wealth imbalance

Exploitation is not Freedom

By Sandra B. Latham

Freedom is a word that is used so often, and yet so rarely understood. 

The most toxic of these misrepresentations are those which conflate freedom and liberty, the greatest of all values, with the perpetuation of exploitation and injustice. One of the most pernicious elements of this so-called freedom is the relationship between employers and employees. 

To pay your employees what you wish, to treat them as you wish. To produce what you will, in whatever way you will, using the means and materials you prefer. To sell at whatever price you wish, to interact with the market as you please, to yield the greatest profit. These are the sorts of things that the “right” sets up as “freedoms.” And yet I never see the same attention given by those same “freedom-loving Americans” as the freedom to unionize, to strike and picket, and to make decisions within the workplace. 

If the worker owns themselves and their own labor, surely they have the freedom to bargain with it; it is their own property after all.

I see two justifications for this: the freedom of association between employer and employee, and inequitable compensation for risk.

Regarding the freedom of association between employer and employee, this is another area in which “freedom” has a very deliberately obscured meaning. Because employees have a right to quit, the freedom to leave, they’re not slaves. The conclusion, then, is that the employer and employee have a relationship of free association.

These are ridiculous notions. In reality, those with capital and the capacity to offer employment have far more power than the individual employee. At the same time, individual wealth is distributed in such a way that the vast majority of people are reliant upon employment for survival. The individual employee has no right to a job – after all, that would be an “infringement on the employer’s freedom.” But the employee must always eat, must always have shelter, will at one time or another need health care. You would never allege that, were you to rob a man at gunpoint, that it was a free exchange because he had the “free choice” to keep his wallet and be shot or to give it up and be safe. And yet, when it comes to basic human survival, capitalism paints just such a picture. 

Thus, “freedom of association” is only freedom when every citizen is guaranteed the right to shelter and food, either through resource distribution, universal basic income, robust social programs, regulations ensuring a living wage, or any of many other possible solutions.

If survival is not independent of work, then the working relationship cannot be considered truly free. And if the working relationship is not free, then it is exploitation.

And yet, most freedom-loving libertarians would balk at these solutions, as they so often revile regulations, price caps, minimum wages, laws against retaliation, and other legal protections. If you believe that the employer-employee relationship is a truly free association, then such outside interference is an immoral infringement on those freedoms. But as discussed, this is incongruent with the ever-present human need for the means of survival.

This is a separate rabbit hole I would like to examine in more depth in the future, but suffice to say at this point that I consider every living person entitled to the means of survival.

For those who acknowledge the imbalance of power between employers and employees, this is primarily excused by framing the greater power on the employer side as compensation for risk. To a limited extent, many people will agree the trade-off is fair: A guaranteed monthly salary, secure and consistent, can absolutely be less monetarily valuable than a risky business venture, which may result in nothing or may result in a large profit. An entrepreneur who uses an equity loan to start a small business has a lot more at stake than an employee of theirs, and it’s only fair that they reap a reward for the risk.

Most Americans accept some amount of wealth inequality as acceptable or even ideal, but as it stands the current level of inequality is staggering, far beyond what is warranted as compensation for different degrees of risk, hard work, and education. So while this argument has at least basis in sound logic, in practice we allege that the wealthiest Americans deserve to exploit workers and take literally all of the wealth for themselves. It’s not possible for me to believe that somebody at the top – even executives with schedules that leave no time to sleep and demanding responsibilities – can possibly contribute tens of thousands of times as much as a person on the ground running machines, taking orders, and cleaning toilets. 

Furthermore, in addition to the wealth imbalance, there is a massive imbalance in authority that is socially ingrained but not economically necessary or socially positive. The ability to manage another person’s time and behavior, ultimately to play king within a set domain based on assets, is portrayed as a “freedom” when it serves no positive purpose in society except to use authority as a form of psychological compensation.

As a worker, I have zero interest in upholding the Freedom to Starve – whether it’s my supposed freedom to starve by walking away from exploitation or employers’ freedom to starve their employees.

Edited by: @theliberaltony

You can find Sarah B. Lathum on Tumblr here

just some concept art for an NPC from a dnd campaign im starting soon and that im REALLY EXCITED for

this guy’s name is Ekmir and he’s actually just a bartender for a town w a really bad economy/wealth imbalance, he’s v pessimistic but he likes people and doesn’t wanna bring anybody down w his negative vibes so he kinda just tries to stay chill and mellow 24/7 but in reality he’s Stress

SUPERSALARY

(N.) ‘soo-pur-'sal-uh-ree  An outrageously high salary paid to CEOs, middle managers, civil servants or assorted lucky others, which dwarfs the microsalaries going to most workers. (A phenomenon identified by the French economist Thomas Piketty.)  Usage: A new gilded age arose in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as businesses allotted supersalaries and special privileges to a select few, while the wages and benefits of the majority stagnated or sank.

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Do Rich People Deserve To Be Rich? Russell Brand The Trews

Reflection on Sociology

Today was incredibly frustrating and upsetting. We were discussing poverty and welfare in my sociology class, and this ignorant person decided to say that welfare should be completely cut off, that tax payer money is being wasted, that we shouldn’t have to pay for"them", etc. So of course I opposed his point and in the middle of when I was speaking he interrupted me to say “it’s their own fault they’re poor.” That’s not only cruel and callous but also incredibly illogical and just false almost all the time. How many kids who grow up poor are able to better themselves later in life? Very few. It’s such a difficult world to mobilize yourself socioeconomically. So I was saying all this, and getting just a little bit upset but still remaining calm and collected, when this asshole guy decided to play the victim and tell me to stop yelling at him. So basically he made me look aggressive and rude because I disagreed with his point. It was so fucking misogynistic. Later during the class, two girls started hysterical laughing because they read a statistic saying 1.7 million kids die a year from diarrhea. I’m sure it’s easy for them to laugh at, considering how they’ve always had immediate access to clean drinking water and never had to worry about sanitation of water. It’s just not funny in any way shape or form and I was close to tears at this point. And the last thing is that my school, a pretty upper class public school full of almost entirely white middle class kids, is taking a trip to a school in the Bronx. Of course, it’s much different than ours. It’s stricken with poverty and it’s an environment of much less opportunity than ours. But it’s not a pity case. My teacher seems to be forcing this school to be a stereotype of poor black America. She’s never even set foot in the school or really even read much about it and she already felt she had the right to tell us that the level of academics in the classes would be much lower than ours, the classrooms would be falling apart, and they’d have no materials. It’s just not her right to try to make this school a caricature to fit the needs of her lesson. Yes, we have to notice our extreme privilege, and understand the vast differences between our two schools, but we also have to let viewing the school be a lesson in itself. We don’t need to place it in a role. I was just so overwhelmingly upset and angry in class today. There was a lack of basic human empathy that I found horrifying and sickening. I had to go to the bathroom just to keep myself from lashing out at everyone.

To those on the left who are terrified of an impending Trump presidency:

I have one word: organize.

The reason that Trump’s base was able to take power was that the political doctrine of the Democrats is fundamentally unequipped to deal with right-wing authoritarianism. The Democratic party has conventions of politeness they adhere that carefully avoid upsetting the balance of power, they value preserving the status quo by introducing small reforms that improve things on the surface but never threaten the overall imbalance of wealth and power in society. Donald Trump’s supporters, meanwhile, have shown no qualms with taking to the streets and making public displays of power and intimidation.

If the past has shown us anything, it’s that true political change can come only from public pressure, not from politicians. Don’t sit still and hope for another Bernie Sanders to come along and save us. Go outside, organize public demonstrations, get into the streets and march. Make your voice heard. There is no social movement in history that ever ended at an election.