[Marxism] Recommended Reading | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jul 3 13:23:56 MDT 2018
An excerpt from “Capitalism vs. Freedom: the Toll Road to Serfdom“:
Labor’s Loves Lost
Having reviewed the strong concentration of capital ownership, both in
household fortunes as well as market consolidation, what about labor?
The Right’s take on the freedom of the labor market is that it leaves us
free to choose among multiple uses for our labor, protecting you from
power plays by a tyrannical boss, as when Milton Friedman wrote:
The most reliable and effective protection for most workers is provided
by the existence of many employers…The employers who protect a worker
are those who would like to hire him. Their demand for his services
makes it in the self-interest of his own employer to pay him the full
value of his work. If his own employer doesn’t, someone else may be
ready to do so. Competition for his services—that is the worker’s real
The first serious problem with these rosy reviews of the market is that
after the previous section, it must be admitted that the “many
employers” the Friedmans are expecting may never arrive to the job fair.
And they do quietly concede that “Two classes or workers are not
protected by anyone: workers who have only one possible employer, and
workers who have no possible employer,” which makes consolidation and
outsourcing very relevant for freedom.
The second great problem is that, fundamentally, people are in fact not
commodities. A seller of non-perishable goods can store them until
market conditions are favorable. This patience is unavailable for owners
of mere labor power, who stubbornly require food and water at regular
intervals. The kid can’t skip eating this quarter and eat more next
quarter instead. Treating labor as an asset priced by supply and demand,
like toasters or toothbrushes, is a gross insult to the human spirit and
indeed, is responsible for some of the gravest crimes committed against
humanity in our history.
A further problem is that this traditional claim that the labor market
is “free” is based on another assumption, that if you don’t find an
employer you want to work for, you can just produce goods on your own.
Friedman: “Since the household always has the alternative of producing
directly for itself, it need not enter into any exchange unless it
benefits from it. Hence, no exchange will take place unless both parties
do benefit from it.” This would indeed grant a good deal of freedom to
the man on the street, but “producing for itself” implies access to
productive resources, including what we call “capital,” which as we’ve
seen is so highly concentrated that a very large part of global society
has essentially none. This means that since we have no “positive
freedom” to use or decide on how to use the capital stock, the typical
working person is also left with diminished “negative freedom,” since
employers who own the concentrated capital have dramatic power over
employees in the market.
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