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Charles Blattberg

But federalism.

Ian Walling

Respectfully, as a long time reader, I find this argument almost incomprehensible. I'll join your complaint against the language of "investment", but I also find it somewhat trivial. I'll also agree that it is quite silly to say that we are seeing is the result of markets and markets alone. I suspect this is one of those summary labels that signers with different politics could get behind. I'm certain there is a better single word summary term for the calamitous mixture of markets, monopolies, semi-permanently subsidized financial actors, semi-permanent pro-investor government action, and batshit ideology we are experiencing, but I suspect that most of the writers of this letter have built a large part of their life (sincerely) dodging red-baiting. Why expect the instinct to fade now?

Your main points though, about citizenship implying sovereignty, and the dubious virtues of democracy strike me as very off. Citizenship in no way implies sovereignty. I am a citizen of the State of New Jersey, but that does not make New Jersey sovereign, anymore than it makes the town I am in a sovereign. Citizenship does not carry sovereignty with it like a shadow; its origins, as you know as well as I, vastly predate the idea of sovereignty. Indeed, it is striking that its origins are in one of the best examples of a society without any sovereign body or individual actor. Calling for citizenship does not imply calling for sovereignty, either logically, or frankly, colloquially, where most people find the concept of sovereignty vague and implausible once spelled out. My rights have not shrunken since the University President declared me (implausibly) a citizen of the University.

But more than that, I cannot figure the baseline for your comparisons. You say that the cure will be worse than the disease; that we run the risk of increasing the power of employers over us. This reminds me of the student I had who claimed that we should send all children of mildly unfit parents into foster care. We already live (at least in the US, and in many other parts of the world) under employers who may fire us for speech outside of the workplace, for being too attractive or ugly, for taking too many bathroom breaks, for smiling at the wrong time, for having piercings or tattoos, and so much more. The baseline here is not some highly limited power, it is a thoroughly unaccountable power. I will take the risks of a profoundly vague connection to sovereignty for some actual accountability over already semi-sovereign employers here. As Elizabeth Anderson pointed out, this is government, just not with a few of the trappings of contemporary states, like full sovereignty or mechanisms of accountability.

Your claim that workplace democratization will lead to weaker states also strikes me as strange. Typically democratization at the bottom helps with democratization at the top. I'm not saying you are wrong, I'm just saying I cannot see why you would be right.

You ask why call for democratization rather than more rights against employers. I think you are right that the piece does not answer this question, but my own sense is that there is a good answer: power is always better than nominal rights. The power to compel the employer to bargain and concede is a vastly superior protection of worker rights than any law. Time and time again we see this story with labor law; the parchment is weak, and government enforcement so infrequent as to be almost a parchment barrier. What makes these laws work is the power of workers to demand their enforcement. This is best served not by parliaments and congresses, but by unions and better forms of worker representation and power. The dream of the state as countervailing power strikes me the way that the mixed constitution struck Tacitus: more often praised than practiced, and for utterly unsurprising reasons.

You are undoubtedly right that the rich hold real sway, undue sway, in unions, workers councils, and so on. But again I ask, against what baseline of comparison? We know that these organizations nonetheless highly reliably increase wages, workplace safety, and enforcement of labor law. This is like a Tory telling me that democracy can be corrupted so I should just accept an unreformed electorate in the 19th Century. The complaint is true and important, but does nothing to vindicate the alternative. I know no better form of power than the democratic one, and I know nothing that harms democracy like the power structures of racism, sexism, and capitalism. The best solution really does involve liquidating the capitalist class, public ownership, and full workplace democracy (rather than this halfway point in the article), but I don't associate you with opposition to gradualism in implementing best solutions.

I've gone on too long though, perhaps.

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for your long time interest!
So, I am going to set aside the status of New Jersey because it is actually tricky. But, yes, of course, you can have democracy without sovereignty. Wehold elections in all kinds of institutions without confusing it with sovereignty. But we don't treat the officers of such institutions as 'government' nor do we treat the members or participants as 'citizens.' We use the language of citizenry/government when we are dealing with a form of sovereignty. Even in cities and provinces we tend to talk of 'residents' and not citizens (although I spend my time in cities where the residents have a history of understanding themselves as burghers of some sort or another).
Anyway, since Rousseau, regrettably, citizenry and sovereignty are co-mingled. That may not be true conceptually, but such terminology matters a lot (say when you are stateless, the refugees, and the aliens.)

The baseline comparison is the present and our experience of how democracy works. Not an ideal of democracy we do not have. And democracy is risky business for the un-enfranchised and permanent minorities. That's not an argument to restrict existing political democracies--I am for strengthening these (even with urgency). But to turn corporations into democracies without individual rights (and with collective rights) is a form of corporatism that history has shown excludes the vulnerable.

Finally, it is odd for academics to expect that democracy will decide what is a "useful employment" and think this will serve academics and academic freedom well.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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