Crises and Power
 Civil Liberties
   Corporate Welfare
   Government Power
   Property Rights
U.S. Foreign Policy

Quotes on Power

About the book Crisis and Leviathan


Center on Peace & Liberty Politics



H.L. Mencken once said that “Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.” The rest of the study of politics is little more than a footnote to this truth. In democratic republics, officeholders need to appeal to voters, and the best way of doing so is to identify a “crisis” and then to promise to end it when (re)elected. The measures promised typically entail an expansion of government power, but the constituencies being courted never expect to bear the brunt of that expansion. The burdens are assumed to fall on someone else.

What helps to create this dynamic is the nature of democratic voting itself. Casting a vote is virtually costless. Most voters realize that the mere act of punching one chad rather than another will have no material impact on their lives. When an individual votes for Jones rather than Smith, Smith is not thus precluded from being elected. Thus the opportunity cost of voting for Jones is negligible. It takes many votes to elect Jones, but each person controls only one vote. In major elections, a person’s one vote is like a grain of sand on a beach: its presence or absence is inconsequential.

This creates a problem. When people believe their actions can make a practical difference in their lives, they have an incentive to choose those actions carefully. But when they believe their actions will make little or no difference, that incentive vanishes. Since people intuit that their individual votes won’t affect the outcome of elections, those who wish to vote anyway will have other reasons for doing so. They may vote out of civic duty or because they feel good about supporting a candidate perceived as standing for social justice or a clean environment or a strong national defense. Imagine how the incentives behind voting might change if only those who voted for the winner had to pay the cost of the victorious candidate’s programs. Better still, what if at the time of voting, citizens had to make a cash down payment on their favorite candidates’ proposed budgets?

Given the impotence of one vote, voters tend to embrace “rational ignorance,” the sensible decision not to acquire otherwise relevant information. If casting one’s vote cannot alter one’s condition, why invest time, effort, and money to become informed about the consequences of the candidates’ ideas? Candidates and political parties thus have an interest primarily in mood-setting and public-relations gimmicks, particularly relating to the solutions to the crisis of the season. The result is electoral superficiality, where the dominant parties cater to the ideological “center” in order to appeal to the greatest number of voters. This explains why, rhetoric aside, political differences among the major contenders are largely insignificant and why government tends to grow no matter who is elected.

Also, click here for Bibliography for Crisis and Leviathan.

Crisis Politics:

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Higgs, Robert. Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).

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—. “Some Are Weeping, Some Are Not.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, April 26, 2003.

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—. “On Treating Like Cases Alike,”The Independent Review, Vol. IV, No. 1 (Summer 1999), pp. 107-118.

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—. “Étienne de La Boétie,” Future of Freedom Foundation, May 2003.

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Mitchell, William C. and Randy T. Simmons. Beyond Politics: Markets, Welfare and the Failure of Bureaucracy. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press for The Independent Institute Book, 1994.

Mosca, Gaetano. The Ruling Class. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939. Classic book on the emergence of ruling elites.

Pareto, Vilfredo. The Rise and Fall of the Elites: An Application of Theoretical Sociology. Totowa, N.J.: Bedminster Press, 1968.

—. Sociological Writings, ed. by S. E. Finer. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1976.

Polakoff, Keith I. Political Parties in American History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981.

Rothbard, Murray N. “The Politics of Obedience,” introduction to Étienne de La Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. New York: Free Life Editions, 1975. [Online Book]

—. “War, Peace and the State,” in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays. Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000, pp. 115-132.

Smith, Hedrick. The Power Game: How Washington Works. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.

Tufte, Edward. Political Control of the Economy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. How government officials manipulate the political business cycle to ensure the outcome of elections.

Twight, Charlotte. “Conning Congress: Privacy and the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act,” The Independent Review, Vol. VI, No. 2 (Fall 2001), pp. 185-216.

Politics of “Security”:

Beard, Charles A. President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War, 1941: A Study in Appearances and Realities. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948.

Eland, Ivan. “Review of the book The Political Economy of NATO: Past, Present and into the 21st Century by Todd Sandler and Keith Hartley,” The Independent Review, Vol. V, No. 2 (Fall 2000), pp. 303-306.

Gurantz, Ron. “Look Who’s Looking.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, October 22, 2001.

Higgs, Robert, ed. Arms, Politics, and the Economy: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Holmes & Meier for The Independent Institute, 1990.

—. “Beware the Pork-Hawk: In Pursuit of Reelection, Congress Sells Out the Nation’s Defense,” Reason, June 1989.

—. “The Cold War Economy: Opportunity Costs, Ideology, and the Politics of Crisis,” Explorations in Economic History, July 1994.

—. “The Cold War is Over, but U.S. Preparation for It Continues,” The Independent Review, Vol. VI, No. 2 (Fall 2001), pp. 287-305.

—. “The Cold War: Too Good a Deal to Give Up.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, 2002.

—. “Defending the Homeland,” The Free Market, May 2002.

—. “Don’t Federalize Airport Security,” San Francisco Business Times, October 22, 2001.

—. “Free Enterprise and War, a Dangerous Liaison.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, January 22, 2003.

—. “From Central Planning to the Market: The American Transition, 1945-1947,” The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 59, No. 3 (September 1999).

—. “Hard Coals Make Bad Law: Congressional Parochialism Versus National Defense,” Cato Journal, Spring/Summer 1988.

—. “How War Amplified Federal Power in the Twentieth Century,” The Freeman, July 1999.

—. “Some Other Costs of War,” The Free Market, March 1991.

—. “War and Leviathan in Twentieth-Century America: Conscription as the Keystone,” from The Costs of War: America’s Pyrrhic Victories, edited by John V. Denson. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999.

—. “Wartime Prosperity? A Reassessment of the U.S. Economy in the 1940s,” The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 52, No. 1 (March 1992).

—. “World War II and the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex,” Freedom Daily, May 1995.

Higgs, Robert and Anthony Kilduff. “Public Opinion: A Powerful Predictor of U.S. Defense Spending,” Defence Economics, Vol. 4 (1993).

Higgs, Robert and Charlotte Twight. “Economic Warfare and Private Property Rights: Recent Episodes and Their Constitutionality,” Journal of Private Enterprise, Fall 1987.

Holcombe, Randall G. From Liberty to Democracy: The Transformation of American Government. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

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—. The Politics of War. New York: HarperCollins, 1980.

Kwitny, Jonathan. “Review of the book The Captive Press: Foreign Policy Crises and the First Amendment, by Ted Galen Carpenter,” The Independent Review, Vol. II, No. 2, Fall 1997, pp. 321-323.

Lindsay, James M. Congress and Nuclear Weapons. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

MacArthur, John R. “Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War: How Government Can Mold Public Opinion,” Independent Policy Forum, The Independent Institute, October 7, 1993. [Forum Audio, Forum Transcript]

Pilisuk, Marc and Thomas Hayden. “Is There a Military-Industrial Complex Which Prevents Peace?”, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 67-117.

Raico, Ralph. “Review of the book Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since 1776 by Walter A. McDougall, The Independent Review, Vol. III, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 273-278.

Sechrest, Larry J. “Let Privateers Troll for Bin Laden.” Oakland, Calif.: The Independent Institute, September 30, 2001.

Tabarrok, Alexander. “Congress Shall Have the Power to Declare War,” North County Times, April 5, 1999.

Trevino, Ruben and Robert Higgs. “Profits of U.S. Defense Contractors,” Defence Economics, Vol. 3 (1992).

Twight, Charlotte. Dependent on D.C.: The Rise of Federal Control Over the Lives of Ordinary Americans. New York: Palgrave St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

—. “Watching You: Systematic Federal Surveillance of Ordinary Americans,” The Independent Review, Vol. IV, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 165-200.

“What if Congress Declared War?,” Investor’s Business Daily, April 20, 1999.