Who Protects Our Freedom

“What do they have supremacy over?”
“…I’m assuming you’re familiar with natural rights? Everyone has a natural right to life, liberty and property. Whether a gov’t exists to suppress those rights doesn’t invalidate them….”

While reviewing the comment thread from a previous post, I came across the comment above. I was thunderstruck. This is an incredibly fatuous statement. Just mind-boggling, really. It displays a nearly-complete ignorance of history and how the real world has worked over the past few thousand years.

OK, let’s start with work. We’ll start here because, let’s face it, most of our time is devoted to working. So let’s say the government completely stays out of all employer-employee relationships. What do we think would happen? For the vast, vast majority of the population, I suspect the 70 hour workweek would come back into fashion. Pay rates would plummet, given the lack of minimum wage standards. Child labor would be acceptable. No pensions, no health care, no vacations, no paid time off, no sick leave. Work or get fired. Don’t work the way management thinks you should? Get fired. Say something against management? Get fired. Economic downturn? Get fired. No OSHA standards. Hurt in an industrial/workplace accident? Get fired. Building catches fire? Die, because the exits are locked to prevent employees from taking unauthorized breaks. Try to unionize? Get fired. Go on strike? Get your head beaten in by management-hired thugs strike-breakers. Then get fired.

What about the free market? Won’t some firms try to compete by offering better conditions? Probably not, because the owners are all colluding. Legally. Anyone of them steps out of line, the other owners retaliate. What about start-ups? Don’t exist, because they’re crushed or bought out by the collusion of existing companies.

Don’t know about you, but those conditions sound pretty repressive. With nary a government repression in sight. How do I know this? Because I’m describing the actual working conditions most people experienced in the 1880s., back when men were free.  Before government started ‘interfering’ with the sacred employer-employee relationship, before government started messing with the sacred right of each individual to enter into a contract.

And no, this wouldn’t happen overnight, but we’d get there. How do I know? Because we’re well on the road already. A lot of this is already happening. In a lot of companies, a 60-hour week is expected. Don’t want to do it? You find yourself with plummeting review ratings until you’re shown the door. IOW, you get fired. Vacation? Sure, you get it, in theory. Just don’t actually try to  take it. If you do, be on email and make the conference calls. Raise? What’s that? Health care? Disappearing. Pension? Please, you’re joking, right? Locked fire escapes? Happened in a chicken-processing plant in Hamlet, NC, in 1991. Yes, 1991, not 1891. A lot of low-end jobs don’t have sick leave. Can’t work because you’re sick? Don’t get paid. Do it too often and you’re fired. Talk union? See the response to resistance to 60-hour week. Payscale? It’s called ‘salary benchmarking’. Companies trade salary info all the time to make sure they’re not overpaying. Overtime pay? Walmart has been caught forcing employees to work after they punch out. IOW, no pay at all, let alone time-and-a-half, as the law states.

OK, some of these things remain pipe-dream fantasies of management, but the list of those is pretty short. We’re not quite back to the 1880s, but we’re getting there, and management will continue to push us in that direction as long as it can.

Believe it or not, much of the time, government is the only thing protecting liberty. Look, some of you need to read some history, like the thousand years between the fall of Rome and 1500 to understand the rise of monarchies. How were monarchies able to gain power over the local feudal nobility? In part, by guaranteeing the freedoms of towns, and their inhabitants. Townspeople and monarch colluded against the local nobles. Because towns had money, the monarchs were able to pay more soldiers than the nobility.

Then read the history from 1500 to the present, to see how individual freedoms came into existence. In case you’ve forgotten, the US government was founded in order to act as a guarantor of individual liberties against the British monarchy. But then, fourscore and 10 years later, with the central government of the US either too far away, too distracted, too weak, or too unwilling to get involved, a new class of ‘feudal nobility’ came into existence right here in the US of A. You can call them “Titans of Industry” or you can call them “Robber Barons”, but the principle is very much the same. And note: ‘baron’ is a term for a local, feudal noble, so the choice of word is apt, and the analogy of these barons to their Mediaeval predecessors is perfectly accurate.

Why do the “Titans of Industry” hate big government? Because it’s the only entity that can stand up to them. The people are powerless on their own. The government is the only agent that can protect the liberties of the individual. The idea that the market will discipline them is Econ 101 fantasy. Sure, it’s supposed to happen, but it doesn’t. Not until some entity (i.e. government) steps in and forces businesses to respect the rights of the individual.

Without government protections, your precious liberties would disappear, usurped by local tyrants. Why would this happen?  Because, as Thucydides noted 2,400 years ago, “The strong do what they can. The weak suffer what they must.”

So, spare me Libertarian, or Free-Market fantasy. Go read some history. Then go out and work in the real world. When you have some actual experience, then maybe we’ll talk.

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19 responses to “Who Protects Our Freedom”

  1. RightToWork

    “For the vast, vast majority of the population, I suspect the 70 hour workweek would come back into fashion.”

    I’ve heard progressives and unions scaremonger with this line countless times, but they can never find any support it when pressed. There is no law requiring a 40-hour workweek now, and the vast majority of the workforce is not unionized. So why isn’t everyone working 70-80/hour workweeks already? There is nothing preventing employers from doing so. It’s because market forces restrain them and most employers don’t think of their employees as simple dollar signs.

    “Pay rates would plummet, given the lack of minimum wage standards.”

    Then why is it that the vast majority of employers voluntarily pay their workers far above minimum wage now? There is no law requiring that they do so.  Why isn’t everyone who works in the private sector and is not in a union making minimum wage or close to it?

    And so on with the rest of this doomsday narrative. I don’t see any support for it, and it seems like it’s just trying to scare people into following your agenda. It’s the equivalent of telling people the death panels are coming with Obamacare.

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    1. RI Progressive

      “There is no law requiring a 40-hour workweek now, and the vast majority of the workforce is not unionized. So why isn’t everyone working 70-80/hour workweeks already? There is nothing preventing employers from doing so.”
      The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 mandates overtime for 40+ hours of work in a week.  I would guess that’s why (hourly) workers aren’t regularly working 70-80 hours a week.
      For salaried workers, my guess is that many of them are working over 40 hours a week.  At the very least everyone I know who is paid an annual salary is expected to work more than 40 hours a week.  It’s slow creep I suppose.

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      1. RightToWork

        But don’t you see? You’re just molding facts to fit your preexisting progressive narrative. When you say “I would guess this” and “I would guess that,” all that really means is that the facts don’t fit the story you want to tell about government restraining out-of-control greedy corporations who invariably abuse workers like machines. Paying somebody overtime is far cheaper than hiring an additional worker, so that certainly isn’t a deterrent. And there is nothing stopping them from salarying everybody at low pay and forcing them to work 70-80 hours. The simple fact is that this hasn’t happened, even with the short-term financial incentives pushing that way in a bad economy. So despite what you might “guess” about business behavior, the narrative you and Oswald are pushing is pure statist fantasy based on unionist fearmongering and nothing more. We don’t see all businesses paying minimum wage or close to it- we see a whole range of salaries in the private sector in reality, and most earn salaries far above that level for no reason other than that businesses choose to pay them to stay competitive and retain skill and talent. You can pretend markets have no effect on business behavior for interventionist convenience, but the plain evidence is that markets do provide restraining forces and allocate resources more efficiently than government can. Prices on labor are set just like how any other price is set – businesses pay attention to what other businesses are doing and try to one-up them.

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  2. jgardner

    Oswald, my statement that you used as an excuse to attack businesses had absolutely nothing to do with businesses. My statement had everything to do with the supremacy of the individual existing in spite of a suppression of those rights by governments. I never said businesses don’t ever violate someone’s rights. I never said the government should not exist or that gov’t doesn’t have a role in protecting those rights.
     
     
    “Believe it or not, much of the time, government is the only thing protecting liberty.”
     
    While that may be, it’s also the only thing that consistently violates our rights as well, even rights that, as you note, the gov’t exists to protect.

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    1. nev

      “While that may be, it’s also the only thing that consistently violates our rights as well…”
      What a terribly ideological thing to say. Individuals’ rights, at least in the US, are most commonly threatened not by government, but by other individuals or groups of individuals. Every criminal on the street is a threat to our precious property, after all.
      Corrupt governments exist in the world, but I doubt you can honestly say you’ve been the victim of one.

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      1. jgardner

        “Every criminal on the street is a threat to our precious property, after all.”
         
        Being a threat and actually carrying out a violation are 2 different matters, as I’m sure you’re aware.
         
         
        “Corrupt governments exist in the world, but I doubt you can honestly say you’ve been the victim of one.”
         
        When you note corrupt, I assume that to mean things like crony capitalism and such. Is that an accurate assumption? If so, there are certainly more ways than that to violate our rights. Each time I go to the airport and must be subjected to a TSA “pat down”, that’s arguably a violation of my rights. Every time someone is arrested or jailed for trying to put something into his body or do something that the gov’t doesn’t like, but that doesn’t violate anyone else’s rights, is having his rights violated. Those are easily identifiable examples.
         
        The PATRIOT Act is a law full of seemingly nothing but violations of individual’s rights, though I can’t say if I’ve had my rights violated because it’s all done in secret. We are arguably violating the rights of our children when we borrow money to fund consumption today that they’ll have to pay back tomorrow. Do we have the most corrupt gov’t on earth? I don’t think that’s the case, but I’d still say we’re more likely to have our rights violated by our government than by a fellow citizen.

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        1. nev

          “Being a threat and actually carrying out a violation are 2 different matters, as I’m sure you’re aware.”
          They wouldn’t carry the “criminal” label if they hadn’t already violated those rights.
          And since when did you gain the right to privacy? That’s arguably not included in life, liberty and property. Or are you forced to give up your libertarian dream and admit that the government’s obligation to liberty can include things such as privacy, healthcare, housing and unemployment assistance?

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          1. jgardner

            “They wouldn’t carry the “criminal” label if they hadn’t already violated those rights”
             
            So anyone who’s ever committed a crime, no matter the severity, will always and forever be a threat? I’m surprised you ever step out your home.
             
             
            “And since when did you gain the right to privacy? That’s arguably not included in life, liberty and property.”
             
            We’ve always had the right to privacy, unless of course you do not believe you have the right to keep your thoughts or actions to yourself. It could be argued that privacy is a fundamental component of life, liberty and property. In fact
             
            “government’s obligation to liberty can include [...] healthcare, housing and unemployment assistance”
             
            Those are are goods, not rights. In order for the government to provide you with the goods you listed, it must first take the resources to pay for them from someone else. You can call it taxation, social justice or whatever you’d like, but they aren’t rights.

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            1. nev

              No, your ideology requires you to classify them as merely goods, but for those of us who live in the real world, they are human rights – inalienable and irrevokable.
              I’m sure you’re familiar with (but not a fan of, no doubt) the United Nations? The United States is a signatory of the UN Convention on Human Rights, where all of these supposed “goods” can be found. But of course, when your dogma so conveniently provides all the answers, I’m sure the UN must sound very naive to you.
              And I’m certainly not afraid to leave my house, but the idea that the ~250 governments in the world can abuse human rights more often than the millions of criminals and associations can’t come from anything other than a warped lens.

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              1. RightToWork

                How can something that has to be produced by another human being be “irrevocable”? Are you going to chain doctors to the wall and torture them until they perform health care if they refuse? Your ideology makes no sense.

                You do realize that over 80% of the governments of the world are autocratic regimes?

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              2. jgardner

                “your ideology requires you to classify them as merely goods.”

                Nev, my “ideology” classifies them as goods because they are things which require humans to produce. Rights have no such limitation. I don’t have to pay anything for my right to free speech or the right to keep my thoughts to myself. In order to receive healthcare or housing however, it must first be traded for lest we introduce slavery into the discussion as an option, which would clearly violate one’s right to his life.
                 
                How do you avoid violating the spirit, if not the letter, of article 4 in guaranteeing one’s right to food noted in article 25 of the UDHR? And should a farmer refuse your demand to provide food without compensation, then what? Do you violate article 5 and chain them to a wall as RTW wonders? Perhaps you violate the spirit, if not the letter, of article 4 and force a different individual, or group of individuals, to hand over compensation he, or they, rightfully earned so that you can pay the farmer?
                 
                “the idea that the ~250 governments in the world can abuse human rights more often than the millions of criminals”
                 
                Tell that to the future taxpayers of this country who must shoulder the debt we are foisting upon them to pay for our current spending desires. We are stealing from them every single day, something the “millions of criminals” couldn’t possibly do to each of them nearly as frequently.

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                1. nev

                  Remember your own words, which sparked this article: a government’s failure or inability to provide these rights doesn’t invalidate them. Human rights exist on their own principles, and it’s a very slanted thing to say that they cannot be rights because they cost too much.

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                  1. jgardner

                    “a government’s failure or inability to provide these rights doesn’t invalidate them”
                     
                    But I said “Whether a gov’t exists to suppress those rights doesn’t invalidate them.” That’s different. Rights are not granted by government, they’re something you are born with — which is why they exist even in the absence of government.
                    The problem with the list of “rights” you refer to (food, housing, medical care) is that without the threat of government force, those rights don’t exist.
                     
                     

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  3. DogDiesel

    Pure bunk! JGardner beat me to it but I fail to see where that statement has anything to do with your commentary. I don’t even claim to be libertarian but understand and agree with the statement. That was a desperate attempt to disparage libertarianism with anti-corporate fear mongering. EPIC FAILURE!!!

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  4. DogDiesel

    In all that anti-corporate spew, you still failed to make the connection to the original statement. Inserting the token vilified Republican, in this case Karl Rove, into the argument is proof positive of fear mongering. Again, FAIL!

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