Almost every nation in the world has adopted a system of participatory fascism, whereby nominally representative governments can abridge and restrict someones nominally recognized private-property rights. Participatory fascism may enjoy the appearance of popular legitimacy, but its formal procedures for relief from government abuses are too slow, cumbersome, costly, and ineffective to do anything reliably except to give those who lack much political clout the short end of the stick.
Nearly every country in the world currently has an economic system I have long called
participatory fascism (Higgs 1987, 24042, 25657, and 2018). This is a system in
which nominal private-property rights exist in most resources, but these rights are
subject to pervasive state abridgment and restriction. Private markets operate, but only
within the extensive constraints imposed by the government. Many producersnow
often referred to as croniesenjoy special privileges or protections created by
government restraints and penalties imposed on competing producers. Such pervasive
government interference also exists in markets for labor, natural resources, intellectual
capital, and other inputs in the productive process.
Such pervasive interference creates both winners and losers, and if the losers are
aware of how the governments actions are bringing about their losses, they are unhappy
about the situation. They resist in all sorts of ways, from simply not complying to
lobbying for changes in the laws and regulations to appealing for relief or compensation
in review boards and the courts. Of course, much of the action in the electoral system
pertains to candidates promises to change laws and regulations so that losers can reduce
their losses or currently excluded parties can become privileged beneficiaries of the
One of the chief reasons why almost every regime in the world has converged to a
system of participatory fascism is that this system creates or retains a great variety of
institutionalized opportunities for the states victimswho compose the great majority
of the peopleto challenge the states exactions and to make their voices heard,
thereby gaining the impression that the rulers are not simply oppressing and exploiting
them unilaterally but involving them in a meaningful way in the making and enforcement
of rules imposed on everyone.
These opportunities help to allay public resentment and anger, assuring people
that they have had their day in court, and they thereby serve to prop up the regime
and its ongoing exploitation. These official avenues of protest and resistance are,
however, rarely of much real avail and in most cases do nothing whatsoever to relieve the
victims plight. The oppressed citizens and other residents are protesting the actions of
legislatures, government executives, bureaucracies, and courts before administrative
bodies established by the very officials who are engaged in the oppression and plunder.
The opportunities for voicing feedback are, in effect, ways in which people are allowed
to request formally that the slave master stop beating them or reduce the severity of the
beating. Yet entrenched cronies are well placed to defend their privileges and to fend off
their victims attempts to eliminate or constrict the governments actions that have
caused their victimization. Rarely do the petitioners win, and even when they do, the
costs of making their appeals, especially through the legal system, guarantee that they
will be impoverished in the process. The old adage tells us that you cant fight city
hall, which is a way of saying that trying to get rid of the costs, burdens, and inconveniences
imposed on people by the government is usually an exercise in futility.
The saying is valid for the most part. Nevertheless, the availability of institutionalized
avenues of protest and appeal helps significantly to diminish the pressure that might
otherwise build up to resist or overthrow the government.
For the general public, its heads you lose, tails you lose. Such is my conclusion
after more than fifty years of studying participatory fascism. Moreover, I assure you that
in making the foregoing statements, I am speaking not only from my scholarly engagement
with the matter but also from my personal experience, some of which grinds
on seemingly endlessly even as I tap out this cri de coeur.