- The group of business and government figures who would comprise Graeber’s “ruling class” do not all share identical interests, and are as likely to be subject to coordination failures as any other large group of people. Even if it were true that all these people had an equal stake in keeping workers down by giving them jobs, every one of them would have an incentive to spend less of their own money hiring people, and let the others pick up the slack. This would lead the entire conspiracy to collapse. In all honestly Graeber’s proposed explanation makes the moon landing hoax look almost plausible by comparison.
- The supposed reason for the “ruling class” over-hiring is that if people worked less they’d be happier and therefore more likely to cause dissent. This is why the public celebrates whenever a recession hits and rioters always look so happy.
- I’m not exactly sure how Graeber thinks people are being forced to do jobs they don’t want. If you ask most people why they keep working a crappy job you’ll find the answers boils down to food, shelter and the purchase thereof. The driving factor in the supply of labour isn’t some conspiracy of business interests, its the tyranny of thermodynamics.
- The entire argument is basically the Argument from Incredulity – Graeber doesn’t understand what something is, so he dismisses it as unimportant. I submit anthropologists, a group trained to examine and analyse pre-industrial civilisations, may not be the people best equipped to understand the nuances of a post-industrial society. It’s important to understand that coordination is what large firms do, the reason large corporations exist at all is because some goods can only be produced profitably by establishing a bureaucracy to coordinate a large number of disparate people. As it takes less and less labour to produce stuff coordination becomes cheaper, making it possible to have ever more complex organisational structures to make things that would otherwise be impossible. Basically, as a structure gets larger, a larger fraction of it has to be devoted to holding the rest of the structure up, and this is as true for structures made of human behaviour as it is for ones made of steel. In fairness, I get that the theory of corporate-structure-as-coordinator might have not penetrated very far yet, after all Coase only published The Nature of the Firm in 1937.
Graebar’s article was a soup of fallacies that I often see in socialist thought (note, I define “socialist” in the now-archaic sense of someone who wishes to abolish market capitalism in favour of some form of government or community-driven economy, not in the modern sense of “whatever the Republicans don’t like this week”). You may wonder why I would bother tackling socialist thought in this day and age, but some of these fallacies persist in dilute form outside of socialism:
The false dichotomy of the Marxist Dialectic – the “working class” and the “ruling class” are distinct, stable groups with homogeneous opposed interests (even if they don’t realise it). This came up as part of the Occupy ___ movement. The reason only a small number of people rallied behind “We are the 99%”, is that 99% of people have next-to-nothing in common.