no third solution

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Black Friday Working Conditions

November 24th, 2011

“Black Friday” and the Christmas season it ushers in seems to come earlier every year. This year’s particularly disturbing trend is that some retailers are opening at midnight. And some retailers I’ve heard are even starting the shenanigans at 9pm tonight or even earlier.

With the possible exception of some seasonal hires, none of the rank-and-file employees at these stores knew, or could have reasonably anticipated that they would be askeddemanded to work these ridiculous hours — probably under threat of termination and most likely at their regular wages. Additionally, I’d wager that almost none of these employees are really OK with this arrangement, that is, they are essentially “agreeing” to these conditions under duress.

This phenomena is not an isolated incident

It’s just the natural offshoot of a sick corporate profit-only culture that always prioritizes the bottom line over its employees’ sanity and well-being, whether you are a cashier at K-mart or a cube-jockey somewhere in corporate America or anywhere in between.

It is particularly odious for part time or non-professional workers

These workers often seek secondary employment out of economic necessity, but it would seem their employers go out of their way to make it difficult or impossible to do so.

When I was younger and working various part-time jobs (bars, restaurants, etc.) typically you could expect a working schedule that was at best unpredictable: posted no more than a few days in advance, and not uncommon to have only 24 hours’ notice that you were expected to be at work tomorrow night. Due to this unpredictability, it is difficult to maintain a job at another company because eventually your schedules are going to conflict, and you’ll be forced to choose which job you want to be fired from.

Black riday StampedeFurther, most of these jobs also had some variations on non-compete policies. It’s one thing to say that the CEO of Sears should probably not also work for Wal-Mart due to conflicts of interest, but it’s retarded to say that the $7/hr stock boy at same should be barred from seeking supplemental income/employment from a “competitor” if/when he is unable to obtain adequate hours/income at one or the other. Although this clause is rarely enforced, this agreement means that even without an actual conflict, they can fire you for having the audacity to try and earn more money somewhere else — even though they’re unwilling to offer you an opportunity, wages, or hours to do so!

This is what your actual employment agreement consists of:

In order to remain an employee in good standing, you the employee will need to be available at the employer’s unpredictable beck and call, on practically no advance notice. And even though the employer will not offer or guarantee you a sufficient living wage or enough hours to meet your financial needs, employer intentionally (or ignorantly) makes it difficult/impossible for you to maintain another job to make up for this one’s shortcomings.

This sort of working arrangement is NOT POSSIBLE in a free market

It is only possible in a market perverted. Human needs and wants are practically boundless, and to satisfy these desires requires labor. In a freed market, there would be a directionaly similar demand for labor — NOT a race to the bottom which can only exist when opportunities are stifled and the complimentary factors of production are monopolized.

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.

In Favor of Free Markets: Freedom as an End in Itself

April 14th, 2011

It’s often argued that eliminating such-and-such a federal department will make us richer. Or that removing this-and-that tax burden will let us keep more of our paychecks. You’ve heard it before. It goes something like this:

If we get rid of the onerous taxes on the middle class, the regressive taxes that disadvantage the poor, the myriad regulations which hamstring businesses (the right-libertarian does not qualify, but the left-libertarian will probably refine the definition to include “small business, cooperatives, etc. in lieu of capital-intensive, oligopolistic industry) we’ll all be richer.

Depending on the degree of “libertarian” you’re dealing with they may add optional conditions like:

And just for Karma points, let’s stop dropping bombs on kids in Pakistan and funding death squads in South America, and you know what else, it doesn’t really matter if we put another man on the moon…

I’m with you so far [1].  But the argument concludes that we just axe all this stuff and your net income goes up, voila you are richer and then this becomes some sort of justification for the “free market”.

Wrong.

If you are going to be better-off in a free market, it’s not simply because you’ll be “earning more money”.

It ain’t about that 10% or 20% that Uncle Sam takes out of your paycheck every week.

Your nominally “higher” income isn’t going to matter much [2]. There will certainly be discomfort in the short- to medium-term as generations of capital misallocation are revealed all at once. But prices, like water, eventually find their level. So, the fact that you might have “more” money is probably not going to matter.

Nor is it about the paltry few cents that you pay for dozens of programs you probably vociferously oppose, (e.g., public health clinics, welfare for displaced/redundant labor force, mass transit, free birth control for high school kids or low-income people, crappy artwork in public places, etc.) but in the grand scheme of things don’t amount to a hill of beans.

If your primary objection is that the government is ripping you off a few cents on every dollar that you earn, if your strongest talking point is simply, “Well, we could all be richer”, don’t act surprised when people look at you like some bougie sonofabitch who’s just using the rhetoric of “liberty” in order to appeal to that me-vs-the-world selfishness with which you’ve been indoctrinated since kindergarten.

So this is a terrible argument: not only is it objectively incorrect, but it relies on gross exaggerations (if we stopped paying welfare – of course without examining or addressing the root causes of the poverty in society, we’d be richer!), and also because it espouses the very worst aspects of consumerism.

What matters in a free market is the opportunities which freedom presents.

In my estimation it is these intangible effects of such a shake-up that will really improve everyone’s lot in the long-run.

Deep down inside I’d like to believe that we all want freedom, security, a modicum of material comfort, leisure time to spend recreating and enjoying with our friends and families. Money-blind, though, so many have been brainwashed in to believing that these “luxuries” can only be purchased, and the price is perpetual labor & toil to make ends meet and provide for the occasional escape. But that ain’t freedom, and it ain’t security[3] either.  It’s a very, very poor substitute at best.

Imagine the freedom to enjoy your life. Real equality of opportunity. The wherewithal to carve your own destiny, rather than trying desperately scrambling to fit perfectly in to some cookie-cutter pre-fab box that’s been forced in front of you like you’re the next interchangeable and totally replaceable piece rolling down the assembly line of life. And if everyone else could do the same? especially if the poorest & least-fortunate among us could substantially improve their lots as well?

The most important part about a free market is not that you will make more money (because you probably won’t, but that won’t even matter!). It’s the freedom, stupid! It’s working within a society, shaping those institutions which foster the freedom, security and well-being which is what we all really want (not that bullshit illusion of prosperity known as “The American DreamTM“); a world where it doesn’t take 50+ hours of nose-to-the-grindstone or mind-numbing, paper-pushing, rubber-fucking-stamping “labor” to provide for your family, all the while barely making ends meet.

You can’t buy freedom. And you can’t really replace it.  Understand that freedom contributes to real wealth, not the other way around, and that we need to be working towards freedom as an end in itself and not towards monetary wealth as some proxy or substitute for what we really deserve.

1. Setting aside the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing arguments, of course, viz., some advocate policy with sleight of hand that really means, “Lower taxes for me, but not for thee!” in a close-minded zero-sum mentality; they just want a bigger piece of the pie and they are not at all interested in making that pie bigger. It’s easier to just take someone else’s.

2. Prices (including the price of labor, a/k/a “wages”) might rise because of the psychic effect of “more money”. But they might fall as barriers to entry, previously enshrined in law & tax code, have been removed, and competition prevails.

3. I can’t help but recall Franklin’s famous quote about those who would trade liberty for security. Right now it seems we’ve done just that. And if you look around at the jobless rates or the foreclosures or the number of people on this earth who are starving or living on $2/day or less, well it’s hard to argue that anyone is really very “secure”, either.

no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics