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Political Evolution and Time Preference BarrierINTRODUCTION

Some time ago we published the article The Leadership Barrier where we explained one of the reasons why the evolution towards Libertarianism was so hard. This was so because Libertarianism demands from each and every one of us to be a leader of a pack of one. You. However, biologically speaking, most of us are pack animals, which means that we are much better suited to follow than to lead. If this would not be true, then we would have never survived pre-historic harsh environments where strength in numbers is critical, but even more critical is to have organized strength in numbers. This is not possible without a pack following a leader. If we would all be natural leaders there would have been no pack and we would all be extinct by now.


In the article The Three Laws of Political System Change we outlined the minimum requirement for a change of Political System (i.e. political evolution) to take place. They are:

1 – There must be a state of bad economic conditions

2 – There must be a further sudden and large decrease in economic conditions

3a – There must be a new Political System promising significant improvements in economic conditions or,

3b – There must be a complete and total disillusionment with the current Political System

As you can see point #1 and #2 are directly related to economic conditions, said conditions also being part of the point 3b. It is for this very reason that we stated time and time again that the engine of political change (or evolution) is the economy.

In the previously mentioned article we also explained that the economy is the engine of political evolution for one simple reason; we are physical beings thus we need physical goods and services to subsist and to satisfy us. It is thus obvious that for as long as a political system can do so, even minimally, we will support this system because the alternative is the unknown, which translates as chaos which further translates as less goods and services to satisfy our needs. This much is a given.


Is then there an indication, or a more precise way to determine when "a state of bad economic conditions" followed by a "sudden and large decrease in economic conditions" is enough to fulfill conditions #1 and #2?

For that we need to borrow a page from Austrian Economics. We will do so because Austrian Economics is the only economic theory we know of that is based on human action as opposed to theoretical mathematical equations which treat people as inanimate particles in a closed system (for those of you who are interested in physics).

The article Austrian Economics For Dummies - The Criticality of Time explains how time is critical to economic activities. From this we can deduce the principle of Time preference, which reads:

Time preference means that everything being equal we prefer to satisfy our needs now and not later.

Why is this principle important?

Because in terms of requirements #1, #2 and partially #3b, we want (need) to satisfy our needs now and not later. However bad the current Political System may be, it is still better at satisfying our needs now as opposed to something in the future for which we have no idea as to how good or bad may be to accomplish the same task. This is the very old principle that "a bird in hand is worth two in the bush".

However, as current economic conditions deteriorate under the current political system, this system becomes more erratic and its capacity to provide us with what we need now becomes less and less certain. As we move forward in time, this current uncertainty begins to match the uncertainty inherent to some other political system in the future.

In other words, the rule of time preference no longer applies because we can't get what we need now and so the conditions reverse. We know that we can't get what we need now (certainty) but we also know that we may get what we need tomorrow under a different political system. This, again, is summarized in the old idea that we have reached a point at which we have nothing to lose, thus we might as well jump into something new.

It is for this reason that economic conditions conducent to political system changes must be so extreme. Because no matter how bad current conditions may be, we can always satisfy some of our more pressing needs now. There are always free market leftovers to help us. The time preference barrier is a psychological one, based on physical conditions. It is the point in time when we say to ourselves "this cannot continue any longer".

The underlying idea behind the rules of political evolution is that time preference does exist and plays a big role in our behaviour. As a matter of fact, time preference in political evolution is so important as to constitute a barrier through which we must walk or no political evolution will take place.


Can we quantify and determine when will this barrier be crossed with certainty? Absolutely not. As with any other economic endeavour, it is purely subjective. Different people will cross this barrier at different times and for different reasons. However, eventually, sufficient people will cross it and there will be sufficient political critical mass to force a political system change.


Our theory of political system change (or political evolution) is based on the idea that evolution happens in the mind of the people, not in current events. For example, a country may be moved from a monarchic system to a democratic system by force, but this does not mean that people have evolved. As such and as soon as conditions allow, people will regress to their monarchical system because this was the last evolutionary step that proved capable of satisfying their needs for goods and services in line with the time preference principle.

But what happens if the democratic system is a better provider than the monarchical system? People will stay in the democratic system for as long as this is true. However, eventually, the democratic system will fail and when that happens, people will remember that in comparison the monarchical system was a better provider than the failed democratic system and they will regress. Their options at this point are either regress to the known, tried and true (which satisfied them), stay with democracy (which is failing) or move forward into the unknown. It is obvious that given these choices, regression will take place.

The reason why this is so is because the monarchical system was not given the opportunity to fail worse than the promises of the democratic system. The monarchical system was not allowed to force people to cross the Time Preference Barrier.


It is precisely because the Time Preference Barrier exists that political evolution cannot be sped-up by jumping over steps. Each step in the ladder has only three options:

  1. Regress to the old system
  2. Stay with the current
  3. Move to the next one

Which direction will people take depends greatly of whether or not they crossed the Time Preference Barrier while under said systems. Until the uncertainty of the current Political System to satisfy needs according to the time preference principle equals the uncertainty to a previous or future system people will stay in the current system.


The Time Preference Barrier exists, is real and is the most important barrier to political evolution. This is not to say that other barriers do not exist, they do but they have less influence than this one.

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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