Saturday, February 7, 2009

Workplace Authoritarianism

Like virtually all individualist anarchists, I oppose workplace authoritarianism and agree with much of what Kevin Carson has said recently on the subject.

However...(I can just hear everyone slapping their palms against their foreheads and groaning ;) this comes with a few caveats.

1) Employment is not inherently authoritarian. For instance: if I'm employed by a company but rarely even see or notice my employer, I think it's pretty hard to argue that the situation is authoritarian. If I'm employed by a company but work at home, how can that possibly be authoritarian? A lot of anarchists seem to conflate all 'employment' with sweatshop jobs and others where there is zero autonomy and employees are de facto serfs. But it just ain't so. Heck, a self-employed person may well be ordered around by his clients more than an employed person.

2) The fact that some people may be making profits off of the firm without working in it has no effect whatsoever on the degree of authoritarianism (if any) going on inside of its walls.

It's unfortunate that most anarchists spend so much time on these misplaced targets when opposing them is not really necessary to oppose actual workplace authoritarianism.

18 comments:

anarcho-mercantilist said...

"2) The fact that people are making profits off of the firm without working in it has no effect whatsoever on the degree of authoritarianism (if any) going on inside of its walls."

I think your argument seems too simplistic. Carson might disagree with you from the idea that because the boss allegedly "monopolizes" the means of production, he has no competitive pressure to improve his workplace environment. Therefore, this entails that the boss can use any measure, including authoritarian measures, to force employees to do surplus slave labor.

Mutualists believe that all non-entrepreneural gross income will fall to zero in a purely competitive free market. So as long the firm still earns non-entrepreneural gross income, this entails that the firm stole its gross income by exploitating its employees.

However, a firm in a free market will naturally earn gross income. The savings that the capitalists partake will seek a return on capital equal to its interest rate.

I cannot think any method to revise your argument convincible to Carson other than to show him the whole time-preference theory of capital and interest.

Rorshak (1313) said...

I do agree with your caveats here. I've never found any reason to believe that working for someone else is inherently authoritarian, and some of the commies and syns. baffle me with their belief in such.

Anarcho-Mercantilist:

Carson does acknowledge time preference and he argues that current statist interferences mess up people's time preferences and don't reflect what it would be in a free market. I think this is pretty hard to deny, however how much people's time preferences would change in a non-statist market is something that really can't be known a priori.

Neverfox said...

Cork:

You seem to be defining workplace authoritarianism purely in terms of interpersonal relations or "the level of bossiness" and if such a thing were lessened we should feel no need to be concerned with issues of property rights and appropriation in production. I point this out because it would be strange to analyze state authoritarianism in such a narrow manner. A rights violation need not involve any explicit bossiness.

anarcho-mercantilist:

If I had a nickel for everything "Mutualists believe"...

Cork said...

You seem to be defining workplace authoritarianism purely in terms of interpersonal relations or "the level of bossiness"

That's actually a pretty good way of putting it. I'd say that workplace authoritarianism typically means a high level of "bossiness." Of course, some people may be willing to put up with the bossiness if it means more money (or some other benefit).

and if such a thing were lessened we should feel no need to be concerned with issues of property rights and appropriation in production. I point this out because it would be strange to analyze state authoritarianism in such a narrow manner. A rights violation need not involve any explicit bossiness.

This is where we differ. I don't see exchanging profits for use of capital as a rights evaluation, any more than I see trading a pinata for a burrito as a rights violation.

In case anyone is wondering, I had Mexican today and can't wait to eat the left-overs tomorrow.

anarcho-mercantilist said...

"If I had a nickel for everything "Mutualists believe"..."

I agree with you that I should not represent others purely by vague labels. For instance, Brainpolice, at his YouTube channel identified himself as a mutualist, but seems to not know anything related to the Marxist exploitation theories. Therefore, to avoid generalizing about a whole group, I had replaced two instances of the word "mutualist" by the person "Carson."

Carson's article also did a similar thing. He generalized and misrepresented the group called the "anarcho-capitalists" as a mob of "vulgar libertarians," in quoting from a tiny fraction of those who self-identify as "anarcho-capitalist." Carson did a disingenious thing.

For example, just because some anarcho-capitalists like to rape others (the "anarcho-rapists"), this does not imply that all of the self-identified anarcho-capitalists have this preference. Those "anarcho-rapists" only constitute a tiny fraction of the whole "anarcho-capitalist" population. But Carson, in his article, misrepresented and degraded all "anarcho-capitalists" as "anarcho-rapists." I did not mean that Carson did that, I just meant that Carson has taken quotes from a tiny fraction of the "anarcho-capitalists" and misrepresented the whole population.

When I say "mutualist" in my last comment, I meant the "non-Austrian mutualists," or those who do not have any Austrian influence. So this excludes Neverfox and Brainpolice.

Because that I replaced two instances of "mutualist" with "Carson," I did not mean to refer to "Carson" literally. I referred "Carson" to the "mutualists who do not believe in the time-preference theory of capital and interest." Of course, Rorshak seemingly used a red herring argument that Carson acknowleged the time-preference theory of interest. I identified his argument as "red herring" because I did not literally refer to "Carson" when I used "Carson."

Cork said...

Those "anarcho-rapists" only constitute a tiny fraction of the whole "anarcho-capitalist" population. But Carson, in his article, misrepresented and degraded all "anarcho-capitalists" as "anarcho-rapists."

Exactly. I'd love to know who these "socially conservative monarchist" anarcho-capitalists are, aside from a small handful of Hoppeans on the Mises forums. I doubt many of those quotes are even serious--most likely, they're saying shocking things just to see how badly they can piss off left-libertarians.

They have this mentality that anyone who disagrees with them is a "cultural conservative" (total nonsense).

Rorshak (1313) said...

Because that I replaced two instances of "mutualist" with '"Carson," I did not mean to refer to "Carson" literally. I referred "Carson" to the "mutualists who do not believe in the time-preference theory of capital and interest." Of course, Rorshak seemingly used a red herring argument that Carson acknowleged the time-preference theory of interest. I identified his argument as "red herring" because I did not literally refer to "Carson" when I used "Carson."'

AM, please don't accuse me of using red herrings. You said Carson and that's who I thought you meant.

anarcho-mercantilist said...

"AM, please don't accuse me of using red herrings. You said Carson and that's who I thought you meant."

Thanks for you suggesting that Carson talked about interest and capital. I did not know that at that time. However, Carson incorrectly interpreted the theory.

I apoligize that I had offended you. I did not want to "accuse" or "blame" you when I used "red herring." Actually, I deserve the blame for not clarifying my grammar, arguments, and what I meant by "red herring." By "red herring," I just meant that the logic tended to function as red herring because your response did not match my internal predictions.

Neverfox said...

That's actually a pretty good way of putting it. I'd say that workplace authoritarianism typically means a high level of "bossiness." Of course, some people may be willing to put up with the bossiness if it means more money (or some other benefit).

But that somewhat misses the point I was trying to make: that the level of bossiness from state officials, for example, isn't what makes them authoritarian. I'm never really been bossed around by a police officer or politician.

This is where we differ. I don't see exchanging profits for use of capital as a rights evaluation, any more than I see trading a pinata for a burrito as a rights violation.

I don't differ from you here actually. But defining all employment this way is to get it exactly backwards and hide the problem. Giving a payment for capital services is actually the opposite of employment because that is technically labor hiring capital. It's doesn't follow from receiving a payment for capital services that one should be a "boss". I'm sure that's not what you meant to limit the view to but this kind of language creeps in to hide the real issue of appropriation in production.

Cork said...

I'm never really been bossed around by a police officer or politician.

Oh, you have. You just don't realize it. You likely pay your taxes and obey the state's laws (or, if you don't, you never get caught). If you ever choose to stop, you'll quickly see what real authoritarianism is like.

I can honestly say that I've been bossed around far more by police officers than any employer I've ever had. If it ever happens to you, I think you'll change your mind.

I don't differ from you here actually.

Really? I thought you were opposed to someone making profits off a firm without working in it.

But defining all employment this way is to get it exactly backwards and hide the problem. Giving a payment for capital services is actually the opposite of employment because that is technically labor hiring capital.

I guess I'm having some trouble following you. How are you defining employment? Are you talking about an owner of capital goods employing someone, or a renter of capital goods employing someone?

anarcho-mercantilist said...

I do not care if you "oppose" employment. You should at least support the right for employment. But some mutualists, such as Carson and Tremblay, support the forceful collectivization of capital goods.

"Are you talking about an owner of capital goods employing someone, or a renter of capital goods employing someone?"

I cannot distinguish any differences between these two. Because I interpreted the word "renter" of capital as identical to the word "owner" of capital, in this context. By definition, "renters" must own capital to rent out goods. So this imples that all "renters" function as a capitalist.

I presume that Neverfox opposes boss-directed forms of employment, not a worker merely borrowing capital. I understand how the former will tend to alienate the worker.

Contrary to the above presumptions, however, I still think that the more authoritarian forms of employment, in a free society, will still exist in certain situations. For example, authoritarian forms of employment will still exist in sectors where (1) huge economies of scale still applies and (2) management which requires a high level of interaction, cooperation and coordination among the workers. In sectors in which high economies of scale applies, it becomes very expensive for workers to borrow capital goods for self-employment. Because certain capital goods have high scarcity, workers need to productively utilize them, or else other, more productive, workers not have enjoy them, and also investors will not have a high degree to invest in under-productive capital goods. Thus, workers must uniformly utilize capital productively.

For example, in a capital-intensive factory where workers use assembly lines, it becomes vital for each and every worker to participate. Even if one worker decides to work slower, the whole assembling process slows, thus sacrificing the rate of return for the investors. Thus, the investors —the capitalists—do not have the incentive to allow workers to enjoy more freedom. An analogous scenario can exist in a fast-food assembly-line.

I do not claim these above statements as true. I just want to point out that authoritarian types of employment will still exist in a free society, whether we like it or not. Forcibly abolishing them would violate their rights. If a poor person in third-world Africa or South America lacks the capital for self-employment, would you prohibit them to work as an employee?

Cork said...

AM,

I believe Neverfox's position is that the employment contract would not be enforced by law. This would basically outlaw it, since nobody would bother starting a contract if the other person could legally rob them.

And you're right that hierarchy is absolutely necessary for much what exists in our contemporary economy. This is part of what made Reisman's critique of mutualism so devastating.

http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/20_1/20_1_5.pdf

David Z said...

the criticism of employment as malum in se (whether it be by the LL or full-blown Communists) boils down to Marx's criticism of capital as the means by which the haves exploit the have-nots. Marx cleverly sidesteps the question of "How did the 'haves' come to have anything in the first place?" and its counterpart "How did the 'have-nots' become so destitute?" by attributing these conditions to something he called "primitive accumulation", which IMO is just a fancy way of taking capitalist exploitation as an incontrovertible fact. It's sloppy logic at best.

Although I've read bits of Carson and bits of Marx (I'm reading Das Kapital currently) I'm still inclined to side with Bohm-Bawerk's dismantling of Rodbertus and Marx.

David Z said...

Also, thanks for the link to the Reisman article. I'm not a huge Reisman fan, but that critique was a great read.

Neverfox said...

Oh, you have. You just don't realize it. You likely pay your taxes and obey the state's laws (or, if you don't, you never get caught). If you ever choose to stop, you'll quickly see what real authoritarianism is like.

Two things. First, it was your implication that authoritarianism should be equated with the level of day to day discomfort. Read your original post. So my response is to say that day to day, I don't feel discomfort from state oppression. That doesn't, mean, like you just pointed out, that it isn't there. Basically, you made my point.

Now let's say you work in a factory producing cars. Try suing your employer for ownership of the cars on libertarian property grounds (pointing to the fact that you agreed to a wage but never to transfer your rightfully appropriated property) and see how the courts treat you. It won't be beating or whatnot but it's still authoritarian because they have institutionalized the default assumption that capital property rights carry with them ownership of the product unless otherwise stated.

I can honestly say that I've been bossed around far more by police officers than any employer I've ever had. If it ever happens to you, I think you'll change your mind.

Change my mind? Are the two views somehow mutually exclusive? Did I ever claim that employers have more violent potential than police? Physical violence is not the only type of coercion anarchists oppose nor do I think we should accept authoritarianism simply because it's not as great as some other form.

Really? I thought you were opposed to someone making profits off a firm without working in it.

Look at the sentence I was replying to. All you said was there is nothing wrong exchanging some money for use of capital. Of course I don't disagree. My whole point is that capital owners should be paid for their labor in creating that capital.

But this post isn't about exchange, remember? It's about authority. This is a common tactic I see you and others using. When someone starts talking about authority, you shift to talking about the freedom of exchange. Well, they are two separate things. You can have exchange without it carrying any right of authority. Do you want to talk about exchange or authority?

I do not care if you "oppose" employment. You should at least support the right for employment.

Define employment. You guys do realize that the term "employment" is a 20th century word and prior to that it was "servant" right? In fact, "master-servant" is still used in certain agency law texts and judicial decisions to distinguish independent contractors from "employees". So plug "servant" into your theories and prescriptions and tell me how it starts to sound. Does it sound "authoritarian"?

But some mutualists, such as Carson and Tremblay, support the forceful collectivization of capital goods.

Ahem...no.

For example, authoritarian forms of employment will still exist in sectors where (1) huge economies of scale still applies and (2) management which requires a high level of interaction, cooperation and coordination among the workers.

Why assume these are authoritarian? You haven't specified if the workers delegated the decision making (concessio) or alienated it (translatio).

For example, in a capital-intensive factory where workers use assembly lines, it becomes vital for each and every worker to participate. Even if one worker decides to work slower, the whole assembling process slows, thus sacrificing the rate of return for the investors. Thus, the investors —the capitalists—do not have the incentive to allow workers to enjoy more freedom. An analogous scenario can exist in a fast-food assembly-line.

This begs the question.

Forcibly abolishing them would violate their rights.

Who said anything about forcibly abolishing them? Are there not things that are naturally excluded from free societies such as murder, fraud, theft, voluntarily taking on the role of a thing in the chain of responsibility? Will not the immanent rule of law naturally gravitate against these things? If not, then anarchism is doomed.

This is part of what made Reisman's critique of mutualism so devastating.

Devastating? Really? That article is one of the biggest collection of straw men I can recently recall.

David Z,

I do not rely on that Marxist historical concept for any of my analysis.

Neverfox said...

I believe Neverfox's position is that the employment contract would not be enforced by law. This would basically outlaw it, since nobody would bother starting a contract if the other person could legally rob them.

Cork,

That's not too bad. I think I might have actually been coherent enough that you got something from my ramblings. ;)

Yes, my point (or part of it at least) is that a full recognition of appropriation in production would logically and thus legally encourage worker-managed firms.

Let's say I want to buy a widget for $10 and you instead slip a worthless pseudo-widget into my bag. When I get home, I discover this. Now I should be free to agree to accept a pseudo-widget from you for $10. But I'm not likely to accept that without being clear about it. You need my consent. I'm likely instead to call it fraud and ask for my money back. The law is also likely to develop to discourage fraud precisely because people wouldn't accept it if they knew the facts, even though they are free to change the contract to reflect $10 for a pseudo-widget. Then it's not fraud. It's just stupid.

Fraud is fraud not because people can't accept the state of affairs the fraud is trying to perpetrate, but because people wouldn't if they knew the state of affairs the fraud is trying to perpetrate.

Cork said...

Neverfox,

It might be easier for me to just respond to you in a seperate post, some time near the end of next week (this week I'm really busy).

Until then, please tell me if this summarizes your views accurately:

1) Capitalists claim to take responsibility for the profits laborers produce

2) But a person can't claim to take responsibility for a crime

3) Therefore capitalists should not be able to create contracts where they claim responsibility for profits they do not produce.

This is what you've been arguing, right? I'm just trying to make sure I understand you correctly.

Cork said...

A quick comment

"Two things. First, it was your implication that authoritarianism should be equated with the level of day to day discomfort."

I was talking only about workplace authoritarianism, not authoritarianism in general.

I don't believe hierarchal firms are wrong and don't believe in labor-capital exploitation theories, so "bossiness" is about as good of a definition as I can come up with.