Monday, August 30, 2010

The 'Landes Law' on imperialism and its domestic corollary.

Historian David S. Landes
In his New York Times bestseller The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some are so Rich and Some so Poor, David Landes claims
"a law of social and political relationships, namely, that three factors cannot coexist: (1) a marked disparity of power; (2) private access to the instruments of power; and (3) equality of groups or nations." [63]

Penned in 1998, this writing still sheds some interesting light on our recent foreign policy adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Conspiracy theories and "blood for oil" slogans aside, private companies did have a large involvement in immediate invasions as well the as follow-up occupations. Along with industry lobbying and corporate connections in the White House, condition (2) seems to have been justified. The marked disparity of power and inequality between groups hardly even need discussion.

On face, the principle at work here seems accurate. As Landes argues, "Where one group is strong enough to push another around and stands to gain by it, it will do so." However, this incentive isn't limited to foreign policy. I'll propose the following corollary to Landes Law:

Welfare State Corollary: three factors cannot coexist: (1) a marked disparity of specialized interests; (2) private access to the instruments of government; and (3) national government running a balanced budget.

In other words, when an interest group (e.g. farmers, doctors, bus-drivers, etc.) has enough political influence, it will push others around through the legislative process, as long as it stands to gain by doing so. When a multitude of such interests exist, satisfying all their demands will flout any efforts at a balanced budget (unless taxes are incredibly high, and there's an interest group against that too).

While Landes' Law poses a serious challenge to efforts at global peace, the Welfare State Corollary has implications on our current political system's ability to respond to the current financial crisis. I'll leave it to the reader to decide on the accuracy of this analogy.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. History has shown that anytime the middle class of a democratic society figures out that they can vote into power those that will give them the most, crumbles into a historical footnote.