A Textbook Case
Jedediah Purdy is a legal academic probably best known for his work in environmental law, and his just-published Two Cheers for Politics (Basic Books, 2022) shows his wide knowledge of political philosophy. But a central argument of the book is a textbook case of a fallacy to which Ludwig von Mises was keen to call our attention.
Purdy says that “rule by equals is the keystone of democracy. The core question of politics is who has the power to make a shared world. The democratic answer is that the people who live with those choices should control them and that majorities are the best stand-in for the whole people” (p. 12). The power and influence of rich people threatens democracy, and for that reason, an essential aspect of democracy is keeping this group under strict control. “Democracy’s moral authority starts from the principle that we should shape our interdependence in a way that gives equal weight to everyone who lives with the outcome and, in class societies, gives decisive weight to middling people or the poor, cutting back domination of politics by the wealthy” (p. 127).
I don’t propose to criticize this notion of democracy here—for that task readers can consult Hans Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed—but rather to identify an assumption that underlies Purdy’s application of his notion of democracy to economics. This assumption is that the principles of economics leave substantial leeway for democracy to improve the lives of the poor and middle class beyond what can be achieved on the free market. If, for example, the democratic majority decides that workers shoul
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