“Greek workers of all ages and professions, pensioners, students, the old and young,” Reuters reports, “marched on parliament in Athens Wednesday to vent their anger at the country’s politicians and their austerity plans.”
The demonstrations, notable for their non-violent and non-political character, come in response to tax hikes, budget cuts and foreign creditors’ demands that Greece sell off public assets. In the streets, though, “the ordinary people” see themselves as making all the sacrifices while the political class sits pretty.
The inescapable truth is that austerity measures in Greece punish laborers for the structural imbalances of the corporate state, an economic system that has proved fruitful for the very elites now talking budget cuts. And although free market types are perceived by many — and very often rightfully so — as harboring a reflexive antipathy to public workers, libertarians ought to carefully consider what epithets like “tax-eater” mean within the current context.
The assumption of libertarians who castigate public workers on principle seems to be that, by working for public monopolies that steal from taxpayers, these workers are not “playing by the rules” of the free market. It may not have occurred to libertarians who see public workers’ unions as the devil incarnate, but their corporate darlings are, in many cases, no more creatures of the free market than those government agencies.
The rules of a purely hypothetical, completely free market are selectively applied to ordinary, working folk who had this very unfree market thrust upon them. Greek workers didn’t choose state capitalism’s framework of anti-competitive privilege, nor are they its true beneficiaries, but they find themselves demonized for wanting decent pay.
Within the current economic system, the distinction between a state-owned and -operated “public” economic actor (like a school or transit system) and a state-protected and -favored “private” economic actor is frequently difficult to make out.
Some “private” firms — for example, U.S. titans like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing — make most of their money through direct relationships with government. But insofar as they “bid” for government contracts, we libertarians are asked to treat them as morally superior to government-owned enterprises. Even private companies that never contract with the state benefit from the government largess — courtesy of the taxpayers of course — in the form of direct and indirect subsidies.
So why do we so seldom hear apostles of the free market labeling their employees (let alone themselves) “tax-eaters?” The state has so critically adulterated and altered the marketplace, so distanced it from anything like a free market, that it’s far more useful to ask the age-old question: Cui bono? At the risk of giving away the ending, the answer is plainly not the average worker.
If you want to be a fireman, a schoolteacher, or even a train conductor in most countries, Greece among them, you’ll find scarce few options for doing so outside of “public employee parasitism.” The state forcefully removes these areas of employment from the market, compelling the fireman to either change careers or take a paycheck from the hated state.
Surely monopolization of a particular service by the state puts the organization in a position of power relative to the consumer, but no less so to the hired worker, who has no other outlet for her talents. The windfall immanent in the monopoly price we pay for such services has, rather than accruing to the worker’s benefit, been hoarded to the top of both the “private” and “public” sector pyramids.
The state capitalist system, with its inbuilt limitations on labor bargaining power, is a racket of, by and for the bosses. As the market anarchist Francis D. Tandy sardonically quipped of the argument that state ownership would improve conditions for workers: “Oh, yes, State ownership will certainly prevent strikes! The workers then won’t have even that chance, poor as it is, of bettering their condition.”
For now, we’re stuck with the state and its plutocracy. We would do well as anarchists, then, to actively vilify that plutocracy in Greece and everywhere else, showing that a genuine free market would end victimization of the working class.
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