The power to persuade vs the power to compel

The online dictionary defines power as: the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.  

Hm. That seems pretty straight forward right? So…what’s the problem?  

The problem is… 

There are two types of power, and even though they are as different as night and day, people treat them as if they are the same.  

And that’s where stuff gets really messy… 

There’s the power to persuade and its result: economic power. 


…the power to compel and its result: political power.  

The power to persuade is the capacity to convince someone that you are right.  

And though this power comes in many shapes and sizes, it’s always exercised in what we call a ‘marketplace’.  

No a marketplace isn’t just a store you shop at. It’s any place where force is banned and choice is uninhibited. 

It’s any place where ideas and products compete with each other for your individual judgment that one or the other of them is right.  

If convinced, you demonstrate your conviction with either your material or your moral support.

When you’ve convinced enough people that what you have to offer is a value, their material support can make you rich.  

And when you’re rich… you have economic power. 

Not so fast.. 

All Economic Power means is that you have an increased capacity to create values and convince others of their goodness. That’s all.  

So all cats like Edison, Ford, Jobs, Gates, Bezos, and Musk have done is persuaded you so much that it’s easier for them to do even more.  


The Power to Compel is the capacity to make others do what you want regardless of their preferences.  

And though this power comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes too, it’s always exercised outside the marketplace. 

Outside a market is any place where force is NOT banned, where competition between ideas and products is NOT allowed and where one seeks to gain material or moral support by exercising violence.  

When a person does this without legal sanction we call him a criminal.  

When a person does it with the legal backing of the state we call him a politician and the power he is exercising, Political Power.  

You see the difference between the two types of power now?  

Here’s an illustration: No matter how badly Steve Jobs wanted to turn you against Microsoft he couldn’t raid your house in the middle of the night, kidnap you, and hold you in confinement till you changed your mind. He can only persuade you by creating something that sways your preferences away from his competitor.  

Not so the politician who could pass a law against you that favors his constituency and handicaps yours or, if his political world lacks even the semblance of Republican checks and balances, kill or imprison you for the simple fact that you are the competition and he don’t like that.  

So check it out; we live in a world where mixed economies are the rule. Mixed economies are definitely places where these powers can merge and where one power can buy influence with the other, but they are not the same. And until we understand this fact, identifying who is powerful and how that power affects us will continue to elude us, and we will continue to make policies that promote the power to compel while denigrating the power to persuade.

Mark Pellegrino