The tyranny of work
July 19, 2017 4:06 AM   Subscribe

The American workplace is an unaccountable, near-dictatorial private govenment with sweeping powers over our lives. Why can't Americans see this? And what should be done about it? [SLVox] Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson makes this argument in her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It), based on her 2015 Tanner Lectures in Human Values. She elaborates on these themes in an interview in Jacobin. But Miya Tokumitsu, writing in the New Republic, warns that "[i]n reality, the employment landscape is even more dire than Anderson outlines." (Related previously: F*ck Work!)
posted by informavore (85 comments total) 121 users marked this as a favorite
 
One possible avenue to rectifying the modern slavery of the workplace is to redefine corporation as an entity which must bring benefit to everyone directly involved in or indirectly affected by its activity. From the obvious parties - owners and customers, to its employees, the local community, and the world globally. One businessman who understood corporate responsibility this widely was Tomas Bata.
posted by Laotic at 4:31 AM on July 19 [13 favorites]


Still reading the first article, but I'd say that Americans do see the nature of the employer/employee hierarchy, and that many find it proper, if not admire it outright. Consider "I wouldn't hire him/her" as an expression of disdain, even (especially?) from people who have no say in hiring whatsoever.
posted by postcommunism at 4:43 AM on July 19 [42 favorites]


That's a very insightful point, postcommunism.

I wonder if a lot of Americans tolerate workplace tyranny for the same reason a lot of people tolerate lowering taxes on the rich: in many ways we are trained to see ourselves as temporarily displaced tyrants (or millionaires, or...). The New Republic article quotes Lincoln to this effect:
The prudent, penniless beginner in the world labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land for himself, then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him.
It also notes that this may have been true, once, before the industrial revolution, but now it has no chance of being true.

As somebody raised on a diet of Smith, Paine, etc. and had never really thought about it—yay, indoctrination!—this is a very interesting notion to me and is something that I'm trying to give serious thought to. (Particularly since I'm an employer, myself.)

Thanks for posting, informavore!
posted by ragtag at 4:53 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


I wonder if a lot of Americans tolerate workplace tyranny for the same reason a lot of people tolerate lowering taxes on the rich: in many ways we are trained to see ourselves as temporarily displaced tyrants (or millionaires, or...)

I think it's more a case of "to the the victor belong the spoils." We are simply trained to see the wealthy and the ruling classes as exemplars, as deserving of benefits that we, the lowly, unambitious workers simply aren't. Add-in a dollop of the belief/holy writ that the wealthy worked infinitely harder than you for their rewards, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:04 AM on July 19 [6 favorites]


The lack of worker protections in the US really is staggering, and the idea that it's an effect of the gross misapplication of pre-industrial libertarian ideals is interesting. The resulting lack of mobility in the labor force is an enormous benefit to the owning class: it's impossible for a worker to know what their labor is really worth when being even temporarily unemployed is both financially and socially ruinous. The work-worship in American culture is repugnant and oppressive, and the demonization of those who cannot or even will not work is a powerful tool of the oppressors.

I do share Livingston's ideals about a post-work society, although I don't think that it's technologically feasible yet, and when it is, of course it will still be politically and culturally infeasible. How do you convince two or three generations who have worked their whole lives, many of whom believe that work qua work is the ultimate virtue, to let it all go and hand the next generation a world where working just to get by is an archaism?
posted by uncleozzy at 5:09 AM on July 19 [29 favorites]


It's become increasingly clear to me that any theoretically successful revolution of today won't involve bullets, protests or angry phone calls.

It'll involve strikes, and a lot of them. It'll involve refusing to go back to work to keep greasing the cogs of metaphorical and literal machines that are enslaving us. That's the only thing that will get the attention of the oligarchs and 1%, to hit them right in the bottom line.

To stop producing the products and services they're selling to us, and to stop buying them.

But people are understandably too fearful and trapped to do anything of the sort even though it's really the only effective leverage they have that in today's political and cultural environment that they can have any choice or control in.

To do this - people need to learn to free themselves from the chains of being good consumers. And for this to happen, to learn how to gently lower their expectations and shift their priorities. That wearing old or dirty clothes isn't shameful, that they don't really need that new phone or car, and to learn that rejecting these surface values and expectations to be a good professional consumer is the way to liberating oneself and stepping outside of the expectations of that system.

And then - hopefully - to see themselves and their station from the outside as the economic slaves that they really are.

And this perspective is deeply unsettling and uncomfortable. It tears away most of the illusions of modern society and suddenly 90% of everything we're doing just looks ridiculous and pointless.

The benefit of that perspective is you can then more easily see and value the things that are priceless, because they cannot be bought at a store or earned with a paycheck: The people around you in your life. The earnestness of good, honest hard work with your own hands. The incredible beauty of nature and our universe. The tangibility of love, frequently lost in the noise and grind of workaday life.

Waxing even more simplistic: Remember Turn on, Tune in, Drop out? Well, everyone loves the turn on part, and the tuning in part is relatively easy and educational, if often incredibly uncomfortable.

But few ever make it to the dropping out part. And that's the hardest and most important part. It means taking on those new values and rejecting and refusing to participate in the old values you're trying to leave behind. This part is utterly terrifying.

posted by loquacious at 5:11 AM on July 19 [44 favorites]


I think a key assertion made in the article is precisely that Americans don't see. (Obviously it should go without saying that "Americans" is just a symbolic term for some anti-proletariat category, etc.) They(/you/we) suffer from hemiagnosia, which is the author's ivory tower language for "Only seeing half the picture". It's funny because it's true, it's "Emperor has no clothes" with a sad ending so far.

The one thing that the article doesn't explain is that the indoctrination is self-reproducing. You/they/whoever in these politically suppressed modes of social organization (from no talking in workplaces, to no unionizing, a whole spectrum of oppressive norms) is exactly the process that reproduces this social blindness.
posted by polymodus at 5:13 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


Dragon-Slayers - "The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt's critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge."*

One possible avenue to rectifying the modern slavery of the workplace is to redefine corporation as an entity which must bring benefit to everyone directly involved in or indirectly affected by its activity.

-public benefit corporations
-stakeholder capitalism
-SRI/ESG

Still reading the first article, but I'd say that Americans do see the nature of the employer/employee hierarchy, and that many find it proper, if not admire it outright.

Intriguing experiment reveals a fundamental conflict in human culture - "It's well known among economists that most people don't like income disparities, especially when they're on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. This is reflected in polls and scientific studies, but also just everyday common sense. Yet many of our societies suffer from a widening gap between the haves and have-nots. If we hate economic inequality so much, why do humans keep supporting institutions that concentrate wealth in a tiny percentage of the population? A new cross-cultural study led by economists working in China suggests one possible reason: people are not willing to redistribute wealth if they think it will upset the social hierarchy."*
posted by kliuless at 5:14 AM on July 19 [26 favorites]


oh and an oldie but goodie...
The Corporation as a Command Economy by J. Bradford DeLong:* "That our economy is populated by large corporations shapes how we live. Our social being cannot but be shaped by the one-third of our waking lives spent at work. Our politics would be very different without corporations both as sources of pressure an influence on politicians and as intermediaries serving the purposes of politicians."
posted by kliuless at 5:23 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


It starts even before opting into a particular corporate environment - a recent article with the CEO of Barstool Sports included a bit where, as a part of the interview process, she'll routinely text candidates late night/early morning on weekends to see how fast they'll respond. Three hours is your max. All for the right to work as a 1099 for just as many seconds as they need you before they cut you loose.

On the one hand, the U.S. is supposedly the most powerful nation of all time, but introduce concepts that other industrialized nations have even partly figured out like universal health care, higher minimum wages, and worker protections, and so many believe the country will implode into itself. The cognitive dissonance that ends up rewarding sociopathy is staggering.
posted by notorious medium at 5:25 AM on July 19 [51 favorites]


Thank you for posting this! I've said this for YEARS that a lot of the hate people feel for government would more correctly be directed toward the places which hire us. These places judge us find us wanting even when they do hire us, police our private lives, our public appearances, our online lives, our politics. You name it, their nose is there.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:28 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


I don't have time to read the links right now (I pocketed this entire post), but this is what has always confused me about libertarians. I'm not thrilled about the government having a bunch of power over me, either, but let's be real: I'm a straight white man earning about $50k. I very rarely come into contact with the supposedly onerous government regulations. Meanwhile, employers have levels of authority that even totalitarian governments would admire. And the libertarians' solution is to give those employers even more power? Maybe it's just me, but if I have to choose between the two, I'll choose the one that at least theoretically has some democratic accountability.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:28 AM on July 19 [49 favorites]


a recent article with the CEO of Barstool Sports included a bit where, as a part of the interview process, she'll routinely text candidates late night/early morning on weekends to see how fast they'll respond

Send her an invoice.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:33 AM on July 19 [28 favorites]


What can individual people in non-union shops reasonably do? All of these are (relatively) easy steps you can take without committing whole-hog to armed worker revolt:

Save money specifically so that you can quit or risk firing if you want or need to. I recommend finishing this before trying any of the following. You need to act from a position of strength, and it's not real strength if you can't realistically quit your job at any moment without ending up homeless.

Talk about your salary or wage with coworkers.

Ignore noncompetes.

Kiss just a little bit less ass than your coworkers, and then brag about it. Create social pressure to be less compliant.

NEVER talk about how /your/ boss is one of the good ones. They're not. They're management and are universally your adversary. The myth that there is "good" management and "bad" management makes it seem like management itself is an acceptable form of employment. It's not, and these people are scum.

Mock coworkers who take promotions into management. There need to be real social costs to volunteering as guard labor. If they do, don't invite them to your 4th of July barbecue. Exclude them from the office secret santa, the coffee fund, and the softball team. They're not your friends anymore and can't be as long as they're management.
posted by LiteOpera at 5:35 AM on July 19 [26 favorites]


You need to act from a position of strength, and it's not real strength if you can't realistically quit your job at any moment without ending up homeless.

This is pretty much the problem right there for me. You will eat all kinds of shit until you die if you know that without this job, you end up starving and homeless because you just cannot get another job. If you just plain do not have options that aren't homelessness, if it literally takes years to get another job IF you can get another job, and if that job is "contracting" or temping or Task Rabbiting and won't last long/give you a decent living wage...

Hell, a friend of mine used to make tons of money, now she can only get a contract job every once in a while for a few months. They treat her like amazing amounts of crap and abuse her from day one (and this is famous big shot companies), then they say "oops, we ran out of money" and lay her off even sooner than the promised supposed contract, and now she can't even get a job in retail because she's overqualified. What should she do, just take the hint and die?

Much as my job stresses me the hell out frequently (don't get me started), I am living in the lap of cushy luxury compared to most people. But I still can't get any other job either--there's not a lot of options out there and the few interviews I get tell me I'm not good enough because I'm not doing four different jobs at once (accountant, travel agent, event planner in addition to being an admin, and my job doesn't require those three jobs in it now) in my current job and if I'm not already doing all of that, they can find someone who does.

I need to not be reading this on a workday and already ruining the workday before the stress even starts.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:08 AM on July 19 [24 favorites]


loquacious: But few ever make it to the dropping out part. And that's the hardest and most important part. It means taking on those new values and rejecting and refusing to participate in the old values you're trying to leave behind. This part is utterly terrifying.
LiteOpera: NEVER talk about how /your/ boss is one of the good ones. They're not. They're management and are universally your adversary. The myth that there is "good" management and "bad" management makes it seem like management itself is an acceptable form of employment. It's not, and these people are scum.
Aaaaand this is why I have no friends. My wife and I have been editing ourselves out of the greater consumption economy for some time (because of ethical reasons and dear god climate change), and this alienates us from all of our old friends who only want to talk about whatever's on Netflix. (And of course it takes years at least to build new friendships.) Further, since I own a company, I'm alienated from anyone who I might meet at work, since of course I'm management and therefore evil.

There must be better ways to take action.
posted by ragtag at 6:18 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


I hear you, @jenfullmoon. Not everybody is fortunate enough to have the strength to resist, but those of us that do have a moral obligation to do so. I myself could probably be doing more -- I've thought about trying to organize my office, but I work in IT in Texas, so most likely the only thing I'd accomplish is to get fired and alienate my red state coworkers. Still, I /could/ realistically at least /try/, since I could probably find another job if I needed to, and I have a half year's salary saved. I still might, if I can find the cojones.
posted by LiteOpera at 6:20 AM on July 19


most people don't see problems because they don't have a problem with their employers

And yet, I have a full head of hair but am somehow aware of baldness.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:28 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


And yet, I have a full head of hair but am somehow aware of baldness.

I guess that means you should be writing a Vox column about how everyone needs to panic about going bald.

The point wasn't that no one has shitty employers; it was to answer the author's question. The reason everyone isn't freaking out is that this isn't a problem that affects a majority of people, let alone everyone.
posted by jpe at 6:32 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


It affects them whether they realize it or not. If the systemic balance of power shifts, whether any individual employer exploits the power imbalance or not, the reality of the power balance has changed. Even if any given tight rope walker doesn't notice or care if they're walking without a safety net, the absence of one changes the reality regardless.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:38 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I guess that means you should be writing a Vox column about how everyone needs to panic about going bald.

Sorry, my comment was unnecessarily flip. I get why many people aren't seeing it. But they could be, and they should be.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:41 AM on July 19


That's a weird idea of British history, where a chronic lack of social mobility combines with iron-clad legal protection for aristocratic landholdings and state monopolies in all sectors to prevent the emergence of a middle class and leaves the peasant-like English gazing impotently on as the Industrial Revolution fires up across the Atlantic under Abraham Lincoln.
posted by Segundus at 6:43 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


what is the point of celebrating America's "freedom" and "democracy" when we spend 40+ hours a week of our lives living in unaccountable, totalitarian societies?
posted by indubitable at 6:43 AM on July 19 [31 favorites]


The wife of a friend of mine was unceremoniously laid off last year by one of the biggest corporations in Canada. She'd worked there for almost ten years, had done everything asked of her and more (which included working after hours and weekends), had worked her way up to a position of leadership and had overseen some major projects. And the minute they decided they didn't need her any more they ditched her just like that. She's always been an ambitious person, but now she's wondering if those years she spent breaking her back for a company that, in the end, didn't give a shit about her were actually well spent. I believe she was fairly well-paid, but those nights and weekends were time she could have spent with her friends and family. She was always quite anti-union, and now I wonder what she thinks about that. My sister was also laid off by one of Canada's biggest banks a couple of years ago; shortly before that the staff at her branch were told that everyone was going to have to "tighten their belts" while at the same time the bank was reporting a quarterly profit in the billions.

I've written about my parents many times over the years here; they both had (private-sector) union jobs. My dad was a pipefitter and my mom was a bank teller, and they made enough money to buy a home, raise a family, take vacations, send all three of their kids to college and retire around the age of 60 (my dad retired a bit earlier than he would have preferred because the plant he worked at was being gradually shut down, but he did fine). And neither of them *ever* worked when they weren't being paid to; when the whistle blew at the end of the day, their time was their own until their shift started the next day. And I'm sure the people who owned the companies they worked for were doing well for themselves, but somewhere along the line people like that decided that "well" wasn't enough. Now we live in this age of inequality and millions of us are living in fear and rage and anxiety so the ultra-rich can make money they'll never even be able to spend. And they've got us fighting each other instead of working towards building a society that works for everyone. Plus ca change...

I'm lucky enough to have a union job of my own, but part of the reason I do is because I saw how well it worked out for my parents and not long after I entered the workforce I put all of my energy into landing one. I have a lot of friends who make more money than I do, but you'll never see me answering email while I'm on vacation or worrying that I'm one less-than-optimal balance sheet away from being turfed to the curb.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:43 AM on July 19 [40 favorites]


[A couple deleted. Please stick to discussing the links rather than making pronouncements about other members.]
posted by taz at 6:45 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


Perusing some polling, it seems most people are reasonably happy with their employers[...]To answer the headline's question, then, most people don't see problems because they don't have a problem with their employers.

OK, first of all, "reasonably happy" isn't the same as "don't have problems," so that's a disingenuous argument to make right off the bat. And really, "reasonably happy" could mean just about anything, and without a doubt it's relative to being unemployed or underemployed. I can guarantee that anyone that's been out of work for an extended period of time and got a job where they weren't being abused (in the legal sense), they'd be "reasonably happy." And unlike a lot of countries, American employees have major parts of their lives tied to employment, such as health care and retirement, things that are part of the wider social safety nets elsewhere. They may also not realize how bad they have it in other aspects as well, such as vacation and child care policies.

I realize that keeping employees convinced that being fucked over on a regular basis and having almost zero freedom at work is in the interest of pretty much the entire ideological spectrum of conservatism, but just because that's been pretty successful so far and the power imbalance has been maintained doesn't mean that it's proven to be a good thing.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:46 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


That's true, you are evil, but that doesn't mean you can't change. Convert it to a worker-owned cooperative so that you can be an equal with others in your workplace.

Worker owned co-operative still have management. Yes it's flatter, yes it's a more equal structure with more democratic accountability for all involved. They are managed, and people within those structures take on leadership roles.

The main issue with your argument may come down to semantics but words do matter here. Management in the context of what the base word means is not 'evil'. If you want call it organizers or facilitators or whatever but 'managing' is neither positive or negative. Even the flattest of organizations whether officially or unofficially have managers, in that specific people end up taking some sort of responsibility for making sure shit is organized and shit gets done. In my experience no matter how much a group touts itself as having no managers or no organizers the reality is that they end up with people taking on those sorts of roles and duties.

What you are talking about is a specific form of management based on the ownership of capital. And even within that context there are widespread forms of organizing those systems in terms of hierarchy and power relations as well as myriad of base philosophies that people who organize them work from.

Stating that all people who are 'managers' are inherently evil is bullshit and lazy thinking. You are not going to ever get away from the base concept of what managers and management does in human social groups.
posted by Jalliah at 6:48 AM on July 19 [48 favorites]


To answer the headline's question, then, most people don't see problems because they don't have a problem with their employers.

I think people would see problems if they had a realistic idea of how much wealth is actually out there, how little they have comparatively, how little work actually needs to be done, and how much power the proletariat actually possesses.
posted by FakeFreyja at 6:51 AM on July 19 [23 favorites]


The thing is, when you are socialized to accept abuse as authority, any situation that isn't outright hurtful feels like a win. Our schools teach kids that their voices don't matter, that they should unquestioningly follow the dictates of teachers and other adults because it is the only way they will get ahead in life. When we get to the workforce, we are told we are lucky to be there. We are told that there is a line of people waiting to take our place, that we are disposable, that regardless of the degrees, work experience, and dedication. So when you stumble upon a company or workplace that says "You are valuable." you go out of your mind to work even harder. Because somebody finally loves you.

Until we teach ourselves that we are valuable for who we are, not the work we do, we will continue to confuse authority with abuse and continue to be eager to work for places that respect us less than they should.
posted by teleri025 at 6:53 AM on July 19 [25 favorites]


most people don't see problems because they don't have a problem with their employers


An individual employer might be a nice person. You might have good interactions with them, and feel that they treat you fairly.

But even if so, you're still working in a situation where you have very few rights and that will always be hanging over your head. Even if my employer didn't fire me for taking birth control, he could have. Even though he didn't fire me for taking a day off sick, he could have. Even though he didn't fire me because I had been at the company long enough to demand a raise and he could hire someone else for less, could have.

It's like saying most people don't have problems with an absolute monarchy because they don't have a problem with their king. That's ... true, but it doesn't mean that absolute monarchies are good. It just means that people who are comfortable generally don't want to upset the status quo, and will find reasons not to.

And I don't think that you can just hand wave away the ideological side. Many people don't have problems with the tyrannical conditions under which US employees live because (a) they aren't aware it can be different, and (b) they believe that the owner's "rights" trump everything. We have difficulty convincing people that it should be illegal to fire someone for being a member of a protected class - but but but the owner's rights!
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:54 AM on July 19 [12 favorites]


Save money specifically so that you can quit or risk firing if you want or need to.

Great advice -- for people who aren't living from check to check. Those who are just getting by, maybe while carrying a credit-card balance, and forgoing stuff like medical and dental care, are not going to be able to follow your advice. Having been on the receiving end of such advice while struggling to make ends meet, I can tell you that it is not going to be received well.


Since I am now retired, and have paid off my mortgage, I am no longer completely under the thumb of the corporate system. Of course, I periodically have to interact with vampire entities like insurance and telecom companies and airlines, so I still get forced to comply with "policies" that have nothing to do with the delivery of their services. It's just as annoying now as it was when I was working.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:56 AM on July 19 [13 favorites]


It's become increasingly clear to me that any theoretically successful revolution of today won't involve bullets, protests or angry phone calls.

It'll involve strikes, and a lot of them. It'll involve refusing to go back to work to keep greasing the cogs of metaphorical and literal machines that are enslaving us. That's the only thing that will get the attention of the oligarchs and 1%, to hit them right in the bottom line.


Real strikes involve bullets.
posted by srboisvert at 7:04 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


NEVER talk about how /your/ boss is one of the good ones. They're not. They're management and are universally your adversary. The myth that there is "good" management and "bad" management makes it seem like management itself is an acceptable form of employment. It's not, and these people are scum.

How much have you read about the various companies that have tried holacracy?
posted by asterix at 7:04 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


On the one hand, the U.S. is supposedly the most powerful nation of all time, but introduce concepts that other industrialized nations have even partly figured out like universal health care, higher minimum wages, and worker protections, and so many believe the country will implode into itself.

The power of nation has nothing to do with the degree of freedom its populace enjoys, and it's a mistake to think otherwise. America is a rich, powerful country _precisely because_ it is repressive and exploitative, not despite it.
posted by mhoye at 7:07 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


How much have you read about the various companies that have tried holacracy?

also, how do you feel about dark comedy?
posted by indubitable at 7:09 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


My sister was also laid off by one of Canada's biggest banks a couple of years ago; shortly before that the staff at her branch were told that everyone was going to have to "tighten their belts" while at the same time the bank was reporting a quarterly profit in the billions.

On a related note, Why Can't Americans Get A Raise?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:23 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


The workplace is fully atomized against cohesion. A concerned employee is easily spotted and simply let go or threatened. What is needed is a union-style moderated forum online for each workplace. The complaints are read by the bosses as a matter of survival.
posted by Brian B. at 7:36 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]




Talk about your salary or wage with coworkers.

For that, you'd need to challenge the taboo of discussing salaries.
Not discussing one's earning make it so much easier for a CEO earning millions to lay off a few hundreds workers on minimum wage and few benefits to reach some bonus performance level, pay less to a replacement or giving less to women/minorities with the same qualifications for the same job.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:48 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


She'd worked there for almost ten years, had done everything asked of her and more (which included working after hours and weekends), had worked her way up to a position of leadership and had overseen some major projects.

Yep. I've been working since I was 16, and full-time for... almost 15 years now, and I almost never work late, answer emails after hours, etc. because they are not paying me to do that. I have coworkers who work crazy hours (emails at 10PM, deliverables on Sundays and on vacation) and I just... don't do that. You want to sell the company to the workers? Then sure, I'll put in over my 40 hours a week.
posted by Automocar at 7:48 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


This "upsetting the hierarchy" aversion is terrifying, if true. It is an unending well of human turmoil because I don't think it has an end. There is no line where a minor upset isn't seen as an actual upset and so we will resist it. It reminds me of our unending capacity for acts of racism (Jim Crow, gerrymandering, immigration hysteria) which are effectively mined by politicians and those in power because it is seemingly without limits and that's because it links to hierarchy change aversion. Same with our endless capacity for misogyny and sexism – hierarchy aversion. Women fall for it. Minority populations also fall for racist policies and actions. Welfare: an attack on hierarchy. Birth control: an attack on hierarchy. Fair and open voting: an attack on hierarchy.
posted by amanda at 7:49 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


kevinbelt: ...this is what has always confused me about libertarians. I'm not thrilled about the government having a bunch of power over me, either, but let's be real: I'm a straight white man earning about $50k. I very rarely come into contact with the supposedly onerous government regulations. Meanwhile, employers have levels of authority that even totalitarian governments would admire. And the libertarians' solution is to give those employers even more power?

In my experience, libertarianism sounds best to straight white young men who haven't had much experience as employees. J.S. Mill - and classic liberalism is the moral underpinning for libertarianism - sounded brilliant to me when I was 15*. Not so much now.

I'm surprised that Anderson's suggestions for change are so modest. Scale back non-competes; let employees have free speech without fear of firing; give employees a say in how workplaces are run. Okay, that last one would be a shock to the American body corporate, but the first two seem like a begging for crumbs. I guess when you're starved for dignity and self-determination, even the smallest crumbs offer sustenance?

*Though even then the bit about liberty not extending to the "backward" and "barbarians" seemed a little off.
posted by clawsoon at 8:05 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


In my experience, libertarianism sounds best to straight white young men who haven't had much experience as employees.

This matches my experience. My Randian fervor diminished rapidly once I got a corporate job. Also, any illusion I had that business was more efficient than government.

The light really came on once I realized that John Galt was a Union Organizer.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:12 AM on July 19 [23 favorites]


Thanks to a productive early career in the private, I'm in a position where I don't actually have to work to pay the bills. I work in the public sector now because I want to give back to society.

In my few brushes with Human Resources, I've noted that they find this fact incomprehensible. I can brush off threats about suspension or firing with a shrug, and this fact nearly drives them mad with rage. My refusal to be intimidated causes them to actively avoid me. Unless they're holding the whip hand, they just don't know how to engage with their employees. Weird.
posted by SPrintF at 8:12 AM on July 19 [23 favorites]


From the upsetting-rank-aversion article:

Rank-reversal aversion may derive from a fear of violence and anti-social behavior from originally wealthier people who would suffer from both reduced payoffs and loss of status.

This is a legitimate fear. When the wealthy and powerful are threatened, they have the ability to organize violence and chaos on a massive scale. When I lose rank, the most I can do is complain about it on the Internet. When the rich and powerful are threatened with loss of rank, they can slow the economy down with capital strikes - formal or informal - or they can take their displeasure all the way to civil war. That's a horrible prospect for everyone, and it's a great motivator to let hierarchies ossify.
posted by clawsoon at 8:20 AM on July 19 [9 favorites]


To do this - people need to learn to free themselves from the chains of being good consumers. And for this to happen, to learn how to gently lower their expectations and shift their priorities. That wearing old or dirty clothes isn't shameful, that they don't really need that new phone or car, and to learn that rejecting these surface values and expectations to be a good professional consumer is the way to liberating oneself and stepping outside of the expectations of that system.

And then - hopefully - to see themselves and their station from the outside as the economic slaves that they really are.

Okay, I respect this sentiment far more than I can say, except for the bolded part, because: we can have new phones and clean clothes far more cheaply than we do right now. No, really. There is enough food in the world, there are enough resources in the world, there is enough computing power in the world, to give everyone a very good standard of living if properly distributed.

I keep having to shout this from the rooftops, as someone who lives in a place that is not the US. While China has tons of its own problems, I live in Beijing, in the capital city, where $2000/month buys me literally everything I could want or need, and I can be VERY profligate, like buying 20 pairs of socks at H&M, or leaving my air conditioning on high 24 hours a day, or gorging myself on two large pizzas in a sitting. Literally the only vices I don't have are prostitutes, gambling, and drugs. I literally actually truly cannot spend $3000 a month unless I'm being utterly stupid, like buying 2 iPhones to compare features and then giving them away because I like my Android better. Yes, in my early heady days of having more money than I needed, I did exactly that. Hell I still take impromptu trips to other cities and buy plane tickets the same day.

Now while I do benefit from unfair labor policies and lower living costs from being in a developing country, I have done the math, and really, the reason I barely have to blink when I spend my money is that healthcare, taxes, and other artificial distortions are mostly absent from things I spend my money on. No one checks my credit. Aside from my $700 rent (for a room in a 4br apartment in the center of the city) and Beijing bars selling $7 beers and my $200/month health insurance, things I buy are at US price levels or lower, and US price levels are, frankly, already pretty low in the developed world.

Again, I struggle to spend $1200 a month on food and everything else I guess you'd count as "discretionary". Whatever else you want to say about China, margins almost everywhere are thin, competition is fierce, and wages are low. Capitalism works better here, I guess? I don't own a car, I don't have debt I'm paying back, and I don't have other silly artificial liabilities. I've been to Korea and Japan and Hong Kong, and have credible knowledge about Singapore, Brunei, and Taipei, and while I've seen slightly higher prices, the fact is Beijing is mostly on par with the rest of Asia's other developed cities and regions. I don't claim that Asia is the world, but what I'm saying is that without exorbitant healthcare, rent, transportation, debt, and tax costs to worry about, I do very, very well on spending that doesn't go that far over US poverty level spending.

Think hard about that.
posted by saysthis at 8:27 AM on July 19 [6 favorites]


NEVER talk about how /your/ boss is one of the good ones. They're not. They're management and are universally your adversary. The myth that there is "good" management and "bad" management makes it seem like management itself is an acceptable form of employment. It's not, and these people are scum.

I always feel weird reading these comments on MetaFilter since this is a community whose management is super present and active. I guess at least it's nice to know what these people think of you and the exact date when you became an enemy?
posted by ODiV at 8:35 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


NEVER talk about how /your/ boss is one of the good ones. They're not. They're management and are universally your adversary. The myth that there is "good" management and "bad" management makes it seem like management itself is an acceptable form of employment. It's not, and these people are scum.

One of the cited reasons for my last job change (from management 'backwards' to a production environment) was specifically because I couldn't stomach being 'management.' I don't mind collaborating or managing employees, in the directing sense, but being management was just awful. 6 months into the job I had to lay off half a workforce for horrible, shitty capitalists. It was awful. Since I was middle management, and I was their direct supervisor, I'm the one that had to pull the trigger and wreck some lives. Like, some of those folks are either close to, or now homeless. Which weighs on my godless soul super heavy. I really couldn't handle being management for capitalists.

In my few brushes with Human Resources, I've noted that they find this fact incomprehensible. I can brush off threats about suspension or firing with a shrug, and this fact nearly drives them mad with rage. My refusal to be intimidated causes them to actively avoid me. Unless they're holding the whip hand, they just don't know how to engage with their employees. Weird.

Oh man, in my exit interviews (three of them, uhg) I kept telling both the owners and HR that my move away from that company wasn't about money. These are dyed in the wool capitalists, and they could not comprehend this. They kept offering me more and more money to stay. It was really awkward, because it was such a shitty job that my 'price' for staying would have been "give me the company, lock stock and barrel" and that clearly wouldn't happen. But they just kept rolling the ticker over trying to find that magic number. It was really satisfying to be able to stand up to capitalists and boldly tell them that money cannot solve this particular problem they were experiencing. I felt high for a goddamn week, and it still gives me warm fuzzies.

I'm pretty lucky, because I work for the US branch of an Australian company now, and they seem FAR MORE CHILL with the fact that I don't answer my phone when I'm not at work, ignore emails until business hours, They've even let me schedule my work-weeks around picking my kid up from school. It seems like such a basic thing.

But they also tried to get me to sign a bunch of noncompete stuff (that even violates our state law) I just scratched out everything in that section of the work agreement, signed my name to it and they rolled with it.

All that said, the only real place for me to go in our current capitalist system if I want any autonomy, security or satisfaction with my work-life is to own my own business. If I want to try and eek out a living I'll need to become the bossman of at least a few people. That's a hard prospect, and part of what keeps me from pulling the trigger on opening my own business.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:36 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


And as someone self-employed, well, the shit I get away with by all rights should make me unhireable, because I have a reputation and social media presence that is essentially, "dirty jokes+alcohol+anti-authoritarian/anti-boss/anti-everything+hardcore rock+counterculture drama and minutia". And yet I earn US high-end pediatrician wages and I'm a translator, which is...is there a more quotidian profession? No, but it functions closer to a purely capitalist labor market than anything I've ever seen. Barriers to entry are low, workload demands are high, trust levels are high, and qualifications are limited to per-project resume checks plus translation tests. I can, seriously, take time off whenever I want.

It is not fair or okay what most people have to put up with. I feel like I earn every penny I make, but at the same time, I know the scarcity that enables me to do it, aside from the (very) hard work I do put in, is the fact that nearly all the people capable of doing what I do are deluded and believe they'll get more from having a boss and a steady paycheck. They won't, and most people I meet find my existence unbelievable, if not inconceivable.

And it pisses me right the hell off.
posted by saysthis at 8:41 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Thanks to a productive early career in the private, I'm in a position where I don't actually have to work to pay the bills. I work in the public sector now because I want to give back to society.

In my few brushes with Human Resources, I've noted that they find this fact incomprehensible. I can brush off threats about suspension or firing with a shrug, and this fact nearly drives them mad with rage. My refusal to be intimidated causes them to actively avoid me. Unless they're holding the whip hand, they just don't know how to engage with their employees. Weird.
posted by SPrintF at 12:12 AM on July 20 [5 favorites +] [!]


And this. I had a full-time job...once. Every interaction with those holding so-called authority was a god damn standoff, for the most routine things. I had to remind them nearly every day that I didn't need the job. I'm still mad 3 years after quitting.
posted by saysthis at 8:47 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


saysthis: Think hard about that.

I'm thinking about your description of your situation - especially how cheap everything is - and it sounds like maybe you don't realize how much you're benefitting from the power imbalance you enjoy in relation to the people who are providing most of your things and services? Are you sure you've done the math, like, on how much your rent would rise if local wage earners were paid wages closer to yours? Or how much your healthcare bills would go up if Chinese doctors earned as much as you do?
posted by clawsoon at 8:54 AM on July 19 [16 favorites]




[Couple comments deleted, please skip the how-does-all-this-apply-to-Metafilter sidebar in here.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:09 AM on July 19


I don't have time to read the links right now (I pocketed this entire post), but this is what has always confused me about libertarians.

On top of what's already been pointed out (that big-L Libertarianism tends to be most attractive to straight white men with a lot of privilege and little experience), most libertarians assume they're the ones who will be in charge in their imagined utopia.

Most people who claim to be libertarians are really just wannabe tyrants.
posted by tocts at 9:10 AM on July 19 [14 favorites]


The fully autonomous pot-smoking space libertarianism version of labor is theoretically better, actually. Every employee negotiates their contract with their employer - if you don't want to be treated like a slave then negotiate a contract where you have more power!

Like most ideological endpoints it will obviously not work out so well, even after the "utopia" is achieved.
posted by charred husk at 9:15 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I had a lightbulb moment, when I realized that the libertarians I know are all wealthy white men who haven't done wage work in years.
posted by bring a tuba to a knife fight at 9:24 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


Negotiation only works out if all parties to the negotiation start from a position of equal leverage. The lack of worker protections in the U.S. puts all but the most skilled and elite workers as judged by current market wisdom (i.e., investor prejudice) at a massive disadvantage before we even get to the negotiating table. That's a systemic power imbalance no individual laborer can necessarily expect to overcome.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:29 AM on July 19 [12 favorites]


That's where that libertarian vision of negotiation for mutual greatest benefit comes up tragically short without state intervention/better regulatory conditions, even if it weren't problematic on other conceptual levels.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:32 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Negotiation only works out if all parties to the negotiation start from a position of equal leverage.

This is also the reason "free market healthcare" can never work. If you need medication or need to see a doctor you have no leverage. Also, you generally have far less information than the medical professionals, which also minimizes your leverage. Free market healthcare, much like free market labor, mostly relies on the goodwill of the party with power to limit how much they abuse that power.
posted by COD at 9:42 AM on July 19 [17 favorites]


"In my experience, libertarianism sounds best to straight white young men who haven't had much experience as employees"

"most libertarians assume they're the ones who will be in charge in their imagined utopia"

100% agreement with both of you. The reason people fall in love with Ayn Rand is because they see themselves as Howard Roark or John Galt. Once they realize that they're not Roark or Galt (Who is John Galt? Not a wage slave sitting in a cubicle living paycheck to paycheck, I'll tell you that), or, in my case, that Roark and Galt are actually really horrible people who should never be role models to anyone, Rand loses much of her appeal.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:43 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


saysthis: Think hard about that.

I'm thinking about your description of your situation - especially how cheap everything is - and it sounds like maybe you don't realize how much you're benefitting from the power imbalance you enjoy in relation to the people who are providing most of your things and services? Are you sure you've done the math, like, on how much your rent would rise if local wage earners were paid wages closer to yours? Or how much your healthcare bills would go up if Chinese doctors earned as much as you do?
posted by clawsoon at 12:54 AM on July 20 [4 favorites +] [!]


How much would your rent go down if real estate wasn't a reliable parking lot for wealth in your locale, and how much would your healthcare bills go down if the US had a single-payer system (which China does not, but it has something resembling Obamacare minus mandate+a stronger employer-provided system than US+Cruzcare at artificially subsidized rates, and it hits 95% insured). I've done as much of the math as I can given sources I can get. Beijing's average wage levels are already Portugal's, as are its rents and doctor pay, and its taxes are lower. Its public transit is better and cheaper, and its low-wage population is higher, but not by that much. And in China, you really do have to consider things by city (not even province), because local provision of government benefits is very much a locally-controlled thing, tied to the hukou system, but also to local sympathy to/reliance on migrant labor. It's not an easy comparison to make, especially because there isn't a lot of reliable data out there.

Numbeo.com is a good shorthand to find out local living costs, but you're right, it's NOT the same as Portugal, even less so the US. But the thing is, the US distortions are pretty much right there for all to see. These are not distortions most of us in the world suffer from. For a largely peaceful, incredibly rich, advanced country, people in the US live far more expensively than they ought to.
posted by saysthis at 9:52 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


maybe you don't realize how much you're benefitting from the power imbalance you enjoy in relation to the people who are providing most of your things and services?

I think it's also necessary to add that, let's say for doctors, the best in Beijing (which tend to be the best China produces, and who are often internationally educated) tend to earn more than me, thanks to ownership shares in the for-profit hospitals they work at...Chaoyang Hospital is my go-to, and as Chinese hospitals go, they ain't cheap, but a consult with a Mayo-educated bilingual dermatologist is still $10 and meds for...ever are $50. Rent for a stupidly luxurious 3br 250sqm apartment within/without the east 2nd ring is still $8,000/mo., my 150sqm 4br at $2300 in a 6f walkup in a 20-year old building is a lucky find that we locked in with a 3-year contract, in a more demanding contract situation it would likely be $3000, if not more.

I understand that I enjoy low-cost labor, BUT, the man who delivers my water makes $1500/mo. and lives in company-provided housing (his own room), which I asked today. I pay him $20/3 deliveries of 2 18L containers. My food deliveries cost about $15/pop, including a $3 delivery fee, 'cause I can't eat much more than that. The man downstairs who makes window screens pays $3000/mo. for a street-level shop of 20sqm and charges me $35 for a window fitting+materials and labor. I understand all these things could go up, but FFS, these costs could triple and I'd still be below what things like that cost in NY/San Fran, and I'd still be able to afford them! I'm not bragging, I'm just saying WTF costs America so much??? This is a city of 20 million with an average life expectancy higher than Pennsylvania. So...so...so that, I guess. I have a friend in Japan who lives far more cheaply than I do, cooking by herself and no taxis and no healthcare, and to be young and single there costs half of what it does to be a young single profligate ME here. Well?
posted by saysthis at 10:15 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


what's the quote about two thirds of your income being stolen by the boss? about how most americans' dislike for government is only there because government is too honest about how much it taxes you. Your boss taxes you at least twice as much, perhaps an order of magnitude or two more than government, but no receipt = no anger.
posted by eustatic at 10:25 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


Also addendum to Japan friend, she lives in downtown Tokyo, and I know her costs because I employ her, and the last time I was in Tokyo, I stayed at her house for 2 weeks, I SAW IT.

I'm done threadsitting, sorry, continue.
posted by saysthis at 10:26 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


6 months into the job I had to lay off half a workforce for horrible, shitty capitalists. It was awful. Since I was middle management, and I was their direct supervisor, I'm the one that had to pull the trigger and wreck some lives.

I was a shift supervisor several years ago at a shipping dock. My boss told me to lay off about half of the loaders since they were going to bring in some fresh faces that would work for 2/3rds the cost. I felt dirty that day. One thing that keeps me from going on a "management track" at my current workplace is I don't ever want to be somebody's hatchet man ever again.
posted by pianoblack at 10:53 AM on July 19 [7 favorites]


Your boss taxes you at least twice as much, perhaps an order of magnitude or two more than government, but no receipt = no anger.


I used to be in a position to construct estimates for the company's bids. The difference between what we charged the clients for my time and what my hourly was was a real eye-opener.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:59 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


I used to be in a position to construct estimates for the company's bids. The difference between what we charged the clients for my time and what my hourly was was a real eye-opener.

People who deal in billable hours should be the first to reject the traditional employment model.

My spouse is in a professional in a medical-adjacent field and used to work for a medical contractor. When we discovered the difference between the hourly wage and the invoice we immediately began planning a move to private practice. Depending on the service, the difference was between 900% and 1100%.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:21 AM on July 19 [8 favorites]


"One thing that keeps me from going on a "management track" at my current workplace is I don't ever want to be somebody's hatchet man ever again."

I"m not sure that will ever happen until you have a majority of shares and control the board of directors. Even the CEO gets told what to do by the board, or they get replaced. If you don't ever want to be a 'hatchet man' again, you might want to consider leaving the management track, or starting your own firm (and don't allow you're shares to be diluted by VC's or investors who may take over your board).
posted by el io at 12:00 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I understand that I enjoy low-cost labor, BUT, the man who delivers my water makes $1500/mo. and lives in company-provided housing (his own room), which I asked today. I pay him $20/3 deliveries of 2 18L containers.

If you're making high-end, US paediatrician money as you claim ($180-200k/year is what I can source for that) and your water man is making $18k a year, then you are talking about a 10-12:1 ratio between what you and the guy who delivers your water make.

The ratio between I, a well-above average income earner in a large city, and the low-level guy who works at the water plant here is something like 5:1. Perhaps re-explore whether the water guy who, if he loses his job is also homeless because the owner of his room is also his employer, is really doing all that well and whether paying him more might reduce the inequality between the two of you.
posted by notorious medium at 12:22 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]


The big picture of corporate control is a huge problem. One seemingly small aspect of it that really grinds me down day to day is the physical expectations. I don't interact with clients except by phone. But I have to dress business casual (recently downgraded to smart casual, a category of clothes for which I never previously had a need, and therefore do not own) every day. Despite multiple requests I haven't been able to verify whether or not the "no visible tattoos" policy is in effect still. I've wanted a tattoo for years but can't tell if getting one will be a fire-able offense. I have to wear closed toe shoes and my feet are hot all day!

I know it is small compared to "can I live on this salary" and the many other indignities of the job, but some days just having to dress for work feels like I am under such tight control by an entity against whom I have no recourse.

That is one of the most visceral aspects of The Handmaid's Tale to me - you must all look the same, and your station in life is clear from the way you look. We are not at their level of control but we are certainly expected to fit within a narrow range of choices. Fashion is an important vehicle for self expression for me and not feeling like myself day after day really chafes.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:41 PM on July 19 [8 favorites]


The ratio between I, a well-above average income earner in a large city, and the low-level guy who works at the water plant here is something like 5:1. Perhaps re-explore whether the water guy who, if he loses his job is also homeless because the owner of his room is also his employer, is really doing all that well and whether paying him more might reduce the inequality between the two of you.
posted by notorious medium at 4:22 AM on July 20 [+] [!]


What I make is inflated by the fact that I don't have a boss, but most of the people with my skillset do (which is NOT rare!), and many clients can't find reliable providers. I'm positioned well and have minions, so I can make rates that usually go to agencies, because I AM one. Note that I make the vast majority of my income from non-US companies. See:

My spouse is in a professional in a medical-adjacent field and used to work for a medical contractor. When we discovered the difference between the hourly wage and the invoice we immediately began planning a move to private practice. Depending on the service, the difference was between 900% and 1100%.
posted by FakeFreyja at 3:21 AM on July 20 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Slash my income in half, double the water man's, and nothing but my excess changes for me, and I'd still do exactly what it is I do. I can't pay him more than his company policies allow him to take. Again, I'm not bragging, I'm saying look at your own value, income, and costs, and ask yourself what's fair where. I think of myself as a good boss, and I try to teach what I know, but I've seen the results of trying to teach people to unlearn dependence on bosses, and I know my own villainy, and I already pay well above market rates to my subcontractors...and it's frustrating, to say the least. I cannot make a better system alone.
posted by saysthis at 12:58 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


So what does this have to do with, e.g. the concept of wage theft that Professor Anderson talked about in the OP's article? I think that makes more sense in terms of answers, given the context of the piece.
posted by polymodus at 1:27 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


For a largely peaceful, incredibly rich, advanced country, people in the US live far more expensively than they ought to.... I'm just saying WTF costs America so much???

But the US of A is not peaceful. Look at the budget for the rebranded Department of War. That budget may address the last concern.

Advanced is debatable. Not in the top 10 of many United Nation development indexes. And the roads/infrastructure are "bad" enough to be an issue to win national election on.

Rich is all relative. If you hold the title for an item worth 1 million and owe others 1 million are you rich? Given the debt of the nation, is Regan era "deficits don't matter" correct?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:42 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


This seems like it's related to the topic. How scarcity makes you stupid, more or less.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:45 PM on July 19


Aaaaand this is why I have no friends.

And then there's that. I'm likely on record this year to have spent the least amount of money I have in any year, ever. It's been intentional, because I've had the luxury to do it and be able to survive and it actually makes sense at the moment.

Of course I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, and how it's difficult to have interactions with friends or people in general that aren't transactional or commodified whether it's going out to eat, drinking at a bar, going to the movies/concert/museum.

Or it could be yoga, in a paid class. Or a shared sport or hobby... with all the random equipment or supplies you need to buy and talk about and distract yourself with. Whether it's bikes for bicycling or new kit for backpacking or even something simple as birdwatching there's outdoor clothes and chairs and so on and on.

And we are so not our goddamn khakis.

There are few common and truly non-transactional social encounters in people's day to day lives. Maybe some churches, especially along the UU or Quaker side of things. Maybe libraries. AA meetings? Free group therapy?

I'm rambling, but my point is is why is it so damn hard to hang out with the friends I do have without having to spend money and buy and consume things whether it's media, beer, music or food? Can't we just go sit in the park and chat? Go for a walk? No?

Does that not resemble Brave New World? And, sure, with a bit of Handmaid's Tale, spiced with 1984. Maybe even a hint of Hunger Games.
posted by loquacious at 5:40 PM on July 19 [9 favorites]


people need to learn to free themselves from the chains of being good consumers

This is where it starts. As long as you have a 30-year mortgage, two 5-year new car loans, student loans for an unnecessarily expensive degree, and only have 6 months liquid savings, you're completely locked in to the system. You can switch jobs as long as there's no gap, but you can't take a year off to retrain, you can't move to another city, you can't really do much if you or a family member has a serious illness. You live every day terrified of getting fired. You have basically no bargaining power. And our capitalist overlords like it that way.

If you live cheaply and save up a few years of minimal living expenses, then the power is in your hands. You can afford to take a few steps back and decide how to live your life, instead of having it told to you. If your working conditions get bad enough, you can just quit. If you get fired... it still sucks, but it's not an existential threat.

Money is power.

I think most people realize this -- but only after they're already locked in. And it's extremely hard to get out once you're in.
posted by miyabo at 5:58 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Money is power. I think most people realize this -- but only after they're already locked in. And it's extremely hard to get out once you're in.

Right. Money is a tool. It's functionally stored time and a lot of other things. There's no actual need to eliminate money as a concept or anything, it's just not going to happen. In fact, people have invented so many new kinds of "money" and stored value in the last few years with the explosion and wild west of crypto currencies it's apparently Tulip Season again.

I want to mea culpa on parts of my rant, that disengaging doesn't necessarily have to involve dirty laundry and scarcity and sacrifice. Done right (for whatever Platonic values of that, assume spherically shaped) it doesn't even have to be that way at all as we obviously have too much energy and stuff.

I'm just saying it often currently does by default when people to try to disengage from the system, because that sort of thing is often your financial punishment. No clean clothes for you! Ramen for dinner again! Your friends invited you out for drinks or food - quick, think of a plausible excuse!!

I also want to expand and express with all humbleness that I know people mainly just can't go do what I'm talking about. And that I'm super lucky that I don't have the kind of debt and financial ties that a lot of friends and people I know do. I'm not being a martyr or a monk, here, nor am I complaining about my situation. I actually have it super easy and peaceful right now, and if anything I'm being incredibly selfish and withdrawing because this shit's kinda cray, yo, and I'm really glad I don't have to worry about things like what business casual even means.

It's fitting in this discussion that I quit my most unremarkable barista job and had a tourist-season meltdown over being totally overscheduled. And lied to about crap like raises. And at one point having to deal with words like "I'll fucking kill you if you don't do this catching up thing someone else didn't do just joking no seriously ha ha ha." and a lot too much shouting and high blood pressure over meaningless bullshit. I consulted an attorney over this crap. I consulted an attorney, I found out at the meeting, who had seen nearly all of the coworkers that quit before me.

And none of us apparently had enough of a case or documentation, because who has time to document workplace abuses in a wage slave job? There's just so many of them.

I'm definitely not saying I have a solution. I look to Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time and hope for some kind of peaceful existence with nature, technology and, well, the means of production.
posted by loquacious at 11:09 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


To bring it all together (government and business control), I just heard a Republican congressman on NPR. I came in halfway through the interview but I heard the part where he was promoting work requirements for welfare recipients. He said that employers in Ohio, where he is from, are having trouble filling jobs, so people need to be encouraged to take those jobs.

Naturally no one mentioned that these supposedly struggling employers could raise wages or otherwise make their jobs more attractive.

So employers want to treat us like shit and the government wants to force us to take it. Wonderful.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:22 AM on July 20 [6 favorites]


A lot of welfare recipients want to work. Here is my list of work barriers:
1. Vision disabilities which mean I can't drive
2. After my divorce I had no safe place for my kids to be as my ex threatened repeatedly to kidnap them and take them out of the country.
Had he recieved appropriate consequences for his abuse of me, it would have freed me to take advantage of some sort of overpriced day-care and work some sort of ill-paid job a lot sooner. Day care costs can rival private school costs. In fact Day care costs can exceed private school costs.
3. Availability of work close to places I could afford to live. Not great really.
4. Insanely bad transit many places I lived.

I know for a fact that women coming out of abuse situations are really ( and justifiably!) afraid of going to work. Once my kids were in school most of my jobs were in call centers.

Many call centers have quite demanding dress codes for women btw.

Companies could loosen up on that sort of thing. Very few jobs truest require a uniform. Medical, food service, zoo-keeping, firefighter, police and military are about it.
I am now 64. I have noticed corporate employers loosen up or tighten up depending on true labor shortages.
They aren't doing that now because they can now go to using robots.
Ever go to a major store? Those automated check-stands are all over the place now. Cashier WAS one easy to get job at one point. If you were at a unionized store like my daughter was, you could work there pretty much as long as you wanted if you were any good at it. Now the way things are going, cooking food, fixing fancy coffee, bar-tending, medical professions and working in nursing homes and some agricultural work and zoo-keeping and other animal care are about the only jobs which can't be automated. Damn near everything can be done by a machine.
Forcing people into jobs they'll just be fired from probably quickly is shitty.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:10 AM on July 20 [8 favorites]


To bring it all together (government and business control), I just heard a Republican congressman on NPR. I came in halfway through the interview but I heard the part where he was promoting work requirements for welfare recipients. He said that employers in Ohio, where he is from, are having trouble filling jobs, so people need to be encouraged to take those jobs.
Naturally no one mentioned that these supposedly struggling employers could raise wages or otherwise make their jobs more attractive.
So employers want to treat us like shit and the government wants to force us to take it. Wonderful.


Same thing as when some people while discussing UBI decide to drop the "but if everyone is given money, nobody will work!" turd - they aren't concerned about that (because while some would definitively take to chance to do fuck-all, most people would still take a job because boredom is a thing), they are concerned they won't be able to force people into jobs with bad pay and conditions and will actually have to step up their game to make their positions desirable because not living under a bridge is the only incentive they offer.
What would happen to those low-pay retail positions where employees risk UTIs because of very restricted bathroom breaks, call center openings where collapsing for some medical reason is grounds for immediate termination, or short-term contracts/unpaid internships if people actually had a chance to tell them "fuck off, I can manage with slightly less money and not put up with this bullshit" ?

Be it UBI or plain welfare programs, they put pressure in the job market. And with less pressure, they can cut down on everything to the bare minimum above indentured servitude. No wonder a lot of assholes like that want stuff like minimum wage, worker protections or even fucking child labour laws gone - if they strip everything down, they can simply offer a bunk and two meals a day in exchange for a 50 hour work every week, 40 if the kids help.
posted by lmfsilva at 10:25 AM on July 20 [11 favorites]


I consulted an attorney over this crap. I consulted an attorney, I found out at the meeting, who had seen nearly all of the coworkers that quit before me. And none of us apparently had enough of a case or documentation

There is no standard legal education. So you are never taught or shown what caselaw is or how to read it.

Thus few understand what things need to be done to create a winnable case environment. If one did understand what a violation was then one can structure their actions and hope the response to the actions matches caselaw.

Because that is less of a crapshoot than trying to create caselaw. Few have the stomach to say "lets have a legal fight and make caselaw".
posted by rough ashlar at 4:58 PM on July 20


The liberty of local bullies
I have often remarked in the past how libertarianism - at least, its modern American manifestation - is not really about increasing liberty or freedom as an average person would define those terms. An ideal libertarian society would leave the vast majority of people feeling profoundly constrained in many ways. This is because the freedom of the individual can be curtailed not only by the government, but by a large variety of intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions. In a society such as ours, where the government maintains a nominal monopoly on the use of physical violence, there is plenty of room for people to be oppressed by such intermediate powers, whom I call "local bullies."

The modern American libertarian ideology does not deal with the issue of local bullies. In the world envisioned by Nozick, Hayek, Rand, and other foundational thinkers of the movement, there are only two levels to society - the government (the "big bully") and the individual. If your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your freedom is not being taken away at all.

In a perfect libertarian world, it is therefore possible for rich people to buy all the beaches and charge admission fees to whomever they want (or simply ban anyone they choose). In a libertarian world, a self-organized cartel of white people can, under certain conditions, get together and effectively prohibit black people from being able to go out to dinner in their own city. In a libertarian world, a corporate boss can use the threat of unemployment to force you into accepting unsafe working conditions. In other words, the local bullies are free to revoke the freedoms of individuals, using methods more subtle than overt violent coercion.
also btw...
Some argue that the West should limit democracy to save liberalism. Here's why they're wrong. - "unchecked liberalism can slide into oligarchy or technocracy"
The institutionalization of liberalism in Britain is most often dated from 1688’s Glorious Revolution, which limited the powers of the king, increased those of the parliament and laid out important civil rights. This was certainly an advance on what existed before, but the benefits of liberalism were restricted to a narrow elite. Up through the early 20th century Britain was an aristocratic oligopoly where power was concentrated in the hands of an Anglican landowning elite that dominated high-status positions in politics and society, controlled local politics and lawmaking and was immensely wealthy.

Up through the 19th century, in short, British “liberalism” did not prevent its elite from enjoying a combination of economic wealth, social status and political power that would make today’s plutocrats blush.

Liberalism’s benefits were restricted precisely because Britain’s political system was not very democratic. There were property and religious restrictions on the right to vote, while gerrymandering in favor of rural districts and “rotten boroughs” (electoral districts that were under the effective control of a single person) enabled the elite to corruptly dominate the economy, society and government. The lack of democracy in Britain enabled the perpetuation of oligarchy; it also ensured that neither minority nor individual rights were fully protected. Catholics were oppressed, workers and the poor were banned from full political participation and had heavily restricted civil liberties. It was only as pressure built during the 19th century for democratization that the full “benefits” of liberalism were extended to the entire population.

The story of the United States is similar. For most of U.S. history, liberal rights were restricted to white, male Americans. Women were denied many basic liberal rights, and slaves and Native Americans almost all. Before the Civil War the South was, despite the political order’s ostensible liberalism, a tyrannical oligarchy. It took the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history — the Civil War — to begin to change this. It took another century for basic liberal rights to be enjoyed by all citizens.

[...]

In the past, liberalism without democracy often led to oligarchy — as in Britain by a wealthy elite or as in the United States by a dominant ethnic/religious group, white Protestants. Elites are no less self-interested than anyone else. Without democracy, they are likely to limit the benefits of liberalism, as well as access to economic resources and social status, to themselves.

Few openly make the case for oligarchy. Instead what is most often advocated is hiving off as much political life as possible from the influence of ignorant voters and giving it to experts instead. However, the more people view political elites and institutions as out of touch and unresponsive, the more likely they are to want to eliminate them. Technocracy is populism’s evil political twin. The first seeks to limit democracy to save liberalism, the latter seeks to limit liberalism to save democracy.
posted by kliuless at 6:19 AM on July 21 [8 favorites]




“The Bleak Left: On Endnotes,” Tim Barker, n+1 Magazine, Spring 2017
posted by ob1quixote at 12:29 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


kliuless: Be Clear-Eyed About Democracy's Weaknesses
Did this happen because globalization gave rich people the option to move their capital -- or even themselves -- overseas if their taxes got too high? That’s what the simplified economic theory would predict.

If so, this presents a problem for democracies. Authoritarian countries such as China or Russia can implement capital controls to prevent money from flowing out. But democracies -- or any liberal system that allows freedom of personal and financial movement -- may struggle to balance their budgets in a globalized world.
1. Authoritarian countries struggle to enforce capital controls, 2. Democracies can also implement capital controls, and 3. Democracies can work with each other to implement capital controls and sanction those who encourage capital flight. There are other good points in the article, but it does seem to be blind to the idea of a democracy where rich people don't get whatever they want.
posted by clawsoon at 6:32 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


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