In January 2017 the latest rendition of the left’s perpetual whine about inequality was released in the form of a briefing paper by the international “charity” Oxfam – although the only thing they intend to be charitable about, is other people’s money – titled “An Economy for the 99%: It is time to build a human economy that benefits everyone, not just the privileged few.”
I’ve known about Oxfam for a while, but I haven’t been paying enough attention to them over the years to know whether they’ve always drunk the social justice left’s poison, or whether this is a new thing which came about in the wake of the 2015/16 ‘social justice revolution’ which swept across the West, especially on university campuses.
Whatever the case, it is clear that Oxfam isn’t overly concerned about the poor or human progress, but, rather, it is concerned about how little money they and their elitist intellectualist comrades are receiving, as compared to how much money the real elites – people who provide something other people want – get when they are handsomely rewarded.
You see, the social justice left cares about inequality, not poverty or destitution. The poor exist in the abstract for them. The social justice left, instead, looks upward – in envy – at the rich, and think, “We have degrees up to our ears; and yet, even though our vocabulary is bigger than their wallets, our wallets remain empty!” To them, ‘pro-poor’ activism means making everyone, themselves excluded, equally poor and miserable.
The Oxfam briefing paper, as we can see, brings up the notion of a ‘human economy’, something which is discussed in the latter part of the paper. They don’t get to it, of course, before peddling all the lies, misconceptions, and perhaps just misunderstandings, of economics in the first 26 pages. Here are only some of the gems which I believe are worth mentioning:
“Corporations, working for those at the top”
Perhaps the most common misconception about the economy which the left exhibits – that the rich are self-serving and benefit only themselves.
Of course, the rich, like everyone else, are self-serving. Libertarianism is perhaps the only political philosophy which acknowledges this fact and asks, “Alright, so we’re all selfish – how do we build an ethical society around that?”, whereas other ideologies try to change it. But the rich’s self-service does not mean that they benefit only themselves.
On the contrary, the more self-serving the rich are, the more benefit others draw. If a good or service provider wakes up one morning and thinks he simply isn’t rich enough – barring fraud – he will simply have to provide more, better quality goods and services to his customers.
“Squeezing workers and producers”
There’s that labor theory of value, again! It always manages to rear its head when one isn’t paying attention.
When chief executives’ salaries go up, Oxfam is on the ground, bitching and moaning about how workers’ wages weren’t also stepped up. While one might sympathize with stagnant wages, it is no reason to throw a proper understanding of economics to the wind.
People are paid according to what the payer deems their value to the company to be. And those who receive the wage decide whether what has been offered is more valuable to them than being without the job. The moment they are offered a wage which is less valuable to them than doing something else, they will, by their nature, not take the offer. This is the beauty of the market – the human – economy, which places all the decision-making power in the hands of the individual most relevant to the decision in question.
If Oxfam is truly concerned with wages, however, it should start campaigning to have corporate taxes and regulatory costs lowered. Those costs are not borne by the chief executives – the company has to pay those costs. And that can mean one of three or more things: The consumers pay more for the goods or services, the workers’ wages stagnate, or fewer workers are employed. The costs of higher taxes and more regulations are inevitably borne by the poor.
Oxfam, of course, does not want taxes to be lowered. On the contrary, they want tax havens to be clamped down on and companies forced to ‘pay their fair share!’
“The role of the super-rich in the inequality crisis”
As I have written before, there is no ‘inequality crisis’. This ‘crisis’ exists only in the minds of those who have bought into the Marxist conception of society: that there’s an endless struggle between rich and poor.
This is, of course, not true. The poor have never taken up arms, because of ‘inequality’, and overthrown the rich. Instead, the poor aspire to be the rich. And the poor flock to where the rich are!
The Market Economy is a Human Economy
According to Oxfam, in a ‘human economy’ eight things will happen:
- “Governments will work for the 99%.”
- “Governments will cooperate, not just compete.”
- “Companies will work for the benefit of everyone.”
- “Ending the extreme concentration of wealth to end extreme poverty.”
- “A human economy will work equally for men and women.”
- “Technology will be harnessed for the interests of the 99%.”
- “A human economy will be powered by sustainable renewable energy. “
- “Valuing and measuring what really matters.”
It should be obvious to the average libertarian reader that none of these things are either ‘human’ or ‘economy.’ In fact, some of them are profoundly anti-human and anti-economy.
The very notion that government, as an institution, will ever, truly ‘serve the people’, belongs in the lore of fantasy realms. Human history and daily human experience is not debatable: governments, like the rich, and like everyone and everything else, are self-serving. Taking a corporate structure and slapping the label ‘government’ on it does not render it altruistic or compassionate. It only serves to muddy the water and make identifying society-destroying problems more difficult.
Governments are institutions of force with their own agendas. These agendas are most often electoral, but sometimes also ideological. They are never ‘pragmatic’ because governments, like people, are unable to know what the people truly want or need. Indeed, as the Austrians have shown us, the most important lesson to learn in economics is that there is much we do not know and will never know.
By deferring to the individual, we maximize the chances of a mutually-beneficial outcome. This is not always guaranteed, but the odds are greater than by deferring to some government agency which presumes it knows what’s best for people. The former is risky, but emphasizes human dignity, while the latter is often a guaranteed death-sentence, and is deeply condescending.
Oxfam, however, rejects value subjectivity. It believes, truly, that it can be objectively known what is good for people, and it likely believes it has found the answers. This mentality has been present in the mind of every dictator and tyrant history has ever known.
For an economy to be a ‘human’ one, human nature is a crucial consideration. The market economy is the only viable vehicle which embraces human nature while, at the same time, limiting it just enough to ensure spontaneous order, rather than spontaneous chaos. The market economy places all the emphasis on the individual and the voluntary community; it is based on human dignity and value subjectivity.
The market is not a ‘thing’, but the accumulative product of human cooperation and competition. It is organic and natural. The market economy is, by definition, a human economy.
This post was written by Martin van Staden.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.