Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Exploitation, Economic and Political

Exploitation, "naked, shameless, direct, brutal", according to Marx, is the characteristic of the modern capitalism. Compared with the exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions of the old regime. Then he went on to beuild his tortuous analysis of labor value in his Capital, which turned out to be rubbish.

The center of Marx's complaint is the old one of the worker or the peasant. How come that the middle man gets to mark up the labor of the worker? To the piece-worker, the putter-out pays ten cents a piece, and then sells it for twenty, or more. And by the time that the garment reaches the consumer it sells for a dollar or more a piece. Where is the justice in that?

The justice is that the employer or the putter-out is doing a lot of work so that the piece-worker can sell their piece. In the modern workplace, the employer provides the workplace, the tools, heating, cooling, refreshments, and often does all the legwork to make benefits like health care and other insurance easily available. Then he researches the markets, finds buyers, finds investors, finances the work in progress. Then, of course, he takes the risks of profit and loss. So who is exploiting whom?

And what about the politician that is levelling the charge of expoitation? Does not he take a chunk of the full value of the laborer's product? Does not he take his taxes off the top, whether sales, excise, payroll, or income tax, without particularly thinking about the worker's need or worth?

Ah yes, you'll say. But with those taxes, the worker buys civilization, as Justice Holmes wrote a century ago. Excuse me, Mr. Justice, but it is with his wages that the worker buys civilization. It is invidious to single out your particular preference--and a judge lives off taxes, after all--and call that civilization. In fact all governments, civilized and other, impose taxes, starting with the meanest guerrilla group in the mountains. It is the civilized nations that mitigate the brute force of government, naked, etc, with the veil of credit, exchange, capital, universal wealth, and ease.

Our liberal friends have made a nice business out of critiquing the exploitative tendencies in early modern capitalism, and no doubt they are right.  But our task in these latter days is to deal with the problem of big-government exploitation.  And that is about as "naked, shameless, direct, brutal" as you can get.

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