Saturday, June 6, 2009

The "no alternatives" argument: why it's terrible

A common argument that leftists use to herd the rest of us into their labor camps is that workers "have no alternative" but to work for wages. In the still-continuing comments to SE's post mocking Franc, poster named littlehorn gives us the standard argument:

I would first ask if there are cooperatives in his line of work. Or such other arrangements where labor reaps its fruit, instead of something like 7% of it. (But let's not call that exploitation.)

If there aren't, then pointing to the 'voluntary' 'agreement', the one that occurred in the absence of any meaningful alternative to the system that he repudiates, is a pretty shallow point to make. You agreed to what you had no choice to refuse, so duh, that's not exploitation. It's only exploitation if no choice at all is involved.

A couple of comments:

1) Cooperatives do exist

Cooperatives (or at least quasi-cooperatves) do exist in his line of work. So the entire premise has already come crashing down.

However, even if no cooperatives existed in his line of work, Franc still has the option of buying stock in his company. Thus, he is already free to have his labor "reap" it's fruit, and "have a say." Why won't he do so? I'll tell you why: because he wants the profits without any of the risk. He wants to bag the profits when the company succeeds, but not bear the losses when it fails. Sorry, but reality doesn't work that way, regardless of how many "syndicalists" would like it to be so.

2) Why coops are rare

Our leftie comrade is right about one thing: coops are rare. But he fails to ask the question: why are they so rare? Left-libertarians claim it's due to state intervention, but that's a pretty dubious conclusion. State intervention seems to be the only reason they even *exist* in so many parts of the world.

According to the co-op supporters themselves:

Cooperatives have developed more extensively in areas with some history of
operating cooperative structures and/or a cooperative or socialist ideology. Government
support -- in the form of grants, favorable terms for borrowing capital, favorable taxation
policies, preferential treatment in awarding government contracts, and establishment of
barriers to outside investment and trade -- has been important in sheltering the development
of cooperatives in an otherwise hostile environment.

This is the case all across the globe.


From September 2000 to 2003, the Worker Co-operative Fund Pilot Project, a $1.5 million investment fund funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation (CWCF), successfully created new, and expanded existing, worker co-operatives in all regions of Canada by assisting in their capitalization.


Significant growth in this area has been attributed to supportive state policies and programs. For example, the Spanish constitution requires that public authorities encourage co-operatives and promote them via local legislation and local provisions. Furthermore, worker co-operatives benefit from a preferential tax rate of 20% as opposed to the generally available 35%.


Chavez is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and tax revenue on the cooperatives. Although there have been allegations of gross inefficiency and graft, cooperatives have become a powerful part of the economy and society.

More than 700,000 impoverished workers across the nation have suddenly become stakeholders, such as the 200 families in Bolivar state that were recently given the right to operate a toll road connecting state capital Ciudad Bolivar and Puerto Ordaz. Poor workers are now operating steel and textile factories, fisheries and dairy farms across Venezuela with the prospect of sharing in whatever profits the enterprises turn.

Meanwhile, capitalist enterprise remains strong virtually everywhere, despite being regulated nearly to death. I wonder why that it is? Could it be that it's just a superior business model much of the time? Perish the thought.

3) The fallacy of "perfect circumstances"

This argument assumes that in order to be free, one must have a 100% perfect set of circumstances in every imaginable situation. But this is absolutely impossible. There is no such thing as a life that has a flawless package of options for you at every given moment. To enforce this absurd entitlement would be to end the freedom of everyone else!

If you want to work in a cooperative, you are not "unfree" because it doesn't instantly materialize in front of your eyes. You are going to have to *shock* *gasp* save your own money for the project instead of enslaving others to do your bidding.

The left-libertarians will of course respond that they have no money to form their co-ops. Well, life is a bitch sometimes, isn't it? Again, there are no "perfect circumstances." We are confined by the laws of nature and reality. A co-op is not going to magically spring up from the damn ground the second you desire it. There are *no* businesses that have that kind of advantage.

Contrary to LL claims, it IS possible to save money and "own the workplace." In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman spends an entire chapter explaining how easily it could be done. He points out that if you take away taxes and examine the income of workers, all of them could buy their own workplaces (or at least the majority of onwership) tomorrow if they wanted.

Easier than a violent revolution, right? That certainly sounds like an "alternative" to me! Strange, then, that none of them are doing it.

My coughed-up conclusion

The "no alternatives" argument is terrible. First, because there are alternatives. Second, because any lack of "alternatives" is generally due to their inefficiency or lack of state protection. Third, because it's impossible to have a perfect set of "alternatives" at any moment. So the "no alternatives" argument is an epic fail.

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