Thursday, February 24, 2011

Attaining Justice in the Arab World, Part III: Wage Slavery

The rapid spread of the discontent that first surfaced in the Arab world has reached out (or at least been linked to) the demonstrations in Wisconsin by people outraged over the budget cuts that Governor Scott Walker believes are necessary in light of the current economic crisis. Supporters in the Arab world have even gone to the extent of purchasing fast food for delivery to the Wisconsin demonstrators as a sign of solidarity.

Feeding the hungry is a commendable act, as is siding with the oppressed and showing support. The problem, however (as with all social activism), is that, the closer they get to succeeding, the people involved have to be very careful what they ask for or demand — they might get exactly what they want. This is especially problematic in this case, as the demands are for wage system jobs.

Here's the problem. The fundamental issue, and the one on which virtually the whole of global monetary and fiscal policy is based, is the belief that new capital formation cannot take place until and unless consumption is reduced, money savings accumulated, and then capital is financed. From this we get the idea that the only legitimate source of income for most people is wages and welfare.

Even though Dr. Harold G. Moulton proved this assumption false (The Formation of Capital, 1935), it is easy to understand, explaining why the basic fallacy has such a strong hold on so many people. If reductions in consumption — "savings" — are necessary to finance new capital, then the world needs a class of very rich people (the fewer, the better, according to Keynes) who cannot consume all of their income, and are virtually "forced" to save. (This is not the related Keynesian "forced savings," which is a much more complicated concept.)

Since most human beings act rationally, the presumption is that these accumulations are not allowed to remain idle, but are invested in additional new capital. This necessarily restricts everyone other than the relatively few rich people to wages and welfare for income. The theory is that the new capital formed and financed by the savings of the rich will create jobs for the non-rich, and judicious redistribution will take care of any slack.

Unfortunately for this neat theory, not only did Dr. Moulton prove the basic assumption about the necessity of cutting consumption to finance new capital wrong, technology and cheaper labor in other areas typically decreases the number of jobs at a faster rate than jobs can be created by capital investment. In the United States, the number of people directly involved in manufacturing has been in decline since the 1920s, even as the number of people employed grew rapidly with the expansion of the economy. The vast majority of new jobs have been in "white-collar" positions as technology takes over the bulk of production. Now, with advances in computer technology, service and administration jobs are beginning to disappear.

The solution, as was pointed out in an editorial in Life magazine in the August 14, 1964 issue, is "If the Machine Wants Our Jobs, Let's Buy It." Don't worry if the machine displaces you from a "job." As long as you own the inputs to production, be they labor or capital, the natural right of private property (which comes under the virtue of justice) means that you have the right to control, and enjoy the fruits (the production or income) generated by what you own.

Demonstrating, even fighting for justice is fine. You should just make certain, however, that what you're fighting for is truly just — and truly what you want.

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