No Progress To Be Found

In their article on labor relations Ellen Dannin and Ann C Hodges remind us that when companies compete on price the most prevalent approach is to cut wages and benefits—globalizing labor is the latest means to this end. Labor (aka employees, people) is viewed as a cost against the business of business that is profit. Correlatively to ensure that employees remain powerless individuals and not become a powerful collective voice they inhibit (and even obstruct) the formation of unions. Why? In our economic system of thought, the fact that capital employs labor translates into capital exploits people. Why? It serves self-interest. The past 30-plus years’ downward trend in middle class income along side the increasing income among the capitalist class brings striking evidence of this fact.

We often think (or assume) that countries with a capitalist economic system (that is, countries aligned with the U.S. in conforming to capitalist economic thought) as constituting the industrialized world, as being developed countries. But the question remains developed in regards to what? Developed relative to the means of economic growth? Developed as human societies?  With the exploitation of people and Nature being the ‘go-to’ way to economic growth how can these countries be considered developed human societies? Economic development does not imply human development.

In the U.S., though slavery was formally abolished with the 13th amendment to the Constitution, the inhumane treatment of people continues within the (undemocratic private) corporation. In fact, if not for the emergence of the collective power of workers through unionization and the establishment of the National Labor Relations Act, management practices detrimental to people would have continued unabated—there would be no need to globalize labor. No wonder unionization is anathema to capitalist and thus the efforts to weaken the NLRA (if not abolish it)!

This is despite the fact that the evidence is that people-centered management out performs this self-interested profit-centered way of relating to employees. Seemingly, it really doesn’t matter to people intent on maximizing their material self-interest in the short-term—everyone and everything is just a resource (a tool) to be used however they see fit in service to this end. So we find fear-based methods being used quite prevalently throughout the corporate world toward getting people to do as desired.

But when people, as labor, are treated as means in service to one’s self-interest then the only value people have is instrumental value. That is to say, people have no inherent value thus there is no concern for them as human beings—peoples’ inhumanity to people in pursuit of material gain is our real crisis.

Yet we speak of those leading our corporations as leaders.  Clearly we have a misguided understanding of what constitutes leadership. Exercising power over others requires no care and concern, just the use of force and fear. To quote Albert Camus, “nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear.”

Apparently, what many don’t seem to understand is that compliance is not the same as co-operation; otherwise management practices wouldn’t be what they are. Getting people to comply through carrot-and-stick methods—employing negative energy —will not lead to collaboration and creativity, the very behaviors that are essential for sustaining a viable enterprise.

The continued existence of the enterprise rests squarely on the development of people that in turn requires an atmosphere of trust. As noted in a previous post “trust is reflected in the degree of collaboration, communication, respect, fairness, impartiality, justice, caring and integrity within the workplace.”  There can be no trust where fear presides.

The greatest difficulties we face are all man-made and reflective of our ignorance of our selves as human beings. Our pursuit of growth has been a misguided pursuit.  We have been so consumed with getting and spending that we’ve not invested our time in being and becoming. Again from Albert Camus, “man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.”  Hence though we realize economic growth we have done so to the detriment of our development (individual and collective).

Again from Albert Camus, “freedom is nothing but a chance to be better”, so all we need is the freedom at work to become what we potentially are.  Now that would be progress!

One thought on “No Progress To Be Found

  1. Dear Progressus

    I think many aspects of your post above run very much in the wrong direction. You might argue that I am missing the points.

    I think Ellen Dannin and Ann C Hodges are looking at symptoms rather than root causes, and more importantly not properly defining the problem.

    Yes the capitalist commanders of our corporations will and are expected to act out of self interest and that of the shareholders.

    They however also act in a frame work of tax structure and other laws, incentives and disincentives. Collaboration and mutual interest also comes into the equation.

    When President just over 100 years ago Teddy Roosevelt, used anti trust laws to bring the worst excesses of US Capitalism to heal. This was at a time when cheap labour was pouring into the US from the old world. The actual challenges for Roosevelt were very great. He had millions of migrants pouring into the US every year and depended on business to provide the jobs and homes for such people and so how. If he had not put appropriate economic frameworks in place, the US would have been a failed state by the early 1900s.

    Part of the problem to me is the failure in the US and other Western governments to provide proper frameworks. of tax, law, incentives and disincentives for business. There appears to be total lack of debate or understanding of these frameworks. Where there is debate it seems to be skewed by political dogma and intransigence and an inability to understand or ignorance of what is happening else where in the world. Given the human condition I do not think it wrong to talk of carrots and sticks.

    I also think we do not understand human endeavour properly , we can use a simple model that people act out of purely self interest. To me the reality is much more complex than that. In reality humans have survival instincts and run and fight instincts. It is sometimes convenient and easy to blame big business or government for the situations we as individuals find our selves in. What about the notion of self responsibility and understanding our personal actions have consequences which we need to accept.

    The failures of our business leaders is breath taking and staggering . Unemployment in the US and Europe should be minimal. The demand across China, India and Indo China, Indonesia and emerging Africa for western products of all types is enormous and almost insatiable. We do not compete on labour cost alone, we compete on many other factors. Perhaps we can not sell plastic buckets to China, but we can sell value added items rather that labour cost added items

    The businesses that export to Asia are very much in the minority, but are doing enormously well. Many US business leaders do not even own a passport. They think about buying from the East but never selling.

    Many of our business leaders in the west hold MBAs, some from prestigious universities. The ability of many of these MBA holders to either create or manage businesses is minimal. They can talk about business but do not actually know how to do it. What is happening in our educational institutions ?

    If I listen to various US and European business news channels, there is an obsession with Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook and a few other companies. My analysis is that these companies could disappear as fast as they emerged. On such programmes there is no talk of the business opportunities in the rest of the world other than exploiting the cheap labour in China, Manufacturing Business leaders are never challenged as to why they have no sales in certain regions. Many prestigious US and European business journals are available on the news stands of Asia, when I read them or the soft copy on line I feel totally depressed by the inability of the journalists to talk about the opportunities that are being missed and lost. What s happening in US business journalism.

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