Proletarian Blues

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, a book I’ve seldom seen libertarians mention without a sneer. But in fact it is a mostly excellent book.

Barbara Ehrenreich Ehrenreich went “undercover” to document the lives of the working poor and the Kafkaesque maze of obstacles they face: the grindingly low wages; the desperate scramble to make ends meet; the perpetual uncertainty; the surreal, pseudo-scientific job application process; the arbitrary and humiliating petty chickenshit tyrannies of employers; the techniques of intimidation and normalisation; the mandatory time-wasting; the indifference to employee health; the unpredictably changing work schedules, making it impossible to hold a second job; etc., etc.

None of this was news to me; I’ve lived the life she describes, and she captures it quite well. But it might well be news to those on the right who heroise the managerial class and imagine that the main causes of poverty are laziness and welfare.

Of course the book has its flaws. One is the author’s attitude toward her “real” working-class colleagues, which sometimes struck me as rather patronising. The other – and this is what invokes the libertarians’ sneers – is her economically clueless, hopelessly statist diagnosis and proposed solutions. She thinks the problems she talks about are caused by “the market,” an entity concerning whose operations she has some strange ideas. (For example, she thinks the reason housing prices are so high is that both the rich and the poor need housing, and so the prevailing prices are determined by the budgets of the rich. She notes in passing that this effect doesn’t seem to apply to food prices – even though both the rich and the poor presumably need food too – but seems blissfully untroubled by the inconsistency in her theories.) And her suggestions for fixing the problem include a higher minimum wage (a “remedy” that would throw many of the objects of her compassion out of work) and more public assistance.

But Ehrenreich’s misguided diagnoses and prescriptions occupy at most a tenth of the book. The bulk of the book is devoted to a description of the problems, and there’s nothing sneerworthy about that. And libertarians will win few supporters so long as they continue to give the impression of regarding the problems Ehrenreich describes as unimportant or non-existent. If you’re desperately ill, and Physician A offers a snake-oil remedy while Physician B merely snaps, “stop whining!” and offers nothing, Physician A will win every time.

So if Ehrenreich’s solutions are the wrong ones, what are the right ones? Here I would name two.

First: eliminate state intervention, which predictably works to benefit the politically-connected, not the poor. As I like to say, libertarianism is the proletarian revolution. Without all the taxes, fees, licenses, and regulations that disproportionately burden the poor, it would be much easier for them to start their own businesses rather than working for others. As for those who do still work for others, in the dynamically expanding economy that a rollback of state violence would bring, employers would have to compete much more vigorously for workers, thus making it much harder for employers to treat workers like crap. Economic growth would also make much higher wages possible, while competition would make those higher wages necessary. There would be other benefits as well; for example, Ehrenreich complains about the transportation costs borne by the working poor as a result of suburbanisation and economic segregation, but she never wonders whether zoning laws, highway subsidies, and other such government policies have anything to do with those problems.

What have you done for the Clamping? Second: build worker solidarity. On the one hand, this means formal organisation, including unionisation – but I’m not talking about the prevailing model of “business unions,” conspiring to exclude lower-wage workers and jockeying for partnership with the corporate/government elite, but real unions, the old-fashioned kind, committed to the working class and not just union members, and interested in worker autonomy, not government patronage. (See Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business for a history of how pseudo-unions crowded out real ones, with government help.) On the other hand, it means helping to build a broader culture of workers standing up for one another and refusing to submit to humiliating treatment.

These two solutions are of course complementary; an expanded economy, greater competition among employers, and fewer legal restrictions on workers makes building solidarity easier, while at the same time increased solidarity can and should be part of a political movement fighting the state.

That’s the left-libertarian movement I’d like to see. And people keep telling me it doesn’t exist. Good lord! I know it doesn’t exist; why else would I be urging that it be brought into existence?

Of course I’m also told that it can’t exist. Libertarians tell me it won’t work because leftists don’t care enough about liberty; leftists tell me it won’t work because libertarians don’t care enough about the poor and oppressed. In short, each side insists that it’s the other side that won’t play along.

Now the answer to this is that some will (and have) and some won’t – but that we should do what we can to increase the number who will. So here’s a general challenge.

If you’re a libertarian who thinks leftists don’t care about liberty, why not become a leftist who cares about liberty? That way there’ll be one more. Or if you’re a leftist who thinks libertarians don’t care about the poor and oppressed, why don’t you become a libertarian who cares about the poor and oppressed? Once again, that way there’ll be one more. And in both cases there’ll also be one fewer libertarian of the kind that alienates leftists by dismissing their concerns, and likewise one fewer leftist of the kind that alienates libertarians by dismissing their concerns.


This brings me to another issue I’ve been meaning to blog about.   

Hayek famously argued that the concept of “social justice” was meaningless, because society is not a moral agent that could be guilty of injustice. But the concept of social justice need not imply that “society” in the abstract is responsible for anything. To condemn social injustice is simply to say that there are systematic patterns of exploitation and oppression in society, and that individuals are responsible either for unjustifiably contributing to this situation, or unjustifiably failing to combat it, or both.

But, the libertarian may object, are these problems really issues of justice?

Aristotle, proletarian activist Well, Aristotle distinguishes between “general” justice on the one hand and “special” or “particular” justice on the other. General justice is concerned with interpersonal moral claims in general: it’s the entire interpersonal dimension of morality, “the whole of virtue in relation to another.” Special justice is concerned with a particular sort of moral claim, the sort that nowadays we would call “rights”; Aristotle lists what one is owed in virtue of being a citizen under the constitution, what one is owed as a result of a contractual agreement, and what one is owed by a wrongdoer as a result of having been a victim of illegal injury, as examples of special justice.

Special justice obviously corresponds more or less to the realm of libertarian rights, while general justice corresponds to interpersonal morality more generally. Where libertarians most crucially depart from Aristotle is in regarding only special justice as legitimately enforceable, whereas Aristotle also regarded parts (not all) of general justice as legitimately enforceable. Still, even Aristotle agreed that some aspects of general justice (generosity, for example) are not properly enforceable, and that special justice was especially the concern of law.

Now it’s often assumed that libertarians can properly have no use for left-wing concepts of “economic justice” and “social justice.” But many of the concerns that left-wingers treat under these heads actually are, directly or indirectly, questions of libertarian rights, since many of the disadvantages that burden the poor, or women, or minorities, are indeed the result of systematic violence, definitely including (though not necessarily limited to) state violence. So many issues of “social justice” can be accepted by libertarians as part of special justice.

Now it may still be true that some issues of “social justice” go beyond libertarian rights and so beyond special justice. But these may still properly be regarded as issues of justice if they fall under general justice. Even in cases where treating one’s employees like crap violates no libertarian rights and so should not be legally actionable, for example, it still violates interpersonal moral claims and so may be regarded as in this broader sense an issue of justice. Thus there’s no reason whatever for libertarians to surrender the concept of social justice to the statist left, or to let the concept stand as an obstacle to cooperation with the not necessarily or not irretrievably statist left.

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25 Responses to Proletarian Blues

  1. Sergio Méndez November 25, 2006 at 7:40 pm #

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    I have a question for profesor long: how to convince libertarians who do not share aristotelic philosophy of the value of the an idea like “general justice” or anything that resembles it?

  2. Tim November 25, 2006 at 7:55 pm #

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    It’s common to describe ‘social justice’ etc as ‘left wing’. This ignores the Catholic social justice tradition, which along with the concept of ‘subsidiarity’, inspired the “Distributism”, elaborated by Chesterton and Belloc. This tradition is probably closer in spirit to libertarianism than the left wing tradition. This tradition emphasises the centrality of private property and of property ownership by the masses, at the same time it is opposed to centralised statism and collectivist ideologies.

    Belloc was originally a British Liberal M.P. but fell out with the party and party politics at the time of the Liberals’ rejection of laissez faire and adoption of welfarism. At the same time he was not a reactionary supporter of the late 19th century British capitalism. He was as opposed to the business plutocracy of the day. He saw the British upper class’s economic power as ultimately based upon the expropriation of the peasantry and catholic church lands under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. In effect he saw what marxists term “primitive accumulation” as central to the class structure. I’m not sure of his views on the role of the British Empire in all this, but he was a supporter of the Liberal anti-imperialists, the “Little Englanders”. He went on to describe the threat of “the Servile State”, the combination of capitalist plutocracy with welfarism to produce a new form of state enslavement of the masses. This is what his distributism was targeted against.

    The Chesterton / Belloc / distributists and their followers, support both unionism and various forms of worker and farmer cooperatives. They later inspired writers like C S Lewis and even J R R Tolkien. Tolkien’s “the Shire” was pretty much distributist in it’s organisation. Lewis saw the technocratic state as a threat to personal freedom. F A Hayek was at least partly influenced by Belloc’s ‘The Servile State’, he certainly makes several references to it in ‘The Road to Serfdom’.

    There are some ‘leftist’ links in this tradition as well. ‘The Servile State’ was important to the Australian left libertarian philosopher, the University of Sydney’s John Anderson. Anderson wrote a very powerful piece called ‘War Idols’ criticising war memorials and commemorations which lead to him being censured by the New South Wales state parliament in the 1920s. He was the only philosopher even condemned in this way. Anderson inspired a group of ‘Andersonian Libertarians’ who include ‘leftist’ names that may be known to non-Australian audiences (see here)

  3. X. Trapnel November 26, 2006 at 2:16 am #

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    Count me in as someone who has been convinced, as a libertarian who distrusted leftists, to become one. You’ve certainly helped in that.

  4. Sheldon Richman November 26, 2006 at 8:47 am #

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    Good post. I applaud your efforts in this regard. Count me in.

  5. Adem Kupi November 27, 2006 at 11:31 am #

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    “These two solutions are of course complementary; an expanded economy, greater competition among employers, and fewer legal restrictions on workers makes building solidarity easier, while at the same time increased solidarity can and should be part of a political movement fighting the state.”

    Great point. IMO, as I’ve written, part of the job will be convincing the “white collar” of their class interests in common with the disappearing/outsourced “blue collar” segment of the working class. Which means solidarity with the third world. Divide and conquer is one of the last effective tools left in the belt of the ruling class.

  6. Joe November 27, 2006 at 6:29 pm #

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    Sorry for being off-topic, but why the apparently recent switch to British spelling like “heroise” and “favour”?

  7. Peter G. Klein November 27, 2006 at 6:30 pm #

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    “Without all the taxes, fees, licenses, and regulations that disproportionately burden the poor, it would be much easier for them to start their own businesses rather than working for others.As for those who do still work for others, in the dynamically expanding economy that a rollback of state violence would bring, employers would have to compete much more vigorously for workers, thus making it much harder for employers to treat workers like crap.”

    Roderick, I’m not sure I see your point here. First, are you suggesting that self-employed individuals are somehow more “free” than employees? If so, why? Second, while it is of course true that absent state intervention, employers would compete more vigorously for employees, it is equally true that employees would compete more vigorously for employers. It’s a symmetric relationship, as is any voluntary contractual arrangement. I suppose the line about employers “treating their workers like crap” was a rhetorical flourish, but it seems an odd point of emphasis. It’s not at all obvious that intervention harms employees more than employers. One could just as easily say that under competition, it would be much harder for employees to treat their employers like crap.

  8. Tim November 27, 2006 at 11:09 pm #

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    The discussion about general, special and social justice and types of unionism reminds me of the Catholic Catechism’s discussion of social justice and the need for “solidarity” and respect for the dignity of the individual. (see extract here). One aspect that the catechism highlights that may encourage libertarians to be more interested in ‘general justice’ is this comment.

    “1930. Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy.36 If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims.”

    This suggests a utilitarian reason why libertarians and enlightened employers should be interested in respectful treatment of workers by employers, even when market conditions themselves are demanding less. Abusive practice fosters violent counter-reaction against the whole market based social system and against legitimate authority. This violent counter-reaction could presumably come from below (leftist proletarian insurrection) or above (state intervention, real or bogus, to enforce acceptable minima).

    As an aside, interestingly enough, E F Schumacher of “Small Is Beautiful” fame, in later years moved away from the more technocratic collectivist left towards distributism. (See here. Schumacher’s brand of leftism would seem to me to be closer to the kind of libertarian friendly leftism Roderick espouses.

  9. BillG November 28, 2006 at 10:33 am #

    Safari MacIntosh

    social justice advocates are concerned with corrective justice as re-distribution of wealth AFTER production has occurred

    distributive justice advocates (geo-libertarians, mutualists, distributists as radical Lockeans) are concerned with being denied access to natural opportunities via state granting of privilege (law-based property) that occurs PRIOR to any production (labor-based property).

  10. Adem Kupi November 28, 2006 at 10:45 am #

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    Peter G Klein says: “It’s a symmetric relationship, as is any voluntary contractual arrangement.”
    Well, one of our points is that state intervention is not symmetric. In fact it can’t be because of it’s constructivist nature.

    “It’s not at all obvious that intervention harms employees more than employers.”
    Well, actually it is. Unless you drag out the old saw that working people are just dumber and lazier than their employers and that’s why they are in the position they are in. Which is not at all obvious to me. In fact, quite the contrary.

  11. quasibill November 28, 2006 at 2:36 pm #

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    Peter G. Klein,

    My 2 cents worth:

    The self-employed are not “freer” vis-a-vis employees in a given political climate. I don’t think that’s the point Roderick is making. Rather, the point is that much of the state’s regulations have the effect (I believe the intent also, but that much is debatable) of raising entry costs in established industries. As such, the unsophisticated (which is not a category that is identical to “lazy”) are significantly less free than the sophisticated in terms of availing themselves of self-employment – a significant amount of capital is required just to meet the state’s initial regulatory burden, to say nothing of the ongoing burden. In the case of such a pervasive regulatory state, a major, if not the most important, form of capital is knowledge of the regulatory state itself. Taken to an extreme, it provides the old saw of “it’s not what you can do but who you know [in the bureaucracy].” The more sophisticated (and/or connected) a person is, the less the burden is, as they “understand” the system. A very useful historical allegory is the Mandarin dynasty. (and this is all true in the absence of intent – if we accept that the barriers are intentional, well then the problems for the less sophisticated/connected get even worse).

    Absent this foreclosure of self-employment as an easy (if not necessarily lucrative) option, more low-end employees would, IMO, choose self-employment. Why? Because there IS a subjective value to controlling your own time, your own effort, etc. Many (but certainly not all) people will choose to make less money if they maintain control of their life in this fashion. This obviously would decrease the pool of labor available for employment, therefore driving up the price.

    A second point, one which is more mine (I have no idea to what extent Roderick or anyone else agrees with this), is that a society of people who see self-employment as an alternative is likely to be a more free society. Just having a brief experience at some time in one’s life as self-employed is enough to innoculate against many of the most dangerous concepts of state intervention in the market. Further, it helps to foreclose arguments that start with “but I have no choice BUT to be an employee…” So, in this respect, I do believe that a society of the self-employed, or those who have experienced self-employment to some extent, is likely to be more “free” than a society of a couple of employers with many employees in a regulatory state.

  12. Peter G. Klein November 28, 2006 at 3:19 pm #

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    Adem, I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea what you’re saying. So let me address quasibill’s remarks instead.

    You are quite right that a major attraction of self-employment is a subjective sense of being in control of one’s own destiny. Indeed, there is a large empirical literature on occupational entrpreneurship, and survey results consistently indicate the desire to exercise such control as a major reason why individuals start their own firms. But there are major drawbacks to self-employment as well. The most important is risk. Risk-averse agents tend to prefer a reliable source of income, other things equal, to the hazards of being residual claimants. That’s why most of us don’t quit or 9-to-5 jobs to become the next Great American Novelist. In the same surveys, when asked why they do not start their own firms, people most commonly cite risk aversion. The belief that under the regulatory state, you have to be well connected or politically savvy to be a successful entrepreneur is almost never mentioned as a significant barrier to self-employment.

    Of course, regulation does confer many benefit on incumbents. (That is the whole point of the “capture” theory of regulation.) But some regulations, such as tax incentives, subsidies, and reduced disclosure requirements (e.g., SOX), benefit entrants at the expense of incumbents. It’s not at all obvious, ex ante, which set of effects outweighs the other.

    The general point is that both employment and self-employment have benefits and costs. In an anarcho-capitalist Utopia we could very well have fewer self-employed entrepreneurs than we do in the mixed economy. It is impossible to predict this a priori, as it depends on individuals’ subjective preferences over risks and returns.

    As to your interesting conjecture, that ” a society of the self-employed, or those who have experienced self-employment to some extent, is likely to be more “free” than a society of a couple of employers with many employees in a regulatory state,” I have my doubts. Entrepreneur beneficiaries of SBIR awards or state-funded incubators or regional development grants are less likely to suppor laissez-faire than the typical employee of a manufacturing company.

  13. quasibill November 28, 2006 at 4:02 pm #

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    “The belief that under the regulatory state, you have to be well connected or politically savvy to be a successful entrepreneur is almost never mentioned as a significant barrier to self-employment. ”

    Well, I’d reply that this is more due to the fact that most people don’t recognize these barriers for what they are. If you don’t see state regulation as improper (which many employees don’t), you can’t even begin to understand the barriers to entry that they provide.

    As for risk, of course. But that’s begging the question. The lower the entry barriers, the less you’re risking by entering, by definition. The backside is also true – the lower the entry barriers are in the economy at large, the lower your exit costs from a failed attempt are. Even your “great novelist” example is pigeon-holed by reference to our current, heavily regulated, subsidized, and distorted economy. The centralization of the publishing industry (and no, I don’t believe this centralization was the result of the free market) made writing a novel a fairly high entry cost proposition – at the very least in terms of labor capital. One needed to have a heavily edited, specific length writing to even get in the door.

    The neat thing that you can see now is that with the internet, alot of this is breaking down, to the point that big best-sellers are becoming less common, but a fair number of people (and growing!) are making a living, or supplementing their other income, by self-publishing.

    Our regulated economy perverted the incentives so that only ventures that could return huge gains were worth the large risks. A free market allows for smaller gains from smaller risks, with occassional big gains from these small risks. Sticking with the novel, these people spend a small amount of their time each day writing something for which they get paid a small amount – they keep their day jobs. As they gain skill and develop a market, they make more money, and possibly get to the point where they rationally feel comfortable taking a bigger risk by quitting their other job to pursue writing full time.

    Of course, there still would be the big gamblers in a free market, but they’d be seen for what they are – gamblers, not entrepreneurs. In many instances today, monetary policy helps provide an illusion that these gamblers are really entrepreneurs.

  14. Peter G. Klein November 28, 2006 at 4:39 pm #

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    Sorry, by “risk” I meant not the risk of a failed venture, but the day-to-day risk of earnings that vary according to market conditions, rather than earnings that are fixed by contract. A wage earner’s compensation is less risky than a business owner’s compensation, even for the most successful ventures. Even if entry and exit costs were zero, many people would prefer to be employees rather than business owners because the standard deviation of wages tends to be substantially lower than the standard deviation of profits, even in the absence of state intervention.

    Can you point me to any academic studies showing a negative correlation between state intervention (per se) and entrepreneurship?

  15. quasibill November 29, 2006 at 10:05 am #

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    “Sorry, by “risk” I meant not the risk of a failed venture, but the day-to-day risk of earnings that vary according to market conditions, rather than earnings that are fixed by contract.”

    Once again, we’re hampered by our reference to current conditions. If you go back to the early industrial revolution, such fixed contracts were a rarity. The reasons are easy to see: from a purely logical standpoint, an employer is likely to offer less money on a fixed contract than on a percentage contract (or some other form of contract where the risk is shared), so there are incentives against them.

    I agree that some people, like me for instance, will make a choice against the risk and accept lower pay in return for some stability. But I think that in a true free market, such stability will generally be an illusion – even a fixed wage employee is subject to the risk of his employer going belly-up. After a while people’s valuation of the risk/benefit in these scenarios would evolve and change – much like many people are realizing about the risk/benefit choice in accepting lower current wages in exchange for a future pension: A bird in my hand now is worth more to me than 2 birds in your hand for the next thirty years before they come to my hand.

    “Can you point me to any academic studies showing a negative correlation between state intervention (per se) and entrepreneurship?”

    Well, take a look at the history of the Soviet Union :) Sorry, I’m not an academic in this field, nor do I place much faith in empirical economic studies – having been trained and employed in the “hard” sciences, I know too much about the limits of the scientific method to put too much faith in empirical economic “science”. I prefer the method for which Roderick has named this site – one can suss out the logical reaction people will have in a tightly controlled hypothetical, but reality is so complex, uncontrolled, and chaotic that such hypotheticals have only limited predictive validity. Empirical analysis of the past is useful in determining what happened then, but less useful for determining what changing any single variable would have accomplished.

  16. Peter G. Klein November 29, 2006 at 10:48 am #

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    OK, thanks, I think we’ll just agree to disagree then. BTW, I don’t think your Industrial Revolution example is quite right. Piece rates (under which employees bear the risk of fluctuations in output beyond their control) were common under cottage production (the “putting-out” system), but were gradually replaced by fixed wages under the factory system. From a purely logical standpoint, hourly wages are less risky than piece rates or residual claimancy (i.e., ownership), even controlling for the risks you mention above. Of course, a wage earner bears risk — the risk of being fired, the risk of the firm going belly-up — but these risks are lower than the risks faced by a business owner, ceteris paribus. This is standard Labor Economics 101.

  17. Peter G. Klein November 29, 2006 at 10:54 am #

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    OK, we’ll just have to agree to disagree then. BTW I don’t think your Industrial Revolution example is quite right. Piece rates, under which the worker bears the risks of fluctuations in output beyond his control, were common under cottage production (the “putting-out” system), but were gradually replaced by hourly wages under the factory system. Risk-averse agents will prefer hourly wages (or, more generally, time rates) to piece rates and residual claimancy (i.e., ownership), other things equal. Of course, hourly wage-earners bear risk — the risk of being fired, the risk of the firm going belly-up — but these risks, from a purely logical standpoint, are lower than the risks of being a business owner, ceteris paribus. This is standard Labor Economics 101.

  18. quasibill November 30, 2006 at 8:49 am #

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    “Piece rates, under which the worker bears the risks of fluctuations in output beyond his control, were common under cottage production (the “putting-out” system), but were gradually replaced by hourly wages under the factory system”

    But that was my point, it started out one way, and through myriad processes, at least some of which were state intervention, it changed. And even *truly* hourly wages are much more “risk-sharing” than current conditions, as the risk is that there will be no work, not just that the employer went belly up – in other words, it’s not a steady, fixed price (salaried) contract like we commonly have today. Furthermore, even in those rare instances today where there is a *true* hourly contract, legislatively imposed unemployment insurance (funded at least partially by the employer) transforms it into something else entirely.

    “but these risks, from a purely logical standpoint, are lower than the risks of being a business owner, ceteris paribus.”

    I agree, which is why the wage is lower than it otherwise would be (the employer ostensibly accepts more risk but gains a lower wage payout, while the employee accepts a lower wage rate for ostensibly less risk). But, and this is important, the change in risk is likely to be much smaller in a truly free market than it is in an environment where the state intervenes to protect established concerns. A free market is more tumultuous, and I think there would be a lot of pressure, on both ends of the transaction, to reduce the risks inherent in long-term, fixed price contracts. Such contracts are fine for very sophisticated market traders who are diversifying an investment portfolio, but involve most likely too much risk (again, in a truly free market) for both the employer (who might be required to pay wages he can’t afford should things go bad) and the employee (who might have accepted a lower wage for current work in the hope that it would be long-term stable, only to find out in 2 months that the employer has gone bankrupt and won’t be able to pay him), who generally will not be financially sophisticated enough to engage in such diversification.

    In a free market, this sort of risk/benefit analysis will gradually become part of the culture – people won’t need to be “educated” about such things like is true now, it will be merely common sense (as is reflected from a more free market past’s saw regarding the “bird in hand”). People will understand that there actually is still risk – most often now they think they are trading all risk away for the lower wage. Which is why there is always such a hue and cry “protect our jobs!”.

  19. labyrus December 4, 2006 at 3:03 pm #

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    First: eliminate state intervention, which predictably works to benefit the politically-connected, not the poor. As I like to say, libertarianism is the proletarian revolution. Without all the taxes, fees, licenses, and regulations that disproportionately burden the poor, it would be much easier for them to start their own businesses rather than working for others

    You’ve got these in absolutely the wrong order. This is why every market-based solution to poverty fails. You can’t eliminate something that is the only means of survival people have until there is already some way for them to support themselves in place. You can’t eliminate all statist intervention first. You’ve got to eliminate the state-established barriers to participation in the economy, but not the programs that keep people alive.

    In the short term, we should be increasing State Intervention, at least as far as welfare dollars go. People who have homes and enough to eat can get back on their feet in a free market. People with neither simply cannot, they’re too busy dealing with the cost of poverty.

    The Welfare State is the part of the State that should be dismantled last, not first. If Libertarianism is the solution you believe it will be, no one will be using it by then, anyways.

  20. labyrus December 4, 2006 at 3:18 pm #

    MSIE 6.0 Windows XP

    Peter,
    I suppose the line about employers “treating their workers like crap” was a rhetorical flourish, but it seems an odd point of emphasis. It’s not at all obvious that intervention harms employees more than employers. One could just as easily say that under competition, it would be much harder for employees to treat their employers like crap.
    Please, I dare you, look up the literature on Maquiladoras. Look up the literature on sexual harassment in the workplace. Read up on the working conditions of people in slaughterhouses. Read up on sweatshops. Explain to me how any of these are symmetrical relationships. Give me an example of employees “treating their employer like crap” in the same ways.

    It’s absolutely obvious how state intervention harms employees more – because the State works explicitly for the benefit of a few favoured Oligopolies, which are oligopolies in employment, too. When the state promises to “create jobs”, they do so by subsidising (directly or inderectly) a specific employer or group of employers. I suppose you could argue that the state harms those potential employers who aren’t able to compete because they aren’t favoured by the state just as much, but at present, they aren’t employers. They’re possibilities

    There’s also the obvious power imbalance. Outside of a situation of labour shortage (which is rare, some unemployment is the norm), if I do anything my boss doesn’t like, and I’m a worker with no special skills, I’ll just get fired. I can exercise my power in a similar way by quitting, but when my boss fires me, they have other workers to make profits from until they find a new employee. When I quit my job, I have no other income whatsoever.

    The only situation where this power imbalance is (partly) rectified is when a workplace is wholly unionized, but even then the employer has advantages in negotiation that the workers don’t, since they usually have more reserves of (and access to) capital and can hold out longer in the event of a strike or lockout, and they have the police (funded by the state) on their side on picket lines.

  21. Dan Shahar March 27, 2007 at 10:40 am #

    Firefox 2.0.0.3 Windows XP

    Excellent article; I would definitely consider myself to be within the same tradition as that which you espouse. What do you think of the idea that by legislating morality, we convert moral obligations into legal obligations, with the potential consequence of making real morality less powerful and prevalent in society? As Rousseau said, “Is it not clear that there can be no obligation to a person from whom everything may be justly required?”

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  1. paxx:blog » Blog Archive » Der libertäre Demokrat - March 6, 2007

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    [...] Aber die erste Strategie ist Libertären ja eigentlich nicht so fremd. Schliesslich nennen sie sich ja auch Freiheitsfreunde und Liberale und wollen damit wohl an die Grundwerte der Leute appellieren. Ich glaube aber, dass der Libertäre sein Vokabular um einige weitere positive Begriffe erweitern könnte. Dazu gehört m.E. eben auch die “Demokratie.” Zusätzlich würde ich mindestens auch noch die Begriffe “Gerechtigkeit” (inklusive der “sozialen Gerechtigkeit“) und die “Gleichheit” vorschlagen. Denn je nach dem wie man die Begriffe interpretiert, tritt der Libertäre nicht nur für die Anarchie (und damit für die Demokratie), sondern auch für die (soziale) Gerechtigkeit und die Gleichheit ein. [...]

  2. Der freie Markt » Blog Archive » Der libertäre Demokrat - March 6, 2007

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    [...] Aber die erste Strategie ist Libertären ja eigentlich nicht so fremd. Schliesslich nennen sie sich ja auch Freiheitsfreunde und Liberale und wollen damit wohl an die Grundwerte der Leute appellieren. Ich glaube aber, dass der Libertäre sein Vokabular um einige weitere positive Begriffe erweitern könnte. Dazu gehört m.E. eben auch die “Demokratie.” Zusätzlich würde ich mindestens auch noch die Begriffe “Gerechtigkeit” (inklusive der “sozialen Gerechtigkeit“) und die “Gleichheit” vorschlagen. Denn je nach dem wie man die Begriffe interpretiert, tritt der Libertäre nicht nur für die Anarchie (und damit für die Demokratie), sondern auch für die (soziale) Gerechtigkeit und die Gleichheit ein. [...]

  3. Nickel and Dimed « Frimarknadsanarkist - August 22, 2007

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    [...] Nickel and Dimed november 29, 2006 at 3:18 pm | In ideologi, ekonomi, libertarianism | Roderick T. Long has a post on his blog about Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed, a book I have yet to read. Mr. Long’s post is pretty interesting, though. Read it here. [...]

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