Gustave de Molinari argues that political parties are like “actual armies” who are trained to seize power and reward their supporters with jobs and special privileges (1904)

Gustave de Molinari

The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) compared political parties to "armies" whose sole aim is to win office, distribute spoils and jobs, all at the expence of taxpayers

These associations, or political parties, are actual armies which have been trained to pursue power; their immediate objective is to so increase the number of their adherents as to control an electoral majority. Influential electors are for this purpose promised such or such share in the profits which will follow success, but such promises—generally place or privilege—are redeemable only by a multiplication of "places," which involves a corresponding increase of national enterprises, whether of war or of peace. It is nothing to a politician that the result is increased charges and heavier drains on the vital energy of the people. The unceasing competition under which they labour, first in their efforts to secure office, and next to maintain their position, compels them to make party interest their sole care, and they are in no position to consider whether this personal and immediate interest is in harmony with the general and permanent good of the nation.

As a new year begins with a new political party seizing control of Congress and a new President taking office, one natually asks about the true nature of political parties and the interest groups they represent. Gustave de Molinari, the laissez-faire Belgian economist, provides a succinct answer: they are like armies which train to take office, seize the “spoils” of office (a term actually and unashamedly used in American politics), and distribute them to their friends and supporters. According to Molinari, there is enormous pressure on any ruling party to increase the number of government jobs in order to increase the spoils which they have to distribute to their favoured friends and supporters. As the system grows in size and power there is in turn a heightening of the competition between different parties to win office and win this prize.