No Work for the Weary, Part II

“Wage growth,” says Society of Human Resources analyst Joseph Coombs, “is going to be very limited this year, but at least it’s heading in the right direction.” But as CNNMoney’s Jessica Dickler observes, “workers are … still trying to work their way back to break even,” with the meager raises promised by most large companies providing little consolation.

Even for a full-time employee making over $50,000 annually, the average raise will amount to less than $40 added to each paycheck every two weeks. Further, the approximately $50,000 figure set forth in the story — constituting the median yearly income — may be deceiving, presenting an amount of money that most workers considered “wage-earners” won’t come close to seeing this year.

Speaking of the “return to profitability” for many of the country’s largest employers, we might assume that during the downturn the executives ostensibly responsible for “profitability” took their lumps. On the contrary, senior management in America’s bulging corporate cadgers enjoyed quite the comfortable ride during the crisis, which for them was hardly an inconvenience.

The explanation for CEO pay you’ll get in National Review or from the Heritage Foundation teaches that, even when an exec’s tenure witnesses financial decline, he should be richly rewarded. The rationale extended to justify such astronomical pay is that it’s warranted by the highly limited supply of these extraordinarily talented (so it is said) individuals relative to the demand. The business world, the story goes, is an ever-fluctuating whirlwind fraught with unpredictability and risk, so top officers need high incentives to attract them to the heavy task.

On the other side of the American political debate, when it becomes clear that the National Review account of things is nonsense, progressives will swear that CEO pay is an instance of “market failure” in labor. There is, no doubt, a failure present in our corporatist system, but it has nothing to do with a “market” in the way that the free market left uses that word.

State capitalism prevails by allowing the privileged to unilaterally dictate the terms on which people who actually work have access to important resources, that is, through allowing some elite to make it impossible for you to subsist except on their conditions. The standard corporate apologia will insist that labor isn’t exploited in our economy, that workers are free to shop their skills around — that they aren’t actually forced to work anywhere.

The argument supposes that, since Big Business owns those capital goods, it ought to be able to decide who gets a seat at the table and with what stipulations. This thin defense never bothers, needless to say, to inquire as to how the powerful came to own all of the facilities of production and capital in society; nor does it wonder whether something outside of “competition” might’ve been at play in that process. Instead, it falls back on the senseless platitude that if a worker doesn’t like his job, he can freely choose to go find another.

But if the state exerts its monopoly on the use of force to create special advantages for certain “competitors,” and all of the supposed “choices” we have in the economic system are predicated on those advantages, then there is only the simulacrum of choice. While it’s impossible to know just how much, the sphere of choice in our economy has been arbitrarily limited by what Joseph Stromberg called the “syndicalist oligarchy” of “corporate liberalism.”

As Kevin Carson has argued, to destroy the exploitation of labor inherent in the current economic structure, “it is sufficient to eliminate the statist props to capitalism,” to erase the “political means” to wealth and let free trade reign. The only economic stimulus we need is the ability to live and work free from the state’s encumbrances.

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