Wes Wilson (weswilson) wrote in talk_politics,
Wes Wilson

Coercion and "Free" Enterprise

I have always been troubled by the preposterous notion that money cannot be used coercively. Coercion is the threat or application of force to influence the choices of an individual.

If someone points a gun at me and says, "I'll kill you if you don't drink my water", everyone would agree that is coercion. And yet, if I were to magically buy up all the water companies and say, "You will die if you don't drink my water", that is suddenly not coercion.

I continue to assert that money can be used to coerce by limiting choice. When my income is low, I will put higher value on my pennies, making me more likely to bargain shop with companies I'd prefer not to frequent. When companies merge beyond my field of vision, I can end up spending money that goes into the pockets of people that I have no desire to support. Speculation can drive up prices in my housing market, limiting my choice of residence beyond natural scarcity. Economies of scale can prevent me from entering markets with a superior product due to my inability to counter undercutting and overcome market entry fees. A malevolent person could, with sufficient bankroll, remove my ability to participate in any market by eliminating all supply or adjusting the market equilibrium beyond my means.

Julian Assange pointed out in an old blog that corporate nation-states would be totalitarian regimes...
It has been frequently noted that many corporations exceed nation states in GDP. It has been less frequently noted that some also exceed them in population (employees).
But it is odd that the comparison hasn’t been taken further. Since so many live in the state of the corporation, let us take the comparison seriously and ask the following question. What kind of states are giant corporations?
In comparing countries, after the easy observations of population size and GDP, it is usual to compare the system of government, the major power groupings and the civic freedoms available to their populations.

The corporation as a nation state has the following properties:
  • Suffrage (the right to vote) does not exist except for land holders (“share holders”) and even there voting power is in proportion to land ownership.
  • All executive power flows from a central committee. Female representation is almost unknown.
  • There is no division of powers. There is no fourth estate. There are no juries and innocence is not presumed.
  • Failure to submit to any order can result in instant exile.
  • There is no freedom of speech. There is no right of association. Love is forbidden without state approval.
  • The economy is centrally planned.
  • There is pervasive surveillance of movement and electronic communication.
  • The society is heavily regulated and this regulation is enforced, to the degree many employees are told when, where and how many times a day they can goto the toilet.
  • There is almost no transparency and something like the FOIA is unimaginable.
  • The state has one party. Opposition groups (unions) are banned, surveilled or marginalized whenever and wherever possible.

These large multinationals, despite having a GDP and population comparable to Belgium, Denmark or New Zealand have nothing like their quality of civic freedoms. Internally they mirror the most pernicious aspects of the 1960s Soviet. This even more striking when the civilising laws of region the company operates in are weak (e.g West Pupua or South Korea). There one can see the behavior of these new states clearly, unobscured by their surroundings.
If small business and non-profits are eliminated from the US, then what’s left? Some kind of federation of Communist states.

A United Soviet of America.

In fact, the American workplace assumes an unwritten contract with heavy costs for not submitting. If one considers that hunting for a job is a great investment of time and effort, then having it stripped of you is remarkably akin to getting kicked out of a rental property once you have moved all your stuff in. And yet with rental properties, there are laws for letting people go. In much of America, we work "at will" and have no recompense for undue firing unless it is done for race or gender. This threat of dismissal is omnipresent over an unwritten contract of duties, where any and everything could be considered a job task, and the threat of termination can even coerce you into not following workplace law. Significant numbers of employees have not reported workplace injuries for fear of termination... despite legal protections to those who do.

And is there freedom to enter or exit the workforce? What freedom do I have for securing the necessities of my existence without submitting to this deliberately incomplete contract? How can it be said there is no coercion when I am unable to exit from this situation without loss of life? Mustn't there be a reasonable alternative to selling one's labor to truly declare that my offer to work is not coerced?

The fallacious nature of market fundamentalism's dismissal of coercion by money is more fully explored in this piece confronting Bleeding Heart Libertarians. In it, the authors postulate that unions and workplace laws can actually remove more coercion than they inflict.

Failing to recognize how limiting choice coerces individuals presents significant problems in our evolution as a nation. Unless we can provide freedom from exploitation, we are not offering freedom, but slavery. It has been argued that capitalism differs from slavery in that we constantly choose to participate in our capitalistic endeavors, but as our income grows increasingly disparate, choices become more limited for more individuals. We find ourselves with fewer opportunities to choose our employee contract lest we lose access to necessities of existence. And without those, selling our labor is not a choice.
Tags: capitalism, labor
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