Monday, July 14, 2008

Political Power vs. Economic Power

Last year when I was in Hobbs, NM to help fight a zoning ordinance there, I was interviewed by the newspaper editor. At one point I mentioned that zoning concentrated power in the hands of a few political officials. He responded that without zoning, power was also concentrated in the hands of a few, namely builders and developers.

His point was founded on the mistaken belief that political power and economic power are the same.

Political power is the power to coerce. It is the power to dictate the actions of others. It is the power to criminalize voluntary actions. It is the power to impose one’s values upon others under the threat of fines or imprisonment for disobedience.

Economic power derives from the voluntary consent of everyone participating in the marketplace. Economic power derives from providing values to others, and the greater the values offered, the greater the economic power.

The difference between political power and economic power is the difference between the coerced and the voluntary, between the choices of political officials and the choices of individuals.
Economic power is earned by meeting the freely chosen desires of consumers. It is earned by producing those values that consumers seek.

Freedom means the right to pursue one’s values. As a producer, this means that individuals may offer those values that others seek. As a consumer, this means that individuals may purchase, or not purchase, those values offered by producers. The choice is voluntary on the part of all individuals.

Zoning removes this choice. Zoning removes land use from the voluntary choices of producers and consumers, and vests those decisions in the hands of zoning officials. It is a power that is economically impractical, and morally reprehensible.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008


tscott said...

I understand the diferances between political and economic power, but please answer me this question. What are the connections between economic and politica power at both individual and structural levels? What theory of power is best supported by these connections? This is a question I have to answer for my Sociology class and everything I find are the diferances between the two.

Brian Phillips said...

I don't understand what you mean by "connections between economic and political power"? If you could explain, I will try to answer.

tscott said...

That is my problem I am not really sure what connections there are between the political power and economic power if there are any at all. Are there theories that help support either of the powers? Are the two power alike in any way at all?

Brian Phillips said...

There is nothing in common between political power and economic power. Economic power is based on voluntary trade. Political power is based on coercion--forcing individuals to act contrary to their own judgment.

Politically, the theory that supports political power is statism. Statism holds that the individual's life belongs to the state, which may dispose of him and his property as it chooses. Morally, political power rests on altruism--the belief that the standard of morality is service to others.