The Politics of Predators vs. Prey

Stolen from:
Source: Liberty Magazine
Published: March 2001 issue
Author: Durk Pearson &;amp; Sandy Shaw

The election is finally over, but the Second American Civil War is still heating up! The razor-thin margin of victory for Bush does not reflect a lack of difference between the two presidential candidates, as some have claimed, but a nation sharply divided between two different sets of values. It boils down to taxpayers versus tax-money takers.

The basis for this war between two segments of society, roughly equal in number, is that there is virtually unlimited potential for government to tax and redistribute income, and there is little to restrain anyone from demanding more and more benefits at the expense of those who pay. This is obviously an unstable and morally hazardous situation. The reason that direct taxes were not authorized in the original Constitution, and why an amendment was needed to institute them, was that the Founders were convinced that direct taxes would give the federal government too much power. How right they were: note that under current American law, absolutely nobody has an entitlement to a penny of his or her own earnings, while there are numerous entitlements to other people's money.

Equality is often used as a moral basis for government to redistribute income. Whether people have a right to the fruits of other people's labor, simply by virtue of having been born, is a question of value. However, whether equality can actually be achieved through government manipulation is an economic question that can be answered without resorting to value judgments.

The faster technology changes, the less likely that there can be equality in the distributions of its benefits. That's because the faster changes take place, the farther the system of constantly changing human choices is from the equilibrium that would be required for equality to exist. Equality requires stasis: an example of perfect equality is death.

The faster technology changes, the faster products of advanced technology become available to all, including those less well-off. Today's $769 personal computer can run circles around the personal computer that cost $3000 a decade ago.

It comes down to this: you can have a dynamic economy with lots of opportunities and no guarantee of equal outcomes, or you can have a static economy within which people jockey politically for equality. Each of these alternatives is desirable to about half the American population.

Such a 50-50 split is predicted by game theory (Buchanan, "Politics, Policy, and the Pigovian Margins" in The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan: Vol. 1, 1999, p.64-65; Von Neumann and Morgenstern, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, 1953, p. 264.) Currently, deviations from an even split are probably the product of credibility-differences between the candidates. After Bush Sr moved his lips on taxes, his base no longer supported him, and Bob Dole was exactly what Newt Gingrich called him - "the tax collector for the welfare state."

Clinton, despite being an exceptionally good liar and being willing to use any means to achieve his ends, remained a credible source of government goodies for his constituencies; hence, the almost perfect 50-50 voter split predicted by game theory.

It is easier to follow this argument if you consider, as an analogy, the relationship between populations of predator and prey. Increasing numbers of prey allow for increasing numbers of predators. If predators increase in numbers too rapidly in response to the increased prey, though, the ratio of predators to prey becomes too great and the prey are depleted, followed by a predator's dying off. Until recently, one of the big problems in mathematical models of predator-prey ecology was that they predicted that predators would completely consume most, if not all, prey and then starve. Of course, this rarely happens in nature. The flaw was that they ignored differences in the spatial distributions of predators versus prey. The ability of prey to move away from high-predation areas has a profound stabilizing effect (Hastings, "The Lion and the Lamb Find Closure," Science Vol 290, 2000, p 1712-13.)

Politically, that is exactly what is happening in the United States. Ten years ago, we moved from southern California, an area of high taxes and heavy land-use regulation, to central Nevada, a rural area with few regulations in a state with no income tax. If you examine an election map showing which counties each candidate carried, you can see clearly a dramatic distinction between the urban areas, where most of the tax predators live, and the rural areas, where tax prey can still escape to. It is because of the careful design of the Electoral College by the Founders that the United States is not dominated by a few large population centers.

Of course, there are limitations of predator-prey models for political analysis. Humans, unlike other animals, are capable of volitionally moving between the categories of "predator" and "prey" (or, more precisely, tax-money consumers and taxpayers), depending upon such things as the availability of economic opportunities and the severity of income-tax rates, and even of getting out of the game altogether by not paying income taxes. Nonetheless, the analogy of predator-prey relationships lends valuable insight to the tax-consumer-taxpayer relationship.

The even split between tax-predators and tax-prey has limited the spread of predation. We fear, however, that we have seen a fundamental change in the nature of American elections with the development of large-scale legal litigation and the open use of widespread fraud in ballot-counting as political strategy. Lawyers are hatching all sorts of clever plots. For example, there are about four million convicted felons who are currently disenfranchised by state laws. Efforts are being made in several states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, and Washington, to re-enfranchise felons, who are likely to vote overwhelmingly Democrat.

Criminologist Christopher Uggen of the University of Minnesota says; "Democrats have successfully co-opted Republican policies on crime. One unanticipated cost of that strategy has been the erosion of the Democrat voter-base." Nancy Northrup, director of the Democracy Program at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, is the lead attorney for the Florida ex-felons. "Disenfranchised felons used to represent 1% of Florida's voting-age population," she says. "Now it's 5%." Counting both inmates and ex-inmates, 24% of Florida's voting-age black males cannot vote. (Goldhaber, "The Felon Vote," The National Law Journal, Oct 30, 2000, p.A1.)

The disenfranchisement of felons is yet another social problem resulting from the War on Drugs, which has made many non-violent drug offenders into felons. On the other hand, in many low-population rural counties where prisons are located, the majority of residents may vote Republican, but the felons could dominate the results of local elections, and possibly turn them into havens for tax consumers. Beyond those local effects, the re-enfranchisement of such a large number of felons - mostly in the tax-predator camp - could change the balance of power between predator and prey.

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