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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