Note: This post is written by Maria Chaplia.
In the essay Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber was the first to identify “monopoly” as a constitutive characteristic of statehood. Though he meant it in terms of the use of physical force within a defined territory, state monopoly on violence has surpassed its original meaning into a monopoly on choice.
Freedom to choose to the same extent as any other freedom to presupposes some kind of action, be it a mental or a physical one. Freedom to choose private healthcare, freedom to choose to bear arms, freedom to choose to take drugs, freedom to choose politicians, freedom to choose to have a different type of haircut than the ones allowed under the North Korean legislation. Unlike freedoms from, as for example freedom from surveillance, which aim to prevent us from the unsolicited outer interference, freedom to choose empowers us to act.
Due to this inherent characteristic of the freedom to choose, it has always been the key target of every oppressive system. The first thing Hitler did when he came to power in 1933 was the elimination of opposition, otherwise, freedom to choose not to be Nazi. When governments today establish public healthcare systems, they are enforcing the very same strategy as they are depriving us of freedom to choose not to pay for it with our taxes. By lessening the number of choices available to individuals, governments seek to prevent action and, thus, leave more space for action from their side.
Obviously, every such intervention in our freedom to choose sooner or later makes its way into market relations. Whether it’s an enterprise or an individual granted the privilege of being the sole provider of a certain product or service in a country — either way, government clams monopoly on our choice. It limits our options and, consequently, makes us powerless as consumers.
The free market speaks the language of profit and loss. Private enterprises need to instantly interact with their consumers as in order for a successful exchange to happen, the interests of each party need to be taken into account. Both an independent entrepreneur and an individual bring to the table their freedom to choose and both benefit when it is realised in the course of their transaction.
At the core of the free market lies the idea of an empowered individual holding a monopoly on his choices, which is certainly something governments crave to steal and replace with their own monopoly. The worst thing about the monopolist enterprises created by governments is that they treat the monopoly as an ideal and, thus, at some point they become uncontrollable.
Since their power comes from governments, not from consumers, the monopolies have no incentive to be creative. The quality of their services and products falls off as quickly as does the quality of every new law and every new politician.
State monopoly on choices is never claimed overnight. It is a very long and gradual process, which starts with an assertion of being the source of legitimate force required to adjudicate the coercion and secure peace. But once we allow the state to affirm any kind of monopoly, there is nothing preventing it from monopolising every sphere of our life.
Hence, it is either we who hold the monopoly on our choices and make governments compromise or governments have this monopoly and then it is us who are forced to compromise.