“If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”
-Friedrich von Hayek
Last Wednesday, representatives of an unelected elite intruded upon the personal decisions of two voluntarily constituted communities and imperialistically imposed a particular (Western) moral vision on those two helpless communities without even pausing for a whiff of democratic acknowledgement. And I describe the suppression of labor at Leon Construction and Qui Construction by the Connecticut Department of Labor this way partially to expose what anyone with halfway consistent anti-coercion sentiments would recognize, and partially to note that the selective sense of “social justice” enjoyed by Wesleyan’s loudest ‘humanitarians’ can be easily exposed as a shallow affectation once one takes the trouble to notice what it omits from consideration as an injustice. If the Department of Labor were a privately administered institution (dare we say “corporation”) and Leon and Qui were indigenous tribes, one presumes that Wespeaks would have been fired off with the speed and frequency of bullets in Afghanistan, yet one looks in vain at the current Argus website for even half-hearted comments. Apparently, Wesleyan’s perpetual advocates of adolescent anti-puissance have taken Peggy Noonan’s injunction to “just keep walking” to heart, though unlike the much more estimable Ms. Noonan, they do not have national security at heart so much as the security of their own fashionably noble sentiments.
For those who did not notice the front-page, above-the-fold Argus article describing this cruel injustice, allow me to quote: “Last Wednesday, representatives from the Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL) found two of the subcontractors running the Davenport construction project to be in violation of proper worker’s compensation practices. Both Leon Construction and Qui Construction were given work-stop orders based on their failure to provide compensation benefits to workers and for misrepresenting those individuals as independent contractors. While Qui Construction has been cleared and has resumed construction, Leon Construction remains an open case and cannot return to work until cleared by the DOL.”
“Aha!” our budding revolutionaries say. “This is yet more of Holt’s shameless defense of exploiters. I’m going to go call him a d*ck on the internet now!” Not so, my potential detractors. My reasons for opposing this exercise of power by an already abusive entity are grounded precisely in my desire to stop potential exploitation. I have three such reasons—firstly, that the Connecticut Department of Labor is usurping the rightful power of labor, secondly, that the Connecticut Department of Labor is a much more powerful tool for exploitation than either Leon or Qui Construction and thirdly, that the Connecticut Department of Labor is imposing a moral vision on Leon and Qui construction without respect for costs which will be felt by and large by the least powerful actors.
Firstly, let me address myself to those few technocratic liberals who see nothing wrong in a group of elites interceding, Rawls-like, in favor of the least advantage members of society. Their argument would probably ask what is wrong with taking away some power enjoyed by labor qua labor, if labor is helped by the demotion. Key word: if. Supposing that the Connecticut Department of Labor was truly made up of noble, angelic people who only did their best to correct the conditions of the working man, then this would hardly be a usurpation, as the torch of power would merely pass from the working man to someone else who has more social power, but the same interests. Minus the “noble” and “angelic” adjectives, this is usually what happens when a labor union intercedes on behalf of workers. However, the Connecticut Department of Labor need not care for the problems of labor—in fact, if one takes seriously the proposition that legal institutions are impartial, then by definition, it cannot, meaning that its usurpation of power actually hurts labor in the long-term, for it removes the agency of those who know their interests into the hands of those who only may know about, or care about, those interests.
But supposing legal institutions are not impartial? In that case, we arrive at my second argument against the intercession, that the Connecticut Department of Labor is a more powerful tool of exploitation than the relevant corporations. If the DoL is not impartial (which I do not think it is), then we open up the possibilities of corruption. Corruption is never a kind enterprise where labor is concerned, as labor (even organized labor) tends to be poorer than organized capital. As such, the Connecticut Department of Labor’s usurpation of power from labor is no longer even the usurpation of an impartial agency, but an agency which can easily be turned corporatist by enough unofficial “donations” while simultaneously maintaining the veneer of impartiality, and thus the veneer of legitimacy among well-meaning liberal technocrats. Even if one discards the corruption problem, the same power that can give you precisely what you wish can deprive you of all you love, and this is hardly desirable.
Especially not when that power is exercised by rigid, moralistic bureaucrats, which brings us to the third problem: that a moral position is being imposed regardless of the human costs. Let me once more address myself to the “well-meaning” members of the student body: what do you think has happened after these stop-work orders? Do you think the workers are reveling in a utopia of never-ending paid breaks? Hardly. This means people are not getting paid at all, or getting fired, meaning they have more trouble making ends meet. Moreover, these are likely to be the people at the lowest end of the food chain because it is their “insufficient” compensation which is putting the company in stasis. Did you imagine corporate fat cats losing paychecks? So sorry to disillusion you.
Now take off that Che T-shirt and go do something.