Distributing Political Power

power-quotePolitical power – the power to tax, enforce and write law – must be distributed across individuals. Each area of power may be distributed differently. There are two main actors: the government itself and the people who are governed. Within the government the same division exists as well. In Canada, the provinces are governed by the federal government and federal courts. There are two main ways of distributing power within a country. Power is either distributed bottom-up or top-down.

If power is distributed bottom up within the area of taxation then taxes are collected by local municipal governments. Individuals do not pay any tax to any higher government. The local government is in turn taxed by the provincial (or state) government, and they in turn are taxed by the federal government. By distributing taxation this way, it is impossible for the federal government to control lower tiers of government by directly controlling the money supply. If each tier of government controls voting by sending representatives to higher tiers of government, then they will tend to vote to decrease taxes on themselves. At the lowest level of government, the voice of the individual is much louder than it would be at a higher tier of government. Therefore, such governments would not raise taxes as easily as a higher tier of government would.

If power is distributed top-down, then the decisions at the top determine what the bottom is allowed to do. In Canada, the federal government determines (through the constitution, legislation and regulation) the powers of lower tiers of government. The provincial government in turn determines the powers of the lowest tier of government. Such an arrangement of power is top-down. It is exactly the same distribution of power found in dictatorships and monarchies.

The ability to freely (and anonymously) elect legislators is often confused with democracy and a distribution of power. There is a form of government known as elective monarchy (or elective dictatorship) in which a person is freely elected to hold absolute power. Hitler in Germany is a real life example of this. He was elected to office and legally obtained the position to rule the country absolutely. A democracy is a rule by the people. In order for the people to rule, power must be distributed bottom-up. Having elections only means that legislative power is difficult to pass on to one’s children.

Canada is a real life example of a split system. Taxation is divided: the provinces receive money from the federal government, who receives it from individuals. Municipalities receives some money in taxes (property taxes and fees) and some money in grants from their provinces. In terms of actual money taxed, however, taxation is mostly top-down. The power to enforce laws is also divided. Responsibilities are divided between the federal government, the provinces and municipalities. However, the most serious crimes are federal and the largest and most serious lawsuits are also federal. Therefore, enforcement is mostly top-down. Legislation may be divided into law and regulation. Both of these are divided across the various tiers of government. However, issues governing taxation, the constitution, serious crimes, and much of the regulation affecting small businesses are all federal. So legislation is mostly top-down as well. Therefore, Canada’s distribution of power is mostly top-down. Or Canada functions for the most part as an elective dictatorship.

Just as I analyzed Canada, it is also possible to analyze any other country – past, present or future – and determine how power is distributed within the country. The other way to analyze a country is to determine what limits there are on the power held by the government. But that is a separate issue.

Government and Power

I have discussed the two previous arguments for anarchism already and have explained by they both fail. This third argument does not fail in the usual sense. We know from experience that power corrupts, and the greater the power the greater the corruption. Government is a particular example of this. The problem with power is a problem that arises from the current condition of humanity. There is no reason to believe that a mere removal of government will solve the problem or decrease it.

The problem with this argument is governments are not the only examples of powerful organizations. Both individuals, corporations and special interest groups can gain power as well. In special cases, each one can gain the power to become governments of their own or to enact powers usually only available to governments. It is for this reason that a lack of government cannot remove the problem of power.

But every individual has the potential to gain power. There are many mechanisms to do so: fame, money, knowledge and skill. Furthermore, power is something that many people desire to achieve their goals. So since there is both potential and desire, a mere lack of government will not prevent an individual from amassing power. But it is not possible to remove the temptation for power nor the potential to gain power. But governments are formed from people and to preserve the common good of those people. So the problems with government have nothing to do with the special properties of government itself. The problems of government exist because human individuals have problems with power. This is enough to show the problem with this kind of argument for anarchism.

In order to reduce the problem of power, there are two things to consider. The first is the ease with which a particular individual may amass power. If this is as difficult as possible, then it will be difficult for any particular person to gain much power. The second are is the desire to gain power. If this can be reduced in any way then the problem of power will also be reduced. Neither of these may be eliminated entirely. There is no way to produce a human society incapable of corruption using human effort. But we can work at minimizing corruption by eliminated the temptation of too much power.

In an anarchist society, there is no way to ensure that individuals, corporations and special interest groups do not come to gain excessive amounts of power. It is entirely possible to have a society without government (yet), but have one rich person who owns all of the food. It is also possible for a number of large corporations to exist, cooperate with each other to eliminate competition and ensure that no individual challenges their profits. Either of these scenarios would result in a world in which powerful people oppressed the majority. Although government does not always act correctly, it does stop at least these extreme cases from occurring. So there is no reason to believe that government is a special cause of corruption.

The true problem with power is how to rightly structure society so that power is distributed widely, remains widely distributed and citizens act to ensure that this state of affairs continues. Such a society would minimize the problems of power. The right ordering of society is a question of justice. Since power is a good thing that may be used for evil ends, the problem of who should receive power is a problem of justice. I will have to discuss the issue of justice in a separate series.