California moves to become an innovative libertarian paradise

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 15, 2009 13:27 EDT
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Must-read (and watch) post from Digby on the push to use California as a “shock treatment” state, exploiting the budget shortfalls to create a crisis and hopefully remake it into a libertarian paradise/hellhole for reality-based people. Already the dividends are paying out from this experiment, as the California government is modeling how to terrorize employees so they have to work for free, an innovation that corporate America will surely be borrowing for itself soon. Who said that government and business can’t work together to further conservative goals? You see, California—in an effort to save money—is giving employees mandatory furloughs. Some folks I’ve spoken to hoped that the shutdown of readily available services would help California voters wake up and smell they “gotta pay your taxes” coffee, but instead we’re getting this.

But for many, the plans to turn the unpaid days into modest holidays spent appreciating the simple things in life like afternoon movies, walks in the park, naps or trips to see Grandma have given way to a different reality.

Some people take the time off but feel bad about doing so, out of loyalty to bosses and colleagues left to carry the workload. Others work quietly — and sometimes openly — through furloughs, because they fear for the long-term safety of their positions and hope their self-sacrifice impresses the management.

And some say the message from the management is unclear, leaving employees wondering: Is this real time off?

“I think it’s a joke,” said Roland Becht, who works at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in San Diego. (More than 200,000 state employees are supposed to have two furlough days each month.) “I’ve tried to schedule furlough time and was denied because we’re short-staffed.”

They’re making people work without paying them.
That this doesn’t immediately set off about 15,000 alarm bells should be an indicator of how fucked-up our country’s attitudes towards labor really are.

Now that the threat of being laid off if you don’t work for free is being dangled over people’s heads, you have to wonder how far they’ll take this exciting new libertarian experiment. (And I say libertarian, even though I know I’ll get the “no true Scotsman” whiners who are constantly shifting the definition when it makes them look like monsters, but let’s face it—they’re the ones who’ve been saying forever that we don’t have to worry about management exploiting labor, since labor makes “free” choices.) Libertarians have pinned all their hopes on the pipe dream of getting rid of the minimum wage in order to create an environment where you can pay people nothing and get labor out of them, but this innovation is a much more exciting one, a real example of the ways that crisis can cause creative thinking in the art of oppressing and exploiting the ordinary working stiff.

The one fly in the ointment is that there seems to be a built-in limit on how much work you can force people to do for free in this situation. If you start increasing the number of “furloughs” that are in fact days you have to come to work without getting paid, there’s going to be a point where people aren’t scared to lose their jobs, because they aren’t getting paid that much anyway, and they start quitting. This is an obvious roadblock to the ultimate goal of creating an entirely unpaid labor force, or at least one that only gets token payment to maintain the illusion of free choice.* That said, patience appears to be the key. Think: frog/boiling water. You need to introduce more furlough days slowly, giving people time to get used to having to work more and more unpaid days over a long period of time, with lots of time in between introductions, and they’ll reduce expectations accordingly, and will be much less likely to just quit in frustration. They’re much less likely to start looking for other jobs if they think each salary reduction will be the last, and so every time you do it, you can exploit their desperation to have even more money coming in.

Best part? Once you’ve dramatically reduced huge percentages of the middle class to poverty while getting the same amount of work out of them, that’s going to create more economic collapse, as more mortgages will go into foreclosure and tax revenues continue to soar downwards. Which just means more creative thinking in how to squeeze working people even harder! It’s win/win, as long as you continue to believe that people that have to go work for their paychecks aren’t real people at all.

*Of course, our greedy friends have already got this population, due to the endless amounts of hysteria over illegal immigration.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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