Posts Tagged ‘dictatorship’

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Special mention

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It’s about time someone pointed out the obvious: “Bosses are dictators, and workers are their subjects.”

We generally don’t talk that way, of course. However, as Elizabeth Anderson [ht: ja] explains, contemporary workplaces are like private governments, in which employers have dictatorial powers over their workers—and workers have almost no say in how they are governed.

Like Louis XIV’s government, the typical American workplace is kept private from those it governs. Managers often conceal decisions of vital interest to their workers. Often, they don’t even give advance notice of firm closures and layoffs. They are free to sacrifice workers’ dignity in dominating and humiliating their subordinates. Most employer harassment of workers is perfectly legal, as long as bosses mete it out on an equal-opportunity basis. (Walmart and Amazon managers are notorious for berating and belittling their workers.) And workers have virtually no power to hold their bosses accountable for such abuses: They can’t fire their bosses, and can’t sue them for mistreatment except in a very narrow range of cases, mostly having to do with discrimination.

Dictatorship in the workplace—after workers are forced to freely sell their ability to work in the labor market—seems obvious to me and many other heterodox economists. But it’s certainly not obvious to mainstream economists, who like their classical predecessors continue to celebrate the freedom and mutual benefit of wage contracts and the efficiency of firms that are ruled by the representatives of the property owners.*

What is even more interesting, at least to me, is the way Anderson mentions the issue of time and then seems to let it slide.

Here’s how she begins her essay:

Consider some facts about how American employers control their workers. Amazon prohibits employees from exchanging casual remarks while on duty, calling this “time theft.” Apple inspects the personal belongings of its retail workers, some of whom lose up to a half-hour of unpaid time every day as they wait in line to be searched. Tyson prevents its poultry workers from using the bathroom. Some have been forced to urinate on themselves while their supervisors mock them.

But then Anderson, after mentioning “time theft,” moves on to the various ways employers exercise dictatorial control over their workers and forgets about time. But isn’t time what the employer-worker relationship is all about—the reason that employers act like dictators and workers are forced to surrender almost all their rights while they are working?

What is mostly absent from Anderson’s analysis is time, especially the distinction between necessary labor-time and surplus labor-time. During part of the workday, employees—whether at Walmart, GM, or Google—work for themselves, and thus receive a wage equal to the value of their ability to work. But they continue working and during those extra hours they aren’t working for themselves, but for their employers. That’s time that’s stolen from the workers, which forms the basis of their employers’ profits.

So, the real “time theft” is not what workers do to their employers, exactly the opposite, what employers do to their workers—when, after necessary labor-time is completed, workers are forced to have the freedom to engage in surplus labor-time.

Thus, when Amazon workers exchange casual remarks while on duty, they’re cutting into the surplus labor-time due to their employers. The half-hour Apple workers wait in line to be searched, for which they are not paid, is a way of making sure that particular activity doesn’t cut into the surplus-time due to their employers. By the same token, when Tyson prevents its’ poultry workers from using the bathroom, who are then forced to urinate on themselves, less time is being spent engaged working for themselves and more for their employers.

In other words, under conditions of workplace dictatorship, time is stolen from workers to  benefit their employers.

Furthermore, because employers, and not workers, are the ones who appropriate the benefits of surplus labor-time, it puts workers in the position of continuing to be forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work and to submit to the dictates of their employers.

Thus, “time theft” is both a condition and consequence of the private dictatorship of employers in the workplace.

A whole book could in fact be written about this idea of “time theft,” inside and outside the workplace.

For example, inside the workplace, new technologies have the effect both of allowing time to slip out of employers’ grasp—as, for example, when workers appear to be working at their desks but, in fact, are surfing the internet or catching up with friends and family members on Facebook—and allowing employers to tighten their grip—especially when it permits control over the pace of work and new forms of surveillance. Technology seems to cut both ways when it comes to “time theft” in the workplace.

But “time theft” is also important outside the workplace. Consider, for example, the standardization of time—which robs many of us of local traditions of time—as well as the fact that there is a large and growing gap in life expectancy between those at the top and bottom of the economic scale—which means time is being stolen from the poor and distributed to the rich.

I could go on. The important point is “time theft” is an ongoing problem of contemporary capitalism, both within the dictatorship of the workplace and in the seeming democracy of our lives outside of work.

It’s time someone wrote that book.

 

*In fact, Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmstrom were awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economics for “proving” that capitalist firms (and not, e.g., worker-owned enterprises) represent the most efficient way to organize production.

 

Lest we think the current fascination with and support for benevolent dictatorship are a new phenomenon (or, for that matter, that the Second Great Depression never occurred or its effects safely confined and superseded by the current economic recovery), Thomas Doherty [ht: ja] reminds us of the “dictator craze” of the early 1930s.

The “hankering for supermen” was represented by a series of films on the worlds of business and politics, including The Power and the Glory, Employees’ EntranceGabriel Over the White House, and, finally, Mussolini Speaks.

According to Greg Grandin [ht: sb],

“I didn’t know absolutely nothing.” That double negative is from Sergio de Castro, talking about the killing, disappearances, and torture that took place when he served as Chile’s economic and finance minister during the Pinochet regime’s most brutal period. It’s from a great documentary that premiered this week in Chile, Chicago Boys, made by Carola Fuentes, a journalist, and Rafael Valdeavellano, a filmmaker.

Less than a month later, a former conscript in the Chilean army, Guillermo Reyes Rammsy, was charged with murder after confessing on a live radio phone-in to participating in the deaths of eighteen opponents of the military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The extraordinary confession began on Wednesday afternoon when a man called in to Chile’s most famous talk show “Chacotero Sentimental” (Loving Betrayal) and told host Roberto Artiagoitía that he was considering suicide.

After briefly describing a frustrated romance, the caller went on to describe his involvement in a string of human rights crimes. He said that, as a conscript, he had participated in 18 executions, following Pinochet’s military coup against the government of president Salvador Allende.

“The first time [I killed someone] I cried but the lieutenant was saying: ‘Good soldier, good soldier, brave soldier.’ Then ‘Pow. pow,’ again,” he said. “The second time I liked it. I enjoyed it.”

Over the next 20 minutes, the caller described a string of human rights abuses that he had witnessed during his time in the army. “I participated in 18 executions … We shot them in the head and then blew up the bodies with dynamite, there was nothing left, not even their shadow,” he said.

Reyes’s arrest “was cheered by human rights group who have long fought for a better understanding of how the Chilean army killed then destroyed the bodies of the victims.”

One can only hope the confessions in the Chicago Boys will help bring the other—the free-market criminals—to justice.

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The Wall Street Journal, it seems, can’t get enough of Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

Just last week, the editorial board published a statement in which they argued Egyptians would be fortunate if their newly installed military government behaved like Pinochet’s.

As it turns out, they expressed their admiration for Pinochet in an earlier opinion piece, published in 2010 [ht: mfa] arguing that Chile had survived its earthquake better than Haiti had because of the years of Pinochet dictatorship:

One reason is luck, as the quake hit offshore and away from populated areas, save for the city of Concepción. But even in that city of one million, the death toll might have been worse. That it wasn’t is due in part to Chile’s stricter building codes, which have been developed over long experience with quakes along the Eastern Pacific fault line. Chileans have prepared well for the big one.

But such preparation is also the luxury of a prosperous country, in contrast to destitute and ill-governed Haiti. Chile has benefited enormously in recent decades from the free-market reforms it passed in the 1970s under dictator Augusto Pinochet. While Chileans still disagree about Pinochet’s political actions, they have not repealed most of that era’s economic opening to the world. In the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, compiled by the Heritage Foundation and this newspaper, Chile is the world’s 10th freest economy. Haiti ranks 141st.

There is, of course, no mention of the brutality of the dictatorship itself—or, for that matter, of the fact that Chile currently has one of the most unequal distributions of income in all of Latin America, which is a legacy of the way the economy was restructured (with the help of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys) under Pinochet. As for Haiti, the fact is the country was unprepared precisely because of the legacy of a pair of U.S.-backed dictators and of the successful implementation of “free-market” reforms.

But facts certainly won’t stand in the way of the Wall Street Journal‘s sympathy for the dictator Pinochet.

Would Romney steer us toward a capitalist dictatorship?

Juan Cole thinks so.

The mainstream media and even Democrats have been slow to call Mitt Romney’s deliberate falsehoods “lies.” But after just calling them what they are, it is also important to analyze their meaning. Lies on Romney’s scale do not simply show contempt for the intelligence of American voters. They show contempt for democracy, and display some of the features of capitalist dictatorship of a sort that was common in the late twentieth century. Mohammad Reza Pahlevi in Iran, Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay, Park Hung Chee in South Korea and P.W. Boetha in South Africa are examples of this form of government. . .

Capitalist dictatorship has many similarities to fascism, but differs from it in lionizing not the workers of the nation but the entrepreneurs of the nation. Fascism seeks a mixed economy, whereas capitalist dictatorship privileges the corporate sector and attacks the non-military public sector. But both try to subsume class conflict under a hyper-nationalism. Both glorify military strength and pick fights with other countries to whip up nationalist fervor. Both disallow unions, collective bargaining and workers’ strikes. Both typically privilege one ethnic group within the nation, marking it as superior and setting up a racial hierarchy.

One big difference between capitalist democracy (as in contemporary Germany and France) and capitalist dictatorship is the willingness of the business classes to play by the rules of democratic elections, to allow a free, fair and transparent contest, to acknowledge the rights of unions, and to respect the universal franchise. Businessmen in such a society share a civic ethic that sees these goods as necessary for a well ordered society, and therefore as ultimately good for business. They may also be afraid of the social disruptions (as in France) that would attend any attempt to whittle away workers’ rights. Attempts to limit the franchise, to ban unions, and to manipulate the electorate with bald-faced lies are all signs of a barracuda business class that secretly seeks its class interests above all others in society, and which is not afraid of workers and middle classes because the latter are apolitical, apathetic and disorganized.

Yes, that does sound all too familiar.