Personal Responsibility and Wages

Cheap-labor conservatives claim to believe in "personal responsibility". That’s why they say they don’t like social spending. They say that everyone should "stand or fall" in a competitive economic environment. They say that the working poor in such an environment are just "losers". They say the unemployed should "get a job" – regardless of unemployment rates. They say there should be no minimum wage, and corporations should be free to export jobs to third world dictatorships. And they don’t like unions.

So what happens to the wage scale, when we do things on the "cheap labor conservative plan". What happens when we abolish the minimum wage, eliminate all social spending, open our borders to cheap goods from the world, and capital flight to the third world. Which direction will average wages paid to Americans go. Do they go up? Or do they go down?

The answer of course, is down. We are talking about policies whose effect – I say the intended effect – will be to erode the wages and livingg standards of ordinary American wage-earners. We are talking about a deliberate effort to undermine the bargaining position of American labor. We are talking about an economic environment of ‘haves" and "have nots".

What sort of "personal responsibility" is possible in such an environment? If a wage earner’s only asset is his ability and willingness to do a day’s work for a day’s pay, where does he get the wherewithal to improve his circumstances? He gets that wherewithal from the wages he earns. But in the environment created by conservatives, that wage scale will not support accumulatioon of any savings. It will not support job training or higher education. It will allow the wage earner to survive – in an economic environment where he lives paycheck to paycheck, hoping he doesn’t lose his job.

But that isn’t what the cheap-labor conservatives mean by "personal responsibility". What they mean is "blame". If you have nothing, and can accumulate nothing "its your own fault". Thus does the conservative wash his hands of the poverty and exploitation inevitable in such an economic environment. It isn’t his fault, it is "impersonal market forces". It is the "natural order" of things – which government has no business correcting, according to him.

All of which utterly overlooks all of the laws, institutions and government created infrastructure that benefits the wealthy. First on the list of these is the corporation itself. Corporations exist because state law creates their possibility. State laws give them a benefit no partnership enjoys – limited liability for investors. They were and are a government created means to encourage investment in large scale industrial enterprises.

They amount to "organized capital", and have grown into institutions so large, many have annual revenues that exceed the Gross Domestic Product of many third world nations. They obviously create an imbalance of economic power between those who hold capital on the one hand, and wage earners on the other. Add to that the rapid movement of capital made possible by technology, and you have an even more uneven playing field. That rapid movement of course, is made possible by computers – developed with government subsidies and assistance – over communications networks built by government subsidy. [Any private companies out there launching communications satellites?].

In fact, the largest beneficiaries of all government built infrastructure, including hydroelectric dams, railroads, air traffic control systems, and even roads and schools, are the corporations who buy power, transport goods by rail and over the roads, and employ workers educated at public expense. They are the primary beneficiaries of the banking system, of Federal Reserve efforts to stabilize the currency, and of the regulation of securities creating confidence in the financial markets.

But Conservatives are oblivious to all this government spending, government infrastructure, and government regulation that directly benefits American corporations. They only see the government spending that helps the wage earner – and hypocritically claim that the wage earner should “stand on his own two feet” – as if they do.

In fact, they stand on the backs of labor. Having formed hugely powerful corporations, they complain when wage earners respond by forming unions to counterbalance the power of these giants. Apparently, it is okay for capital to "stick together", but not labor.

So don’t even bother suggesting to these cheap-labor conservatives that we build a "wage earner friendly" economic environment. Don’t suggest that we strengthen unions. Don’t suggest that we adopt labor friendly trade policies – that at a minimum restrict the ability of American corporations to take advantage of third-world police states. Don’t suggest that we put full employment over controlling inflation in our list of priorities. Don’t suggest fiscal policies – read that, "balanced budgets" – the help create a low inflation environment supporting "full employment".

All of those things are "big government". Cheap-labor conservatives believe in "less government" – for them anyway.

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