On Tuesday the US presidential cycle reached its first major milestone, with Iowans caucusing to determine the fates of the GOP’s contenders. As the unofficial start of 2012’s election madness (in fact already well under way), Iowa offers an opportunity to reflect on what rehashing the whole fatuous pretense every four years actually means.
In the systems prevailing around the world today, those of political decision-making, public policy is crafted by an infinitesimal fraction of society — one whose interests are not at all representative of the general population’s. Historically, the state has provided the means through which a circle of rich, ruling elites shifts its costs onto an unwary public and monopolizes the benefits of productive activity.
Since its naissance as the institutionalization of conquest and theft, however, the state has come to be regarded as something else entirely. Today, the state, the great predator of the innocent, enjoys a reputation as guardian of the weak and attendant of justice. And practical politics — that liturgy of the modern state in which the opera of elections is substituted for a government of, by and for the people — has been instrumental in varnishing that reputation.
Intermittent rituals like Iowa, rather than presenting a real opportunity to influence government, serve to pacify a populace victimized by government at every opportunity.
As a matter of course, allowing a privileged few to formulate rules for all results in rules calculated to favor those few. Free and open competition, based on equality in rights and fairness in exchange, is never the operating principle in an arrangement whereby some people have a legal prerogative to decide how everyone can use their resources, both tangible and intangible.
Instead, the modus operandi of the political process has always been and will continue to be that of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. As Duke University economist Thomas J. Nechyba succinctly described this phenomenon, “[T]he ‘winners’ are a concentrated few for whom it is easy to organize politically while the ‘losers’ are a diffuse many who barely notice why it is they are losing.”
Such is the nature of monopoly and the reason that it necessarily relies on the coercive, preclusive power of the state.
Among campaigning politicians, the constant rhetorical refrain is fixed on practical solutions to problems facing the country, on “making government work” for ordinary folks. But the representative politics that Americans recognize just isn’t designed to do anything outside of cementing and legitimizing a system of state-enforced corporate capitalism.
Whoever ends up in Washington, money and influence will be waiting there to secure privileges, expressed as laws and regulations that shackle competition. Politicians and their votes will go to the highest bidder, the benefits of obstructing genuine individual rights and voluntary exchange going to the most well-connected.
Getting money out of politics is made impossible by the very nature and definition of politics. The state is an agency of an economic ruling class, and elections are its exiguous attempt at public relations. Real democracy in a stateless society would mean consensually organized groups administering their own affairs, free from aggressive, external rule.
Corporate execs and our “public servants” were the big winners in Iowa. The best the rest of us can do is pull out our votes, withdrawing our participation and getting down to creating the kind of society we want outside of politics.