I present a fictional case study, the story of the Evalstown democracy. In a concrete way, it brings out a few salient factors that sometimes underlie the growth, size, and justifications of the state. Of course, no two real-world situations are exactly alike and many will be quite different from the Evalstown democracy.
Evalstown is a reasonably prosperous town in which, by habit and inclination, its busy people eat out most of the time. But the town shows serious signs of malaise and decline. A visitor to Evalstown soon discovers that it has an unusual restaurant industry. Evalstown has four kinds of restaurants, specializing in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and overnight menus and open at only those times of day. People eat breakfast and dinner wherever they please; and there are many restaurants that serve breakfasts and dinners all over town that have large menus at reasonable prices. But there is only one restaurant in town where the citizens may eat lunch and one where they may eat a midnight snack.
Old-timers in the town have related how this situation has come about. Many, many years ago, there were all sorts of restaurants for any meal. The town had been founded in 1653 A.D. by colonists as part of a larger district that was run by a king. The king imposed taxes on food and drink. Other restrictions irked the citizens no end. After a long series of disputes culminating in an armed struggle, the town broke away from the district.
The people were divided on what to do next. The so-called Unity group argued that the night restaurants were a problem. Most people were asleep at night, they observed. Might not the king’s men secretly return under cover of darkness, conduct raids, and take over the night restaurants? This would give them a new foothold in the town. The Unity group called for a united front. We should have a standing army to guard the night restaurants, they said.
The Federated group pooh-poohed these fears. Are you not exaggerating, they asked? Haven’t we just defeated the king’s men, and hasn’t he signed a peace treaty, they asked? Moreover, if the king’s men return, we can use night watchmen to raise a general alarm. Then the militia can assemble and scare off the king’s men.
The Unity group raised objections. This will not suffice, they argued. Our property is too valuable to take any chances. The militia men may decide to sleep. They may not cooperate. We must be secure. We must have an army.
The Federated group replied that the militia wouldn’t just sleep. After all, they strongly felt the king should not return. They’d repel any invasion. They’d sign a pact to defend the night restaurants on the understanding that the people associated with the night restaurants would help them if they ever were attacked. But, they said, the first line of defense should be that the night restaurant people post private guards and look after their own property. A group of Federated men even offered to provide such protection, at a price.
The Unity group, who happened to own a disproportionate share of the night restaurants, wouldn’t hear of this solution. We cannot trust such a pact, they responded. Who will enforce it, they kept asking? An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, they said. We should not be divided or we’ll fall. Let us act as a group, they repeated over and over. Let us have one permanent army for us all, paid for by us all.
After a preliminary meeting, the Unity group got permission to convene a meeting of all the town’s precinct leaders to draft a document suggesting solutions to the dispute. The Unity and Federated groups dispatched representatives to the meeting. The group net in secret and hammered out proposals. Strangely, this politicking produced a solution far more radical than any previous proposals. The convention proposed to reduce the number of night restaurants to make them easier to defend and reduce costs. They would be placed under a single management that could have its own army. The chief executive could call out the militia if needed. The document conceded to the Federated group that the army base would be in their part of town. It guaranteed their rights to have any number and kind of breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurants. The costs of the army would be spread over everyone via tariffs on foreign goods; the citizens might all have to pay some excises, but all taxes would be voted on. There were all sorts of other provisions inserted to create a coalition of men willing to support the final document. For instance, the army would not be called out unless the precinct representatives declared this necessary, and the military would be under civilian control.
The convention vaguely realized that the proposed structure created a monopoly and that it might start to act like the old king had. So they decided to institute a complex scheme of controls over the nighttime operations. They’d vote every two years for a committee that would vote for the restaurant’s menu. This committee would control the money needed for any improvements and the taxes to be assessed on the people. Every four years, the men of the town would vote for the chief executive of the restaurant. In case of disputes, there would be a special court filled with judges with lifetime appointments. They would be chosen by a procedure involving both the committee and the chief executive.
At this point in time, women were not allowed to vote so as not to divide the family unit. Men were regarded as the property owners and the final authority. Besides it was felt that women were too easily swayed by sympathies. They might elect managers who would raise taxes and take to feeding everyone at public expense. The convention forbade women from voting.
The issue was sent back to the precincts for a vote. After a near-tie vote, the issue was settled with the Unity group basically winning the argument. At the last moment, they secured victory by swinging the vote of a Federated precinct head by promising him a key position as head of the new authority. And so Evalstown had decided that there would be a single management that would have its own night restaurant. No others would be allowed so that it could concentrate its defenses. Taxes were imposed. The management of the new system was called the USA (United Sustenance Authority).
In one precinct, a number of night restaurants rebelled and launched an attack on a town arsenal. The Unity group rallied its forces from all the other precincts and put the rebellion down. The USA now seemed secure.
Now the years passed. Many people at first were unhappy with the reduction in the night restaurants and with the taxes. But they had to go along. Schoolteachers in new generations began to forget how the system was forged. They simply taught their students that the system was a good one that brought security to the town. They recounted that the king’s forces had in fact invaded the town again after some 25 years. This had occurred after the town had declared war on the king over grievances occurring to townspeople traveling in the no-man’s land between the town and the king’s country. The town invaded this land but was repulsed. Eventually a stalemate led to a second peace.
The issue of night restaurants remained closed for many years, until, some decades later, circumstances changed. There came a time when several southern precincts of the town wished to expand, and they wanted to open their own night restaurants. They also protested the taxes being assessed on it. The northern precincts who had the most influence in the ruling committee refused to grant their requests or address the tax issue. In fact, they called for even higher taxes. At that point the southern precincts notified the town of their withdrawal from the town. The USA organized the northern suburbs and rallied the rest of the town against this action. Unity above all, it swore. Unity it has been for decades, and unity it must be forever. Nothing less will bring us peace, prosperity, and security. A bloody war ensued. The southern precincts lost this long war.
After its victory, the people running the USA became more and more emboldened. They had put across drastic wartime measures upon the people and still held their power. Without making its aims known, the USA began to look for every opportunity to take over the breakfast, lunch, and dinner restaurants. It tried all sorts of schemes, but made little real headway. Finally it hit upon the idea of appealing to women. It promised lower-priced food at lunch with a ban on alcohol served if it were allowed to take over the lunch-time restaurants. These two policies appealed to women. They began to raise a ruckus about getting the vote. They demanded equality with men and a right to vote. They argued that they were just as much in on the formation of the USA as the men. After all, the founding documents referred to "We the People." They criticized the men for perpetuating an oligarchy of sex, wealth, and education. The USA, sensing the opportunity, promoted the vote for women. Various precincts in the town began to allow women to vote and eventually the entire town went along. Women got the vote.
Immediately and for years afterwards, the voting favored more food for everyone, paid for partially by taxes. The no alcohol ban at lunch was passed; but when drinking began to occur at lunchtime speakeasies run by bootleggers, the ban was lifted. Having gotten its foot in the door and with the support of the female vote, the USA began to take control of the lunch restaurants. It began to consolidate them, eventually closing most of them down. It said this would be a more efficient way to operate. Some it claimed were dirty. Others were said to be too expensive. Others were seized outright. The buildings were sold off to various local businessmen for banks, real estate offices, and construction company headquarters. Needless to say they got bargains and supported the closings. At the same time, the USA maintained a degree of popularity by offering some items at low prices subsidized by taxpayers. Women voters heavily supported this arrangement as remedies for the poor. Eventually, many menfolk came around to the same opinion.
The USA garnered support from several other groups. The USA night restaurant had a permanent staff that could not be fired. They belonged to the Civil Sustenance Service. They liked to cook up and serve easy dishes. Mostly, they preferred to argue at long meetings over menus, take coffee breaks, and expand their sick day allotments. They often contributed to the campaigns. They helped elect the bosses so that the bosses would support their demands for short hours, special pensions, more vacations, and higher pay. This group supported the expansion into the lunch restaurants.
Another group supporting the USA expansion was the prepared sandwich industry. The USA lunch menu shied away from hot soups and other labor-intensive dishes and gravitated to foods that were pre-packaged, pre-cooked, and easier to handle, like cold sandwiches, potato chips and cookies. Since this benefited these industries, they supported the USA expansion. Their executives and unionized labor regularly contributed to political campaigns. Both parties began to support further USA expansion.
The Evalstown males grumbled but often gave in to their women. However, they organized and won elections for the representatives to the USA. They then could pick fights with outlying districts beyond the town. This satisfied the more rambunctious males as well as various other businesses who benefited whenever a war started up. The army came to be used for more than defense, although few people acknowledged this. One group of townspeople held the view that the Evalstown system was superior to all others. They said that people outside Evalstown hated its system and were preparing to destroy it. They constantly pushed for the USA to expand to other towns and institute its more civilized system. Peace was not possible, they argued, unless everyone in the region had the same system of voting for their restaurants as Evalstown did. Another group held that unless Evalstown took over and controlled the distant towns that produced salt and pepper, it would never have a secure supply of these food condiments. Evalstown increasingly became used to armed conflicts with surrounding areas.
After a while, both parties realized that they could get elected by appealing to all these different special supporting groups, as well as the average person who voted. They began to tailor their appeals in those directions. As they did, they came to look more and more alike. Voters who were not "average" took great pains to distinguish which party they were in and support "their guys," but once in office their candidates were difficult to tell apart.
At present, the citizens of Evalstown still vote every two years for a committee of bosses who decide the lunch and night menus. Actually, two main groups of citizens control the voting procedures and put up (nominate) candidates. Because it seems to make little difference to the menus, most of the eligible voters don’t vote. In fact, many of them have taken to dining at illegal underground restaurants called lunch-easies.
Lately, the nighttime and lunch restaurants, run by the United Sustenance Authority have deteriorated even more. They are dirty, dim, and manned by unresponsive help. Many items are no longer available, and others now come prepared only in certain ways. The citizens have had to accept these changes, and they have done so with surprisingly little grumbling. They have been told by the USA and other leaders that such changes are necessary due to the wars that Evalstown is obliged to fight for its safety and defense. The people have heard about oil and food shortages.
The USA’s agenda now includes a push for expansion into the breakfast restaurants. Spokesmen claim that people are overeating the subsidized lunch foods because they are not getting good breakfasts. This is causing an undue taxpayer burden. The solution is for the USA to regulate the breakfast menus in the interest of preserving the nation and its security. Some newspapers have been pushing for a law that requires everyone to eat breakfast in a USA-approved restaurant. Others are promoting higher taxes on fast breakfast food concerns, claiming that they are an indirect burden on the taxpayer. They’ve commissioned studies by university economists who claim that there is a "negative externality" problem and that all fast food breakfast companies should be strictly controlled, if not closed down.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.