Friday, March 20, 2015

Conservatives and the Common Good of Capital and Labor

Conservatives also see economic activity as a largely cooperative enterprise.

Of course businesses compete with each other. Some see more success than others. And some disintegrate as the result of competition. And they also cooperate with each other to shared needs in some economic process. This phenomenon has been called "spontaneous order." (For the classic illustration see "I, Pencil--My Family Tree."

Every business, however, essentially operates as a self contained cooperative enterprise. The success and financial well-being of every individual depends upon the success and financial well-being of the whole enterprise. It is in the interest of every individual that the business succeeds. This starts at the moment of hiring, when a business negotiates with a prospective employee over wages, hours, and job class. It continues during each employee's career with the company through training, promotions, and financial reward. It can end, however, when employee no longer supports the enterprise and leave it for another opportunity. (Or when the company perceives that an individual no longer contributes to the success of the company and terminates the employee's status with the company. ) Success is “the common good,” if you will, of the business.

The directors of businesses obviously try to cultivate a sense of the common good among everyone involved. That is why they rarely describe anyone as “employees.” These days directors of even the largest corporations refer to employees as associates, teams, or even as family. It is perhaps ironic that this development emerged after relations in the workplace of larger corporations became more impersonal than ever before. Most people today work for entities in which ownership has long been separated from management and policies are established in a company headquarters hundreds of miles distant from a particular business location. Even the nature of ownership itself has changed. Most people today work for companies owned by millions of shareholders.

Conservatives generally share this view of every business enterprise and its common good. While tensions and disagreements emerge everyday in the work place between “labor” and “management,” conservatives see these disagreements subsumed by the shared common goals of the company as a whole. Perhaps they emphasize “the common good” to a fault.

This is why they generally are lukewarm about unions. They exacerbate conflicting interests in a company by institutionalizing them.

And this is why they never seek to inflame. tensions in the workplace for political advantage.

For Progressives, however, the conflicting interests between “labor” and “management” present an opportunity to exploit the difference for political purposes. Labor disputes become opportunities to promulgate the idea of a war on labor or a war on workers--waged, of course, by conservatives and Republicans.

Below, an adaptation of the original essay.



CW said...

It really is ironic that conservative philosophies with respect to the “self-interest” pursuits of business and capitalism are ultimately far more supportive of the common good than the union mentality embraced by progressives. I have nothing against collective bargaining in its purest form per se, but of course it’s not really collective bargaining that gives unions their power. Their power comes from discouraging or prohibiting competition, and that hurts those who would otherwise compete for those jobs as well as consumers.

RightDetour said...

I think unions have outlived their usefulness. Most of what they advocated over the last century have been established by law. They are victims of their own success.