Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Capitalism is just a pretext, pt. II (Updated)

UPDATE: I confront the author with this point, and she responds by editing her article. (See below)

The American Right wants the poor to suffer. Usually this isn’t a conclusion that we’re even allowed to consider, because we’re supposed to finish the debate over Capitalism first. Once everyone agrees that Capitalism exploits and destroys the poor, then we can ask the Right, “Why do you keep supporting it?” But until then, the mere possibility that some Americans look down on the poor, and think that they deserve their lot, is somehow out of bounds.

But sometimes the mask slips, and the enemies of the poor are no longer able to hide their animus behind the fa├žade of good-faith Capitalist conviction. This always happens, for example, whenever the media decides to run the canned news story about some employer improving wages and benefits for low-income employees. Recently in the BPE I noted one standard right-wing reaction: to praise the business savvy of the employer, regardless of what Capitalism actually says. Now consider the opposite reaction: that the employer is making a catastrophic mistake. Right-wing Twitter personality Kimberly Morin, on news that some Seattle employer is giving his employees raises:

Now, this may sound fabulous and the employees are probably happier than pigs in poo but the reality is that this will ultimately hurt the employees and the company. Essentially Price is giving everyone a ‘trophy’ even if they don’t deserve it.

This is nonsense for all kinds of obvious reasons – but the telling thing is that Kimberly’s analysis is at odds with Capitalism, too. Under Capitalism, what an employee “deserves” is precisely what he can earn for his labor on the market. There is no other way of talking about it. That is, after all, precisely the objection the Right will hide behind if the Left points out that low income workers deserve more than they are making. Even Kimberly will fall back on this in the end if you press her too hard with arguments for a minimum wage.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that Price is paying more than the labor market actually demands – but that central question is completely out of view in Kimberly’s article. There is no accounting for regional wage variations or labor market trends that could simply place his company ahead of the curve on raises; just the unargued assumption that of course the poor don’t deserve to make that much money.

And it's that assumption that makes debates with the right about Capitalism entirely superfluous. It’s not the conclusion of a sincere and responsible attempt to grapple with economic fact – it’s the premise that they start with.


After writing this, I confronted Kimberly about it on Twitter -- challenging in particular the claim that the "company will ultimately go out of business", which of course Capitalism does not at all predict. Here's how that turned out:

The reader can decide whether or not to buy this; here, I'll simply note that the predictions she left in the article are no more compelling than the one she deleted. In any case, since she doesn't mention the redaction in her article I'll put the original text here for the record, quoted on (perhaps they'll delete it too).