Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Jesse Ventura and the Maximum Wage

Michael Lumish

Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura
I have a soft spot in my heart for Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler and former governor of the state of Minnesota.

He went from "Jesse the Body" to "Jesse the Brain."

The video below is a few years old and in it he discusses the notion of a "maximum wage."

He uses the Walton family of Walmart fame as an example. He argues that there is something fundamentally wrong with wealth distribution in the United States. Walton family members are billionaires even as US taxpayers are forced to subsidize their employees due to low wages. From my perspective, Ventura is correct to point to the problem. Personally, I could not care less how much anyone earns or how many simoleons a person acquires over the years. It is not my business and it does me no personal harm.

However, the very notion that regular working-class Americans must subsidize the employees of gazillionaires does indicate a significant problem. So, what to do?

I do not have the answer.

The reason that the question interests me, however, is because it seems to go to a fundamental fault-line in western politics between authoritarian socialism and liberal capitalism. I never write on economic theory because I do not believe that I have the necessary education to weigh-in on that field. But I certainly think that Ventura has a point.

Socialism, if it means anything, means that the workers own the means of production. That is the most fundamental definition. But it also means, essentially, that therefore the government owns everything. It suggests an authoritarian framework that flies directly in the face of the Constitution of the United States and of western liberalism, more generally.

What I would suggest is that many of the people who currently refer to themselves as "socialist" on the American political scene are probably not. Actually, they are social democrats. The reason that I say so is that they also see themselves as anti-authoritarian. Certainly the little ideological offspring of Bernie Sanders -- a self-proclaimed socialist -- see themselves as freethinkers and anti-fascists. The problem is that socialism and anti-authoritarianism are mutually exclusive in practice.

One cannot be a socialist and anti-authoritarian simultaneously because socialism is authoritarian in its nature as a political ideology. The only way that "the workers" can gain ownership of the "means of production" is through government intervention through violence or threats of violence. This is the very definition of authoritarianism.

Thus in the United States, the primary political question is not between socialism versus capitalism, but where to draw the necessary lines within regulatory capitalism because, at the end of the day, we are all pretty much regulatory capitalists. The hard American left is mainly comprised not of actual socialists, but of regulatory capitalists who want to see more regulation. The hard American right is mainly comprised not of fascists, but of regulatory capitalists who want to see less regulation in the interest of individual liberty.

I am not putting forth answers to these fundamental questions.

I am merely endeavoring to define the questions for my personal edification and perhaps for yours.


  1. Being generally terrible at most things it does, why would you demand that the government picks economic winners and losers? The government is supposed to be the forum of LAST recourse not the first. Regulations exist because of violations of the lowest standard of fairness and decency, not the hairsplitting difference between the top 10% and the next 40%. Government is supposed to set the stage, the initial conditions for winners and losers to sort themselves out. Who cares that the Walton family jointly has more money than Jeff Bezos. And why is Jeff Bezos or Sergey Brin exempt from this moral calculus? Bezos is Walmart and Google produces nothing at all. Show a self professed faux-Marxist socialist who will agree to cap all the salaries and all the wealth of all the people who toil at facebook and twitter. Show me the social justice warrior who lives in San Francisco who's happy to see the government tax away 90% of his or her home equity because teachers in SF can't afford to live there. Show me the minimum wage and 'justice for illegals' activist who's willing to spend $4 on an apple because of the cost differential of legal, legitimate, regulated, safe labor vs illegals forced to work under conditions somewhat but not better better than slavery.

    It's trite to say that Socialism is the shared misery of all. It's not even correct. It's not. Socialism in the west is a luxury of people who never have, do or will do without the least thing in life as they order the groundlings to get on breadlines for the greater good. And in countries that experienced real communism it was worse because the elites never bothered to hide their aristocratic privilege. CPSU membership was better than being a Harvard legacy here. Because you didn't have to work very hard at anything at all, ever. And the less you accomplished the higher you rose. Like working for a Fortune 500 company, your climb up the ladder was about protecting your job and crushing your enemies. And your job was about climbing, protecting and crushing. That's all.

    So I have hard time accepting that the founder of IKEA an ex Nazi socialist Swede in a so called socialist country - who was the richest man in the world for a while was really all about his carefully crafted persona of an ordinary guy who drove an old Volvo.

    But to my point; why make the government not only the umpire but the league owner, the player's union and the rules setting organization too? Even if the government was good at that, and let's not forget that in the wake of the 2008 collapse not a single banker or Wall St person was every held accountable, even if they were good and right and fair and accurate and timely, why would that be fair or reasonable. Who do you appeal to if you think you've been wronged?

    1. All I am doing is thinking aloud around a fundamental question.

      Since the demise of laissez-faire capitalism with the New Deal -- due to the influence of nineteenth-century American progressivism of the sort championed by William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt -- almost every politically aware person in the United States has been (and is) a regulatory capitalist.

      That is my point.

      I am not demanding that the government pick winners and losers.

    2. And the government should not pick winners and losers, but it ought pick on Bezos, Uber, and the Waltons, because they can afford to pay their workers a living wage, and taxpayers should not be responsible for subsidizing them. That's the hidden costs of their inexpensive products.
      We could go back to a laissez-faire model and not subsidize the poor with food stamps, etc., but that leads to destabilization of the social and economic fabric. Who wants to live in such a country?
      The government does not necessarily need to pass a law to contend with the Walmarts of the country, just use the bully pulpit effectively and then there is also citizen protest. For example, it would make far more sense for college students to organize protests against these companies, ginormous retail and big tech, than to spend their time on fantasies about 'palestinians'.

    3. Who is this they that can afford to do what social workers demand? Stockholders? Pension funds? Ivy league college endowments?, teachers unions? CALPERS? All whom invest heavily in the stock market and other exchanges. If you want activism be an activist. Buy a share of stock and show up at the annual meeting. I've been saying for months that if 100,000 each bought one share of facebook stock, showed up the annual meeting and ('figuratively' of course) stormed the stage and the ripped the heads off everyone there and stuffed them on pikes, the 'facebook question' would reach its final solution. But finger wagging at the government to apparently pick up the slack for people who are talk and that's it, I think that's displaced.

      What you're talking about is a rational balance of regulation, I hope. But that's pretty damn hard. Especially since it takes YOUR voice out of the equation entirely. You can't vote for or petition the SEC or FISMA or the FDA or the EPA. They do what they want. In fact one could argue that the regulatory regime really is THE government. You could decapitate the entire government, all three branches and everything would continue with little interruption. What you or I call politics is theater and farce where nothing happens.

      The point is it's fairly hard to create that balance and it's much harder to change as needed. But take a step a back. Who's job is it to guarantee a given standard of living? Is it Amazon's job? Is it each local government? Is it the Federal government? Is it Amazon's board? Is it all the institutional investors in Amazon? It USED to be the role of labor unions but labor unions proved themselves to be corrupt, venal and criminal. They proved they were gangsters and thieves. They helped every American administration push those very same jobs overseas with every trade agreement that signed on to. They dug their heels in and resisted all efforts to combine labor and automation in a cooperative fashion until automation went on its own and kicked them all out. For example, only about 8% of the cost of making a car is labor, in the US. In a hundred years it's dropped from 90% to 8%. And UAW fought each battle but ignored the war.

      I think what you're watching is that the whole thing has just imploded. There's really no one to backstop workers. And companies like Starbucks recognize that it's cheaper and easier to razzle dazzle them with screams for social justice because their own workforce is just that stupid and blind.

    4. What you're talking about is a rational balance of regulation, I hope. But that's pretty damn hard.

      That is precisely what I am talking about but I am not even making a recommendation on just what that balance should look like.

      All I am doing is pointing out the fact that within the United States one cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a regulatory capitalist.

      US politics is more narrow than is European politics. We tend to up-play our political differences so that some Republicans call Democrats and "progressives" Communists and, likewise, some Democrats call Republicans and "conservatives" fascists.

      All I am saying is that this constant whining and crying and screaming and moaning is bullshit, because we are all regulatory capitalists.

      The only questions are concerned with where to draw the lines of regulation.

      But, y'know, I am a moderate.

    5. It's hard to define what a regulation even is. For instance we have farm subsidies. The EU erects flat out tariffs and trade barriers which have the same effect. Different approaches to the same goal. The EU likes to fine people and organizations as backdoor tax which has the effect of also being a trade barrier. For instance I'm no fan of Google, Apple or Facebook but it's obvious that the annual 1 to 4 billion dollar fine the EU levels against them is nothing more than an extortion. I would love to see those companies put their services in the EU behind a paywall which pays the government not the company so that the people who use them get to pay their own governments that fee. Fair is fair. That way they can have their own discussions about whether they are content holders or common carriers subject to completely different interpretations of, copyright law, trademarking, GDPR and their spinoffs.

      Back to farming - one reason you see French farmers routinely protest by dumping their product in the street is because France supports, financially, inefficient small family farms. In the US most farms are owned by corporate entities. They fight using lawyers not protests. But because small farms are inefficient, the French government has to pay them quite a bit of money to keep them going. The result is that they become a powerful vocal voting bloc. So you can see how regulation is shaped in subtle ways to push political and social agendas.

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