Philosophical Musings

Philosophical Musings

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Individualism vs corporatism

One of the things people bemoan is diminishing personal freedom.. at least i do!  The state takes more & more power, & the individual diminishes.  In the US, we have a long history of individualism.  Pioneers & immigrants took risks, worked hard, supported themselves, their families, & even helped others.  People farmed their own land, worked for other farmers, took an apprenticship with a tradesman, or became an entrepreneur in some venture.  You either took care of yourself, or you had a very small heirarchy of bosses to deal with.

But with the advent of industrialism came a new position:  The lifelong salaried worker.  The railroads were one of the early users of these people, and their number grew as large factories & manufacturing processes expanded. Few workers really knew the owners or top bosses of the plant they worked at.  The heirarchy grew & corporatism did too.  Investment groups formed and began to outnumber many individually owned & operated companies.. many of which took care of their employees.  As corporatism grew, the individual declined.

In my family, my dad worked for a while for a big engineering firm after ww2.  But he saved his money & pursued a course of self-employment.  His brother became a dentist & worked for himself, too.  His sister married a career army guy who eventually retired & worked at many management positions in the food & beverage industry.  None worked at a large corporation for very long, if at all.  My grandfather raised his family in the depression.. no corporate jobs there.  He traveled around looking for work in the construction trades.  I also went the construction route, which is usually very non-corporate, except in some big cities & union states.  Each boss was different in each job.  Most had to treat the workers fairly or they would quit.  But the main thing all these have in common is a more individually based concern.. an emphasis on self-reliance & personal responsibility.  The individual generally saw the direct connection between their work & their compensation.

But corporatism & industrialization changed that.  Large complex systems of operation grew as products became complex & specialized.  Workers became a cog in the machine.. attaching a widget or doing a single repetitive task.  They became replacement parts in the machine.  And as the corporations grew, so did the administration, and with it politics, power struggles, & influence.  Then as unions grew in power.. a result of oppressive practices by the corporate management.. workers gained rights & protection.  People began to look to the union or the govt to protect them from unfair labor practices.  Sometimes, the pendulum of power swings too far either way, and in places the laborer began to see his part in the corporation as a right.  The corporation seemed like an eternal, self sustainging entity, & their place there was secure.  Any injustice had a process of appeal.  You could not be fired, or abused, or discriminated against, or have to take anything unjustly.  The govt's role expanded those rights, protecting the individual from corporations who had administrators who were injust.

I think this shift in the american worker also explains the shift to more state controls & involvement.  We became more comfortable with a big brother we could call for if some bully was menacing us.  Protection soon evolved into care.  The state gained more & more power as the people began to look to the state to care for them.  I suppose you could call this, 'evolution of a nanny state'.

When i moved to az ~25 yrs ago, there was not a wal-mart.  The banks were local or state banks.  Most jobs were construction or other service type jobs.  There were many entrepreneurs, but there were a lot of people who worked for them, too.  Some were not good employers, and they had a hard time hanging on to people.  There were very few big conglomerates for people to work at.  But gradually, as has happened all over the country, and especially in small towns & rural areas, corporations & big business became more dominant.  Mom & pop businesses folded as walmarts, big banks, restaurant chains, & other big corporate ventures pushed the little guy out of the market.  Workers had mostly big corporations to work for, but also found some benefits with that.  They could learn to work the system to their advantage.  Many played the game & advanced in the corporate heirarchy.  But there were some who did not adapt well.  Many more individualistic people were not comfortable in the corporate structure.. they felt their individual significance was dwindling, & at times they stood up for themselves.  But in corporations, that only works if you have the political clout.  Individualism is not encouraged, but is seen as an enemy of the corporate state, which is often run like an authoritarian cult.  But after a few individualists (might also call them radicals or trouble makers) are fired, everyone settles down & becomes comfortable in the security of the system.

This is another explanation of the move to a more statist government.  We are used to the protection & care from an entity bigger than ourselves.  More & more of the population is raised & lives in some kind of big corporate structure.. education, military, manufacturing, finance.. almost everything is run by the big corporate system, & it is a natural evolution for it to become part of the government.  I don't think it has to go that way, but i can see how it does.  I think people can live & work within a corporate system, & yet insist on personal freedom from the govt.  The govt can provide protective regulations for the workers without having to micromanage every aspect of their lives.  It is a fine line, perhaps, but if we want to have any individual freedom at all, we need to at least try to get it from the govt.

I'm not criticizing corporations or business, or unions, or workers.  I just see this as a reason for our transition from a more individualized approach to the more statist one we have now.

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