Saturday, March 26, 2016

Right to Work, to Make One's Job, or to Have a Job?

While working on this longish post, I realized the title would scarcely do justice to the scope of what needed inclusion, and some elements were tied together a bit loosely. How to think about rights in terms of working for others, versus making our own forms of work? What has been problematic in this regard? Let's delve into some particulars. First: In a recent Moneywatch article, Mark Thoma asks, "Will election 2016 soothe Americans' job fears?" From the article:
We would all be better off if the large number of people who left the labor force during the recession return to productive employment rather than relying on social services, family, crime or other means to survive. We will be healthier as a nation if the gains from international trade are broadly shared rather than concentrated at the top of the income redistribution.
He continues:
Our future growth will be higher, and the opportunity to find decent jobs will be enhanced, if the U.S. has the infrastructure, educational resources, healthcare and social protections it needs to ensure Americans are as productive and innovative as we can be...Policy makers at the Fed and in Congress must do all they can to create jobs and opportunity for those who feel overlooked and forgotten.
Some might construe part of Mark Thoma's argument, as a right to a job. However, there is no right to a job in the sense of provision from others. Nor would a right to a job be possible for all concerned. The right to work on economic terms, i.e. make one's own compensated work, is most important for survival - yet seemingly all but forgotten. Likewise, even though both the Fed and Congress are responsible for economic prosperity, they do not have the specific means to make automatic job creation a reality.

For instance: like many individuals in the present I have a clearly designated right to work. However, there are few means (in part due to geographical circumstance and health) to make some work options viable on monetary or economic terms. Still, I've maintained a regular work routine in recent years, due to the good fortune of living with another family member, and my daily routine includes work which is quite important to me. Sometimes we forfeit the work which feels most important to us, when it becomes imperative to seek a paying job in the marketplace.

Rights to work discussions - when they take place - are mostly through an economic or monetary lens. Wikipedia provides us with (at least) two understandings regarding the right to work. From the first definition I found:
Right to work laws do not aim to provide general guarantee of employment to people seeking work, but rather a government regulation of the contractual agreements between employees and labor unions that prevents them from excluding non-union workers, or requiring employees to pay a fee to unions that have negotiated the labor contract all the employees work under.
What I want to note about the above definition, is the fact it provides a specific example of economic freedom by corporate design. Even though these employment opportunities are for marketplace "winners" (in terms of today's efficiency and scale expectations), so too the "winners" in terms of marketplace concentration by knowledge use as fiscally defined, in the other Wikipedia definition:
The right to work is the concept that people have a human right to work or engage in productive employment, and may not be prevented from doing so...The phrase "the right to work" was coined by the French socialist leader Louis Blanc in light of the social turmoil of the early 19th century and rising unemployment in the wake of the 1846 financial crisis which led up to the French Revolution of 1848. The right to property was a crucial demand in early quests for political freedom and equality, and against feudal control of property.
Right to work laws apply for tradable sectors in some states, and a right to work (in terms of the above defined concept) often applies to the fiscally supported non tradable sector activity, of knowledge based services. Asymmetrically, these right to work definitions are two sides of the same coin, in terms of organizational capacity and the scale capture which makes both "exclusive", rather than inclusive. Organizational scale contributes not only to variations in income structure, but also the level of economic access that is possible - albeit more in terms of production (work) potential, than consumption potential.

When does organizational capacity (in tradable sectors) become "too" efficient? Excessive consolidation and monopoly remains problematic for free market potential, as has been pointed out by Barry C. Lynn. Regular readers may remember my referencing his book "Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction" several times. From a recent ProMarket article, in a phone interview with Barry Lynn:
The goals of the old antitrust regime were to preserve competition in all parts of the political economy in order to protect the liberties of the individual, our democratic institutions, the stability of our economy, and also local communities. These were all thrown out, and replaced by the idea that we should just have efficient structures that serve the interest of the consumer. 
Another problem in terms of efficiency - is that supposed "efficiency" in terms of less (produced) time based product, only leads to less (consumed) time based product, output and marketplace formation. Whereas efficiency in tradable sectors is still able to maintain a broad marketplace, by comparison. Even so, today's non tradable sectors have doubtless been influenced by the increasingly centralized nature of non tradable sector activity, and have taken advantage of the legal constructs involved. One unfortunate result is a smaller Main Street presence, which is one of the thornier issues for lack of work availability in many counties.

As Barry Lynn noted, Washington was not always so complacent. Indeed, some of America's founders were greatly concerned, about what at the time was little more than a future potential for economic monopoly to occur, due to constant legislative activity. James Madison wrote in this pre-Convention memorandum ("Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution", page 314) :
II. If the multiplicity and mutability of laws prove a want of wisdom, their injustice betrays a defect still more alarming: more alarming not merely because it is a greater evil in itself, but because it brings more into question the fundamental principle of republicanism Government, that the majority who rule in such Governments are the safest Guardians both of public good and of public rights.
Madison was also concerned that economic legislation would jeopardize "fundamental rights of property". Why has Washington lost its appetite for antitrust legislation in recent decades? I can only surmise a possibility, here. Given the ongoing consolidation in non tradable sector activity, in part spurred by budget restraints, why should policy makers think differently of consolidation in tradable sectors? Possibly, they found themselves in a position where it was no longer possible to have a strong reaction.

The net result - however - is a lack of vital economic activity at local levels, and intervention on the part of state and large interests to diminish the market impact of the small player. Hence even though we can't expect a right to a job from someone else, it has still become more difficult to generate jobs on our own terms. Bonnie Carr inspired me to follow up a recent post with this one, and here' I'll include a portion of a post she wrote several years earlier:
I recall a story about an independent motor carrier being shut down by the Department of Transportation after having an accident a few years back. I was interested in this story because I had watched public testimony at a House Transportation Committee meeting regarding regulatory matters just after the Republicans had retaken the House. I was shocked to see that there was virtually no change in behavior as representatives for large, affiliated carriers were able to secure even more regulatory barriers over the pleas of independents. And regarding this story, I was horrified that the DOT moved in a state licensed, insured and inspected carrier, padlocking the gates and confiscating the busses without a warrant, a hearing or due process while the same thing never occurs when large carriers are involved in similar accidents.
What some among our country's founders had feared, has indeed come to pass - in terms of economic legislation which harms citizens. Today, some Republicans are willing to demean rural residents who were economically left behind, and Democrats may believe that Republicans have no interest in making the winners share. But neither party really has interest in leaving room on Main Street, for the work patterns of normal income gains from small scale employment capacity.

No one - at this juncture - can force either national or state governments, to allow citizens to make their own jobs and economic connections. Plus too many battles would be involved, all around. However, local corporations could be legally constructed so as to provide safe havens, for individuals who wish to create work for themselves in relation to other individuals.

In local corporate structure, competition would of course exist. But not in the sense of people and businesses constantly being knocked out of the workplace, in a race for "perfect" skills or business competition. Much of competition would exist in the shared choices that people routinely make, in a marketplace for time value. Neither would it be necessary for tradable sector activity to constantly scale up, in order to remain viable. Importantly, a right to work in the present also depends on a right to use knowledge properties - much as physical properties were the vital component, for centuries.

1 comment:

  1. Great blogging, as usual. Here's a piece from Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia Query 17 to go with your Madison quote:

    "It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion:whom will you make your inquisitors?
    Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity.
    But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.
    Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter.

    But is the spirit of the people an infallible, a permanent reliance? Is it government? Is this the kind of protection we receive in return for the rights we give up? Besides, the spirit of the times may alter, will alter. Our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless.A single zealot may commence persecutor, and better men be his victims. It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united. From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion."