Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Subjugation in the Modern Economy

What is subjugation?

The word subjugation comes from the same roots as the word subject.

When I hear the word subject, it makes me think of peasants in a fairytale kingdom.  Many fairytales describe a benevolent king and queen and a kingdom of loyal subjects.  Sometimes I suspect that fairytale stories may be propaganda created to promote medieval systems of government.  Fairy tales often present an idealized version of monarchy, where everyone is happy playing their specific role in the kingdom.  Most likely, these stories weren't actually created for propaganda purposes, they merely reflect the ideas people had about government at that time. The stories we tell reflect the way that we see the world.

Like so many other words, the words subjugation and propaganda have strong negative connotations.  These negative connotations come from, in part, the potential for abuse.  Propaganda is associated with corrupt political systems, including Nazi germany, where it was used to help citizens ignore the abuse and murder of millions of people.  Subjugation is associated with slavery, a condition which millions of people have experienced, where their basic freedoms and human dignity were denied them.

Not all propaganda is bad, and not all subjugation is slavery.  Propaganda is merely self promotion by political or governmental entities, subjugation is any enduring relationship where one person has authority and the other party is subservient.  Naziism and slavery are extreme examples of each.

As many fairy tales are eager to point out, subjugation does not always completely strip human dignity or remove all human rights.  Authoritative governments sometimes allow their subjects to retain a great degree of individual freedom and self-determination.  However, what may have been an ideal government hundreds of years ago is not necessarily excusable today.  No form of subjugation, no matter how mild, is acceptable.  Modern government needs to help protect and respect all human rights.  Not all potential freedoms are human rights, but rights include everything needed to preserve an individual's freedom of conscience, expression, and self-determination.   Some forms of subjugation may not rob people of all their rights, but subjugation always takes away at least one or two basic human rights.  

In the modern world, subjugation definitely exists.  This includes extreme and deplorable examples of subjugation.  There are still people living in slavery.  Practices such as human trafficking and sex trafficking still happen in the world we live in.  We should do what we can to become educated about these issues and be willing to go to extreme lengths to end these practices and apprehend those involved.

There are also less extreme examples of subjugation and abuse that need to change.  The most prevelant form of subjugation in the modern world is economic subjugation.  Our economic systems greatly benefit some people while others struggle to survive, sometimes unsuccessfully.  Contrary to what most people would suggest, I believe that the vast majority of people in economically advanced contries, especially the middle class, participate in practices that lead to the economic subjugation of others.

The super-rich may be guilty, but the medium rich are guilty as well.  This includes every middle class person in the first world.

Identifying Economic Subjugation

Before we can fix the conditions of economic subjugation, we must identify where and why subjugation exist.  More importantly, we must identify our role in the process and what we can do to change.

How can I tell if I am subjugating other people?  How can I tell if I am reducing the economic freedom of another person and forcing them to become subservient?

I have a test I would like to propose.

This test is not perfect, and if anyone has a better test, I would love to hear it.  This test has specific weaknesses, some of which I will explain.

The subjugation test: "Do you help produce basic necessities?"

In order to survive, there are a few basic necessities that every human being absolutely needs.  We cannot live without food and water.  Shelter is an important tool for survival because it protects us from the elements.  Shelter also allows us to create a protected area to ensure the safety of ourselves and our loved ones.  Clothing, like shelter, is important for protection from elements.

These are the basic necessities: water, food, shelter, clothing.

There are a lot of other important things, many of which may contribute to survival.  But these are absolute prerequisites.  If you hope to survive, these things are absolutely necessary.  While other goods and services may be useful, they are not required in all survival situations.

The subjugation test is a simple question: Are you involved in the production of basic human necessities?  Everyone needs these items to survive, everyone consumes these items.  If you aren't doing anything to help produce these survival items, then someone else is doing that for you.  Are the people who produce your basic necessities getting fair value in return?

At this point, you may want to make arguments about trade and division of labor.  These are great tools, and I think we should use them.  However, I want to suggest that unless you can account for the origins of your basic necessities, there is a good chance that people are being taken advantage of somewhere along the way.

Why this assumption? Why do I just assume that some people aren't getting fair value in return?

My assumption is based on human nature.  Human nature is a pretty consistent thing.  When someone is struggling to survive, the first thing that they care about is basic human necessities.  They won't care about anything else until their basic necessities are met.  Specifically, that person doesn't care about whatever goods or services you are providing to the economy.  But their work goes to serve your basic necessities.  

Somehow the value isn't coming full cirlce.  They are working for you, but you are not working for them.  That is the definition of subjugation.

Until every able-bodied person has reasonable opportunities to participate in the production of basic necessities, there is enormous potential for economic abuse.  How does this abuse occur?  Anyone in an economically secure position will use the necessities of others as leverage to get a better deal on the things they want.  So long as some people are struggling to secure basic necessities, everyone else in an economy, not just those with great wealth or power, will take advantage of the disadvantaged people.  When people are disadvantaged, everyone else in a marketplace will unconsciously take advantage of them.

When people are disadvantaged, everyone else in a marketplace will unconsciously take advantage of them.

Ideally, the best way for disadvantaged people to secure basic necessities is by participating in the production of basic necessities.  Access to the production of necessities is just as important as access the necessities themselves.  This is the only way to scale the jobs available to match the needs of the economically disadvantaged.

Access to the production of necessities is just as important as access the necessities themselves.

Should the economically disadvantaged be working in call centers?  Should they be washing dishes in restraunts?  Should they be cleaning corporate office buildings?  Should they be landscaping corporate properties and cleaning hotel rooms?

If they want to do this kind of work, they should be able to do these things.  But the one thing that all these jobs have in common is that they are providing goods and services that they themselves can't afford.  This sounds like economic subjugation to me.  At this point it's not about specialization or comparitive advantage.  At this point some people are the servants and some people are the masters.

In order to remedy this, the economically disadvantaged should always have numerous options to be more directly involved in the production of their own basic necessities.  These opportunities should be available to everyone, rich or poor, to help create the basic necessities that they rely on to survive from day to day.

These opportunities should be available naturally without relying on the creation of specific governmental programs to create these opportunities by mandate.  However, the government could play an important role by spearheading research and experiments that would shed light on how economics and government affect the availability of these kinds of opportunities.

Weaknesses of this test

As I mentioned before, this test is not perfect.  Specifically, it can be hard to distinguish between economic cooperation, such as trade and specialization of labor, and economic subjugation. 

Economic cooperation is where people take on different roles based on what they are good at and what they prefer to do.  Economic subjugation is where some people control or manipulate the choices that are available to other people for the latter's benefit.

What makes it tricky is that economic cooperation and economic subjugation often look the same on the surface.  What people do for a living doesn't automatically tell us whether they are being subjugated or not.

But the point I want to make is that the availability of different kinds of work can be a strong indicator of subjugation when the markets are being manipulated.

Specifically, jobs producing useful and essential things should be readily available.  Furthermore, the amount people earn doing these jobs should be roughly proportional to the amount they create.

There is a important tradeoff invovled that we need to be aware of.  This is the tradeoff involving infrastructure, productivity, and profit shares.  More infrastructure (factories, supply chains, expensive tools and machines) helps make people more productive, but at the same time, when that infrastructure is owned by someone else, the individual worker gets a smaller share of the profits.

For example, when you work in a factory making shoes, you make a lot more shoes than you would working alone, but when you work alone you get 100% of the profit.

The optimal scenario probably involves something in the middle.  Individuals should have the flexibility to determine whether they work for a big corporation, whether they work for themselves, or whether they do something in between.  They should also have enough flexibility to work on things that they feel are important, that provide real benefit for themselves or others.

When this is not the case, something is definitely wrong.

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