Koch-Funded Economist Wants “Less Democracy”

Professor of Capitalism

By Ben Norton
March 28, 2015
Counter Punch


Dr. Garett Jones is wary of democracy. He is Associate Professor of Economics and BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center, “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas,” at George Mason University, you see. He wants “less democracy.” He, like so many of his academic colleagues, writes scholarly articles in prestigious economics journals, extolling the virtues of moralless, unmitigated greed and absolute plutocratic tyranny. And it just so happens that that inconvenient “democracy” thing is an “inefficient” burden on the path toward a society based on these principles.

In “10% Less Democracy: How Less Voting Could Mean Better Governance,” a 24 February 2015 presentation at George Mason University’s Center for Study of Public Choice, Jones bemoans the “anti-market bias” inherent in democracy. He laments that protectionism is “encouraged by voters,” and that, “around the world, looming elections mean less labor market liberalization.” Jones also is distraught that elected electricity commissioners “shift costs to the … industrial sector.” The burden should always be on the worker, naturally.

A good macroeconomist maintains “skepticism toward maximum democracy,” the professor says, as “less democratic monetary policy” leads to “lower, more stable inflation, with no apparent change in the unemployment rate or real GDP growth.” He cites Alan Blinder, a former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and Princeton professor of economics who served on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, who candidly admits that “events since 1997 have pushed me more and more toward the conclusion that society would indeed be better off if politicians confined themselves to broad decisions about tax policy and left the details to a group of technocrats analogous to the Fed’s Board of Governors.” This is the kind of thing economists say to each other behind closed doors: Democracy is bad, and society would be much better if ruled under the silicon fist of a technocratic oligarchy.

Prof. Jones also draws from the work of Jennifer Hochschild, a professor of government and African and African-American studies at Harvard University, who argues that “expansions of the suffrage bring in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote.” Those who take this view to its “logical” conclusion are compelled, by this “logic,” to deduce that more democracy is bad. (Uncoincidentally, this is the very same argument chauvinists and white supremacists used to oppose voting rights for women and black Americans, paving the way for rigged literacy tests.)

Jones concludes his presentation suggesting we have more appointed, rather than elected, political leaders. He quotes Jason Brennan, Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and Thomas Jefferson. The former, in a fit of illogic verging on the embarrassing, insists “Citizens have a right that any political power held over them should be exercised by competent people in a competent way. Universal suffrage violates this right.”

The latter Founding Father—who himself, fittingly, opposed democracy for fear that democratic forms of political organization would necessarily lead to attempts to create democratic forms of economic organization, or, in other words, anti-capitalist uprisings (as were seen in incidents like Shay’s Rebellions, which, as historian Howard Zinn reminds us, inspired the anti-democratic slave-owning architects of the US to create “a strong central government” in order to “suppress working class rebellions, to suppress slave rebellions, to protect settlers and expansionists who move into Indian territory”)—chimed that “our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that too of the people with a certain degree of instruction.” Who exactly is to be responsible for this “instruction”? Why, the propertied ruling class, of course.

Bourgeois Philosophy Says the Bourgeoisie Should Rule

Garett Jones, an economist from a Koch Brothers-funded college, advocates what he calls “epistocracy,” that is to say, a euphemism for a technocratic capitalist dystopia in which decisions are made by the “knowledgeable” (in other words, the educated; in other, other words, the rich; in other, other, other words, the bourgeoisie).

The criteria by which the “knowledge” on which his ideal society is based is measured are of course conveniently absent from Prof. Jones’ social blueprint. Presumably because he does not value all knowledges.

Knowledge is a social construct, shaped by political-economic ideology. Kant famously conceived of philosophy as the critique of knowledge. Foucault devoted a good chunk of his corpus, in his “archaeologies,” to the study of the change and development of human knowledge. He divided human history into a series of periods in which a particular kind of knowledge, what some might call an epistemological “Zeitgeist,” took precedence. Even epistemology, the philosophical inquiry in what he know and how we know it, is based on particular values, presuppositions, principles. These are what Fouacult called the “epistemes,” or “discursive formations” that stand as the hallmarks of particular historical phases. It is to the enunciation and elaboration of these ideas, in an historiographic framework, that his 1966 opus The Order of Things and 1969 The Archaeology of Knowledge, among others, are devoted.

Jones’ conception of knowledge carries none of these subtleties whatsoever. It is a value-laden, thoroughly bourgeois one. It is a colonial system in which the knowledges of those outside the capitalist, white supremacist, Eurocentric ideological paradigm are wholly devalued, in which utmost precedence is bestowed upon the non-empirically substantiated conjectures of the classical liberal intelligentsia of the so-called “Enlightenment”—those who perverted science and disguised “bourgeois relations” as “inviolable natural laws,” to quote Marx.

Unsurprisingly, Jones is by no means a marginal economist. Nor is he in any way anomalous in his field. In fact, he is highly regarded, and his dark Weltanschauung is representative and reflective of his fellow academic ilk. He serves as Associate Editor for the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Editorial Board Member for the Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, Co-Editor of Econ Journal Watch, an Co-Host of the Adam Smith Reading Group.

On his university website, the professor notes he has “worked on Capitol Hill,” in order to help the neoliberal US government more blissfully further ingratiate itself in neoliberalism. He served on the US Congress Joint Economic Committee in the summer of 2004, where he remarks he drafted “policy papers on Social Security ‘reform’ [read: gutting] and other economic issues.”

He also indicates that he “speak[s] on policy topics regularly in the media and in the Washington, DC, area,” and has appeared in C-Span’s Washington Journal, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fox Business, the New York Times, and more.

Nay, Jones is in many ways metonymic of the entire capitalist system he so faithfully admires. What makes Jones different from his economic ecclesiastical brethren is simply the fact that he has the chutzpah to openly say what so many other bourgeois economists are thinking deep-down.

Among Jones’ other gems of research are articles about how “the presence of American troops typically led to higher economic growth in host countries during the second half of the 20th century,” which he hopes “encourage others to look more closely at the micro-level institutional mechanisms whereby a U.S. troop presence can improve long-run economic performance,” to “better explain the positive relationship between military deployments and the wealth of nations.”

Jones also has done extensive work in IQ studies—a field full of unapologetic racists who claim that (pseudo)science convincingly “proves” that white people are “smarter” than black people and Latinxs and that men are “smarter” than women (just as eugenics “proved” that Europeans were superior). His support for epistocracy is doubtless rooted in this fetishization of “knowledge” with the supposedly “objective” metric of IQ.

One wonders if the neoliberal economist also secretly thinks that black people, Latinxs, women, and poor people should not vote, as, were they to not do so, and were the “knowledgeable” rich white men to decide who should run society, inflation would supposedly be lower, the economy would allegedly run more smoothly, politics would purportedly be more “efficient.” If so, he might have chutzpah, but not enough to openly make such preposterous remarks.

The fact that IQ and class are inextricably linked is conveniently absent from this discussion. When one takes even the scantest of looks at the large body of scientific research on the subject, one will see that epistocracy is quite simply rule by the rich. As professor Bruce Charlton writes in the Times Higher Education, the “existence of substantial class differences in average IQ seems to be uncontroversial and widely accepted for many decades among those who have studied the scientific literature. And IQ is highly predictive of a wide range of positive outcomes in terms of educational duration and attainment, attained income levels, and social status.”

Or, as Dr. Charlton writes elsewhere, the “basic facts on Class and IQ are straightforward and have been known for about 100 years: higher Social Classes have significantly higher average IQ than lower Social Classes. For me to say this is simply to report the overwhelming consensus of many decades of published scientific research literature.”

Capitalism Is Anti-Democratic

Capitalists often claim that socialism is the “opposite” of democracy. Equating socialism with oppressive bureaucratic tolitarianism (a descriptor that applies equally well to the contemporary’s US’ neoliberal capitalist system, one might add) is one of their oldest reactionary tricks in the book. As with so many things reactionaries say, nevertheless, this is not just completely false; it is in fact the antithesis of what is true. Dr. Jones—like right-“libertarian” apostle Ayn Rand, who wholly abhorred democracy—shows capitalists’ true colors.

Rand, the idol of so many an economist and US politician today, described democracy as “a social system in which one’s work, one’s property, one’s mind, and one’s life are at the mercy of any gang that may muster the vote of a majority at any moment for any purpose.” “Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom,” she screeched.

This is the extreme, concentrated anti-democratic strand at the heart of capitalism. There is no denying it. Some have simply tried to cover it up, with a thin layer of the soot that is left of the scorched remains of the working class. Others, like Jones, are more brazen. The opinions of the “unknowledgeable” masses who may be offended by such “scientific” observations appear to be of little consequence.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s enormously popular leftist grassroots party Podemosin a February 2015 interview on Democracy Now, insisted that “If we don’t have democratic control of economy, we don’t have democracy. It’s impossible to separate economy and democracy.”

Iglesias is right. There is no democracy without democratic control of the economy—i.e., socialism. A system of private control of capital—i.e., capitalism—is nothing but the tyranny of the propertied.

Liberal capitalist “democracy” is only a “democracy” insofar as it gives the masses a minuscule spectrum (e.g., the two factions of the Business Party in the US, the Democrats and Republicans) within which to request minor changes—preponderantly mere cosmetic ones—to the capitalist political-economic system that rules over them without the slightest of regards for their consent. And it does this while simultaneously robbing them, exploiting them, pillaging the surplus value of their labor, and of the labor of workers in colonized and/or occupied nations in the periphery upon which “their” economy thrives, as does a leech on a host, or “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Ben Norton is a freelance writer and journalist. His website can be found at http://BenNorton.com/.



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