Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 3, 2018

Recommended Reading

Filed under: economics — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

An excerpt from “Capitalism vs. Freedom: the Toll Road to Serfdom“:

Labor’s Loves Lost

Having reviewed the strong concentration of capital ownership, both in household fortunes as well as market consolidation, what about labor? The Right’s take on the freedom of the labor market is that it leaves us free to choose among multiple uses for our labor, protecting you from power plays by a tyrannical boss, as when Milton Friedman wrote:

The most reliable and effective protection for most workers is provided by the existence of many employers…The employers who protect a worker are those who would like to hire him. Their demand for his services makes it in the self-interest of his own employer to pay him the full value of his work. If his own employer doesn’t, someone else may be ready to do so. Competition for his services—that is the worker’s real protection.

The first serious problem with these rosy reviews of the market is that after the previous section, it must be admitted that the “many employers” the Friedmans are expecting may never arrive to the job fair. And they do quietly concede that “Two classes or workers are not protected by anyone: workers who have only one possible employer, and workers who have no possible employer,” which makes consolidation and outsourcing very relevant for freedom.

The second great problem is that, fundamentally, people are in fact not commodities. A seller of non-perishable goods can store them until market conditions are favorable. This patience is unavailable for owners of mere labor power, who stubbornly require food and water at regular intervals. The kid can’t skip eating this quarter and eat more next quarter instead. Treating labor as an asset priced by supply and demand, like toasters or toothbrushes, is a gross insult to the human spirit and indeed, is responsible for some of the gravest crimes committed against humanity in our history.

A further problem is that this traditional claim that the labor market is “free” is based on another assumption, that if you don’t find an employer you want to work for, you can just produce goods on your own. Friedman: “Since the household always has the alternative of producing directly for itself, it need not enter into any exchange unless it benefits from it. Hence, no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit from it.” This would indeed grant a good deal of freedom to the man on the street, but “producing for itself” implies access to productive resources, including what we call “capital,” which as we’ve seen is so highly concentrated that a very large part of global society has essentially none. This means that since we have no “positive freedom” to use or decide on how to use the capital stock, the typical working person is also left with diminished “negative freedom,” since employers who own the concentrated capital have dramatic power over employees in the market.

Order book here


  1. I haven’t seen this book but I take it that he gives due credit to the Canadian political philosopher C. B. Macpherson, who advanced this critique of Friedman in his essay, “Elegant Tombstones: A Note on Friedman’s Freedom.” back in 1968, and which was republished in his book, Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval. Clarendon: Oxford, 1973

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — July 3, 2018 @ 7:44 pm

  2. Very few workers benefit very much from competition for services. Those who do–the classic example used to be computer programmers, but their future ain’t what it used to be–usually get a quick glide around the frying pan until the ice-cube melts and then they fry. Even while in demand, such people usually don’t really understand the forces at work on them.

    How many Java programmers wound up as cab drivers until Uber and Lyft fucked the cabbies to death?

    Why people listen to this horseshit is beyond me. I can’t say what I’d like to do to Friedman and the rest of that subhuman scum.

    But I’m seventy years old and a spent force who never accomplished anything and is now beyond doing anything good. What a joke. I hope there are some young people out there who get this.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 3, 2018 @ 9:23 pm


    Comment by americathenandnowblog — July 3, 2018 @ 9:25 pm

  4. Reblogged this on Sigrid's Blog * America Then and Now and commented:

    Comment by americathenandnowblog — July 3, 2018 @ 9:25 pm

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