Thursday, January 04, 2007

George Will: The Working Class Arent Human

Sounds pretty rediculous eh? But I've read it twice and that clearly seems to be what George Will is saying, that low wage workers are not in fact people. In a bad article opposing the minimum wage, one of the worst such article I've read not for its position but because it isnt well written or well argued, George Will ended with the following:
But the minimum wage should be the same everywhere: $0. Labor is a commodity; governments make messes when they decree commodities' prices. Washington, which has its hands full delivering the mail and defending the shores, should let the market do well what Washington does poorly. But that is a good idea whose time will never come again.

Labor is a commodity? Now I know a lot of economists like to talk in this language, even a lot of liberal economists do it, but lets think about the assumption being made to make that statement. You don't hear Will or anyone else talking about entrepreneurs as a "commodity," in part because they arent a commodity just as labor isnt, but also because they understand that to treat a person as a commodity is to make them something non human, something that is merely bought and sold, not something to be engaged with, not something to concerned for the well being of. At best maybe the "commodity" argument contends that labor is like a dairy cow, something whose health and life need to be protected only because production stops without it.

Please Mr. Will, you wrote a shitty article to begin with, but please dont reduce your fellow human beings whose well being and general welfare need to be defended to a mere commodity. They are far more important to our country and to our economy than a mere cow. Our fellow human beings have value to us far beyond any capital good, or any good at all for that matter, please dont demean their existence by reducing them to such an unimportant social status, it just shows your readers that you're self concerned and antisocial, and I'm sure you dont want them knowing that.


Chuck Butcher said...

I'm a perfectly good leftie, but I'm also a construction contractor, I'm not a commodity, but what I do, labor, is. Like any commodity, labor is subject to supply and demand. I've railed aganst illegial immigration/illegal hiring on that basis, that a flood of labor depresses wages. Now minimum wage has not squat to do with what I pay, or make, but I do have to be cognizant of what makes my market tick. (and it's ticking badly)

What Will is ignoring is that his commodity approach is only applied to labor in the income scheme, the entire system is built to the advantage of capital and assets, not labor. Now we could go his way, but he might object to the unwashed mob in front of his house with torches and guns. He also would have you believe this is a great economy, demonstrating that he has no experience with the bottom half of the economic scale.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, per Kant's categorical imperative, laborers should be treated as ends in themselves, not just means to an end. But what they provide is still a commodity. In this crucial respect, Chuck agrees with George.

What management does is also a commodity. Entrepreneurs and other investors are not a commodity (though entrepreneurs typically also provide services in the capacity of managers and other roles) for the simple reason that they provide the commodity of capital, and they assume the risk/liability associated with their investment.


Chuck Butcher said...

What is true about labor is that it is the basis of all capital, nothing has value without labor added into it. Gold in the ground is valueless, etc. Is labor afforded its position in this respect? Absolutely not, that's why the system is called capitalism, sometimes labor can withhold its asset - strike - but generally it cannot afford to.

Anonymous said...


It seems that labor simply has its position in the manner you say, whether anybody accords it any respect or gives it any notice. It is what it is.

The system is called capitalism because the economy is driven by the private ownership of capital. It's not even a "system" in the sense of something designed and applied (such as a mercantile policy or centralized control of the means of production) but rather freedom for individuals to act in their own economic interest. The greatest amount of human design in capitalism comes in the form of regulation, which is to say limitation of freedom. (Some degree of which I believe is necessary, by the way.)

The system is no different than any other in that the poor are at a disadvantage vis a vis the rich. It's true that free laborers have less built-in economic security than serfs or slaves. If labor is all you've got (just like any other commodity), you have to find a buyer for it. However, private citizens are free to accumulate capital and invest it, in their own projects and/or in others' projects. Thus they can better their lot. Their opportunities to do so are vastly more limited under economic regimes where individuals are not free.

Private citizens are also free to form syndicates and guilds, as they have in free commercial districts for many centuries.


Jeffrey Richardson said...

I love your post, and your passion, brother. And we are not commodities.

Although I do take issue with your characterization of cows as commodities. They may be traded as commodities, just like a bushel of wheat, but each cow is, just like us, a living, breathing, feeling creature with a desire to live and raise her children in peace.

What George Will has done is to recast the working poor and middle classes as cows for his consumption, but all of us, just like the noble cow, deserve the right to run free, to have a decent life, and to have a bright and shining future for our children.