Tag Archives: economics and democracy

The Foundation of All Ills

Bertrand Russell wrote, in chapter two of his Political Ideals (1917):

Even in times of peace, most men live lives of monotonous labor, most women are condemned to a drudgery which almost kills the possibility of happiness before youth is past, most children are allowed to grow up in ignorance of all that would enlarge their thoughts or stimulate their imagination. The few who are more fortunate are rendered illiberal by their unjust privileges, and oppressive through fear of the awakening indignation of the masses. From the highest to the lowest, almost all men are absorbed in the economic struggle: the struggle to acquire what is their due or to retain what is not their due. Material possessions, in fact or in desire, dominate our outlook, usually to the exclusion of all generous and creative impulses. Possessiveness—the passion to have and to hold—is the ultimate source of war, and the foundation of all the ills from which the political world is suffering. Only by diminishing the strength of this passion and its hold upon our daily lives can new institutions bring permanent benefit to mankind.

Institutions which will diminish the sway of greed are possible, but only through a complete reconstruction of our whole economic system. Capitalism and the wage system must be abolished; they are twin monsters which are eating up the life of the world. In place of them we need a system which will hold in cheek men’s predatory impulses, and will diminish the economic injustice that allows some to be rich in idleness while others are poor in spite of unremitting labor; but above all we need a system which will destroy the tyranny of the employer, by making men at the same time secure against destitution and able to find scope for individual initiative in the control of the industry by which they live. A better system can do all these things, and can be established by the democracy whenever it grows weary of enduring evils which there is no reason to endure.

Hostess, Walmart, and the Rational Worker

Walmart Workers Struck Across in 100 Cities this Black Friday

A rousing game of “Beat Up on Unions” is starting up with the increasing frequency of highly visible labor actions, including the Hostess walkout that bankrupted the company and the Walmart strikes this past Black Friday.  For many Americans born and raised in the Reagan era, the game never ended (36% of Americans think that unions hurt the economy, according to Gallup in 2006).  Because of the very genuine contribution of labor unions to the wage-cost spiral of stagflation in the 1970’s, demonization of labor unions became very easy.  Furthermore, Americans of the late twentieth century became convinced that the issues that labor unions were created to solve were no longer relevant.  They couldn’t imagine people very much like themselves restoring child labor, or subjecting human beings to the “dark, satanic mills” of the early nineteenth century.  Now we’ve had thirty years to test that hypothesis, and it turns out, when only 8% of the workforce is unionized, companies will do whatever they want.

The Rational Worker

The anti-union argument is made on the basis of economic rationality.  Unions drive up costs by increasing wages and salaries, prevent economic development by blocking automation, and cause capital to flee to countries with lower labor costs.  Those issues will be dealt with in their turn.  First, let’s deal with rationality from the point of view of labor. read more »

Too Many Evenings

When I try to convince others our need for real and effective democracy, most people will respond that they simply don’t have the time for it.  Oscar Wilde expressed the same idea about socialism, back when socialism was understood as a democratic movement: “The problem with socialism is that it will take up too many evenings.”  So too people think that truly governing themselves would take too much of their time.  This is a valid concern.  Our liberty not only involves self-government but also pursuing all those goals that give our lives meaning and purpose.  Also, current American political discussions involve nasty and unpleasant confrontations over issues that are often abstract, distant, and insolvable despite generating a great deal of emotion.  On the one hand, I seem to be asking people to remove themselves from their own projects that they find more compelling.  On the other hand, people are supposed to inject themselves into some horrible social situations.  But that’s not truly the case.

Making Time for Democracy read more »