01 December 2011

The Counterproductivity of Compassion

John Derbyshire, on the gang rape of an 11-year-old- girl in Cleveland, Texas earlier this year:

Likewise with the new left and its vapid prattle about everyone going to college. What will the people in this story study at college? Molecular biology?
I can’t see much comfort for the right here, either. Which of the schemes touted on conservative websites can uplift these people? Religion might touch a few and education a few more, but most are surely destined to be net negatives for a post-industrial society.
If you raise topics like this with conservatives you mostly hear about how the spiritual energy of religious reformers such as Charles Wesley rescued the early industrial English working class from the Slough of Despond.
That’s great, but in early industrial England there was plenty of useful work for everyone to do. Any able-bodied man could get work as a laborer or factory hand; any minimally socialized woman could find a “position” as a domestic servant.
That no longer applies. There are now large and swelling segments of the population for whom society has no use. Set down in cold print like that, it looks like a dreadful thing to say. But the very preposterousness of our favored remedies—send them all to college!—betrays an underlying hopelessness. [Emphasis added.]

The left’s alleged compassion for common laborers has rendered them unnecessary because of the changes leftists have enacted on their behalf.  Workplace safety regulations, minimum wage, minimum age, overtime pay,  equal opportunity employment, and anti-discrimination laws all sound good in theory, and were all presumably enacted under the best of intentions.  But good intentions, besides being the proverbial paving compound used for building the road to hell, cannot alone attain a desired outcome.

Should workers be treated abusively?  Of course not.  But is it better for them to be unemployed?

This is very much the crux of the matter in regards to labor because standards have a cost.  With minimum wage, the cost is direct and obvious.  With equal opportunity and anti-discrimination, the cost is not so obvious or so direct, yet it remains nonetheless.  And with the additional costs, businesses look into alternatives to domestic labor.

The right, for its part, has contributed to the hopelessness faced by the lower class in this now post-industrial economy by championing free trade.  Free trade enables businesses to escape high domestic labor costs by producing in foreign countries that do not have minimum wage laws (or in countries where minimum wage is considerably lower).  Like the left, the right’s intentions were pure—noble even—but the results have been pricing the lower class out of industrial jobs.

And the market—that nebulous, amoral entity that sorts participants and products into winners and losers—could not be thwarted by good intentions either.  Because labor costs were so high, and compliance costs so onerous, it became cheaper to replace people with machines.  Who needs domestic help when you have a host of modern conveniences designed to save you time?  Who needs an assembly line worker when you have a robot?

Maybe these changes were inevitable; it seems likely that they were.  But these changes did not need to be subsidized by the government.  The market would have done a perfectly fine job of handling the technological transition.

Yet the government, at behest of the left, decided to implement laws that would make life better for labor, assuming it could remain employed.  And the government, at the behest of the right, decided to make life cheaper by enabling free trade which would presumably keep prices low, assuming one could remain employed.

Now the left and right are realizing that the lower class has rather poor future prospects.  Unfortunately, their solutions leave much to be desired.

From the left, mass education is neither tenable nor desirable.  In fact, it’s not even worthwhile.  Not everyone is educable beyond basic literacy and numeracy—and some can’t even master that.  Beyond that, the promise of education is that, once educated, one will never have to work a crap job ever again.  And even though the economy is certainly trending towards the post-industrial, there will always be some level of demand for crap jobs, and someone will be paid to do them. 
Conditioning people to turn them down does not serve society well in the long run.

From the right, religion can’t change the fact that most of the lower class is now economically worthless.  All men may have spiritual value, but all do not have economic value, and no amount of preaching will change that fact.  (Furthermore, how can one be expected to be a good Christian if he doesn’t have a job?)

While it’s obvious to see why people are in despair, why the trend of post-industrialization does bode well for society, and why the currently proposed solutions are in many ways pointless, there are some things that can be done.

First and foremost, deregulation is essential to giving marginal labor a shot at being employed.  As desirable as social justice and tolerable working conditions may be, they are of no use to those who are unemployed.  A crappy job trumps homelessness every time.  Therefore, the government should step aside and let labor negotiate employment for itself.  Some will undoubtedly be taken advantage of, but at least they’ll have work.

Second, assuming that the aforementioned recommendation fails to be implemented, the next best thing would be to implement wage and labor parity tariffs.  Quite simply, if any company wishes to produce anything in a foreign country and sell it here, that company should adhere to federal labor laws at any and all foreign facilities.  If companies fail to do that, they will be forced to pay a tariff for the difference.

Finally, leftists need to simply accept the fact that the world is imperfect and stop with their silly crusades.  Inequality will always and forever exist, and labor will always be taken advantage of by those with capital.  Yes, this makes you feel bad, and rightfully so.  And yes, compassion is all well and good, unless it prompts misguided action, which seems to happen an awful lot with leftists.  The world sucks.  Get used to it.

6 comments:

  1. It wont happen. The useless will have to go on welfare until the whole state aparatus collapses.
    And leftism is all about silly crusades. That's the whole damn point. So good luck with that.

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  2. @bloodyshovel- It's like crusading leftists are seven-year-old children who just discovered that life is not fair. Normal people accept that fact and adapts; leftists go on a crusade that exacerbates the problem because, like seven-year-olds, they are apparently functionally incapable of thinking beyond the most shallow relationship of cause and effect.

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  3. Hello Mr. Grey,

    Pardon me for dropping in here and leaving a comment--this my first time, though I confess I've been lurking your blog for some time and consider myself a fan of yours. If it wouldn't be too much of an imposition, though, may I ask about this statement:

    And the market—that nebulous, amoral entity that sorts participants and products into winners and losers—could not be thwarted by good intentions either. Because labor costs were so high, and compliance costs so onerous, it became cheaper to replace people with machines. Who needs domestic help when you have a host of modern conveniences designed to save you time? Who needs an assembly line worker when you have a robot?

    Maybe these changes were inevitable; it seems likely that they were. But these changes did not need to be subsidized by the government. The market would have done a perfectly fine job of handling the technological transition.


    While I see your point when you mention how government policy hastened and encouraged the replacement of human workers with machines, at the same time you admit that this development was "likely inevitable." I would agree--even without minimum wage laws and other regulations, machines still don't get sick or make (as many) mistakes as human workers do. Thus, it seems probable that the lower classes would become economically valueless even without government intervention of any sort, though it would have just taken a longer time.

    This being the case, though, I would ask, what *could* have been done to stave this off? Again, I think you're probably right when you say policy from both the right and the left hastened the economic obviation of many laborers. However, as far as I can tell it only hastened the inevitable. Would there have been any way of staving off this phenomenon absent government intervention? I mean, given the pace of technological progress, it was only a matter of time before people invented machines which can do everything better than even the cheapest and most skilled human laborer. How could we have protected the lower class without doing something like prohibiting research on automated machines or something like that? :/

    Again, thanks very much for your time, and of course feel free to delete my comment if it's breaking any rules or anything, though I hope it's not...

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  4. @hurpadurp- thanks for dropping by and commenting. Your question will be answered in a post of it's own.

    As for the rules, you needn't worry about them too much. They serve more as a signal to keep jerks who comment in bad faith away then as a rigidly applied set of filters.

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  5. Considering what the Bible says, I'd say there's not a person in the world who can't be put to SOME use.

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  6. @Jennifer- quite true. The wonderful about the market is that it does a good job of allocating labor in a generally advantageous way. Thus, you don't have to be the best at something, you can just charge less for your work. The problem is that the government wants to prohibit people from charging less for their work, and therefore the government prevents people from being useful in some way.

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