The Basics of Economic Justice (repost–light edit)

Posted: December 5, 2015 in Capitalism, Economics
Tags: , , ,

by Chaz Bufe, co-author The Anarchist CookbookAnarchist Cookbook front cover

Most people believe that economics is far too complicated for them to understand, and that they shouldn’t even try; they should leave economic decision-making to “the experts”–simply not concern themselves with it.

And, yes, some economic matters–tariffs, trade deals, taxation, the stock market, futures trading, derivatives, etc.–are complex. Very complex. But other economic matters are pretty damn simple.

Let’s start with material wealth. What creates it? Labor applied to natural resources (coal, oil, ore, timber, etc.), using the collective knowledge of human civilization, acquired over hundreds of generations.

Who created natural resources? If the answer is God or nature, why should a handful of people receive the lion’s share of benefits from the world’s resources? What possible justification is there for this? If the answer is “inheritance,” that’s merely an assertion that the descendants of those who have unfairly benefited should also unfairly benefit.

As for labor, why should those with inherited wealth, who have often done no useful work for generations, benefit from the labor of others? Why should there even be inherited wealth? Why should heirs, many of whom have never done an honest day’s work in their lives, inherit the wealth created by the collective labor of hundreds of generations? And again, why should they be the primary beneficiaries of the world’s natural resources?

Another question regarding labor: If wealth is produced by labor applied to resources, what possible reason is there for unemployment? What benefit derives from producing less wealth than is possible? Who does this serve? No one but the 1%, the relative handful who control the world’s resources. “The reserve army of the unemployed” allows them to hold down wages through the threat of replacing any worker who isn’t sufficiently subservient with someone so desperate for a job he or she will put up with anything.

And what about immigration? An overwhelming majority of immigrants come here to work, that is, create wealth. What’s so wrong with that? The all-too-common answer is “They’re stealing our jobs.” This answer points to two things. The first is that the current economic system, corporate capitalism, does not produce jobs for all who want them. This holds true across the globe.

The second is that unemployment not only suppresses wages, but it turns workers of different races and nationalities against each other. Again, this serves only the interests of the 1%. It helps to ensure labor “peace”–that is, subservience to corporations, and rivalry and hatred among workers, who compete with each other for crumbs from the corporate table. Anxiety over immigration also encourages the rise of xenophobic, racist political movements whose members are so deluded they consider themselves patriots. Who does this benefit?

One final question regarding labor–beyond whether those who inherit wealth should benefit from the labor of those who actually work–is whether the present system of payment for labor is rational, that is, whether it provides fair compensation to those doing useful work. Of course, this is a difficult question, given the near impossibility of accurately assessing the value of work. This difficulty is not, however,  an argument in favor of the current extreme differential in wages, with CEOs receiving hundreds of times the wages of average workers. Rather, it supports the argument that wages should be equal across the board.

At present, those who do the dirtiest, hardest, most necessary work–farm workers, garbage collectors, childcare workers–are among the lowest paid, while those who perform useless or worse-than-useless “work”–stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, commodities speculators, corporate attorneys, lobbyists, advertising executives–are among the highest paid. Is this fair? Is this rational?

Again, the answer is pretty damn simple: it’s so far from fair and rational it’s a sick, cruel joke. Let’s do something about it.



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