Competitive Government vs. Democratic Government

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Arnold Kling looks at competitive government vs. democratic government:

In democratic government, people take jurisdictions as given, and they elect leaders. In competitive government, people take leaders as given, and they select jurisdictions.

Albert Hirschman sees it as the difference between exit and voice, Spencer Heath calls it the difference between proprietorship and politics:

Heath evidently was influenced by the single-tax movement of Henry George. The idea of the single tax is to use a tax on land to finance all of government’s functions.

Heath reasoned that a land tax was analogous to rent. One can think of government as a landlord, supplying public amenities in exchange for rent. From that perspective, a profit-maximizing landlord might serve just as well as an elected government.

Today, two-thirds of Americans own their own homes, including the land underneath. Public goods are supplied by governments. In Heath’s model, everyone would lease their land, and public goods would be supplied by the landlord. Within any given area, there would be many landlords competing for tenants. Each subdivision might have a different landlord. The landlord would decide on rent, amenities, and rules. Tenants would lease the land. Heath’s grandson, Spencer Heath MacCallum (1997, 2004), describes this as manorialism. He sees manorialism as a voluntary relationship between tenants and landlord, whereas feudalism is a system where the tenant/serf cannot leave without the landlord’s permission.

Historically, Kling notes, Americans have viewed tenancy with disdain:

We associate home ownership with freedom and equality. We associate tenancy with serfdom. Thomas Jefferson wanted a nation of yeoman farmers.

In Jefferson’s time, land was the primary source of wealth. Today, a tenant is no longer necessarily poor and dependent. In fact, modern shopping malls and office buildings come close to the Heath model.

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