Does Economic Independence for the Individual Remain?

On a LinkedIn discussion, a commenter responded to a previous comment of mine with the assertion,

“The American self-made man is a dream and a myth.”

This is absolutely true, but top-down approaches to public policy – including proposals such as a national minimum income so that people do not live in fear of losing their jobs – will ensure this myth remains viable in the minds of dependent individuals. Unless we have a society wherein individuals become citizens and re-engage, it will remain easy to believe such myths.

Why do people live in fear of losing their jobs? Because the overwhelming majority of Westerners are wage laborers. Working for a paycheck in itself creates a sense of dependency, because human nature assumes, even in the worst of economic times, that that paycheck will continue to appear on a regular basis. With this false sense of security, the individual plunges into debt. The longer that paycheck appears, the deeper the debt incurred.

Until one day, when that individual realizes that should she or he lose the paycheck, things would quickly unravel. Thus, people live in fear of losing their jobs. And, as pointed out in the book, “The Millionaire Next Door,” income levels have nothing to do with this fear. A doctor or lawyer can plunge deeply into debt as well: That $250,000+ income simply allows professionals to incur more debt. Now they live in fear of losing their jobs and, in turn, when asked or pushed to pursue unethical or illegal actions, they do so… willingly.

I’d say that’s a form of indentured servitude, no matter the pay scale.

This is the reason I push, and push hard, for driving up, precipitously, self-employment and small business rates -within local economies.- (And I consider contracts with former employers only marginally self employed unless the contract allows the individual to seek projects from other companies.)

Self employment and small businesses create a better, though not perfect, space for  economic independence and personal independence. The individual does not have to worry about what political or personal views are held, as no boss exists that will search for unrelated reasons to dismiss an employee for holding their views.

Yes, the self employed and small business owner worries, constantly, about finding that next piece of business. This is particularly acute in our present economic circumstances. But this assumes promoting such ideas within the current contexts… and this simply could not work. Today’s economic environment  holds very dismal prospects for the success of small business. This is why the re-forming of decentralized, local economies must emerge in parallel.

The consumer willing to go into debt, or a large corporation who holds oligarchic power over a given market, are the only two entities our current economic system embraces. For the small business owner or the self employed, every imaginable roadblock is in place. The status quo do not want large numbers of self employed or small businesses because such actions would drain the oversupply of labor and thus increase wages for those who remain as wage laborers.

Give me a decentralized economy infused with numerous and vibrant local economies, and poverty levels will plummet to levels the likes of which we haven’t see in the U.S. in over 150 years. In addition, with all those small business owners dependent on the local community for their livelihood, and the local community dependent on local businesses for their goods and services, we will see that individuals will learn what “community” means. If we create dependencies, we should be creating them -with our peers,- not with highly centralized power structures… which leaves us vulnerable to authoritarianism.

We have got to stop this insanity of coming up with answers that are top-down in structure, that envisions a central government answering all our social and economic problems. THAT is the model which creates isolated individuals who still believe in rugged individualism. It is a dream in which the indentured servant embraces, because the reality is too ugly to consider.

Beside, after decades of centralizing government, I have yet to find one in a major nation that has shown the propensity to get it right. Political leaders keep tinkering at the margins, placing a bandage over deep, intransigent problems in the hopes that the problem will one day disappear. There are no meaningful reforms left and as we move forward in history, as the structure for such meaningful reforms have disappeared. Central governments have become so corrupt, so compromised, so inept that the chances of anything positive emerging in terms of policy are practically nil.

Decentralization of political structures, of economic structures… as much as practicality allows. I’ll stake my life on the positive outcome.

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2 Responses to “Does Economic Independence for the Individual Remain?”

  1. The Secular Jurist Says:

    “I’d say that’s a form of indentured servitude, no matter the pay scale.” Bingo!

    Another fine article from the-small-r, but I’ll dare to quibble with one point. Decentralizing governing on a piecemeal scale could be disadvantageous to a nation with respect to its competitiveness in the global arena. Additionally, the monetary influences that corrupt government can and have been mitigated in the past. I’ll cite Theodore Roosevelt’s anti-trust progressive movement, and FDR’s anti-plutocracy measures in the 1930’s as notable examples.

  2. E.L. Beck Says:

    It’s true there have been instances in which the flow of history has been diverted, but only on a temporary basis. As soon as the perceived crisis is alleviated, the negative effects of centralization and a bloated bureaucracy recollects and marches on. This is why the time for tinkering with small readjustments or reforms is past.

    The problem with promoting 200-year-old avant garde political frameworks (think about that for a moment) is that I find myself having to define all of it, for if a piece is mentioned in isolation, misunderstandings arise… quite understandable, for we simply operate on what we know today.

    But make no mistake: the promotion of decentralization does not envision an either/or situation. There are areas of governance and of the economy that simply cannot be driven to a regional, state or local level. Certainly global trade is not going anywhere, and shouldn’t. At one time, the Italian region of Emilio-Romagna thrived as a regional economy (I can’t vouch for its fortunes in the present economic downturn), yet competed on the global stage to find its success. Both the regional and global thrived in unison.

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