Saturday, November 16, 2013

Anti-Miminum Wage Contra Statism?

Originally posted at dpsst25.

I recently had a chance to observe some comments on social media when someone posted something supporting an increase in the national minimum wage in the United States. The reactions included claims of socialism as well as fears of creeping statism in the name of compassion.

Rather than getting into an extended debate over the issue, which rarely has any potential or opportunity for serious or legitimate discussion on places like Facebook, I chose to pose the following questions instead:

1A: Is anything that questions neoclassic economic theory and neoliberal economic policy automatically now labeled "socialist", and, is that supposed to be a warning or fear marker rather than a policy critique?

2A: Is the potential loss of jobs for youth entering the workplace worth more than the well-being and dignity of those who need to support themselves and their families at minimum wage jobs?

2B: As a corollary to the last question, is the only money in play from a low wage worker-vs low wage worker in a zero sum game, or is it OK to look at the money in CEO salaries and corporate profits as part of the equation as well?

3A: Does anyone disagree that the current legal and cultural climate sets up corporations as somewhat amoral "persons" whose primary overriding goal and responsibility is to increase the monetary value of the business to shareholders?

3B: Do the potential employee and employer represent two individuals with equal power who meet face to face to discuss the social and monetary value of the employee's labor, the value of the employer's business, capital, and product, and what a fair and livable arrangement would be in terms of work schedule, salary, benefits, and so on until a mutually satisfactory arrangement is reached and legally bound in a contract?

3C: If not, what forms of recourse should a current or potential employee have to counter the ability of the employer to demand more value from the worker's labor than the worker receives in useful compensation? To arbitrate a fair and livable arrangement?

3D: Is not the goal of immediate, short-term corporate profit and the power of the employer relative to the worker going to tend toward lower wages, fewer benefits, and an unfair and unlivable arrangement?  Do not labor unions and legal protections help to balance out the interests of such myopic profit motives?

3E: Are there not corporations and cooperative-based businesses that pursue long-term benefit to community and worker above the profit motive yet still make money? If so, why shouldn't the legal and cultural climate favoring the less generous and sustainable business practices be criticized, restricted, and ultimately replaced?

3F: For those who favor the libertarian style solution to corrupt and unfair business practice, do you assume that employee and employer have equal power? That the employee has multiple readily available options of equal value to choose from? That these choices, if they exist, do not carry additional burdens? That being fired (for objecting to workplace conditions or questioning compensation) or quitting in protest has no social repercussions and no effect on gaining future employment (especially in the same industry)? And even if these things were true, is there no ethical obligation to those who must suffer until the situation resolves itself by such Laissez-faire principles?

3G: If, based on the last question, workers do not have the social, cultural, and economic freedom to choose their way out of a bad employment situation (either doing so with great difficulty or peril or simply lacking any viable options), or if it is not ethical to let people suffer until Laissez-faire principles eventually intercede and improve working conditions and employment options, does not the government have the obligation to intervene? Especially since the welfare of the people is one the primary duties of government in the US Constitution?

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Liberty and justice for all?

Originally posted at dpsst25.

At the end of a recent blog post I briefly mentioned ENDA, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which is making it's way through the US Senate. As the title of the bill suggests, the law prohibits workplace discrimination because of factors such as gender-identity and sexual orientation.

While the bill is going to pass the Senate and the President is ready to sign it, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, released a statement through a spokesperson last week declaring that he "believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs, especially small business jobs." Later his office added that Boehner believes the bill is unnecessary because such workplaces protections are already protected under existing law.

The claim that federal law already guarantees such protections is not tenable, and most states don't have such explicit protections. If such legal protections already existed, then the possibility of lawsuits for unfair labor practices based on gender and sexual orientation would also exist. So the two statements eat each other.

But let's get back to the initial press release. There are two important things that are being explicitly said.

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An Introductory Critique of Current Economic Philosophy

Originally posted at dpsst25.

Current economic philosophy is rooted in large measure in debates about human nature that took place between Scottish, English, French, and German philosophers between two and three hundred years ago.

Those individuals were echoing debates that have been going on for much longer, debates about whether humans are intrinsically "good" (caring, empathetic, generous, cooperative, altruistic, etc) or "evil" (indifferent, cruel, selfish, greedy, manipulative, etc), and to what degree external circumstances and choice could draw out or strengthen different social qualities.

Whether intentionally or accidentally evolved or imbued by some unseen force, humans have a capacity for various social states and qualities. In adaptive terms, this can be cast a conflict between gene-centric selection (focused on the immediate benefit of the individual) versus group-centric selection (focused on the benefit of individuals as part of a larger social collective).

Contemporary postmodern industrial societies tend to construct their economic perspective on 1) status/wealth as reward, 2) uncertainty of worthiness, 3) scarcity of virtue, 4) abundance of resources, and 5) belief in meritocracy. I'll review these briefly before challenging their effectiveness at creating a just society full of actualized and productive citizens.

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