Wage slavery

With due respect to Mark (here and here), I think that Rand Paul’s real problems in 90-percent-white Kentucky will stem from the implications of his radical libertarianism for working-class whites, not African-Americans.

Jonathan Singer at mydd.com asks four questions that Paul couldn’t answer in a way that would make him both truthful and electable:

  1. Do you believe the federal minimum wage is constitutional?
  2. Do you believe federal overtime laws are constitutional?
  3. Do you believe the federal government has the power to enact work safety laws and regulations?
  4. Do you believe that federal child labor laws are constitutional?

Here’s where the Tea Partiers have made their mistake, and fallen into thinking they’re more popular than they are. Americans are “anti-government,” but not in the way that extreme libertarians are.  You can scare them with talk of pork, corruption, Big Government, welfare or debt.  You can’t win them over by taking aim at everything that protects them from being slaves of their bosses (namely, well, government—unless one prefers unions).  The position that private action, however deplorable, is not a fit subject for government action puts libertarians in the position of repeating simultaneously all the things that are wrong with the world and their resolute determination to do nothing about them. Yes, I know that some commenters will say the Constitution requires this.  But that will be all the more reason for most voters to stop listening to what Paul and his supporters say, with a sincere tone of subjective authority, about the Constitution.

(via J.P. Green at The Democratic Strategist)

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

24 thoughts on “Wage slavery”

  1. Paul's primary support was concentrated in higher-income counties, where voters may have an interest in weak worker protections. Massey Energy, which gave us the Upper Big Branch South disaster, has a powerful presence in Eastern Kentucky, & Paul presumably will be called to comment on it at some point in the campaign. It'll be interesting to see if he takes the same line he took today on BP.

  2. The questions to Rand Paul shouldn't be limited to the constitutionality of these kinds of laws; he should also be asked if he endorses or opposes such legislation. After all, it is certainly possible for an extreme libertarian to believe that the Constitution may well permit the government to pass these laws but believe that they are undesirable.

  3. What's wrong with the obvious answer? "I believe those are all constitutional, at the state level. Why do you think everything has to be done by the federal government?"

  4. Brett, your "obvious" answer is not a libertarian position; state government is government, after all. Your "obvious" answer is directed at the Supreme Court's expansive interpretation of the Commerce Clause, and to fight that interpretation is quixotic.

    (For non-lawyers, the Commerce Clause is the provision of the U.S. Constitution that gives Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. It is only a slight oversimplification to say that the Supreme Court has found that this means that Congress may regulate anything that affects interstate or foreign commerce, and that everything affects interstate or foreign commerce.)

  5. Henry, my answer is neither a libertarian, nor an anti-libertarian answer. Libertarianism is a theory about what government ought to do, the question asked what was constitutional, accordingly, my answer addressed that subject.

  6. Brett B's clearly right. He's especially right because Rand Paul campaigned as a "Constitutional conservative," not a libertarian.

    What if there were 50 minimum wages? Oh, the horror!

  7. I'll buy this distinction when Paul comes out for state minimum wages set about where the federal one is now (or higher), for vigorous state-level enforcement of health and safety regulations, and for state-level antidiscrimination laws, vigorously enforced. He should also call it just peachy—not "un-Louisianan" or "un-Floridian"—for the governors of individual states to bash BP. I'm waiting.

  8. Brett,

    I don't remember Paul's answers hinging on the Commerce Clause. They were much broader than that, talking about the unconstitutionality of the government interfering in private property. Surely it is not your position that it is constitutional for state governments to do so. I don't think your objections to Kelo were that it didn't go far enough.

  9. I like these questions, but how about:

    5. Do you believe that it is constitutional for a government to forbid a private business from entering into a contract with a single union to provide its labor force?

  10. I like that the Pauls are honest. If more conservatives were as consistent and honest we'd finally be through with their silly games. We might get to see the mature, adult version for once.

  11. Neal, whether or not I think states should interfere with private property has no bearing on whether or not I think it's constitutional for them to do so. The basic principle of organization of our federal system, is that the federal government is delegated a limited set of powers, and all the remaining powers not forbidden to the states belong to the states, or to the people. Which is to say that, once you've determined that a given power wasn't delegated to the federal government, and wasn't forbidden to the states, whether or not it is constitutional for states to exercise it can only be determined by an examination of that particular state's constitution.

    The federal constitution prohibits the federal government from taking private property for public use, (It says nothing of purposes, notice.) without fair compensation. And by implication denies it the power to take private property at all, if it's not for public use. The 14th amendment extended this prohibition to the states. It follows that the states can not, regardless of what their own constitutions might say, take private property for anything other than public USE, and when doing so, must pay fair compensation.

    But interfering with private property is a much broader category than taking it, for all that it stands to reason that a comprehensive enough interference amounts to taking. And states can, depending on the details of their own constitutions, constitutionally so interfere in some ways and to some degree, for all that a libertarian might disapprove of such interference.

    The Constitution, in short, does not enact Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. But it sure as hell didn't enact Rawl's A Theory of Justice, either.

    It enacted itself. It's law, not political philosophy, and anyone who claims the constitution is consistent with their political philosophy either has a really weird political philosophy, or just isn't very good at reading comprehension.

  12. Rand Paul is defending BP and the West Virginia coal mine operators. You know, the one that ran a coal mine terribly and then people died. Once again, when push comes to shove libertarians are at heart corporatists. Case closed.

    P.S., I wonder how calling a coal mining disaster "sometimes accidents happen" will go over in a coal mining state like Kentucky.

  13. One difference between BP's disaster and Massey Energy's horror show: The coal miners could have refused to work in the unsafe mine but the Gulf of Mexico and it's shoreline are stuck in the path of disaster. It's the difference between a fig leaf and bare assed nekid.

  14. If Brett is right, the US Constitution is an ass. Would he or Paul favour amending it to allow the normal activities of government (at whatever level) needed to keep societies functioning in the 21st century? The other way, the one followed by the Supreme Court, is to interpret this noble but flawed 18th-century pact in such a way as to allow society to function.

  15. James, I disagree with you that the government could not function if the Constitution were actually followed. There is, in fact, not a lot that is being done at the federal level which could not be done, constitutionally, at the state level. What's behind this obsession with doing everything you can at the federal level? Is it the fear that some of the states might not chose to do a lot of this stuff?

  16. "Is it the fear that some of the states might not chose to do a lot of this stuff?"

    That's exactly it, right? For example most school funding is at the state level – but poor kids get special federal money because the idea is that it should be a right. This goes back to brown vs. board of education. Same with health care. Same with a lot of things. So there's the idea of human rights. Then there's environmental issues which, aside from principle, can effect multi-state regions (see BP).

    I mean, doesn't the 10ther stuff all go back to the founding, with civil war being one it's many variations? Ultimately, it always seems to revolve around progressive issues that that weren't considerations at the founding. So you have social rights and environmental concerns being viewed at government intrusion and opposed as outside original intent of the constitution.

  17. Brett: Your theory makes it impossible for the states as well as the federal government to tax for standard public purposes like health, education, and public order. ("It follows that the states can not, regardless of what their own constitutions might say, take private property for anything other than public USE, and when doing so, must pay fair compensation.") They could I suppose constitutionally seize your garden for a public park.

    FWIW, as a European I share some of your concern about the automatic federal bias of American progressives. (See eg this post.) The bias is understandable because the Southern states can't be trusted to do the civilised thing for descendants of slaves. If the South had got away with secession, the North could run today on German, Swiss or Canadian lines. In Europe (Spain, Belgium, Scotland ..) as well as Canada the drive for regionalism is generally to defend a cultural identity, not to run a different social or economic policy. Italy is perhaps an exception; the Northern League is largely about stopping subsidies to shiftless, parasitic southerners.

  18. "Neal, whether or not I think states should interfere with private property has no bearing on whether or not I think it’s constitutional for them to do so."

    And this, Brett, is one of the reasons few of the people reading this blog have much respect for you.

    Your primary interest is in winning debating games — our interest is in improving policy.

    Explain how an answer like yours achieves anything constructive towards this latter goal.

  19. Eli says: "…Ultimately, it always seems to revolve around progressive issues that that weren’t considerations at the founding. So you have social rights and environmental concerns being viewed at government intrusion and opposed as outside original intent of the constitution."

    I think they weren't considerations at the founding because the issues we now consider progressive were at that time considered human entitlements either through family or community. We fought wars to assure and maintain these aspects of freedom from tyranny, or the forced deprivation of those entitlements. What are social rights other than the legally defined expression of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as applied to the larger group? I don't think human nature has changed drastically since those days with the possible exception of the mental ability to hold certain truths as self-evident and obtain agreement.

    I've also wondered about the modern interpretation of environmental stewardship as a "Progressive" ideal as most founders' economic survival was so directly related to and dependent upon the properly managed health of the land. I think that those actively involved with the land or waters needed for production of their food and trade products would not have taken kindly to them being despoiled temporarily, much less permanently, by foreign or domestic profiteers. Redress would have been demanded immediately and possibly at the business end of a firearm.

    I find it appalling that our modern culture has intellectually and practically separated humans from their habitat (environment). It isn't as though we have somewhere else to live. We've defined physical survival as "Progressive".

  20. And getting back to the wage slavery aspect- yes, what is the modern low-wage worker other than the product of commercial interests shrugging off the expense of housing and feeding their workers (slaves)and forcing the larger community (gov't) to subsidize their business?

  21. "“Neal, whether or not I think states should interfere with private property has no bearing on whether or not I think it’s constitutional for them to do so.”

    And this, Brett, is one of the reasons few of the people reading this blog have much respect for you."

    And it is, equally, why I have vanishingly little respect for YOU. Honestly interpreting the Constitution means arriving at an understanding of it unconnected with what you might wish it meant. It's this thing called "objectivity". You don't just lack it, you reject it. You're an intellectual barbarian at your core.

  22. Paul's comment Friday morning about the Dotiki mine collapse in Hopkins Co. casts more light this. (See Mike Lillis.) He did very well in the Western Coal Fields, incl. Hopkins Co., where he got 65.3% of the vote. The primary was held a few weeks after the mine collapsed.

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