Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Time Horizons

FLG saw that TNC is reading Democracy in America and he posted a rather lengthy passage. A few things caught FLG's eye because they deal with time horizons.

is it not the true interest of kings to render their subjects happy, and the true interest of nobles to admit recruits into their order on suitable grounds? If remote advantages had power to prevail over the passions and the exigencies of the moment, no such thing as a tyrannical sovereign or an exclusive aristocracy could ever exist.

For Tocqueville, an aristocrat, the "true interest" is, of course and without a doubt, the long run interest.

Later in the passage, there's this:
Moreover, all democratic communities are agitated by an ill-defined excitement and by a kind of feverish impatience, that engender a multitude of innovations, almost all of which are attended with expense. In monarchies and aristocracies the natural taste which the rulers have for power and for renown is stimulated by the promptings of ambition, and they are frequently incited by these temptations to very costly undertakings.

FLG finds the use of the words "feverish impatience" very interesting.

Given that FLG has just read The Unheavenly City, he's reading this next paragraph a bit differently than when he read it last:
The extravagance of democracy is, however, less to be dreaded in proportion as the people acquires a share of property, because on the one hand the contributions of the rich are then less needed, and, on the other, it is more difficult to lay on taxes which do not affect the interests of the lower classes. On this account universal suffrage would be less dangerous in France than in England, because in the latter country the property on which taxes may be levied is vested in fewer hands. America, where the great majority of the citizens possess some fortune, is in a still more favorable position than France.

When FLG first read Tocqueville, he read this as - if people have property, irrespective of how they acquired the property, then there's less to fear. But Banfield's argument, which FLG will really have to post about (because he likes the argument, but has some issues with it as well), is that the biggest distinction between social classes is their level of orientation toward the future versus the present. Being lower down the class ladder implies a correspondingly greater orientation toward the present. Thus, that a wide swath of people have property would merely be a signal that the population is capable of savings and investment and consequently more future oriented. So, widely-held amounts of property, while the proximate cause in Tocqueville's argument about better democracy, is actually the effect of a deeper cause in Banfield's argument, which is that the population is wealthy because it is future oriented and that future orientation is what actually makes the extravagance of democracy less to be dreaded in American than France.

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