Why Owners and Workers?

Owner : worker

How long has it been this way? Always?

Why is our relationship to each other in regards to producing goods and services organized this way?

Is this hierarchy the root cause of inequality?

When did I become subservient to you? When did your needs become more important than mine? When did my children, my home, my well-being assume to be lesser-than than yours? Is this some extended form of patriarchy; the father in charge, and the sons (and daughters) accepting less or portions of the harvest, the land, the wealth?

When the first merchant-like person requested help from their neighbor, to make pots or plant grain or chop firewood, did that person not consider that both he and they were equals? Or did that person, upon that singular act: “Do this for me and I will reward you,” create the first class system?

And have we lived this way ever since?

Capitalism, the outgrowth from such a domination hierarchy, and its founder, Adam Smith, seem conflicted:

“Labour was the first price, the original purchase – money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labour, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.”

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

Above, from those two quotes, Adam Smith both acknowledges that labor is wealth and, from my mind, should be treated equally as wealth. But then assumes that the merchants, who must hire the laborers, do so not in recognition that labor is wealth, but in order to leverage that labor to their own interests.

The fallout from this relationship, today’s corporatism, has turned the worker in to a puny commodity, one which is denigrated and slighted, so much so that they lose all power in society. Only the owners, the capitalists shall be granted voice and power in this wealth based society.

From this we get the incomprehensible inequality we have today. The capitalists own thousands if not millions more wealth than the workers on whom they have depended, in a word, exploited.

Could we have built any other type of system — from the start? Could that first merchant-like person have not said: “Do this and I will reward you” but “We’ll do this together and the both of us shall be rewarded.”?

Could Adam Smith not have reinterpreted his beliefs such that:

“The price of labour shall be the price of ownership where all who struggle and persevere shall benefit from their toil.”

Or, “It is from the understanding that all who endeavor at a goal be it animal husbandry, brewing, or baking shall be rewarded with not only the fruits of their labour but ownership in that which their labour supports.”

Could these not have been the way we moved forward as an economically driven species?

Could we ever redirect our trajectory toward such an equality oriented system?

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2 responses to “Why Owners and Workers?

  • Anony Mole

    Jessie, Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Yes, Adam Smith’s philosophies, I too have found, gets pounded into square holes (or round ones) at every mention of capitalism.

    Your reference to power, lends well to the argument. It’s almost as if humanity didn’t quite evolve into more of a communal creature than we are. We’re rather half baked that way. Too much avarice and greed remains in our DNA.

    Either that or we haven’t learned as a society to single out and eliminate those who covet power overtly (or subversively).

    Maybe we needed another 100,000 years to tune our altruism gene.

  • Jessie

    In the Socialism 101 session I give for our local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, I try to boil some key concepts down to one line that’s easy to remember (as a keystone to build on later). One of them is this: it’s all about power. Some people seem to be more drawn to pursue power than others, who are more inclined to collaborate. But it does seem to me that we could have created something different from the start, and even more solidly clear that we can do something different going forward.

    If we can just get some of that power back. They will, as the saying goes, concede nothing without a fight.

    As for Adam Smith, he’s been manipulated almost as much as Karl Marx by ideologues of all stripes. I think he himself would argue that things could be other than our current ideology would have us believe! Check out this passage —

    In the “Theory of Moral Sentiments”, his second most famous book, Smith discusses the position of philosophers in society. He argues that it would be contradictory and unjust for them just to think about their self-interest. Instead philosophers needed to cultivate a sense of public duty in order to be any good at helping to solve the world’s most pressing problems. But butchers, brewers and bakers did not need such lofty aspirations—unlike philosophers, they could probably do their job well by acting selfishly. So according to Mr Fitzgibbons, when Smith mentions “their own interest”, he is arguing that “not all occupations are pursued with the same low motive in mind”. Smith certainly did not intend to suggest that self-interest was the only driving force of human behaviour.

    Source: http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2013/11/economic-history

    Anyway, excellent and thought provoking post. Looking forward to reading more!

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