On the language of assumption
James Hanley in the thread from Freddie’s post writes:
My bottom line is that you and I have a right to collaborate in bargaining, but that does not entail that we have a right to have government force our employer to treat us as a single unit. I mean, we do have that legal right, but it doesn’t follow of logical necessity from the fact that we have a right to collaborate and try to act as one.
I’d like to use this line to illustrate how important it is to pay attention to the way that all these discussions are being framed. It is simply taken for granted that the employer or corporation can ‘act as one’ in any of these scenarios, but a union on the other hand is somehow a coercive unit. I don’t think there’s any logical reason why a corporation, which is comprised of people and capital and wields political influence, should have the legal rights of personhood and should be spoken of as a single unit, whereas labor organizations are not. An employee taking a position with a company is not seen as coercive in any way, despite that company’s many demands of employment, and yet if one of those terms is union membership, suddenly it becomes a coercive act.
I would ask that we begin to dig deeper into all these assumptions we hold. Perhaps inequality in and of itself is not a problem. But perhaps the reasons why we have such extraordinary rates of inequality are. Perhaps the ‘free markets’ that have led to globalization and the explosive rise of the financial industry are actually much more statist in nature than we would like to admit. And perhaps the very wealthy have gained a great deal more from state intervention into the global economy than they even realize – these same factors may help explain why middle class wages have stagnated, and why consumer goods have grown cheap on the backs of foreign labor, whereas necessities have grown more expensive and less certain.
One final note for now as I am pressed for time: I think it should be far more preferable to work out a system of redistribution on the front-end than on the back-end in this society. If middle class wages increased more at the point of employment the need for back-end redistribution vis-a-vis tax-rates would simply not be as necessary or pressing. Perhaps the threat of much higher rates of taxation on the very wealthy could help convince corporate America to revise their front-end distribution of wealth. I’m not sure. In the end, I am more and more in agreement with Kevin Carson that many of the gains for the corporate class in this country are due to artificial scarcities, subsidies, and rents they have captured with the help of the state. Globalization has been little more than a corporate-statist effort using pernicious instituions like the World Bank to plunder the labor and resources of developing nations at the expense of workers everywhere and to the benefit of the powerful.
In the comments, Carson wrote:
For me, the actually existing corporate economy is defined by artificial scarcities, artificial property rights, subsidies, protections, regulatory cartels, mandated levels of artificial overhead and other entry barriers, and the rents on artificial scarcity. Or as R. A. Wilson put it, capitalism is a system that combines elements of the free market with landlordism, usury, and patents. You get a free market by removing all the assorted artificial property rights, etc., and allowing competition to destroy all the rents resulting from them.
Frankly, the hostility of people like Naomi Klein to what they call “free markets” is understandable. If I understood the “free market” to mean what I saw it associated with by its “defenders” on CNBC and the WSJ editorial page, I’d hate it too. One of my central goals is to get the word out to people outside the echo chamber that the “free market” isn’t just a world owned by Wal-Mart, and that genuine market competition is the enemy–not the friend–of big business.
Much of modern libertarianism has fallen into the trap of thinking that privatization and globalization are the free market at work. But slashing taxes for the wealthy and helping to bust unions up, while pushing free trade agreements and railing against government is ultimately self-defeating and leads to exactly the wrong outcomes.
Perhaps this is why I find the leftwing libertarianism of Carson so much more compelling than the ‘vulgar’ libertarianism on display at so many of the libertarian institutions in this country.