The most powerful nation in the world (so it claims) is being held hostage by a group of Tea Party activists (so it seems).

As a non-American sitting on the outside, I hear the term “Tea Party” and envision hoodlums leaping onto ships with burning brands and exiting through clouds of darjeeling smoke. In Boston. At a point in time when America was still a British colony.

The movement would consist of anarchists that don’t really know what they want, but do really know what they don’t want. And they don’t want:

  1. to pay taxes; and
  2. to be subservient to a governing body that’s not their own

From the British perspective, the original Teabaggers were terrorist-insurgents. In the American version, they were heroes.

Today, the Tea Party movement gets to have its own democratic voice.

It’s anti-establishment, anti-taxation, anti-big-government, anti-fiscal-stimulus, anti-social-welfare, anti-immigration. It’s partly-libertarian and partly-populist. It has no centralised platform or agenda. It’s just an association of groups that generally agree that they have a right to be heard and (apparently) a right to impose that opinion on the deluded-and-still-to-be-enlightened majority for their own good.

To me, they sound like economic terrorists. And they get to join the list of economic crazies that I’ve been accumulating. My current top three:

1. Victor Maduro and the Venezuelan Government.

Victor Maduro is what happens when you put bus-drivers into big driving seats. It’s all conspiracy theory and the West gave Hugo Chavez cancer and ¡Viva la Revolucion!

2. Greece’s Golden Dawn.

They may as well wear swastikas.

3. Thailand’s Shinawatra Siblings.

Read my post on Thailand’s Ridiculous Rice Piles.

Although the Tea Party would probably leapfrog straight to the top of that list.

My point is this: Tea-Party-style-politicking should make us pause for thought about democracy, and Tea-Party-style-economics should make us do the same for free market capitalism.

I am not sure why we spend so much time believing in those political and economic concepts as absolutes. As though there is a universal political system that would be perfect everywhere. And as though there is a universal economic policy approach that would finally figure out human behaviour and we’d be able to manage it. Or, possibly, a universal economic approach that abandons any attempt to figure out human behaviour, and just allows everyone to do what they want (and if there’s conflict, let the strongest fight it out until one wins).

Luckily, religion at least has proved to us that, even if there are opposing bodies of faith, eventually with time, the truth will out and we’ll all adopt a single creed.

Oh hang on. That was sarcasm.

It’s All Relative

I’d like to use the allegory of a company.

Let’s say that I approach a small business owner. One that runs a factory, with a small assembly process, that produces socket-wrenches. Nothing glamorous – it’s pretty boring, actually – but because it’s boring, no one really wants to do it other than him, meaning that he does pretty well.

And I say to him:

Hey there, small-business-owner

You’re running your business wrong.

You’re being far too autocratic, dictating decisions from your office and only paying attention to the numbers. If you don’t give your staff a say, then they’re going to revolt and take over.

What you should do is run everything by ballot. When you want to make a decision, run a twitter poll and see if everyone would be okay with it first. And no – you can’t do partial polls. The receptionist should have equal say in, say, decisions about buying new machinery for operations. She may not know what a socket wrench is; but she’s affected, after all. I mean, if you spend that money on a machine, it may mean that she won’t get a bonus. 

And the same goes for financial decisions. You need to allow your factory staff some time off to go and vote on which bank you’re going to borrow from.

It’s so obvious.

In fact, if you don’t do this, I am going to go and speak to your workers, and send them a link to my blog which they can access on company computers, so that they rise up against you, you dictating tyrant!

Said small-business-owner, while kicking me out of his office, would probably have made the following points had he taken the time to respond:

  1. Democracy, in this case, benefits no one. The decisions need to be made, the owner has a vested interest in making a good decision (even if he benefits more than most), and he is best placed to make it.
  2. A receptionist making investment decisions based on her bonus potential is no different to an owner making investment decisions based on his bonus potential – except the owner is far more likely to make an informed decision.
  3. Voting is just inefficient. Production time would be lost, resulting in lower revenues, meaning that wages may not be paid.
  4. The workers were probably happiest when I wasn’t involved with my let’s-be-democratic nonsense.
  5. In the end, most people just want to work productively, get paid, and go home to their families. The marginal benefit of autonomy is probably not as high as the marginal cost of having-to-go-and-vote.
  6. If the workers are really not enjoying their jobs, then they can vote with their feet (that’s the most pragmatic thing to do anyway).

If, on the other hand, this was a partnership firm that offered services (like consulting/accounting services), then we would be talking about something a bit different. Because the business success would hinge on the personal service offered by each member of the firm, autonomy is already inherent in the business model.

In that scenario, the approach would need to be more democratic. Although, I’d probably point out that even then, there would be casting-votes and deadlock provisions.

Extending That To Countries

There is no one-size-fits-all political and economic philosophy. And there’s also no customised political and economic philosophy that is permanently appropriate for a particular state.

For example: the United Kingdom has been a Roman territory, a German vassal, a British Kingdom, a populist state under Cromwell, a monarchic-parliamentary hybrid, an Empire, an only-men-can-vote democracy and a full-ish democracy (except for children under the age of 18, and illegal immigrants). All of those have been good for the UK at some points in time, and then become less good so they’ve changed.

The same applies to her economic approach. The United Kingdom has had a feudal economy, a closed-market economy, a socialist economy, and a capitalist economy. She has operated under fiat, gold standard, silver standard and free money regimes. Again, all of those have been good for the UK at some points in time, and then become less good so they’ve changed.

I don’t think that you can glibly declare that the UK has been iterating toward enlightenment, and that because she’s tried them all, the one she has now must be the best.

Uh no.

The one she has is the best for the UK*. For now. And when it stops working, then it will change. As it has done in the past.
*Just like capi-communism is suiting China just fine. And just like state-intervention and protectionism gave South Korea her success story in the last half of the 20th century.

As it may do for the United States fairly soon.

After all, being held hostage by a disorganised rabble of economic extremists using your own political system…

Sounds like something has stopped working.