Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

State of the Union

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Well, looking over the commments, I think I’m with Cheryl–I think the issue isn’t self interest, but disgust and disillusionment at the free riding.

And not just the freeriding of intellectuals who want to spend all their time talking theory instead of doing anything specific.  At New Harmony, especially, there was a distinct–and distinctly large–free riding population on the other end, people who signed up for the “cooperative community” because they believed Owen’s promise that in such a community they would have to do no more than two or three hours of work a day, and none on Sunday.

This seems to be a common fantasy of people who found such communities. 

My guess is that one of the things religion did for these groups was to cut down on the free riding by redefining work as a form of prayer. 

The religious communities were also much less likely than the nonreligious ones to hold out the promise of endless leisure as a goal of their societies.

But it’s important to remember, as well, that New Harmony was not Fruitlands.  It was not founded by people who did not understand what work had to be done to make a society function, or who constructed their plans out of theory untainted with practice.

Owen had built and run very successful companies.  His fault was not in a failure to understand what practicality required, but in seriously misjudging human nature, both in its foundations and in its malleability.

It ought by now to be understood that no amount of social engineering–no matter how sweepingly total or uncompromisingly brutal or tyrannically therapeutic–will change human nature in any significant way.

Owen simply refused to believe it, and a lot of people have come down the pike since who continute to refuse to believe it. 

At the moment, I’m up to Julius Nyerere refusing to believe it, and I think in a page or two I’m going to arrive at yet another great big mess.

 As for unions, a couple of things.

First is that the one union I have any personal knowledge of  is one that not only refuses me the right to refuse to belong to it, but then actively works AGAINST my interests and the interests of the majority of the people it gets its dues from.

What the union actually does is to protect the rights of full time faculty–a very small minority of our teaching staff–against the rights of part timers.  It limits the number of courses a part timer can teach, making it impossible to make a living as an adjunct unless you sign up at three or four different area colleges and spend truly enormous amounts of time and money commuting between them.

It also enforces a policy where any full timer who wants to make a little extra money can bump a part timer from a course section at will.  That means that even if a part timer gets assigned the two courses the union will allow her to teach, she can find herself deprived of either or both of them as late as the date classes begin for the term, with no notice and no compensation.

The union brass tells me, earnestly, that doing these things protects me from being “exploited” by the university. 

Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Maybe–just maybe–the reason people resist unionization sometimes is because they’re aware of situations like this, and not because they’re “sheep.”

As for “income inequality,” I don’t see anything wrong with it, per se.  It doesn’t bother me at all that Bill Gates makes exponentially more money than I do.  I don’t think that’s “immoral.”  I don’t think it should be eradicated.  I don’t think it’s anything but the way the world works.

It DOES bother me that the people at the head of Lehmann Brothers, etc, still have THEIR money, but that’s because my government took my tax dollars to cushion them from the consequences of their failures.

And it DOES bother me that businesses are allowed to do things that should be clearly unConstitutional–like requiring me not to smoke or drink at home, and not just on the job. 

The answer to that is to no longer allow the government to do EITHER or those things–but good luck with the second one, because the government wants to regulate your home life, too.

Other than that, the real question about income differentials is this–what kind of living would the workers make if the company did not exist? 

If they’re living better than they would have, then I think their decision to go with what they’re offered isn’t evidence of sheepdom, but evidence of a fair amount of calculation.


Written by janeh

November 5th, 2012 at 9:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'State of the Union'

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  1. What you need is to get together with other adjuncts – are you union members? – and vote in a new slate.

    If it’s one of those situations in which a union representing full-time workers makes rules affecting non-union part-time employees, you need a union of your own.

    Mind you, I got benefits and working conditions most employers wouldn’t offer contract workers when I was working short-term contracts, all thanks to the union. At the other extreme, a different union I once belonged to unilaterally changed their strike policy affecting a group I was a memeber of, and aside from exchanging some rather heated remarks with the leadership, there wasn’t much I could do about it.


    5 Nov 12 at 5:58 pm

  2. I’m not sure why we keep going over Robert Owen’s qualifications. Surely it’s more to the point that brick hot-air baloons don’t fly than that THIS one was designed by an aeronautical engineer.

    Unions. Yes, the deep dark secret of unions is that they’re perfectly willing to work for insiders, even at the expense of other union members. Sadly, this is also true of joint stock companies, which work for senior management and major shareholders at the expense of the small shareholders, representative democracy, which works for bureaucrats and activists at the expense of voters and taxpayers, and so on through student government and churches. All pretty much prove that mandatory membership, monopolies and excess power make inherently bad situations worse.

    I’ll grant Jand and Cheryl disgust at freeloaders. But if there is no religious principle–if the point of the whole thing is greater prosperity and more leisure time–what moral argument can be made against the person who can have more stuff and work fewer hours by leaving the commune?

    About those shorter hours. Don’t underestimate the simple selling point. How many people would have joined if the pitch was “you’ll work six 12-hour days, you’ll never get rich, and you won’t even be able to feel morally superior to the rich?” But assume for the sake of argument that at least one leftist describing the prosperity of the workers’ paradise was sincere. I would suggest that it’s a logical necessity, because the entire premise is that the rich are thieves on a grand scale. “Comes the Revolution, the rich will be liquidated and we will all receive five percent more than our present salaries” is not a slogan which will get the Winter Palace stormed anytime soon, nor should it.

    But if there is no religious principle demanding economic equality, and the high-risk revolution can offer a minimal economic return, what’s the point of the whole thing? It undercuts every program further left than the New Deal. So reality CAN’T be what it appears to be, and human nature will be malleable next time. Seal the borders, wipe out traces of pre-Revolutionary culture and cut off all feedback from the peasantry who might object. The Cadre knows what’s best for them!

    Um. We ARE doing this in the name of democracy and equality, are we not?


    5 Nov 12 at 6:12 pm

  3. I’m going to ask a somewhat naive question. We all know the saying about “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Once Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot achieved power, why did they try to impose communism? Why not just sit back and enjoy the money the way South American and Mideastern dictators do?


    5 Nov 12 at 7:33 pm

  4. jd, I think your analysis is a bit off. Mostly, Latin America runs toward kleptocracies, as do portions of Africa and the Middle East. But an absolute state when you get one, whether Libya, Paraguay, Uganda or Iraq, is not far off the Chinese Russian and Cambodian models. As for why some people prefer power to money, you’d have to ask Marat–or Savanarola.

    But it’s not an either/or. If you read some of the material coming out on Stalin’s or Mao’s lifestyle and courtiers, I think you’ll find it bears a sufficient resemblance to African and mideastern despots. I might note that Hitler had money squirreled away in foreign bank accounts, very much in the petty tyrant mode. For all I know the others did too. A lot of records are still sealed. (Why Stalin and not Lenin, by the way?)

    There’s another element worth keeping in mind: when the Big Man has a hare-brained idea, he’s already eliminated the free press, and the courtiers aren’t likely to tell him it’s a disaster. So Mao can pursue the Great Leap Forward and Stalin the First Five Year Plan with much teh enthusasm of Louis XIV “converting” Hougunots.

    Naturally, OUR leadership isn’t surrounded by yes-men telling them their disastrous policies are well-conceived and working splendidly. But it does seem to happen that way in other people’s countries.


    5 Nov 12 at 8:25 pm

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