Saturday, February 5, 2011

Free Thinking

Many factors contribute to the possibility and manifestation of human rights. Tradition, personal views, popular views, government, theory, and material conditions all affect the mission. Free market capitalism means that laws of supply and demand rule the transfer of money. We are accustomed to saying that in America we are free. Just as Marx argues that our ideologies are superimposed onto material conditions, it seems to me that most Americans are very much ignorant to what is really going on around them. Many Americans live comfortably so there is no reason for them to question their world. It seems to me that one’s conception of freedom is not determined by actual material freedom, but rather the idea one has that he is free. While in reality a person’s material conditions might severely limit his freedom, as long as he believes in the possibility of freely changing his situation then he will delude himself about his real lot. Our interpretation of our condition is very much skewed from what is actually happening.
The media gives us icons such as Lil Wayne, the perfect role model for black youth. Only in America can you make millions of dollars being Lil Wayne. He inspires aspiring rappers everywhere; talent will take you to the top. Really, these icons are discovered by people looking to increase the pile of money they are already in possession of. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few white people aren’t cashing in on folks like Wayne.
If left to its own devices capitalism is blind to human rights. Slavery and slave-like working conditions are products of fastening monetary worth on humans. Morality is an idea and often gets shoved to the side when actual material gains are to be made. One solution is government intervention. The government can establish laws to regulate working conditions. But as much as we would like to think that human rights are inalienable and self-evident, they are very much confined to what material conditions will allow. Increasing worker salary for example, drives up production cost, so the finished product might cost more, so what good is more money? Universal healthcare would be great, but what are the material ramifications?
As Americans we believe our country is the best in the world. Our country is the most forward thinking, the home of model citizens, and champion of freedom and human rights for all. I find these ideas a bit clouded. America has been involved in a war in the Middle East for several years now, I hope those Iraqis appreciate all we’re doing strictly on behalf of their freedom. As an advanced nation, America is able to impose base standards on working conditions that are much higher than many nations. Johnny makes $7.25 an hour scooping ice cream, not bad Johnny. But whereas service jobs require workers on site and thus must conform to federal standards, industrious capitalists (God bless them) have actually determined that it is cheaper to send their manufacturing jobs to cheap unregulated labor overseas and simply ship products. The alienation of one’s labor is nowhere more apparent then in factories in India where $1 a day salaries make Nikes that go for $100+. Billionaire capitalist tycoons are completely entitled to the fortune they make; it’s called playing the game—right? Or are they? Marx criticizes private property for fostering self-interest. One solution is a heavy taxation for the wealthy. Is this fair? What responsibility to human rights do these big shots have?


  1. Cole, you bring up some good points in this post. To address your question about taxation, I believe that progressive taxes are justified. You ask if “billionaire tycoons are completely entitled to the fortune they make.” I would say no. Yes, they earned the money, but was it solely due to their entrepreneurial skills or their own work? If their income depends on the existence of markets and the work of middlemen and laborers, then I think it’s possible to argue that the larger society has ownership over a portion of these individual earnings.

  2. To agree with Shannon, there is more to these billionaire tycoons than just hard work. It has so much more to do with access to education, available opportunities, and the like. What is more, though, is that these opportunities are deeply rooted with how much money you have. This is what makes capitalism capitalism. While taxing the wealthy may be a temporary solution to undermining capitalism, at its core, this solution is not a long-term one, like a move to socialism may be.

  3. First of all, I agree with Shannon and Rush in that there are a lot more factors that go into making a billionaire a billionaire than hard work. Most of those factors are outside of one’s control. However, to play devil’s advocate, if a CEO’s labor is not worth so much more than an average worker’s labor, why do we pay him or her so much? We as investors choose to support these high CEO salaries. Why don’t we stop investing in companies with disproportional wages?

  4. I agree that these billionaire tycoons have more wealth than what they have earned through hard work. On the other hand, I also think that it is the nature of the system that people often make more money off of one another than they should regardless of race or class. From that point of view, I would say that it is not exactly fair that they wealthy be taxed a larger percentage than the poor just for being a little better at manipulating the system in the way that it is more or less intended. However, it is true that the rich have gained disproportionately from the exploitation of others; therefore, as Rush noted, increased taxation for these individuals appears to be an acceptable quick fix until a better system is implemented.


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