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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

The Vicious Cycle of Laissez-Faire Capitalism

In Laissez-Faire capitalism, people pursue their own interests with a profit motive.  If they're not getting paid, what's the point? When they do have resources, those resources are there to use as folk see fit.

Including Human Resources.  Employers can hire or fire as they choose; employees can take or not take jobs as they choose.  It's through negotiating selfish interest that balance and stability gets built in to our non-system of a Randian non-society on a contract-by-contract basis.  Equal pay for work of equal value, etc.

Of course, this structure implies that the employer values individual labour and will pay appropriately for it.  A smart employer won't want to perpetually hire and fire - they'll want the best talent from the get-go and will work to keep it. 
But what if that isn't the case? What if employers see employees as disposable widgets and figure really anybody can do the job, so why pay big bucks for it?  After all, that's why North America lost its manufacturing industry - too many benefits for employees, too many regulations, not enough profit.   

What if employers view employees as tools, not resources?  If you smack something with a hammer hard enough, you'll break it; you can use the back of a screwdriver the same way.  It's less the tool that accomplishes the work than it is the pressure applied by the user.  That's exactly what micromanagement is.

Yes, some employers treat their employees like human beings; the laissez-faire capitalists, however, will hire and fire as they please without worrying about support, training, etc.  Why should they?  Labour doesn't make products, the employers do.   They built that.

Cheaper labour, less expensive regulation in places like Bangladesh - no need to waste money by operating in countries like Canada.  It's the international equivalent of child labour (including actual child labour).

If the quality of the labour doesn't matter, then the employees have lost their key self-interest bargaining chip.   Work becomes less about getting stuff done and more about sucking up the boss, (creating that personal value) or undermining your fellows so that if the axe falls, it'll land on them, not you.  The product suffers - but it still gets made.  Maybe it's a cheaper product, but so what - you can just push your people to up productivity and sell more for less.

Rational consumers in a laissez-faire model want lowest dollar for value - more for less.   They can compete between sellers for the best quality of product, but again - do they really need the fanciest tool to accomplish what they want? Doesn't it make sense to get the cheapest product so they have more cash to get more stuff? I can buy one dish at The Kitchen Store, three at Wal-Mart and ten at the Dollar Store.  The lowest cost wins - just as it has with the manufacturing industry.

Buying more for less, hiring more for less and ultimately, working less for whatever you get.  If the boss wants you to do more, they've gotta pay for it.  If you know you're going to be stigmatized from finding work regardless, the incentive to go through the standard job-hunt process isn't there.  Money, not legacy, not accomplishment nor even pride becomes the prime motivator.  Paying for training when nothing is guaranteed makes no laissez-faire sense; it's a waste of resources.

So what if you have a populace that isn't going to invest time in training or all the legwork it takes to get to a position where they might get hired?  What if you have people who won't even think about issues unless someone is paying them to do so?  What if every action is expected to turn around rapid results and everything is to be gotten for as little investment as possible?

It's not hard to imagine - we are surrounded by examples both domestic and international.  The best ROI comes from crime - little effort or brief effort pays handsomely; all you need to do is invest in some security and not care about what happens to people not you, laissez-faire style.  Drug lords do this.  Warlords do this.  Abusers of interns are doing the same thing.  Not hiring to save on cash is hardly a crime, but it's hardly to the benefit of society, either.  But that's what you get from focusing solely on your bottom line.

Here's the picture we have right now - employers with money want to spend as little of it on labour as possible and are skirting the rules by moving overseas or turning to contract work and intern work as methods to keep their costs down.  The marginalized demographics in our society know that the system is stacked against them; there's little motivation to invest in the time, energy and training to compete for the chance to maybe possibly get an interview for a dead-end position against a host of higher qualified or under-employed candidates.  It just makes no sense.
We can do as Jason Kenney has done - turn to foreign labour to fill the gap, cheaply.  The problem with this approach is that it doesn't solve the structural problem and feeds into the bias that already stigmatizes New Canadians with low or non-transferable skills.  You can't force the work that nobody wants to do without leaning towards indentured servitude 'with those desperate for work getting trapped in cycles of internships/Joad-style style Labour Migrations at best and Concentration Camps at worst.  You can try to create more stable work through government, but again, that means greater taxation which people aren't in favour of - it's that more for less thing again.
The analogies here are deliberate, but they aren't the only ones available.  In a social system where the few with the greatest wealth benefit and growing majorities are seen as tools in an economy rather than as human beings, something's got to give; instability festers.  Indifference leads to frustration of the kind that can kindle into crime waves, war or revolution.  In any of these scenarios, it's the people with the most who have the most to lose.
Which is why it makes sense for the haves to be the ones giving back.  There is precedent - every pulse in the history of labour has led to greater investment in human resources, and each has resulted in greater prosperity.  There is also precedent for what happens when employers head in the other direction - that, too, is the history of labour.
At the end of the day, a democratic government can't force it's people to do right by each other, to invest in society - when it starts trying to do that, it ceases to be democratic.  It is always ultimately up to the people to commit to living together.  This, too, we will continue to do - reactively, in response to a World War II or a Great Depression if not a Syria or an Egypt - until we stop turning a blind eye to the woes of others and seek to blame them for our own problems.
There's more to this "forward together" business than just an inclusive slogan - society is a Commons that can only be sustained on common ground. 
And of course, despite what the laissez-faire capitalists will tell you, altruism is really just selfishness that plans ahead.

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