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Market Slavery and Free Markets: an Abolitionists Approach


I was thinking about a conversation some others and myself had on co-ops (i.e., Mondragon) and how some folks like Tom Wetzel and Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel have mentioned the effect of markets on the co-ops.

I have thought about what I would do if I won the lottery. I would start a pareconish-type business. That’s what I would do!
 
Sadly we would still be compelled by market forces to act in market ways. We might accept a handicap by trying to be socially responsible and seek to balance out costs so that there are no "profits" and we may not look for investors or advertisers (who would weild undue influence over us), but we will always be at a disadvantage and threat of going under so long as we exist in market systems.
 
Another side effect of market capitalism has been the labor market and what has been dubbed "wage slavery." This phrase is long established but after a couple of engine searches I was surprised to see that there is no mention of "market slavery." Hopefully I missed something and the term has already been coined.
 
We are compelled to sell our labor for a wage so that we may survive. Many workers have long found this undesirable and have called it a form of slavery. Abolishing wage slavery has long been the goal of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW; Wobblies).
 
Markets do something similar. They compel us to forego acting in socially responsible and advantageous ways in order to accrue more and more. In another blog post I noted how private enterprise allocated through markets mispriced the burrito I had for lunch and that if Don Juan wanted to account for the true social and environmental costs of his business then he would be put out of business since competitors willing to ignore those costs would accrue his shares. Michael Albert has written on how someone working in a firm will work long hours, more than needed, because if they didn’t then someone else would and that would put them under – he also pointed out that this market mentality of accruing and dominating shares compels us to be more than 360% more productive than we were during The Golden Age of Capitalism. In 2008 a peanut factory owner in Georgia intentionally violated health regulations and distributed contaminated peanuts because he was compelled by market forces to do so. Also in 2008 Bill Gates publicly admitted, "The market does not drive scientists, thinkers, or governments to do the right things."
 
Let’s face it, we are market slaves.
 
And this brings me to the Free Market rhetoric we hear from both liberals and conservatives. This is another angle market abolitionist can take. When we recognize that markets enslave us it becomes necessary to ask, "Why are some of us more concerned about freeing an enslaver and not the enslaved?"
 
While co-ops may make advancements we should recognize that there are still limitations and we should add to our (those who favor worker’s liberation) struggle the abolishing of markets, corporate divisions of labor and rewarding output. In the same conversation mentioned above someone said we – those who were pointing this out – were guilty of moving goalposts. The goalpost being: worker’s liberation and freedom. We didn’t move the goalposts but simply noted that the field goal was missed. Sure, these co-ops are closer to scoring than Microsoft but the goal was still missed, and if we want to score the field goals then we must a) recognize how and why we missed; and b) not blame others for moving the goalpost.
 
Workers in co-ops are still slaves if they exist in market systems, period. If labor is still divided in ways that empower, inform and enskill some and not all workers then whatever democratic decision-making processes we have in the workplace will be more formal than functional.

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