C4SS has been serializing a work on class analysis by Wally Conger. I don’t know much about this Wally Conger, but when I first began exploring the range of left libertarian thought via portals such as ALL and BLL, Conger was among the people identified with that movement. I subscribed to Conger’s blog for a while; finding the tone of almost every post to be, essentially, “not being self employed is for suckers.” Needless to say, it’s not hard to find any of a number of people and organizations whose message is essentially that. I don’t normally associate that opinion with the left (and do strongly associate it with the right). I have also found it to be the punch line of every sales pitch for multi-level marketing (MLM) arrangements. My working definition of MLM is the application of salesmanship to salesmanship. I don’t know whether Wally Conger is involved in MLM. One code I live by is giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll assume not.
The point of Congerian class analysis (which is derived from Konkinite class analysis, and a repudiation of Marxian class analysis) is that entrepreneurs (particularly black market entrepreneurs) can come from any social class (e.g. people ranging “from tax-dodging businessman to drug-dealing hippie to illegal alien to feminist midwife”), and that the interests they have in common have nothing to do with class and everything to do with keeping an eye out for the “the fuzz/pigs/flics/federales/etc.”
I myself haven’t constructed a class theory, but here I will give a rough outline of what I perceive the class structure of present-day American society to be. I arrived at this theory of class about the time I started reading a fair amount on the subject of finance about a decade ago. That, combined with observations made in the course of pseudo-career as just a temp, largely formed the basis of a tentative class theory. I identify three distinct classes that are actively involved in production. I call these (from top to bottom) financiers, proprietors and wage-earners. For what it’s worth, I tend to use the terms proprietor and entrepreneur interchangeably, which I suppose may be an abuse of terminology. For the purpose of this analysis, by “proprietors” I mean proprietors of businesses other than financial institutions. I’m operating with the assumption that financial institutions normally operate in the black while businesses other than financial institutions normally operate in the red. I got this idea from James Van Horne’s book Financial Market Rates and Flows. To that I added some of my own observations and came up with a class theory in which the role of wage earners is to kiss up to proprietors in hopes of being offered jobs, which is to say, being given permission to play an active role in production. Proprietors, in turn, kiss up to financiers in hopes of securing working capital, which is to say, being given permission to play an active role in production. Financiers are by definition people who operate in the black, so for them access to money is a given. This is where my pet theory of class intersects with my pet theory of money. Some say money is a storehouse of value. Some say it is a medium of exchange. Based on views attributed to sombunall (some but not all) characters of Robert Anton Wilson’s Schroedinger’s Cat Trilogy, I have adopted the view that the role of money in present-day American society is to function as permission slips:
In Unistat, due to the strong encouragement of
individualistic third- and fourth-circuit (semantic-moral) functions, slavery
had grown so repugnant that it was formally “abolished” within a
century after the formation of the pack constitution; it lingered on through
inertia in the form of “wage slavery,” which required that all
primates not born into the sixty families that “owned” almost
everything would have to “work” for those families or their
corporations in order to get the tickets (called “money”) which
were necessary for survival.
A theory of business organization that strongly parallels financier/proprietor/wage-earner is psychopath/clueless/loser, to which I was clued in by the (much recommended) writings of Michael O. Church.
In addition to the three classes I identify above as actively involved in production, there is a chronically if not perpetually unemployed underclass. Most leftists identify this as a subset of the working class, which consists of people who are not independently wealthy and therefore don’t have the option of not working. Unfortunately, working class people, understood thus, don’t necessarily have the option of working, either. The trouble with lumping the wage-earning class with the economically failing class is that it requires one to ignore a certain elephant in the room: Unemployed worker is an oxymoron. As long as paid work is classified as a privilege rather than the right—and it is by virtually all pro-market ideologies, including left-styled libertarianism—employed people are a privileged class relative to unemployed people. In all but the very least developed economies, the chronically unemployed do not normally starve—a fact that conservative and some other pro-market ideologues never hesitate to point out. Their punishment for failure to market themselves (which is NOT the same thing as failure to work) is the humiliation and subjugation of being dependent on others, whether that is family, friends, taxpayers or organized charity. In developing countries this unemployed underclass, this reserve army of the unemployed (one feature of Marxian analysis that left-styled libertarians, to their credit, do generally acknowledge) tends to be a large fraction of the adult population; sometimes a majority. This (as well as the fact that I’m allergic to anything that even smells like nationalism) is why I’m very fed up with populist (i.e. demagogic) slogans along the lines of “the Indians/Chinese/Mexicans (or other scapegoat of your choice) are taking our jobs.” Assuming for the sake of argument (as a devil’s advocate) that they are doing this, they certainly aren’t stealing them quantities anywhere near large enough to effect or approximate full employment in their country. Get a clue. The copper bosses killed you, Joe.
Anyway, my working theory of class (which is a work in progress) consists of four main classes. There are subclasses within classes. Within the wage-earning class there are the gainfully employed (defined as someone with a permanent full-time job with benefits) and the marginally employed (the precariat, or casualized workforce). There’s also an upper crust within the working class that might be called the “professional class.” Within the rejected underclass there are the sometimes-employed and the “unemployable.” Within the proprietor class, which I also call the entrepreneurial class, there are also subclass distinctions. The most important, I think, is the distinction between successful entrepreneurs and unsuccessful entrepreneurs. This tears a bit at the structure of my class theory edifice: If failed entrepreneurs are considered entrepreneurs then perhaps failed workers should be considered workers. One thing I cannot stress enough is that to me, class is functional, not quantitative. Some wage-earners have higher income than some entrepreneurs. It may even be the case that some entrepreneurs have higher income than some financiers, but finance is one area where small-time operators seem to be a thing of the past. Sometimes self-described entrepreneurs (who happen to be politically conservative or perhaps “libertarian”) delight in calling talk radio shows bragging about how many hours they work (or did in the founding stage) and how little they got paid (“below minimum wage,” they brag). Their reason for doing this is of course to stir the class conflict pot a bit by characterizing the wage-earning class (or at least those in it who don’t sit down, shut up and stop complaining) as having a sense of “entitlement.” The key difference between the proprietor/entrepreneur class and the waged working class as I understand them is not a difference in income, but in function, or role in the economy. Broadly speaking, the wage earner is expected to play a relatively passive role in the economy. The subclass tiers within the entrepreneurial class, as I understand them, are also based on how active or passive a role they play in the economy. Obviously, the upper tier of the proprietor class are the CEO’s in the non-financial sectors. An example of a relatively passive proprietor might be a franchisee. An even more passive one might be the proprietor of a business with one customer, although I tend to think of single-person businesses of this type as de facto wage earners who are de jure proprietors due to the technicality (in the case of Americans) of getting a 1099 instead of a W2. It’s one of the business world’s many strategies for shifting risk to workers.
The idea of a risk shift (or at least that terminology for it) comes from a book by that title by Jacob Hacker. The risk shift is real. The proprietary class (very likely under orders from their financier class puppet masters) is waging war against the working class; specifically attacking the gains they have made in terms of economic security. This is why I can’t go along with Wally Conger’s assertion that risk is “purely entrepreneurial.” Risk is everyone’s problem, and while I won’t say (here) that the wage-earning class is shouldering more than its fair share of it, I will say here that the trend is toward wage earners eating more risk, and there seems to be no end in sight for that trend. Obviously the risk shift has induced some working class people to try their hand at entrepreneurship:
George was an associate partner at one of the world’s largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.
Finally, his old firm got some new projects that required George’s skills. But it didn’t hire George back. Instead, it brought him back through a “contingent workforce company,” essentially a temp agency, that’s now contracting with George to do the work. In return, the agency is taking a chunk of George’s hourly rate.
Technically, George is now his own boss. But he’s doing exactly what he did before for less money, and he gets no benefits — no health care, no 401(k) match, no sick leave, no paid vacation. Worse still, his income and hours are unpredictable even though his monthly bills still arrive with frightening regularity.
The nation’s official rate of unemployment does not include George, nor anyone in this new wave of involuntary entrepreneurship.
I think this trend reflects not an embrace of risk, or even an increased level of risk tolerance on the part of such people, but a loss of the risk management features of employment to the point where they literally have “nothing left to lose” in that department. Entrepreneurs (as opposed to those thrust into a form of pseudo-entrepreneurship) are active takers of risk, and as such are a class.
It is my belief that in a freed market or stateless society, the independence differential between entrepreneurs (should we make the mistake of working with them) and workers will translate to a power differential and ultimately a de facto authority differential. I say “belief” because I don’t know this would happen. I don’t know because nobody knows. Nobody knows what will happen in a freed market or stateless society because it is an experiment that hasn’t been tried yet. This is why actual libertarians (such as the ones at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians website) constantly prod left-styled libertarians with the question of whether they’ll stand by the non-aggression principle even if it doesn’t end up producing “socialist ends via market means.” I make no such promises, because I make no such predictions. This is where I think American individualist schools of anarchy miss the point. Liberalism is a bourgeois (proprietor class) ideology. Anarchism is not simply liberalism taken to its logical extreme. Like all genuinely leftist tendencies, it is a bottom up movement, not a middle up one.