How do you stop the exploitation of labor?
Well, first of all, you establish the kind of social safety nets that are often dismissed by neoliberals and disaster capitalists and those they have duped as "government handouts to the undeserving."
First, we have to make the paradign shift within ourselves to recognize that subsistence and health care are basic human rights, along with education and decent water. Then, we have to make another paradigm shift, and recognize that the only people who benefit from cutting welfare programs are the so-called 1%.
Because programs that enable people to refuse to work at exploitative jobs (call them guaranteed minimum income programs, or "basic income") actually drive up wages for everybody.
(Here's a primer on how basic income might work, with a lot of different perspectives, and arguments from all sides.) Read up and decide for yourself, as they say.
Basic income programs also, don't get me wrong, make "stuff" more expensive. Which is fine, actually: we can make do with less "stuff" if we have economic security and the freedom that money brings.
...I'm going to digress for a moment. How many of you have read the Ursula K. Le Guin story, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas?" It's a great story, go read it. It's also short--just a couple of pages long--so I'll wait while you do that.
The point of the story is that people can and should walk away from exploitative societies, even ones that benefit them. The problem of the real world is that you can't walk away from Omelas; Omelas is everwhere. There is no right place to stand, there are only better or worse places.
On the other hand, a basic income would help remediate a lot of that, by making it possible for people to refuse to work terrible piecemeal warehouse jobs that break their bodies and their souls. The idea of a basic income is really unpopular with the ultra-rich because it makes it much harder for them to become richer by exploiting labor, basically.
Here's the thing: I believe it should be possible for people to turn down terrible exploitative work. As a child of the working class who grew up in pink-collar poverty and who spent ten years living hand to mouth, yes, I do not think that in a kind or a just society, somebody like me at that time--a 24-year-old with almost no resources--should be forced to walk a mile in deep snow to a bus stop with pneumonia she can't afford to get treated because she has no health insurance, just to get to a subsistence-level temp job.
Because that's the work that's available.
So you see, I know whereof I speak.
There is no moral element to poverty. Poor people, many of them, work hard at whatever terrible job is available. Some of them are disabled. Some are artists. A basic income also means more art, by the way, some of it wildly popular enough that it contributes significantly to the GDP of multiple nations.
A few people will be content with a basic income, and not do anything else. You know what? Good for them. They're not competing for horrible jobs nobody wants to do, and the idea here is, with increasing automation and better resource management, to decrease the overall number of horrible jobs nobody wants to do.
And a lot of people will use that freedom to raise kids, get healthy, and do the foundation work for the kind of creative career that I have, which--I will be honest--takes about ten years of work to really get rolling, generally.
You know what a basic income gets us? It gets us Harry Potter, among other things.
We've bought into the idea that people should be punished for poverty. We've had that terrible idea about other things in history, and gotten over it, more or less, many of us. Societally, we've gotten over the idea that mental illness is a moral failing that people should be punished for, though toxic pockets still exist.
I will point out that the idea that people should be punished for poverty also has racial overtones--the people being punished for poverty, two hundred years ago, were the Irish. Now they are [email protected] and black and recent refugees (among others). It's another way of keeping the underclass down, so they can be more usefully exploited.
We've allowed ourselves to be convinced that if people are poor they probably deserve to be, and speaking as somebody who dragged herself out of poverty with, essentially, the skill of her eloquence--no, poor people generally do not deserve to be poor. We've also made the horrible mistake of convincing ourselves that end-stage metastatic capitalism is actually a social good, which is isn't, and adopting it as a religion, which it's not designed to be. (Don't get me wrong: I like me some capitalism. I enjoy being paid for my work and reaping the benefits thereof. But. There's such a thing as The Gilded Age, which models our current precarious wealth distribution and cavalier practices toward the 99% pretty well, and is also worth reading up on.)
We as the United States made a huge societal mistake, in my estimation, in casting the cold war as an ideological battle between communism and capitalism, thus giving capitalism the status of, essentially, a state religion. We should have cast it as an ideological battle between totalitarianism and democracy.
As a result, we now have to demolish a toxic state religion (the extreme neoliberalism that makes it seem like a good idea to allow the public trust to be parcelled off for exploitation into the hands of the already-rich, causing cascading social problems: to wit, private prisons and the like) and institute something a little more sustainable, because what we're operating right now is a pyramid scheme disguised as an economy.
We have, as a Western society, been in this position before vis-a-vis the lack of relative power of the worker. We corrected it, somewhat, in that era with unions. And organizing them was ugly, because the kleptocrats had a vested influence in keeping workers poor and unorganized. I recommend reading up on Pinkertons and strike-breaking and company towns, if you don't already know, and read up on what the working conditions are like in that Amazon fulfillment warehouse in the modern day.
Okay, so. Probably pretty easy to see how "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" relates to the modern world, and the kleptocrats who are using ugly ideologies such as racism, authoritarianism, and so forth to manage their goon squads when their real goal is increasing their personal wealth--not through building anything, but by what amounts to a short-term con game.
Keep oil prices high because the Russian economy benefits in the short term, and pad the pockets of the ultra-rich, who are in fairly obvious collusion with each other, while peddling the ideology that sustainable energy is somehow... girly-man? Effeminate? Which equates to "bad" in this way of thinking.
There's some weird misogynist/queerphobic gender politics at work here, too, but that's another essay.
Because it's easy to see that in a world where the destabilization of NATO and the USA and the ongoing distraction of China benefits Russian oil interests and also Russian expansionist interests,
So here's a thing to remember: we (and by we here I mean the larger body of the Left--the people who believe in increasing equality, protecting minorities, making sure everybody has due process under the law no matter what their background or demographics, improving quality of life for the greatest number of people, and so on) need to win over some hearts and souls.
The radicalizing, divisive rhetoric of these oligarchs and their de-facto Brownshirts is actually our best weapon for organizing to protect ourselves and others through winning over the people who haven't yet realized that they're living in Omelas.
And we won't do it by screaming at them how awful they are, or how the fascists have won, or how awful everybody is who doesn't wedge themselves into our increasingly narrow box of Right Lifestyle. Because the fact of the matter is, guys, we need to realize ourselves that all of those boxes, no matter how small we make them and how much we apologize for any bit of ourselves that overflows them--those boxes are still in Omelas. They get their water piped in from Omelas. The air we are breathing comes from Omelas.
Omelas does not stop at the borders because it has no borders.
It's a sick, exploitative system--a kleptocratic state religion for basically the entire world--and the only way to fix it is for us to stop subscribing to it as inevitable.
The people we should be worried about converting are not the Enemy, not the neo-Nazis and white supremacists and anti-LGBTQ bigots. Those people are beyond hope; they can only come to realize how harmful they have been if they happen to experience an epiphany, and an epiphany has to come from within.
Like the epiphany I'm asking you to consider now, actually. Epiphanies are scary. They're terrifying, because they mean we have to change ourselves in hard ways, such as realizing that it's not enough to opt out of the system, or even change the system: it's that the entire ideological and philosophical foundation of the system needs to change. As we needed an Enlightenment to correct the excesses of a profoundly toxic state religion system, now we need a New Englightenment to correct the excesses of a profoundly toxic economic system that has seized control of our governments and is masquerading as a
The important thing to remember, though, is that all of this stuff is ideas. These systems, not to put too fine a point on it, are memes. We can change them, and in so changing them, change the fundamental principles upon which our society functions.
"All men are created equal," when it was written, meant--de facto--"all white men in possession of land and a certain fortune." It has come to mean something quite different in the intervening quarter-millennium.
So, in other words, the hearts and minds we need to win are those of the people who want to think of themselves as decent people--who basically are decent people--but who turn away from the glimpse of Omelas because they don't want to feel terrible shopping at Wal-Mart because Wal-mart stretches their dollar, and thinking about how exploited the laborers there--and in foreign markets--are just makes them feel awful about existing. And they need to exist, and they want to not feel bad.
So what we need to do is convince them that they benefit--we all benefit--if we protect ourselves from the exploitations of the most moneyed class.
Remember that every significant social improvement for the middle class in America has come from government re-investment, from the WPA to the GI Bill. That's the kind of significant, positive change I'm arguing for, for all Americans. Free schooling, yes--take our tax money back and use it to educate students to a reasonable standard rather than lining Betsy DeVos's pockets with it. Healthcare and a basic income recognized as human rights. And a better standard of living for literally every American.
Hey guess what? If people don't have to take shit exploitative jobs just to survive, and buy the cheapest goods available because they are poor as hell, therefore creating openings for more shit exploitative jobs... almost everybody winds up with a higher standard of living. The very rich people who import piles of disposal consumer trash do worse, and those who exploit the legal system and other people's gullibility to run a series of long cons for ready cash in real estate and stock market bubbles do worse--but quite honestly, I think Donald Trump has a sufficiency of gold-plated toilets.
It's almost like the race to the bottom is bad for everyone.