From Kevin Drum, it's good when progressives make it clear to everyone what they want: Control!
[emphasis added] It's just that, left to their own devices, both humans and corporations
tend to act solely in their own self-interest. That's why we have laws
to control human behavior, and it's why we need laws and regulations to
control corporate behavior. I prefer a society in which people don't
gun each other down in the streets, and I also prefer a society in
which middle class workers prosper when the economy grows. I support
laws that encourage both.
Woah! Can't let all those damn individuals do whatever they please of
their own voluntary self-interest. Don't they know they are supposed
to do what we intellectuals think best for them? I want to repeat
That's why we have laws
to control human behavior
Actually, in governments with a strong grounding in individual rights,
we have laws to prevent people from acting using force or fraud on
other individuals. So yes, we do have laws to stop people from
shooting each other, but these laws are philosophically a long step away from
laws that tell people what wage they can and cannot legally accept. Preventing someone from using force against another is waaaaaaay different than using government force to prevent one or more individuals from acting voluntarily in their own self-interest. The whole point of government in a free society is to prevent people
from trying to control each other by force, not, as Drum wants, for the
government to be the very agent of this control and coersion.
People who root for more government control need to learn their lesson. Both parties tend to set up mechanisms of control as if their own guys are going to run this machinery forever, only to freak out when the opposition party takes over and uses this machinery of control for its own purposes. Thus Democrats lament that the machinery they built to control the drug market gets taken over by Republicans to ban the morning after pill, and that the public education system Democrats so love is co-opted by ID curriculum. As I wrote here:
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over. No, it wasn't. It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.
Drum makes these statements in the context of arguing that moderate Democrats should be irate about Wal-Mart and should be seeking to have the government sit on Wal-Mart in some way:
And one of the things that's changed is that Wal-Mart has gotten a lot
bigger, unions have continued shrinking, working class wages have
stagnated, and corporate power has grown tremendously. It's perfectly
rational for even moderate, pro-business Dems to look at the record of
the past couple of decades and conclude that things have gotten pretty
far out of whack and that Wal-Mart is a good symbol of this imbalance
One problem with this meme beyond the others I have pointed out in the past is that Wal-Mart is generally not supplanting (with one exception) unionized retailers. In fact, the implication that Wal-Mart is somehow setting back unionization is actually a complete reversal of how Wal-Mart used to be hammered by critics. Traditionally, Wal-Mart has been blamed for replacing small stores and family businesses which certainly aren't unionized, usually don't have health plans, and often pay lower wage scales than Wal-Mart does. Now they are trying to reverse history, and claim instead that Wal-Mart has somehow been supplanting high-paid union jobs. The only place where this could be argued to occur is in the supermarket business, where strong unions have dominated. But these old-line unionized supermarkets were falling to competition from other supermarkets even before Wal-Mart came along. And as to all those Chinese imports, well, I would LOVE to see a liberal try to twist themselves into a pretzel to make a progressive argument for why an impoverished person in China counts for less than a middle class person in the US.
The only real change in employee's fortunes is that employees who work for Wal-Mart are now more visible than they were when they worked for thousands of tiny local retailers, but are they really worse off and more powerless, or just a better target for populist rhetoric? In fact, even if pay and benefits are the same as in a small store (and I think Wal-marts are probably better), Wal-Mart also offers opportunities for advancement and training far, far beyond the ma and pa store.
By the way, you know its election time when you hear this:
The American economy has changed for the worse over the past couple of decades if you're part of the working or middle class
Ahh, it reminds me of those heady days when Clinton was able to portray a modestly growing economy under Bush 1 the "worst economy since the great Depression." Election rule to remember: Republicans try to get elected by running down the morality of Americans, Democrats do so by running down their economic success.
Postscript: I will admit there is one group who sometimes must accept wages that are not the result of pure voluntary agreement with an employer: Illegal immigrants. Those who read this blog a lot will know I am very pro-immigration, and would like to see full, open immigration and there be no such thing as an "illegal" immigrant, except in narrow cases of convicted criminals, etc. Illegal immigrants in many ways have the same problem as prostitutes, in that they have only limited legal redress when they are victims of force or fraud in their work. Making currently illegal immigrants legal would do more to help disenfranchised workers than any slate of goofy government legislation to try to reinvigorate unions.
Update: My past response to charges of widening income distribution was: So what? Also alot more links here.