The constitutional and election system that began at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century has disappointed mankind. Most people seem to think there has been no connection between the economic and the political side of the problem. .In fact, what is called the decay of freedom, of constitutional government and representative institutions, is the consequence of the radical change in economic and political ideas. The political events are the inevitable consequence of the change in economic policies.
The assumption that, within a nation, all honest citizens have the same ultimate goal. This ultimate goal, to which all decent men should be dedicated, is the welfare of the whole nation, and also the welfare of other nations and political leaders being fully convinced that a free nation is not interested in conquest. They conceived of party strife as only natural, that it was perfectly normal for there to be differences of opinion concerning the best way to conduct the affairs of state.
Those people who held similar ideas about a problem cooperated, and this cooperation was called a "party". But a party structure was not permanent. It did not depend on the position of the individuals within the whole social structure. It could change if people learned that their original position was based on false assumptions, on erroneous ideas. From this point of view, many regarded the discussions in the election campaigns and later in the legislative assemblies as an important political factor. The speeches of members of a legislature were not considered to be merely pronouncements telling the world what a political party wanted. They were regarded as attempts to convince opposing groups that the speaker's own ideas were more correct, more beneficial to the common weal, than those which they had heard before.
But this implied that the government would not interfere with the economic conditions of the market. It implied that all citizens had only one political aim: the welfare of the whole country and of the whole nation. And it is precisely this social and economic philosophy that interventionism has replaced. Interventionism has spawned a very different philosophy.
Under interventionist ideas, it is the duty of the government to support, to subsidize, to give privileges to special groups.
What we see today in the reality of political life, practically without any exceptions, in all the countries of the world is a situation where there are no longer real political parties in the old classical sense, but merely pressure groups.
A pressure group is a group of people who want to attain for themselves a special privilege at the expense of the rest of the nation. This privilege may consist in a tariff on competing imports, it may consist in a subsidy, it may consist in laws that prevent other people from competing with the members of the pressure group. At any rate, it gives to the members of the pressure group a special position. It gives them something which is denied or ought to be denied-according to the ideas of the pressure group-to other groups.
Even in the United States, the two-party system of the old days is seemingly is only a camouflage of the real situation. In fact, the political life of the United States-as well as the political life of all other countries-is determined by the struggle and aspirations of pressure groups. In the United States there is still a Republican party and a Democratic party, but in each of these parties there are pressure group representatives. These pressure group representatives are more interested in cooperation with representatives of the same pressure group in the opposing party than with the efforts of fellow members in their own party. One situation, especially interesting in the United States, concerns sugar. Perhaps only one out of 500 Americans is interested in a higher price for sugar. Probably 499 out of 500 want a lower price for sugar. Nevertheless, the policy of the United States is committed, by tariffs and other special measures, to a higher price for sugar. This policy is not only detrimental to the interests of those 499 who are consumers of sugar, it also creates a very severe problem of foreign policy for the United States. The aim of foreign policy is cooperation with all other American republics, some of which are interested in selling sugar to the United States. They would like to sell a greater quantity of it. This illustrates how pressure group interests may determine even the foreign policy of a nation.
For years, people throughout the world have been writing about democracy-about popular, representative government. They have been complaining about its inadequacies, but the democracy they criticize is only that democracy under which interventionism is the governing policy of the country.
These political changes, brought about by interventionism, have considerably weakened the power of nations and of representatives to resist the aspirations of dictators and the operations of tyrants. The legislative representatives whose only concern is to satisfy the voters who want, for instance, a high price for sugar, milk, and butter, and a low price for wheat (subsidized by the government) can represent the people only in a very weak way; they can never represent all their constituents.
The voters who are in favor of such privileges do not realize that there are also opponents who want the opposite thing and who prevent their representatives from achieving full success.
This system leads also to a constant increase of public expenditures, on the one hand, and makes it more difficult, on the other, to levy taxes. These pressure group representatives want many special privileges for their pressure groups, but they do not want to burden their supporters with a too-heavy tax load.
It was not the idea of the eighteenth century founders of modern constitutional government that a legislator should represent, not the whole nation, but only the special interests of the district in which he was elected; that was one of the consequences of interventionism. The original idea was that every member of the legislature should represent the whole nation. He was elected in a special district only because there he was known and elected by people who had confidence in him.
But it was not intended that he go into government in order to procure something special for his constituency, that he ask for a new school or a new hospital or a new prison thereby causing a considerable rise in government expenditures within his district. Pressure group politics explains why it is almost impossible for governments to stop inflation.
Dictatorship, of course, is no solution to the problems of economics, just as it is not the answer to the problems of freedom. A dictator may start out by making promises of every sort but, being a dictator, he will not keep his promises. He will, instead, suppress free speech immediately, so that the newspapers and the legislative speechmakers will not be able to point out-days, months or years afterwards-that he said something different on the first day of his dictatorship than he did later on.
As we look upon the decline of freedom in so many countries today, people speak now about the decay of freedom and about the decline of all civilizations.