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Devil's Advocate: Market Society and Work

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Jargon Posted: Tue, May 29 2012 9:30 PM

Let's play some devil's advocate. I perused the Left Libertarian forums a bit, having been intrigued by the recent thread here on them, and came up with this. Don't get huffy and think that I'm adopting this position. It's just an interesting one that occurred to me:

 

In the market society which posters here regularly propose, that is a private law society or tax-free society,  the consumer is sovereign. The economic chain of response reads as consumer>entrepeneur/capitalist>manager>worker. This is not peculiar to a private law society, it applies generally to societies which employ 'mixed-market' approaches but can sometimes become distorted or stratified to the point that the consumer does not influence the decisions of the capitalist, and the entrepeneur's function is strongly discouraged or even prohibited.

The general principle in such a scenario is that consumers control the workers. This is not to say that there is a consumer class of people and a worker class of people but that the behavior in which people consume ultimately defines the way in which they work. Wealth will significantly accumulate and people's material situations will improve; this is undeniable. But this increased wealth comes at a cost. People accept that they will work to produce and consume that produce. People spend most of their time doing work.

Is this a desirable state of affairs? To slave away at a gadget factory performing menial repetitive tasks so that you can buy houses on the beach? Sure no one has to consume what they earn, but the structure of society is such that there is much work time and little leisure time. One may as well consume heavily during periods of leisure to try to 'have a good time while there's still time'. One can either work X and consume Y or work X and consume Y-5, but it won't affect his leisure time either way. This is plausibly the tendency of today's America: to spend lots of time earning lots of money and to spend less time spending equally. The incentive structure seems very clear to me: work time/intensity corresponds to the high consumption; what is produced may as well be consumed since it was so hard won, reinforcing a pattern of long work-hours.

The question is: is the efficiency of production worth the transformation of society into workers? A society is envisionable at this point wherein labor hours may be significantly reduced and a decent standard of living (plumbing, pharmaceuticals, internet) is still possible. Humans would spend their time pursuing their interests rather than 'working for crap they don't need'.

Wouldn't the market society lead to a hopelessly materialistic people? Why isn't it better to accept the current state of technology and live with more time to develop interests, become afficionado's, do projects, achiev self-fulfillment. This type of life is hardly practicable when 2 of 7 days are free and 2 weeks out of 52 are free. Wouldn't that be more conducive to human happiness than a shower of goods? Why not have the world be a cluster of collectives with admittedly lower productivity but with higher leisure time? Shouldn't humans seek happiness not in material wealth but in their own creativity and decided lifestyles?

Land & Liberty

The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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This is a post on a left-libertarian forum, or your reflections on the thread in question?

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Jargon replied on Tue, May 29 2012 9:37 PM

My reflections on Left-Libertarianism

Land & Liberty

The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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So are you expecting posters to critique the reflection or accept it as a devil's advocate's musings?

 

If I had a cake and ate it, it can be concluded that I do not have it anymore. HHH

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Neodoxy replied on Tue, May 29 2012 9:55 PM

"People spend most of their time doing work."

Not necessarily. People today work as much as they do because they expect to consume as much as they do. It's a preference thing, not a compulsorily thing. It's not hard to conceive of a person from a hundred years ago going forward in time and being happy with what he could consume with a mediocre job on 30 hours a week.

"Is this a desirable state of affairs?"

It's the one that people choose.

"but it won't affect his leisure time either way. This is plausibly the tendency of today's America: to spend lots of time earning lots of money and to spend less time spending equally. The incentive structure seems very clear to me: work time/intensity corresponds to the high consumption; what is produced may as well be consumed since it was so hard won, reinforcing a pattern of long work-hours."

Sorry but this is bullcrap. I don't know anyone who works a non minimum wage job or right around there who can't afford to name their hours to some extent or other. There is no incentive structure here as such in that the incentive structure only exists because it is what people respond to. 

"The question is: is the efficiency of production worth the transformation of society into workers? A society is envisionable at this point wherein labor hours may be significantly reduced and a decent standard of living (plumbing, pharmaceuticals, internet) is still possible. Humans would spend their time pursuing their interests rather than 'working for crap they don't need'."

Then why don't they do this? Either marginally or collectively? People prefer crap, even if you argue it's not fulfilling then why would this be? Answer: People, by and large and for the most part, are pretty stupid. Might as well give them what they want in the process and create a system in which, if you want and you have the brain power, you can actually live quite a happy life.

"Wouldn't the market society lead to a hopelessly materialistic people?"

The market society is only as materialistic as the people in it, not the other way around. 

"Shouldn't humans seek happiness not in material wealth but in their own creativity and decided lifestyles?"

I both agree entirely and disagree entirely with this statement. While I agree that material wealth should not an ends unto itself, what if it's what people desire? What if it will make you happy? I know that I desire many material things, and I consider myself relatively non-materialistic.

The point of life, praxeologically, is to find out what you want most, what you value, your preferred state of affairs in this world in which we live, and try to make it come bout as much as possible. Exactly what this might entail depends upon the individual in question, this could involve creativity or it could not. We can try to wake people up from the materialistic lifestyle, but the market society is what enables us to do this the most, not something that stands in the way of this, but rather enables us to do this, both through the physical bounty it provides, but also the occupational/lifestyle possibilities it gives us, and indeed, the revulsion that we can expose from the problems of undue or "unthinking" materialism. 

I'd also like to throw out there that in many ways our society is non-materialist. Things like family, romance, intelligence, god, and hard work are, if anything, much more societally valued than pure wealth, and yet these are inherently just as likely to hamper the achievement of an individual's happiness as the bourgeois pursuit of wealth is. 

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
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NEPHiLiX replied on Tue, May 29 2012 9:58 PM

Isn't the answer just: "Who's stopping you?" I mean, essentially, isn't this what the mennonites did? 18thC tech and good hard work is all that we need to be happy, yadda yadda except now in this case it's 21stC tech, a moderate workload and plentiful leisure. 

The only thing wrong with that question is the implication that someone should decide the answer for me: what's optimal and how to go about realizing it.
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Wheylous replied on Tue, May 29 2012 10:47 PM

Yeah, I must say this is a rather easy argument to settle :P

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Jargon replied on Tue, May 29 2012 11:08 PM

 

@ThatOldGuy
 
I wouldn't have posted it if I didn't want to see people's responses my questions.

 

Neodoxy:

Not necessarily. People today work as much as they do because they expect to consume as much as they do. It's a preference thing, not a compulsorily thing. It's not hard to conceive of a person from a hundred years ago going forward in time and being happy with what he could consume with a mediocre job on 30 hours a week.

If I go to an employer and say "I'd like to work here, but 4 out of the 5 days, and I'll accept the consequent paycut." Do you think that he would hire me or just find someone else who will shut up and sit at the desk .

"Is this a desirable state of affairs?"

It's the one that people choose.

Ha. I knew I shouldn't have typed that.

Sorry but this is bullcrap. I don't know anyone who works a non minimum wage job or right around there who can't afford to name their hours to some extent or other. There is no incentive structure here as such in that the incentive structure only exists because it is what people respond to. 

Is it? Europeans get much more vacation time than American. Germans get 5 weeks, Americans get 2. I know plenty of people who wish they could have a 3 or 4 day workweek but can't because individuals are at a disadvantaged position when bargaining with employers.

Then why don't they do this? Either marginally or collectively? 

Why don't they stop paying taxes while they're at it?

People prefer crap, even if you argue it's not fulfilling then why would this be? Answer: People, by and large and for the most part, are pretty stupid. Might as well give them what they want in the process and create a system in which, if you want and you have the brain power, you can actually live quite a happy life.

I don't think I can accept that vision of humanity. I suppose this genuinely makes me a selfish elitist busybody. Most people here can accept people's happiness and I think that that is admirable but for some reason it seems unacceptable to me. I know in principle I'm trying to force my will upon others and can see that it's selfish but at the same time I think I'm right that materialistic lifestyles are shallow and meaningless. I know that's my own value judgment.

The market society is only as materialistic as the people in it, not the other way around. 

I agree and disagree. To illustrate my understanding, consider a person's level of materialism a point on a spectrum, one end being completely materialistic the other being completely non-worldly. It is within the person in question to be completely materialistic from the start, but constant exposure to advertisement exacerbates this, shifting the point towards the end. I actually think a large part of this comes from Keynesianism: I often hear intellectuals and newsanchors telling you to buy things because it 'stimulates the economy'. It's something I want to look more into.

A big part of me writing this is having spent some time at my friends house: his folks come home, put dinner in the microwave and turn on American Idol/So You Think You Can Dance. Frankly, it was terrifying and I think it gave me an understanding of more of his leftist thinking.

I both agree entirely and disagree entirely with this statement. While I agree that material wealth should not an ends unto itself, what if it's what people desire? What if it will make you happy? I know that I desire many material things, and I consider myself relatively non-materialistic.

The point of life, praxeologically, is to find out what you want most, what you value, your preferred state of affairs in this world in which we live, and try to make it come bout as much as possible. Exactly what this might entail depends upon the individual in question, this could involve creativity or it could not. We can try to wake people up from the materialistic lifestyle, but the market society is what enables us to do this the most, not something that stands in the way of this, but rather enables us to do this, both through the physical bounty it provides, but also the occupational/lifestyle possibilities it gives us, and indeed, the revulsion that we can expose from the problems of undue or "unthinking" materialism. 

I'd also like to throw out there that in many ways our society is non-materialist. Things like family, romance, intelligence, god, and hard work are, if anything, much more societally valued than pure wealth, and yet these are inherently just as likely to hamper the achievement of an individual's happiness as the bourgeois pursuit of wealth is. 

Thinking about this makes me think that AnComs/AnSynds would be a very valuable component of a stateless society.Their presence would put pressure on employers to cooperate better with employees because there would always be the option of skipping Dodge for the land of employee-sympathy. Their philosophy also seems to include more than just a theory of economics: an ethos. Although it is too hippyish and strict for me to fully accept I admire the dedication to a life which rejects billboards, TV's and the like. I don't doubt that they would find this thought very patronizing as, to them, I'm essentially saying: "come on, live on Papa Kapital's plot, the grass is greener." I hope it's within the libertarian left to accept a propertarily-hybrid society but I doubt it. 

Land & Liberty

The Anarch is to the Anarchist what the Monarch is to the Monarchist. -Ernst Jünger

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Isn't this what left-libertarians (of the kind discussed in the other thread) argue? Remove the barriers to self-employment and workers' negotiating power and the common man will better be able to trade off work and leisure according to their preferences.

"People kill each other for prophetic certainties, hardly for falsifiable hypotheses." - Peter Berger
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Neodoxy replied on Wed, May 30 2012 1:00 AM

"If I go to an employer and say "I'd like to work here, but 4 out of the 5 days, and I'll accept the consequent paycut." Do you think that he would hire me or just find someone else who will shut up and sit at the desk ."

Well I sure as hell wouldn't say that at a job interview :P 

But anyway, you're not going to have infinite flexibility but in a normal job to say that you don't have a fair amount of flexibility is foolish. There's also the possibility of getting a different job (not so easy in today's economy buuttt..) This is also one area where you can really blame the hell out of the state. The loopholes and the like involved with hiring people and with benefits ETC. are killer and hurt wage/work flexibility a lot.

"Is it? Europeans get much more vacation time than American. Germans get 5 weeks, Americans get 2. "

There's a lot of mitigating factors and reasons for that, but they aren't worth discussing here.

"I know plenty of people who wish they could have a 3 or 4 day workweek but can't because individuals are at a disadvantaged position when bargaining with employers."

Of course there's going to be some of this, but I know a fair number of people who could at least find jobs where this was the case, or where they could work that amount if they would accept the corresponding pay cut, but for most of them they just can't because that wouldn't allow them to sustain their consumption pattern.

"Why don't they stop paying taxes while they're at it?"

Because they believe that paying taxes is their duty or that it's something they can't fight.

I think I'm right that materialistic lifestyles are shallow and meaningless. I know that's my own value judgment.

I think most of the lives people lead are pretty meaningless, no matter how materialistic, although there's a slight tilt towards non-materialism just because such people who can rationally come to the conclusion that they don't need stuff can figure out what they actually want. 

At any rate, this one comes straight from the heart when I say that there is no one lifestyle that can make people happy. We are different, and this isn't high minded theorizing this is fact that is reflected day in and day out with everyone you meet. The only way to be happy is to find out what you love and what you want and what will bring you contentment, and there is no reason why materialism cannot be apart of this. It's the abuse of materialism, a result of unquestioned values, which is the problem.

 

"I agree and disagree. To illustrate my understanding, consider a person's level of materialism a point on a spectrum, one end being completely materialistic the other being completely non-worldly. It is within the person in question to be completely materialistic from the start, but constant exposure to advertisement exacerbates this, shifting the point towards the end. I actually think a large part of this comes from Keynesianism: I often hear intellectuals and newsanchors telling you to buy things because it 'stimulates the economy'. It's something I want to look more into.

A big part of me writing this is having spent some time at my friends house: his folks come home, put dinner in the microwave and turn on American Idol/So You Think You Can Dance. Frankly, it was terrifying and I think it gave me an understanding of more of his leftist thinking."

I don't really know how to respond to this beyond what I've said, most people lead meaningless lives. People don't know how to truly live, and they fill in that gap with stuff because that's what's easiest and most intuitive, not rationally discovering your values and constructing a plan.

 "I hope it's within the libertarian left to accept a propertarily-hybrid society but I doubt it."

I agree that some form of socialistic (quite possibly Owenistic) type of workplace/community could have a thriving role within the anarcho-capitalist society, and in the end I do believe that we would see an ironic sort of "centrism" in the post-political world with firms and community/charity organizations working side by side. I also agree that leftist workplaces could well add a whole new dynamic to the workforce, and in the end people's ultimate preferences would be revealed: leisure or wealth?

This is also a great talking point with statists, BTW. Communities still exist, not profit-maximizing action is fully possible and indeed more likely within the stateless society.

At last those coming came and they never looked back With blinding stars in their eyes but all they saw was black...
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Autolykos replied on Wed, May 30 2012 8:44 AM

Jargon:
The general principle in such a scenario is that consumers control the workers. This is not to say that there is a consumer class of people and a worker class of people but that the behavior in which people consume ultimately defines the way in which they work. Wealth will significantly accumulate and people's material situations will improve; this is undeniable. But this increased wealth comes at a cost. People accept that they will work to produce and consume that produce. People spend most of their time doing work.

Ceteris paribus, people with lower time preferences will work more than people with higher time preferences. Really, most of what we do as human beings is some form of work. But compared to earlier times, we have more avenues for pure recreation today.

Jargon:
Is this a desirable state of affairs?

There's no objective answer to that question.

The keyboard is mightier than the gun.

Non parit potestas ipsius auctoritatem.

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