Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Filip Spagnoli — Let’s Get Rid of Wage Labor


Actually, as Daniel Ellerman addresses this in Does Classical Liberalism Imply Democracy? If life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights, ruling out selling oneself in to slavery, for example, how is it not a violation of an inalienable right to sell one's a portion of one's life for a wage since this is an alienation of one's liberty?

In other words, what the inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness means legally is that these are not property, which is a right that is alienable in that the right to exclusive or partial use of property can be exchanged, thereby alienating (excluding) the original owner from use and conferring exclusive or partial use to another through transfer of ownership.

Spagnoli's post may seem far-fetched but read in terms of Ellerman, who is a proponent of social democracy, it makes a lot more sense. No surprise there, since Ellerman is one of the smartest guys around. If you haven't yet read that article, I strongly suggest doing so as a counter to neoliberalism.

Incidentally, the irony of the phrase. "inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as a partial enumeration of human rights, and which are also asserted as divinely endowed, is the hypocrisy of its author, a slave holder.

Let’s Get Rid of Wage Labor
Filip Spagnoli
(h/t Mark Thoma at Economist's View)


Dan Lynch said...

Thanks for posting this. I don't agree with the author's particular flavor of BIG, but it's good nonetheless to keep the what-kind-of-economy-do-we-want-to-live-in discussion going.

Re: "If people can’t work for a wage, many of the “dirty jobs” may not get done anymore. I can list many activities – toilet cleaning, waste disposal, mining etc. – which probably won’t be organized in voluntary cooperative ventures."

No kidding. And IMHO this would be a flaw of the proposed Swiss UBI -- no *citizen* would want to clean toilets so those kinds of jobs would end up being performed by non-citizens who do not qualify for the UBI. The net result would be an unequal caste system -- not my idea of a healthy society.

Which is yet another reason that I favor a means-tested weekly BIG, with the BIG set at subsistence level and the minimum wage (or JG wage) set about 25% higher, so that there would always be a financial incentive to choose work. Like Milt Friedman, I envision my means-tested weekly BIG as a hassle-free humanitarian safety net, not as a Utopia.

As for the voluntary co-op workplace, that has its place, but mainly in established industries. I don't see it as a good fit for newer, entrepreneurial flavor businesses, which are often driven by the entrepreneur's vision.

Re: "People who generally detest authoritarian political structures nevertheless submit every morning of every working day to the authoritarian rules of their employers."

That's very true as applies to most businesses that are managed by Americans. However, the post-WWII Japanese management style was very democratic (I've heard it's deteriorated in recent years). I once worked for a Japanese-owned company and I had a great deal of autonomy, and my department would discuss and vote on things in a democratic fashion. It was the best job I ever had. My point being that there is more than one way to achieve that kind of environment -- maybe we just need regulations that give workers more say in the workplace?

Anonymous said...

This whole discussion strikes me as beyond ridiculous, and is a kind of reductio ad absurdum of classical liberalism, with its obsession with a host of imagined natural "rights" of individuals and its economically blind understanding of the origin of produced value and general prosperity, and its socially obtuse grasp of realistic ways of organizing that needed production.

Wild-eyed, utopian anarchist freedom-cravers are not going to get rid of the social institution of the contract; nor are they going to get rid of the need for that institution in the organization of an economically sophisticated society. Nevertheless, they might succeed in wasting a lot of our time before they grow up.

Only a crazed, narcissistic brat thinks that a formalized and enforceable agreement to scratch someone's back in formal exchange for that person agreeing to scratch yours is a form of "slavery", because you have been "alienated" from the outcome of your back-scratching. Believe it or not, a society can't prosper or function unless people somehow manage to bind themselves to one another, and transcend the atomistic feeling that everything in the universe should be voluntary. We would all like to be kings of our own private worlds, and occupy a protected and materially thriving sphere in which we make all the rules. But human frailty and dependency don't permit such a world.

The tradition of extreme liberty, absolute personal autonomy and alienated individualism that springs from some of the most radical streams of the American Revolution has spawned a nation - if you can call it that - of infantile idiots.

A nation's income comes from the work and industrious value-creation of at least some of the people who make up that nation. Nobody has some natural right to an obligation-free "basic income" provided by the efforts and labors of other people. There is no "right of man" entitling a person to a life as a publicly supported bohemian deadbeat or free creative spirit. Those who do not recognize and participate in institutions for creating enforceable obligations to provide service to others are entitled to diddly.

To think otherwise is to think one should have a right to have some great cosmic tit shoved in one's mouth from cradle to grave.

NeilW said...

Dan K makes the point pretty forcefully that the extent of 'quid pro quo' is what needs to be debated.

Basic income seems to arise from this desire for 'Infantile Individualism' focussed entirely around the self - without regards for the needs, wants and views of others.

You see it in the fact that there is always a talk of 'rights' without any talk about the attached 'obligation' that always comes with a right.

It's a bit like talking about 'debt' without mentioning the asset.

All rights come with associated obligations. Forget about the obligation and you will eventually lose the right.

Because all 'rights' are granted by agreement with your fellow man.

James said...

Basic income seems to arise from this desire for 'Infantile Individualism' focused entirely around the self - without regards for the needs, wants and views of others.

You mean like those who want to impose a JG on people without regards for the needs, wants and views of the people who it's being imposed on?

And IMHO this would be a flaw of the proposed Swiss UBI -- no *citizen* would want to clean toilets

Which would suggest to me, those jobs are not paying enough in the first place. People do all kinds of smelly, dirty work. The fact that those people are willing to do jobs that no one else wants, should translate into those jobs being highly paid career choices, that would be a financial incentive. What you're suggesting is pretty much what we have now with the dole, but with less paperwork. And as we know now, there's not enough jobs for that to be viable, it will just increase inequality, and is ripe for exploitation.

NeilW said...

"You mean like those who want to impose a JG on people without regards for the needs, wants and views of the people who it's being imposed on?

Which is why a JG doesn't do that. If you want an income ('the right') you have to do something for it that others consider useful ('the obligation').

In a properly implemented JG there will be as wide a selection of things to do for the public good as possible - so that the intersection of what you would like to do and what others need to see you doing is as big as possible.

So the views are taken into account, but not just your views, but those of your peers - whom your choice affects.

If you want to do exactly what you want without regards to others, then you will get no income. Just as a two year old who throws a tantrum gets no supper.

The majority will have no problem at all with acceptable social behaviour - because they've learnt how to do reasonable compromises.

Only those who haven't will struggle with the concept, and frankly they should be ignored - just like the trantruming toddler.

Matt Franko said...

I agree with everything Dan K writes here...

and public/private lavatories can be redesigned/constructed to be completely self-cleaning ....


Calgacus said...

Agreed, Dans & Neil. Ellerman is smart, but confused. It is a far greater violation of rights to prevent people from selling portions of their lives - that is cooperating with each other, scratching each other's back. Cf Joan Robinson's famous quote. In particular, having a monetary economy and not having a JG is stark raving mad. Intellectually, a joke in the abstract - disgusting tyranny in practice.

He is probably following Marx, in one of the stupidest things he ever said, calling the JG, the right to work "a pious wish" (albeit before heaping sensible praise on it). Unfortunately almost all Marxists focus on Marx's obtuse snark grounded in his pious, wishful thinking, rather than his good sense.

James: You mean like those who want to impose a JG on people without regards for the needs, wants and views of the people who it's being imposed on?
A real JG is the opposite of this. Which is why "the people who it's being imposed on" (in the eyes of well-meaning but wishful thinkers) support the JG more than the BIG = welfare = "degrading" charity thrown from the masters of the Universe to the lesser people. Poor people, like rich people, but unlike wishful thinkers, understand basic economics - you can't get something for nothing as a general rule. Sure, rich countries like today's can easily afford a small BIG, and I am all for one - but the essential for justice, liberty and prosperity is the JG, not the plutocrat's choice, the BIG lie which intentionally ignores the "needs, wants and views of the people who it's being imposed on".

Tom Hickey said...

"Ellerman is smart, but confused."

I don't think that Ellerman is confused as much as he is pointing out how liberalism is confused philosophically and pragmatically as a social, political and economic theory.

Why does this matter? Because the whole modern project of society, politics, and economics is based on liberalism. almost all modern justification is in terms of liberalism as a naturalistic response to the previous theological dogmatism.

Specifically, liberalism was developed as a rejoinder to Hobbes's social contract theory that made life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness alienable to the state, i.e., the monarch at the time. The hypocrisy of liberalism was revealed in the Declaration as I pointed out above. What Ellerman is suggesting is that we are still being hypocritical about it. If we are going to live under liberalism, then let's do it. If not, they let's not say we are but rather say what actually principles we are governed by.

This is not so much a practical problem as an ideological one. Of course, practical solutions will be adopted but they are often at odds with the prevailing social, political and economic philosophy (ideology) of the time, which now is liberalism. While this was an idea of the Enlightenment, it became a social, political and economic reality with the American Revolution and the founding of the US. Since then it has become the dominant ideology globally.

Humans act out of perceived interest but many of them also feel compelled to justify their behavior based on a rationale as if to prove that humans are indeed rational animals. But evoking ideals prematurely also draws forth those ideals from ideas to reality, albeit often only gradually, in fits and starts.

It is very difficult to rationalize factors involving culture and institutions in terms of invariance, since society is a complex system. But owing to emergence a society can develop its ideals as realities.

A fundamental challenge is that individuals are unequal in temperament, disposition, aptitude, ability, endowment endurance, resolve, grit, luck, etc., but the Golden Rule underlies the ethics of most cultures.

The Golden Rule assumes universality of human nature so in this sense individuals are not unique but the same in nature. This is the foundation not only of ethics but also of equality before the law where the rule of law prevails rather than the rule of men.

The challenge is developing an ideology whose norms, values, principles,and criteria are consistent with practice, or admitting that principle and practice are inconsistent and incompatible, and often conflict.

Then the question becomes when this is the result of an adjustment that is principled as well as pragmatic, and what implications this has for the ideology. For example, if it is held that adjustment of principle to practice must be made at least on occasion, who decides when and how? Are these decisions subject to capture?

This opens up a whole can of worms that historically has ended in power struggles among competing interests. Is civilization just a veil over the law of the jungle that is imposed by power elites?

Are we facing up to this, or sweeping it under the rug?

Peter Pan said...

And I thought this would be an article on how getting rid of wage labour might give workers an incentive to become more productive. Alternative methods of renumeration are good for business.

Tom Hickey said...

Bob, there are innumerable ways to structure a viable economy as economic anthropology and history show. As Neil points out, the viability of any system or policy is context-dependent and there are many non-economic factors that are determinative.

Moreover, many people are a lot less "rational" that is presumed, acting on the basis of non-economic factors, such as values and traditions, against economic benefits. This is a global problem in the age of globalization.

Complicating the challenge is that the popular mindset or level of collective consciousness is usually lags the cutting edge of knowledge by at least a century, so what is possible theoretically is not possible practically. And this is in developed countries. The gap is wider in less developed and educated.

Calgacus said...

Tom: IMHO, he is very close, but no cigar; some of Ellerman's thinking is more confused than what he is criticizing. This is clearer in another similar paper he wrote; I'll see if I can find it. The idea of horrendous inalienable right violation by selling a portion of your life is sweeping things under the rug rather than facing up to them. It ignores the essential nature of money as a social relation- which demonstrates that there simply isn't any other way to cooperate, to divide labor. Getting rid of wage labor always means getting rid of wages - but keeping the laboring by excluded, invisible lesser people. In short - this idea, Ellerman, is wrong in principle, not just in practice.

Ellerman's proposal (like Richard Wolff's) is some sort of worker self-management of enterprises. But like a fish unable to see water, the biggest and most important enterprise is not seen - the monetary production society as a whole, the worker co-op called "a nation" - which uses the relationship called money to organize economic activity. And he ignores that the smaller scale enterprises will, must use some sort of credit-debt relation, money in potential at least, to cooperate, to organize their activities.

People with a decent job at a decent wage have the most important kind of decision-making, managerial authority in this monetary production economy. They can decide to eat, to have a home, etc and use their money to make the society labor for them, at their behest.

Sure, it is nice and I am all for it to have the sub-units of society be organized sanely, as worker co-ops. But "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. " If the state, by finally adopting a real JG, stops committing the insane crime of unemployment, the rest follows. A "capitalist" enterprise even organized just as today, which Ellerman would consider inalienable-right-violating, but embedded in a society with a real JG is a very different thing from the current reality of pure capitalist ahole-ocracy.

Peter Pan said...

Tom: alternatives to wages are practical right now, in the existing economy.