Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!
(Workers of the world unite!)
– Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)
For 170 years, this cry has echoed through every May Day. On streets all around the world, police and many citizens have watched warily as many of their neighbors marched under red banners. Others have hidden, wishing the hint of revolution and danger would simply pass. In most nations, it’s a day off to celebrate the simple fact that labor creates all wealth. In the United States, almost alone, it’s not even a holiday.
What is the proper celebration for all workers on this International Day of Labor? Perhaps it is best to recognize that the best application of the same cause which Marx championed, the workers, may have created Communism as an ideology but in practical terms stands to save Capitalism from itself.
A corporation, by strict legal definition, is any group of people acting as if one for whatever their stated purpose. This definition is broad enough to include non-profits or NGOs. In practical terms, however, it refers to a an organization which makes something and hires people to do it.
But what is the purpose of them? Recently, it’s become very popular to assume that the main purpose of a corporation is to maximize shareholder value. That is, to grow and reward those who put their money down to make it all happen in the first place.
There are many reasons to see this need for constant growth as dangerous. Most generally, it’s not sustainable outside of the rate of population increase and productivity gains, at least once the entire planet reaches a similar level of development. But more important, the view of what a corporations is, or at least why it exists, is extremely damaging to its own stated purpose. And it’s easily shown to not actually be true in practice.
Economics is all about money, right? It’s all about theories on how to distribute it, use it, make it, or protect it, yes? This is a common perception, and the focus on money dominates the area of political and personal understanding of all things related to important concepts like markets and wealth.
Yet there is substantial evidence that this is simply inadequate at best, wrong at worst. The purpose of money, according to a rigid definition, is to be a medium of exchange and a store of value. But there is quite a lot of evidence that as a store of value, a representation of accumulated wealth, it often fails horribly.
Money only works in a dynamic sense. There are several ways to read that statement, and they are all valid points.
One of the virtues in People’s Economics, which is still evolving, is “equity.” This is a complicated word that has taken on several meanings, but the most important ones are a sense of fairness and a kind of “ownership” stake.
Talking about this as “social equity,” or a belief that all social and political systems need to be fair and that everyone needs to feel they have a stake in greater social success, is not very controversial. There is some politics which revolves around pure individualism and denies or diminishes any need for social equity, for sure. But this is not what the US or any democratic republic was really founded on. It is a denial of an integrated and cooperative world, and I am simply going to reject it out of hand.
But what does any of this mean in practical terms? A bit of an experiment is starting to take hold that may answer this question.
It’s been twelve years. On a miserable April night in 2007, Barataria began.
Like everything, it had a humble beginning. And a rather humble middle. I’m not sure how it will end, but it remains primarily whatever I am thinking about at the moment, the place where I unload my brain to get on with things that actually pay me a living.
Somewhere along the way, it started to feel like I had something. Since you’re reading this far, I hope that means that you agree. So please allow me a somewhat drifting and personal reflection on this anniversary.
The politics of this moment have little space for something as esoteric as market forces. In much of the developed world, popular media and politicians alike seem to have run back to the safety of a warmed-over 19th century discussion. Is the way forward based on industrial nationalism or international socialism? The language has been updated, but the basic platforms have not.
It seems particularly strange given that half of our waking hours are at work, and for most people the world of work has nothing to do with either view. It is changing, yes, and may not seem to have a coherent vision of just what is happening in any way that affects politics. That disconnect is certainly the first problem.
But there are lessons to learn from the one force which does indeed shape the world of work and directly affects the daily routine of hundreds of millions of people in the developed world. These are the forces of the global market, and they are not going away.
You are a citizen of many different things. You belong to a city and a neighborhood, a state or province, and a nation. The word “citizen” is something like a title in that it implies there are certain rights and privileges that are at your command, in addition to a few obligations to maintain the entity.
More important, however, is that citizenship is an identity. While the various actions required by law or custom only come up once in a while, your kinship is a constantly defining force. You might travel around the world and meet someone who shares a citizenship with you, and there is an instant bond.
But what does any of this mean to the ever increasing number of people who call themselves “global citizens”?