no third solution

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Can Workers Homestead Their Jobs?

August 29th, 2011

In Adamic’s Dynamite!, I came across an interesting argument for workers’ rights to their employment. Basically the argument goes that, “We (as organized labor) worked for years in order to make these jobs what they are today, in terms of benefits, wages, hours, conditions, etc., and that therefore they belong to us.  So when a scab worker comes in and takes the job, he is essentially stealing from us.”

They claim is that the workers have helped shape and define the job, its responsibilities and reward, etc., and as a result they have a legitimate claim to it.You can certainly interpret this argument as a form of homesteading and at a glance it is compelling.

Is it valid though? I’m not sure. I see two major flaws with the argument.

  1. Assumes that because conditions once prevailed which justified a certain compensation, that those laborers are forever after entitled to that same level of compensation.
  2. An unhealthy fetish for “high” wages, which I would probably attribute more to the psychology of capitalism than to genuine worker-owners in a free market.

Regarding #1, this assertion is intuitively bullshit because when a product or service is no longer (as) valuable or necessary, it ceases to command the same remuneration. For example, if medicine could cure all ailments and diseases, a Doctor’s services qua Doctor would no longer be valuable or necessary to society.

As for the canard of high wages… The problem is that high wages are indicative of scarcity, rather than abundance, and attempts to artificially preserve high prices inevitably result in the destruction of, rather than the accumulation of material wealth. The objective ought not be “high wages” but rather a high standard of living. Do not conflate the two. In a free market, prices fall as abundance (i.e., wealth) is created. Therefore it is not necessarily undesirable for prices (including) wages to fall, in fact we should expect prices to fall over time because that means that humanity is creating more wealth and abundance than they are consuming.

The union may claim “These jobs are ours. We have worked for them and made them what they are. We deserve them,” and I’m sympathetic to this position, but I think it is more of a knee-jerk reaction to try and justify one’s existence within the capitalist system, rather than a bullet-proof argument.

This post is more of brainstorming than actual argument, and I value your contributions, so echo any thoughts, comments, feedback, below.

no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics