Allow me, dear reader, to explain the difference between political and economic power, according to philosopher and novelist, Ayn Rand.
If a small group of persons were always regarded as guilty, in any clash with any other group, regardless of the issues or circumstances involved, would you call it persecution? If this group were always made to pay for the sins, errors, or failures of any other group, would you call that persecution? If this group had to live under a silent reign of terror, under special laws, from which all other people were immune, laws which the accused could not grasp or define in advance and which the accuser could interpret in any way he pleased—would you call that persecution? If this group were penalized, not for its faults, but for its virtues, not for its incompetence, but for its ability, not for its failures, but for its achievements, and the greater the achievement, the greater the penalty—would you call that persecution?
If your answer is “yes”—then ask yourself what sort of monstrous injustice you are condoning, supporting, or perpetrating. That group is Filipino businesspersons, such as Roberto Ongpin, the Rufino-Prietos, and the Lopezes. Duterte has called them the oligarchs and elite that he must destroy.
Every ugly, brutal aspect of injustice toward racial or religious minorities is being practiced toward businesspersons. Every movement that seeks to enslave a country, every dictatorship or potential dictatorship, needs some minority group as a scapegoat which it can blame for the nation’s troubles and use as a justification of its own demands for dictatorial powers. In Soviet Russia, the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jewish people; in the Philippines, aside from drug users, it is businesspersons.
The legal treatment accorded to actual criminals is much superior to that accorded to businesspersons. The criminal’s rights are protected by objective laws, objective procedures, objective rules of evidence. A criminal is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. Only businesspersons—the producers, the providers, the supporters who carry our whole economy on their shoulders—are regarded as guilty by nature and are required to prove their innocence, without any definable criteria of innocence or proof, and are left at the mercy of the whim, the favor, or the malice of any publicity-seeking politician, any scheming statist, any envious mediocrity who might chance to work his way into a bureaucratic job and who feels a yen to do some monopoly-busting.
All the evils, abuses, and iniquities, popularly ascribed to businesspersons and to capitalism, were not caused by an unregulated economy or by a free market, but by government intervention into the economy. The giants of Filipino business—Roberto Ongpin, the Rufino-Prietos, and the Lopezes—were self-made persons who earned their fortunes by personal ability, by free trade on a free market.
As a group, businesspersons have been withdrawing for decades from the ideological battlefield, disarmed by the deadly combination of altruism and pragmatism. Their public policy has consisted in appeasing, compromising, and apologizing: appeasing their crudest, loudest antagonists; compromising with any attack, any lie, any insult; apologizing for their own existence. Abandoning the field of ideas to their enemies, they have been relying on lobbying, on private manipulations, on pull, on seeking momentary favors from government officials. Today, the last group one can expect to fight for capitalism is the capitalists.
The difference between political power and any other kind of social “power,” between a government and any private person or organization, is the fact that a government holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force.
What is economic power? It is the power to produce and to trade what one has produced. In a free economy, where no person or group of persons can use physical coercion against anyone, economic power can be achieved only by voluntary means: by the voluntary choice and agreement of all those who participate in the process of production and trade. In a free market, all prices, wages, and profits are determined—not by the arbitrary whim of the rich or of the poor, not by anyone’s “greed” or by anyone’s need—but by the law of supply and demand. The mechanism of a free market reflects and sums up all the economic choices and decisions made by all the participants. Persons trade their goods or services by mutual consent to mutual advantage, according to their own independent, uncoerced judgment. A person can grow rich only if he is able to offer better values—better products or services, at a lower price—than others are able to offer.
Wealth, in a free market, is achieved by a free, general, “democratic” vote—by the sales and the purchases of every individual who takes part in the economic life of the country. Whenever you buy one product rather than another, you are voting for the success of some manufacturer. And, in this type of voting, every person votes only on those matters which he is qualified to judge: on his own preferences, interests, and needs. No one has the power to decide for others or to substitute his judgment for theirs; no one has the power to appoint himself “the voice of the public” and to leave the public voiceless and disfranchised.
The difference between economic power and political power is this: economic power is exercised by means of a positive, by offering persons a reward, an incentive, a payment, a value; political power is exercised by means of a negative, by the threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction. The businessperson’s tool is values; the politician’s tool is fear.
Evading the difference between production and looting, politicians called the businessperson a robber. Evading the difference between freedom and compulsion, they called him a slave driver. Evading the difference between reward and terror, they called him an exploiter. Evading the difference between pay checks and guns, they called him an autocrat. Evading the difference between trade and force, they called him a tyrant. The most crucial issue they had to evade was the difference between the earned and the unearned.
Some of you have said that you saw no difference between economic and political power, between the power of money and the power of guns—no difference between reward and punishment, no difference between purchase and plunder, no difference between pleasure and fear, no difference between life and death. I hope you are learning the difference now.
Businesspersons are the one group that distinguishes capitalism and a free society from the totalitarian statism that is swallowing the rest of the world. All the other social groups—workers, farmers, intellectuals, professionals, scientists, soldiers—exist under dictatorships, even though they exist in chains, in terror, in misery, and in progressive self-destruction. But there is no such group as businesspersons under a dictatorship. Their place is taken by armed thugs: by bureaucrats and commissars. Businesspersons are the symbol of a free society. If and when they perish, civilization will perish. But if you wish to fight for freedom, you must begin by fighting for its unrewarded, unrecognized, unacknowledged, yet best representatives—Filipino businesspersons.