February 13, 2015

Jobs Aren’t Property: it’s buying, selling, and trading

By In Blogs, Brian Jacobson

If you haven’t read Campbell Sproul’s entry “Busting Myths: Can Jobs Be Stolen?” you should.  I fully agree with his piece and only want to add a further observation of how Austrian economics can look at this issue specifically.

In the Austrian world, where all free voluntary exchanges and agreements are mutually beneficial by definition, either the employer or the employee can be seen as a type of customer, seller, or trading partner. Every day for you at work can be a type of buying and selling transaction. Furthermore because all voluntary exchanges are mutually beneficial (otherwise they wouldn’t happen) either party can be seen as the one selling and making a profit, or as buying and gaining a valued good.

As an employee you are selling yourself and your cumulative worth of skills and knowledge in whatever area. In this way of thinking about it your employer is actually the customer. What is applying for a job, handing out resumes, and going on Linkedin if not advertising your product? Namely, you!  You are trying to convince potential customers that they want what you are selling and you are worth what’s on the price tag, even if you are offering a payment plan where your price tag is spread out by the hour or every two weeks with a yearly total instead of all at once like most things you buy. If you can buy goods by the ounce at the store can’t your employer buy labor by the hour? If someone “steals” your job what are you saying except that another retailer, or seller, of your product has offered a better price or better quality at the same price? In essence, your company stopped shopping at Target because Wal-Mart was selling the same thing for cheaper. But would the manager of Target really think that he has any “right” to you as his customer, or that he owns you because that’s where you have always shopped the past two years. Nonsense.

I work in manufacturing, specifically animal feeds. We source large amounts of raw materials all over the Midwest. We find vendors for each of these things and generally use them for long periods of time. Couldn’t it be said in a sense that they work for us. That day after day that they labor and do work that we benefit from and sell for a profit and in return we continually pay them a set amount. We even fine them if they are late or do a poor job. Now the relationship is more formal and contractual in employment but in essence they are the same. Another vendor may come along and tell us they can get barley for cheaper and it might be cleaner. Did they steal the other vendors work? The other vendor now has less work to do and less income coming in. We have essentially laid them off.

The same is true of the relationship if we look at it from the other side, from the side of the employer. Due to the need for the division of labor the employer values skilled labor in their area more than they do the capital of the market wage for that work even if they themselves could do the job better than you. They are wishing to purchase your labor, skills, and knowledge. Similar to the market for any good employers bid with one another as if on eBay. Wages tend toward productivity as Austrian economists like to say. In other words the closer the bidding on eBay gets to the actual market price for that product the more bidders back off. Consider also Craigslist, people both sell actual items and offer their skills or labor. People also post their demand for a certain labor or specialist as well as buy items they need. This is because the nature of the relationships is the exact same. Because both involve two individuals and are voluntary both are trades or exchanges. While not as obvious with lower wage jobs it is more obvious higher up on the ladder. Companies will literally bid managers and experts using salaries, benefits packages, relocation bundles, and so on. This, like any other action of the market, is due to scarcity of resources. There is only one of you. Not everyone knows what you know or can do what you do, and the more people that are just like you or that know what you know, the less you are worth. There is however the contract, such as professional sports players use where parties agree to a length of time of employment with penalties or wages assessed beforehand if one party should dissolve the terms of the contract.

So what about the below minimum-wage illegal immigrants, and what does all this analysis mean? What’s the libertarian’s solution?  Why eliminate income tax, minimum wage, and regulations of course. If you are trying to sell something on craigslist the government can only interfere. The problem is like any other business problem. Make a better product, lower your price, or be more efficient
(raise your productivity level). If no one is hiring you either no one wants what you’re selling or you’re overpriced. You could always be bad at advertising I suppose.

Written by Brian Jacobson

Brian Jacobson works as a quality technician for a manufacturing company in St. Louis, Mo where he lives with his new bride. He studied biblical and theological studies at Reformation Bible College under R.C. Sproul in Orlando, FL. He’s an Old-School Presbyterian who enjoys the simple means of grace, Machen, and living the high life on a budget. Follow him @briankjacobson on Twitter.