Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bringing Spooner's Vision To Life...Realistically

Both Spooner and Tucker thought (largely correctly, in my view) that the prevailing wage system and workers' lack of control of their means and conditions of labour were objectionable features that were in large part sustained by various sorts of government intervention in the economy on behalf of the wealthy.
-Roderick Long

Some time ago, I linked to an excellent article laying down the basics of Lysander Spooner's political philosophy. Spooner was rightfully concerned about the authortarianism of the modern employer-employee relationship, and sought to fix it. Although he considered it an absolute natural right for people to sell and purchase labor, he basically wanted to aim for a system of self-employed people, worker cooperatives, and independent contractors.

In today's industrialized world, aiming for an economy made up of pure worker cooperatives and nothing else is hopelessly doctrinaire. Nonetheless, I feel that there are still ways in which Spooner's views can be brought to life...at least to the greatest extent realistically possible (we can't return to the 19th century, no matter how badly some anarchists would like to).

Notice that in the segment above, I said "pure" worker cooperatives, not de facto worker cooperatives. A business can take on many features and aspects of a worker cooperative without every employee being a 100% equal owner or manager. Employees can be treated as partners on equal footing without a business being a "pure" cooperative. So a business can be "cooperative" in many ways without being a "pure" cooperative. David Ellerman, Mr. Economic Democracy himself, makes exactly the same point in his book The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm:

The worker-owned cooperative has historically been an all-or-nothing creature. It tends to assume a workforce that already understands and appreciates the rights and responsibilities of democratic worker ownership. A more practical compromise is a hybrid structure that can initially accommodate less than 100 per cent or even minority worker ownership—but where that portion of worker ownership is organized on a democratic cooperative basis.

Businesses can come up with other ways of experimenting with workplace democracy as well, such as "broader sharing of information and authority," involving them in management and decision-making, etc.

This would allow for businesses to maintain economies of scale and specialization, while at the same time incorporating many of the benefits of pure cooperatives. Thus, we should strive for businesses that are as cooperative as possible, and encourage worker input and participation, so that everyone is able to experience maximum autonomy and dignity and nobody is ever put into a "wage slavery" position.

Businesses can also contract certain--perhaps many--tasks out to cooperatives or hybrid models.

There are huge benefits of making the employer-employee relationship "egalitarian," instead of one party being treated like the property of the other. First, it discourages statism by making work less like a Communist dictatorship. Second, it is good for the self-esteem and psychological wellbeing of the workers in those firms. Third, it is good for society as a whole because of the two previous things.

In individualist-anarchist land we should strive for all relationships to be as anti-authoritarian as possible. Reforming the modern workplace is a good start.

Note: an excellent article about workplace democracy in Argentina can be found here.

4 comments:

Mike Gogulski said...

Repent! Quit your job! Slack off!

Someone submitted this to the Anarchism subreddit, btw.

Cork said...

Sweet! People are quick these days :)

Rorshak (1313) said...

Kill yo boss!

Great article.

Andrew Q said...

Pretty good entry. I recently wrote an article about how many aspects of the capitalist economy are propped up by the government, but I'd like to write a direct response to this article at some point.