Olson over kosten en baten van democratie

Per toeval kwam ik een artikel uit 1993 tegen van de econoom Mancur Olson: dictatorship, democracy and development (google en gij zult vinden). Het trof me als een origineel artikel dat op een treffende manier laat zien hoe economen consequent over eender welk thema door redeneren. Zelfs op het ontstaan van democratie kun je het economen-instrumentarium toepassen. Hoe gaat zo’n redenering in een notendop?

Het verhaal begint bij wat Olson ‘roving bandits’ noemt. Iemand die sterk is komt in een gebied en dwingt iedereen zijn spullen aan hem af te staan. ‘Dit land is van mij’. Eventuele weerstand wordt snel de kop in gedrukt. Als de zaak is leeg geplunderd gaat de ‘mobiele bandiet’ op naar de volgende plek waar hij zijn dingetje herhaalt en zo verder. Olson stelt dat dit gedrag uiteindelijk niet rationeel is. De mobiele bandiet moet elke keer verkassen en loopt het risico dat het een keer fout gaat. Hoge kosten en veel risico dus. Tot het moment dat er een slimme bandiet kwam die bedacht dat hij gewoon op de plek in kwestie kon blijven en er zelf beter van kon worden. Hij zette een kroon op, noemde zich koning, en zou in plaats van anarchie zorgen voor heldere regels en rust. De ondergeschikten wisten voortaan waar ze aan toe waren en moesten in ruil daarvoor niet alles maar een deel van hun goederen (productie) af staan aan de zelfbenoemde koning. Logisch: de zekerheid voor de burgers bracht hen er toe het land weer te gaan bewerken in de overtuiging dat ze een fors deel daarvan zelf mochten houden. Van loslopende boeven zouden ze voortaan verlost zijn. Win-win dus.

Dit afstaan van een deel van je eigendom wordt uiteindelijk gelegaliseerde diefstal of ook wel belastingheffing genoemd. Het blijft de stationaire boef (stationary bandit) er om te doen zelf zo rijk mogelijk te worden, dus we blijven geheel in de traditie van de economische vooronderstellingen van maximaal eigenbelang. Waarom heft de koning dan geen 100% belasting? Omdat dan niemand nog wat doet en hij per saldo ook niet veel ontvangt. Ergens is er een optimale belasting die voor voldoende prikkels zorgt bij de werkende burgers dat ze lekker hun best blijven doen en bereid blijven een vast deel af te staan in ruil voor bescherming. Houdt de koning nu alles voor zijn eigen consumptie? Vinden er geen publieke investeringen plaats? Jazeker wel, de koning ziet in dat als hij investeert in het aanleggen van wegen en bruggen de burgers tot nog grotere productie komen. Dus zal hij vanuit zijn alwetende plan berekenen welke publieke investeringen hem en zijn burgers maximale welvaart opleveren.

We hebben het hier over een autocratie, een van bovenaf opgelegde machtsverhouding, van stationaire boef naar werkende burgers. Maar hoe zit het bij een democratie? Een kandidaat kan dan de macht krijgen door voldoende stemmen te krijgen.  Hij kan, wederom vanuit het economische vertrekpunt, stemmers achter zich krijgen als hij een deel van wat hij afroomt bij zijn stemmers terecht laat komen. Hij moet dus een meerderheid (om)kopen om aan de macht te komen. Nu is er in dit economische model sprake van 3 groepen: de gekozen leider, de meerderheid van de burgers en de resterende minderheid van de burgers. Er is nu sprake van een herverdeling van inkomsten: waar de koning eerst alle belastingen ontving, moet de democratische leider zijn inkomsten nu delen met de meerderheid. En er treedt nog een complicatie op: de meerderheid kent twee tegengestelde effecten van belastingverhoging, enerzijds houden ze minder over omdat de belasting omhoog gaat, anderzijds krijgen ze juist weer een deel hiervan terug als (om te kopen) meerderheid. Om een lang verhaal kort te maken: Olson toont aan dat een democratisch gekozen rationele leider minder prikkels heeft om tot een optimale belastingheffing (maximale totale productie) te komen dan een autocratische zelfbenoemde rationele leider.

Ergo: maximale welvaart wordt bereikt in het regime van de alles overziende rationele autocraat die op eigenbelang uit is. Long live the king dus. Nu zijn er wat praktische problemen die roet in het eten gooien. Koningen kunnen weliswaar hun beloftes op nakoming van de contracten geven maar koningen gaan dood en opvolgers vechten om de macht. En dat is allemaal onzekerheid bij de burgers over het blijvend nakomen van de gemaakte afspraken. En omgekeerd, omdat een koning weet dat hij er niet oneindig lang zal zijn, zal hij wellicht zelf ook een ander rekenmodel hanteren en/of zijn afspraken niet nakomen.

Om deze reden is het uiteindelijk toch de democratie die de wedstrijd wint. De rationele autocratie is dan in theorie het beste model, de afhankelijkheid van een eindig levend willekeurig persoon is een probleem. De democatie kent weliswaar ook steeds een korte tijdshorizon (verkiezingen om de zoveel jaar) maar de afspraken en instituties die toezien op het nakomen van de afspraken garanderen meer zekerheid over de bestuursperioden heen.

Toch blijft de vraag staan hoe een democratie in de praktijk dan ontstaat. Het is duidelijk hoe anarchie ontstaat en het is duidelijk hoe een min of meer rationele autocratie ontstaat. Maar waarom zou een sterke autocraat zelf besluiten om over te stappen op een democratie? Volgens Olson is het ontstaan van democratie te danken aan het feit dat er in Engeland aan het einde van de 17e eeuw geen sterke overheersende autocraat bestond die in staat was de andere groepen blijvend te onderdrukken. De strijdende partijen hadden er belang bij afspraken te maken en de macht te neutraliseren of institutionaliseren (1689, Bill of Rights). Het markeert volgens Olson het begin van de Industriele Revolutie en ’the rest is history’.

Rudy van Stratum

 

Geplaatst in Algemeen, Literatuur.

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