I can thank a facebook amigo of mine for the observation that the Occupy protests, and workers’ complaints in general, tend to be ‘completely misdirected and deflecting personal responsibility.’
This line of argument runs that, it is each person’s responsibility to better his or her situation, not by ‘complaining,’ but by ‘doing.’ I.e., work hard, and/or if the situation is stinky, leave and find another situation. By ‘voting with your feet,’ workers will teach bosses that they cannot get away with certain abuses, and over time the worst of these will disappear.
This line of argument, it will be noted, has become most common amongst those citizens of the U.S. who:
a) Are the unwitting beneficiaries of a unique confluence of economic factors which made it extremely easy for American citizens to earn a decent middle-class living during the 63 years between 1945 and 2008, but which will perhaps never again favour US citizens so much (these conditions included a very developed US, and a very poor India, China, Africa, and Russia, and a socialist Europe. – which made the US by default an economic powerhouse, with a unique ability to command and produce resources – like the Dutch and English in earlier centuries, who had advanced economies and few competitors but which then lost this advantage and melded into relative mediocrity.)
b) Are ahead of the IQ, education, and starting social network curve, and thus can always find a better-than-average-paying job with relatively little effort and/or luck.
c) Have ‘paid their dues’ buy buying into the system – working long hours, sacrificing many dreams and goals outside of work life, sacrificing many quality of life issues, but receiving in return a better-than-average remuneration, which gives them a decent amount of capital and ‘stuff’ to protect. Thus both ‘survivors bias’ (meaning they are already good at/accustomed to working within the system), and also ‘sour grapes’ bias – i.e., the very real element of jealousy for those who haven’t had to make such sacrificies, inspired even by the thought that anyone might have their cake without having to make the same sacrifices– play heavily into their opinions.
d) And/or, have been influenced by a highly professionalized corps of demagogues, who in the US are overwhelmingly funded and maintained by the economic elite, whose primary purpose is to find ways to sell the agenda of the economic elite to the masses, by appealing to and systematically inflaming their commonest fears of ‘the other.’ This strategy has over the past 20 years worked incredibly well, and created an army of Limbaugh-zombies, who are highly suspicious of science and logic, and who, hypnotized by Rush’s admittedly skillful demagoguery, will now systematically vote against their own best interest, and that of the global community, virtually in lock step with the agenda of the corporate elite… gee, how did that happen? Isn’t it strange that the will of a large block of the working classes should correspond almost exactly with the agenda of the ultra-rich? Gosh… some coincidence, eh?
A bit of reflection will reveal that this line of argument, however, is based on the following fallacious assumptions:
1- The economy is inevitably ‘darwinist.’ It assumes that the system is essentially as fair as it will ever get, because the economy is naturally a ‘survival of the fittest’ type system. Libertarians like to assume that ‘nature’ inevitably requires people to struggle against one another for a piece of a very limited pie.
The problem with this is, that as I have argued elsewhere, there are many, many laws in place which make everyones’ lives so much better than they would be in a darwinist situation, and many of these have been won by long-term struggling and protest, and also by legislation. For example, it is illegal to own your own rocket launcher. The reasons for this should be obvious, but true libertarians suggest that we should all own them, if we wish. (more…)