Political Power vs Economic Power


Power is the ability to make people do what they would otherwise not do. The central base of power, of making people do what they would otherwise not do is the state, since time immemorial, its establishment as Hume would posit in his ‘The Original Contract’ is also an exercise of power since most if not all states were founded through conquest, usurpation or some exercise of force. State power, hitherto referred to as Political power is manifest in two forms, coercion and force whilst civic power, hitherto referred to as Economic power for purposes of our piece is manifest in the form of persuasion and manipulation.

Now from the definition of power itself one can draw a myriad of conclusions but for the narrow purposes of my piece, I am interested in which form of power is legitimate, and thus should be encouraged, economic or political power.  Political power is rooted in the exercise of force and coercion, from its inception to its continued existence. Political power aptly understood is the ability to make people do what they would otherwise not do by use of coercion or threat of force, manifest in prison or the gallows.

Economic power is the ability to make people do what they would otherwise not do through persuasion instead of force. To briefly distinguish between the two, I will utilize an example. Should you disagree with the state, given the forms in which their power is manifest, the usual result is either a fine (seizure of property but theft if properly understood), imprisonment or some form of punishment. Economic power on the other hand, since attained through persuasion and manipulation is different because should you dislike whatever the businessperson is selling, you can simply stop patronizing her without having your individual liberties violated.

Manipulation is the exercise of control not by threats but through the utilization of information and ideas. A persuades B that it will rain tomorrow, this is not an exercise of power. A persuading B that it will rain tomorrow, B utilizing said information for attainment of whatever end, then A subsequently predicting the weather events for the future (utilizing information and ideas) making B dependent on her, would be an exercise of power by A over B.

Contrast political power with Economic power and the glaring difference in nature, principle and structure become apparent. Economic power is manifest without the use of force or coercion, but rather by persuasion and manipulation. The seat of economic power is not in one singular institution but rather is the free market in its entirety, where power is not exercised by force but through voluntary interactions. I otherwise would not have purchased a cellphone, TV, Laptop, car, etc. had the manufacturer not made a convincing case for its ownership. The entrepreneur convinces me to buy his product or service whilst the state official forces me through the threat of jail should I dare disagree to buy whatever snake oil he may be peddling. 

Eskom makes apparent this distinction between economic and political power. If Eskom was a private business, it would have been wound up a long time ago. There should be no business that survives after it has proven incapable of delivering the service it is selling. Yet since it is owned by the state, we cannot disagree with it, with our disagreement being manifest by using another power supplier. The state’s behavior is tantamount to theft, it charges money for a service, fails to deliver it, doesn’t offer restitution but rather proposes raising prices! There is no competition nor an alternative to Eskom, whereas in the private sector if one is unhappy with the power exercised over them, they can simply find an alternative or make one.

The defining element between state power and economic power is not only through how they are attained but also in the context under which both exist. Political power by nature is centralized. Economic power on the other hand exists in an environment of decentralization, individuals in the market who attain economic power do it through voluntary means, trade and with the knowledge that any individual can also provide the same service or product and compete. The state’s form of power is monopolized whereas the market has multiple existing and future seats of power, acting as guards against one another. Power is limited by liberty, by the freedom to disagree and not face any violent result. The private sector is where power is best limited whilst the state is where power runs the most amok.

As a guiding principle, if we are to have a free and prosperous nation, free of abuses of power and the violation of individual right then power should reside mostly in the citizens themselves, civic society instead of the state.