December 12, 2016    5 minute read

Political Economy: Votes, Power And Money

Who Is Holding The Reigns?    December 12, 2016    5 minute read

Political Economy: Votes, Power And Money

Political economy is a discipline that overlaps and lies at the intersection of economics and political science and its scholars study the impact of political institutions and processes upon economic ones and vice-versa. Although there are severe limitations with both disciplines, the author would argue that there is a credible case to be made for economics being a science whilst ‘political science’ is not.

Economics As A Science

Although Thomas Kuhn himself did not describe economics as a science in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, his ideas in terms of a scientific profession being defined by ‘rules’ and a consensus around ‘worldviews’ can be applied in a technically narrow though implicatively-broad manner to economics. Although people ordinarily deride economists on the basis of a lack of definitive predictive power, this does not disqualify economics as a science unless one defines science based on an arbitrary degree or (in statistical terms) ‘confidence interval’ of predictive power.

The fact is that regardless of methodological background or assumptions, economists have a general consensus regarding what ‘money’ is (usually, at the very least, a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value) and even when ‘money’ is not necessarily the dependent variable one is measuring, its influence upon that variable (whether that be well-being, volume of bilateral trade etc.) is accounted for (whether that be in terms of individual income, national income, government tax revenues etc.).

Although when one delves into the depths of value theory going back to political economists such as John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx, Ludwig von Mises or Adam Smith, one may find discrepancies regarding the qualities of a money that should be given precedence (whether the fact that it is a medium of exchange is more important than it being a store of value, for example) within that definition, or even when a money is “sound”. Nevertheless, in economics, ‘money’ is the common denominator and there is a general consensus regarding what it is and where it is.

Money Vs Power

However, in ‘political science’, there is no consensus regarding what power is despite one constantly experiencing and exercising power structures in everyday life. This is why political science, as it is currently practised, is not a science. Whereas in economics, ‘money’ is the common denominator, in politics, ‘power’ is. Although one lives through, experiences and exercises power daily, there is no general consensus regarding what ‘power’ is or, indeed, where the locus of power lies.

In the political arena, across countries, there are ongoing debates as to whether power is concentrated in the hands of the few or dispersed across many. Whether you are an activist, a consultant, a civil servant, an elected representative, a government minister, a think tank researcher, a public relations professional, a corporate lobbyist (or indeed a large corporation itself) or a journalist, accusations of being ‘the establishment’, ‘the elite’, or ‘puppets’ emerge from and are aimed at all entities.

Power In The Context Of Democracy

This is an important lens through which one can view ‘votes’ – a formal currency of ‘power’ – in the sense that, in the same way that monies are restricted through the monetary monopoly of central banking regimes which are designed to privilege governments first and foremost, ‘votes’ are also restricted and this impedes the way in which citizens can express the specificity of their preferences in the political arena and democratic process.

Of course, democracy is complex and merely enabling voting does not mean that a country is democratic. Freedom of the press, free speech, freedom of expression and other such freedoms are necessary for a vibrant and healthy democracy. Nevertheless, whether one lives in the US, the European Union, India or anywhere else that purports to have ‘free and fair’ elections, voters are restricted to voting according to imposed electoral rules rather than voting within flexible, malleable and dynamic systems that change to accommodate the diverse, complex and time-varying preferences of voters.

The Unequal Distribution Of Power

This means that ‘power’ – as ambiguous as it is to define, understand and locate – can never be adequately distributed and expressed in a just and holistic way whilst ‘votes’ – a formal ‘currency’ of ‘power’ – are restricted. Indeed, voting systems as they are currently imposed are akin to a centrally-planned distribution of power. One needs only ask oneself this: would one accept being told that their money can only be spent in a particular way and on particular goods and services (notwithstanding the current, often subtle, restrictions that are intended for one to do precisely this in the marketplace)? Of course not. Similarly, although voting systems are, by law and in principle, designed to affirm human equality and, subsequently, ensure democratic justice, they de facto privilege and uphold particular power structures and restrict the expression of the specificity of popular, complex and diverse preferences.

In the same way that global dissatisfaction against central banking regimes and government intervention is rising, democracy’s floodgates are being tested; they will necessarily and legitimately ‘burst’ to give way to a more constructive range of possibilities that enable amelioration of preference-specification mechanisms within the context of a more holistic and democratically-just voting system.

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