Legal Subjection of Men.

At some point, we must confront reality by admitting that prioritizing development by limiting voting is a feasible strategy to promote progress. As such, we should discuss groups that must be barred from voting. Undoubtedly, disallowing lobbyists from voting would protect democracy from becoming enslaved to special interest groups. Such groups exert enormous influence on the political system at the expense of other citizens. When these groups obtain subsidies and political privileges, taxpayers feel the brunt. One estimate suggests renewable energy subsidies will cost taxpayers more than $40 billion from 2018 to 2027.

Another disadvantage of interest groups is that public-sector unions make it costly to dismiss reprobate employees. Richard Berman in the Washington Times details the daunting task of sacking sexual predators due to the rigidity of union protection rules:

Longtime teacher John Vigna was recently sentenced to 48 years in prison for repeated sexual abuse of his students. Cases of teacher-student sexual abuse are all too common. Hundreds occur nationwide each year. What’s worse is that teachers often demonstrate warning signs of perversion before they offend—or before their offenses amplify—but cannot be fired because of union protection rules. In Vigna’s case, sexual abuse complaints were lodged against him as far back as 2008. In 2013, a top district official called his conduct “indefensible, inappropriate, and intolerable.” But he was allowed to stay in the classroom.

Teachers’ unions wield phenomenal power, and according to Education Next, since 1990, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have usually been among the top ten contributors to federal electoral campaigns. Even more striking is that union members regularly constitute at least 10 percent of the delegates at the Democratic National Convention, making them the single largest organizational bloc of Democratic Party activists.

Therefore, if members of these bodies are unable to vote, then politicians will no longer be inspired to indulge their demands. So, consequently elected representatives will have a stronger incentive to govern in the interest of citizens. Similarly, the privilege of government employees to vote should also be rescinded. Officials in the public sector depend on state resources, so by exerting political clout, they can obstruct the course of democracy.

The power of bureaucrats to corrupt governance is artfully captured by Ludwig von Mises in his book Bureaucracy: “Representative democracy cannot subsist if a great part of voters are on the government payroll. If the members of parliament no longer consider themselves mandatories of the taxpayers but deputies of those receiving salaries, wages, subsidies, doles, and other benefits from the treasury then democracy is done for.” Likewise, beneficiaries of welfare should equally be prohibited from voting to deter politicians from becoming susceptible to requests requiring the distribution of wealth. Resultantly, when fewer people are permitted to vote, the political system will be better insulated from the costs of populism.

To foster development, we must recast the state as a corporation preserving society’s resources for the future benefit of the unborn. Hence its long-term outlook will favor development to democracy. The truth is that universal voting is not a positive feature of democracy, but rather an impediment to progress.

Be seeing you

One Response to “Voting, Interest Groups, and the State | Mises Institute”

  1. […] Voting, Interest Groups, and the State | Mises Institute […]

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