Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why I'm an economic liberal

The traditional conservative view of a free job market is that an employer and and employee freely come together to negotiate an agreement regarding work and wages. If one side or the other feels the division of the products of the arrangement is unfair, they are free to leave and pursue arrangements with someone else. Sounds great, right?

But consider the effects of the "freedom" of the transaction if one side would starve to death without entering into an agreement with someone (i.e., if you can't find a job that would pay subsistence wages). And there are millions of other people in your situation. And there aren't enough jobs for everyone. And employers know it.

Employers would be able to demand long hours, low pay, no benefits and whatever else they wanted to extract from the worker, because if the worker refuses, the worker's life is in peril and the employer finds someone willing to work for peanuts. They know they will always be able to find a worker willing to work for less than they're worth, because the worker has no bargaining strength.

Ours, thankfully, is not by and large a society set up like this. Through a combination of government programs and private charity, we don't require that people have a job for their very survival. Workers have the option of grants and student loans to go back to school to gain marketable skills. They have access to basic needs through food stamps, federal housing programs and shelters. It would be great if we could add a more robust guarantee of access to health care, which is necessary for a long, healthy life, but the current set-up is better than it has been in the past.

There is this movement amongst some conservatives towards an Ayn Rand laissez-faire capitalism. The thinking goes that by removing these basic protections and "allowing the free maket to work", everyone will be made richer. But without a guarantee of basic economic security for every citizen, it allows millions to be left behind and forces them into uneven agreements. If the goal is a just society with truly free involvement in the economic sphere, there can't be a system where the very survival of one side of the negotiation is at risk. So until and unless we have a robust system of private charity which can guarantee basic security for everyone, we have to come together through the government to provide that guarantee.

1 comment:

Emily said...

I'm going to start putting your name down as a write in on ballots