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Political TortureWe are advocates of change, no doubt about it. Yet, most people do not want change. Most people just want the pain to stop. This is a very human reaction indeed. We are pain-averse or, in Austrian Economic terms, we avoid “uneasiness”. As such, trying to convince people to not only accept but foster change, political change, is an almost impossible task. Well… let’s be specific. It is impossible. Period. Yet… no pain no gain continues to be true.

If you take a closer look at existing political theories (as we summarize d them in Political Spectrum), you will notice that most of them offer some sort of “instant relief”. The closer you get to communism, the more “relief” you get and, theoretically speaking, the “faster” you get it. Why? Because communism advocates the taking over of all means of production by “the people”… as represented by the state. In such a scenario, goods and services can be instantly delivered to all people (logistics allowing). This is a fantastic selling point as people have a “time preference”. We all want things now and not later. Thus political systems offering “now” trump over political systems offering “later”. This time preference is so strong that people will choose a “lousy now” as opposed to a “great later”. We explained this in our article The Time Preference Barrier.

Furthermore, the closer we move to the far left (again communism), the more “leadership” we get. By definition communism is a dictatorial system… until humans reach the enlightened state represented by the “new person”. But as we have shown in our article The Leadership Barrier, we have not evolved biologically to be leaders. We are pack animals very happy to follow a leader. As such, again, the far left has a huge edge over other political systems. They provide “instant leadership”. Clarity of purpose. Well defined ideas. A unique goal… and so forth. Of course, it is all rubbish because it does not work in real life, but it is nevertheless a fantastic selling point.

If you put those two observations together, it becomes clear that what separates stages of political systems; this is, political evolution itself, it is a pain barrier. It is painful not to want “now” and it is painful to be a “leader”. People shy away from such “uneasiness” and as such they are incredibly resilient to political change. And no, we are not blaming people, we are simply pointing out the obvious.

But we can go a step further. The term “pain” is a generic one. We have psychological pain, religious pain, medical pain, physiological pain and so on. Which of those pains do we refer to when we spoke of “pain”?. Simple. Political changes do no happen until the majority of a given population so desires. This means that pain must be widespread and continuous.

But what kind of modern pain can be widespread and continuous and offer somebody to blame? Economic. Why economic? Because it affects our basic biological nature. We can play games with our mind and train ourselves to be mentally though and resilient. But if you don’t have food, shelter nor clothing… well… you don’t have food, shelter nor clothing. You cannot “outthink” not having. Economic conditions are the one pain that affects us all and they do so at the same time. Economic conditions are the one pain that we cannot avoid nor dismiss. Nothing else comes close. Typically we don’t get sick at the same time, we don’t all suffer accidents coincidentally, we don’t suffer psychological issues simultaneously and we don’t get married, divorced or have children in synchronism. Only economic conditions can inflict pain simultaneously to almost everybody.

Additionally, given “modern” democratic systems, economic conditions are the one thing that all democratic systems claim to want to improve and as such they actively “manage” (we would say mis-manage , but that’s just us). Therefore when bad economic conditions arise, there is nobody to blame but the government who “managed” to “get us into this mess”. Sounds familiar?

Yes, wars will also have similar effects, but they will do so because they cause economic damage at a massive scale. Think about it. Would you care if your country is at war if your life goes on as usual and you only get to know what is going on through the news? If war is something far away, detached and without impact? Of course not. How do we know so? Because of historical facts. People could not care more about the wars that their countries waged until the consequences reached them. And what were those consequences? Mostly economic.

Therefore we must conclude that we are on the correct path. We stated our conditions to trigger change in The Three Laws of Political System Change. 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

We now understand why we did so. Because we are describing the only path through a pain barrier. Think about it. Let’s say that you are in physical pain. The pain is severe and any movement you make exacerbates it. What do you do? You do not move. Same here. Economic pain is severe. Jobs are difficult to get and they pay almost nothing. You are deeply unhappy with your job but you have a family to feed. You work hard but you don’t get recognition (financial or otherwise). What do you do? Do you go out and try new things? Do you take courage, go to a bank, ask for a loan and start a business? Hell no! You save, work hard and hope for the best until these conditions change. It is only natural.

Why would you do so? Because you feel that starting anything new will make you significantly poorer hence increasing your chances of becoming more miserable. And with good reason. Again, only human.

Therefore we must ask ourselves, what will it take for somebody in excruciating pain to try something new? The sure knowledge that no matter what this person may do, won’t increase the pain which is already at its maximum. Basically, these people have nothing to lose. Thus, they attempt change.

In economic terms, we cannot reach such a point of “nothing to lose” because short of being dead, we always have something else to lose. But we can reach a similar psychological point. If we are suffering bad economic conditions year after year after year, because of the leadership barrier, the time preference barrier and the pain barrier, we tend to put up with it. Any sudden move will make things worse. We are tittering on an edge which is constantly moving down. But we are tittering nevertheless never falling over. For us to do so a definitive event must occur. And this event can only be of economic nature. A sudden further drop in economic conditions. Why is it so? Because at that very moment, our pain is so great that we believe, for a brief moment, that we can’t do worse. That we have reached the bottom. Is this belief that enables changes to occur.

Of course, we will have many “false” bottoms throughout history. It could not be otherwise. Sometimes the pain is not widespread enough. Sometimes the sudden economic event is not devastating enough. Sometimes people has grown accustomed to these cycles and have developed psychological defenses against it and sometimes is just a random occurrence. Yes, they do happen.

The bottom line is that this feeling of “botomness” is as personal and psychological as any other economic decision. It is the same type of personal and subjective economic decision we take every day we act economically, as Austrian Economics teaches. There is no real difference.

But is this enough? No. These conditions are the enablers of change but change requires a direction. Sometimes the directional arrow is pointing into a definitive direction (e.g. socialism) and sometimes the arrow is not pointing anywhere and the direction can simply be described as “not the current one”. Again, it happens.

Think about it. If you are in excruciating pain, you are willing to try anything. No matter how farfetched the idea, you are willing to try it. You are willing to do it into a definitive direction. Or, you are so much out of your mind, that you will try anything and everything other than doing nothing.

In political terms this means that there must either be a clear political system offering a stop to the pain or people must be so thoroughly disillusioned with the existing political system that they are willing to try just about anything. Just to make the pain stop.


The pain barrier to political system change is quite real. We hit it every time we argue with people about their political points of view and they agree with us. But not now. Not yet. Not us. Not here. See the effect of the barrier?

Change is good… you go first!

The final consequence is that we can only teach, but it is humanity who must cross over through the pain barrier. And this means you.

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

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