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Rights – true and false

There is a problem, so it is said, with hundreds of thousands of people leaving the workforce in their early 50s. Many of them are, I suspect, affluent and think they can afford to do this, although I suspect a number of them will need to return to work not just because their financial projections are mistaken but because they become bored and miss the sense of purpose that comes with productive work. The rising tax burden under the current “Conservative” government, increasing the marginal rate on top earners to around 60 per cent, is also arguably encouraging many to give up on work and do a “John Galt”. (UK GPs, for example.)

In its own response to the issue of a shrinking workforce, the opposition Labour Party has come up with the idea of making working from home a “right” for those in their fifties.

The “right” to work from home does not exist if you drive a lorry, put up scaffolding, mend radiators and air conditioning units, service cars, fly aircraft, tend to the sick and dying, coach football teams, weld oil rig installations, grow wheat, or serve in the armed forces. Interestingly, the vast majority of those who are able to work from home, such as those being targeted by the Labour Party in these cases, are the white collar middle class, and specifically, many of those working in big banks, civil service jobs, and the like. This is very much a play for the metropolitan, service sector middle class, and unlikely to mean much to the sort of folk I mentioned above.

It also, as an aside, is an inversion of what the term “rights” means. A right, properly understood in my view, is a ultimately a demand for non-interference with my liberty as an autonomous human being; it is not about forcing others to give me things. Or, to put it in the words of the late, great P J O’Rourke, Labour is championing “gimme rights”, when what is needed is more respect for “get outa here” rights. To claim the “right” to work from home assumes that an employer or other party should be forced to accommodate themselves to this claim, even by coercive force. Now I have no quibble with those who negotiate a work-from-home arrangement by contract in a free market (I work from home for part of the week); what I do have an issue with is making this an entitlement, a claim that others must enable by having to transfer resources of some kind. Such “rights” aren’t compossible – they cannot exist without conflicts, claims and counter-claims. These are different from the “negative” rights of classical liberalism. My “right” to be left alone doesn’t require anyone to do anything or pay for anything; my “right” to healthcare, on the other hand, does.

See this item on Classical Liberalism: A Primer, from the Institute of Economic Affairs.

14 comments to Rights – true and false

  • NickM

    My wife is a translator (Russian & Scandinavian languages). She is self-employed and works from home. Yes, in the utterly stereotypical way – jim-jams and a laptop. She did actually apply many years ago for a post at GCHQ. The guy interviewing her told her, “And one of the advantages of this job is we’ll never ask you to take your work home!” She didn’t get an offer. Apparently they were down-scaling their Russian department post Cold War and all that. I wonder how it would go right now? What with Mr Putin and his charming antics. Anyway she has a thriving business and is quite happy so… The Russian has fallen off a bit over the last year but the Swedish has picked-up (largely drug-trials).

  • Paul Marks

    Language has been distorted for a very long time now, for example W.H. Hutt spent a life time pointing out that “the right to strike” is really the right to not turn up for work but not get dismissed.

    The distortion of language leads to a distortion of thought (as thought is often made up of words) – if people said “I want to be able to not turn up to work without being dismissed” it would attract laughter, but to say (and to indoctrinate everyone else to say) “right to strike” gets people to nod their heads.

    This leads to such language as “denial of the right to strike”, “making strikes illegal” and lots of other nonsense-language, when all that is meant is – if you do not turn up to work you will be dismissed.

    The employer is turned into the aggressor – taking something from employees.

    J.P. is correct – Common Law is based on the non aggression principle, “hands off” as Ayn Rand put it.

    Contracts of employment should be between the employer and the employee (contrary to the mythology pushed in the 19th century, leading to such things as the Act of 1875, that there was some “imbalance”) – if the contract of employment says if you make a choice (exercise your free will) to deliberately not turn up to work, you will be dismissed – that should be the end of the matter.

    Instead we have endless government regulations – “is it a recognised trade union?”, “has it conducted a ballot?” and on and on.

    The first regulation, not allowing employers to dismiss people who, deliberately (of their own free will – making a choice) do not to turn up to work, leads to all sorts of other government regulations.

    As for “age discrimination” – well I can well understand why many employers, who want to attract young “hip” customers, would not want people like ME (old, fat, bald) in public view.

  • Paul Marks

    Language really is important.

    For example, the Biden/Harris Administration is seeking to “protect the environment” by bringing back Obama era regulations.

    What is the Biden/Harris Administration actually doing?

    It is seeking to take de facto control of land with water on it – which would make private property a “legal fiction” giving the government a stranglehold over the economy and society (farming, ranching, mining, even manufacturing). Very Agenda 2021 – now Agenda 2030 (ending up with people being shoved, “nudged”, into “smart cities” and dependent on the government and corporate dole).

    But if one says not “we are, in effect, taking your land and making you a serf”, but rather “we are protecting the environment” it sounds so much better.

    And words do influence thinking – say “we are protecting the environment” and many heads nod in agreement.

    Remember elections are not rigged – elections are “fortified”.

    The “General Will” (decided by the wise), must be protected from the “will of all” – the rabble who just do not understand that government (and the pet international corporations) must control everything.

    Of course the misguided rabble may riot – but the security forces are there to crush them, “for their own good”, in order to “safeguard democracy”, “democracy” meaning “shut up – and do what you are told”.

    And a system where government and the top corporations fuse together in a Corporate State is not Fascism – on the contrary, it is people who oppose such a system who will be called “Fascists” – which government and corporate media will faithfully repeat.

    “Far right” is another good smear term – call any person or group of people “far right” and they are effectively undermined.

  • The Fyrdman

    Rights are possessed innately. If you were lost at sea and wash up on an island, you would still possess your rights. Anything that requires others to fulfil a “right” are in fact privileges.

  • george m weinberg

    It’s worse than you think Paul. At least in the US, the “right to strike” also includes the right to use violence to prevent replacement workers from doing your job while you are refusing to do it.

  • Paul Marks

    The Fyrdman – that is a very good way of putting it, and I think J.P. will agree.

    george m weinberg.

    I do not know what to say to that, other than – if (if) there is truth in your statement, then no wonder factories go off to the People’s Republic China.

    In case anyone is interested, and you damn well should be, the most unionised American State is New York and the least unionised American State is South Carolina (only about 1% unionised).

    South Dakota is at 4% unionisation (if memory serves) and has no State Income Tax or State Corporation Tax.

  • Paul Marks

    Correction – South Carolina is about 2% unionised, but still the least unionised State.

  • All very well having a “Right to work from home”, but the harder part is getting the job in he first place since HR twenty-somethings look at the 50’s and older like a farmer might eye up a lame old horse…with a view to a glue factory sale.

    So, yeah, it’s getting the job in the first place that’s the problem for the over 50’s, not the rights in place once you’ve got it.

    The whole reason there are a lot of self-employed over 50’s is because companies won’t hire them.

  • Mike Solent

    I walked away from full time employment in 2011 and joined the gig economy, which is flourishing in the UK education sector and its periphery. The twenty-something HR types of whom John speaks are replaced by old cynics with an eye to their bottom line who are more than happy to give work to a bombproof old git in his 6th or 7th decade who is not going to throw a wibbly when confronted with a problem. I have come to the conclusion that there is only one form of “job security” and that is success in a transactional free market; anything else relies on patronage which can be given or taken away.

  • Chester Draws

    The only time I have ever wanted to work from home was in my 30s. That was when we had children, and working from home would allow me to continue to care for them.

    I don’t need to work from home in my 50s. The kids have left home and I would be by myself. I actually much prefer going in to work.

  • Steven R

    There is no legal right for unions to use violence in the United States. They do use violence from time to time, and unions have been successfully sued and union people have gone to prison over it. But what happens is stuff like union members sabotaging facilities by doing things like destroying plumbing or tearing out electrical wiring or doing disruptive acts by blocking roads or slashing tires simply isn’t prosecuted. The police will step in to keep stuff from getting out of control, but investigating the low level union antics just aren’t worth their time.

    By the same token, the old use of private security strikebreakers by companies is no longer legal or tolerated. The 1935 National Labor Relations Act did away with that kind of stuff.

  • george m weinberg

    De jure there is no right for unions to use violence, but de facto there largely is. Police likely won’t investigate cases of “scabs” being beaten up, and juries will likel say they just got what was coming.

    The wikipedia page on union violence mentions California, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Illinois have exempted labor disputes from their laws against stalking.

  • Paul Marks

    Steven R – what the 1935 Wagner Act did was to forbid employers dismissing people for not turning up for work, this is the so called “right to strike” and “right of collective bargaining”.

    The Wagner Act was changed by Taft-Hartly Act in the late 1940s, but the basic problem remains – especially in the States where the “right to work” provision of the Taft-Hartly Act was not applied.

    In an ideal world – the government would not get involved on either side, it would not uphold a “right to strike” (right to not turn up but not be fired) or a “right to work” (right for an individual worker NOT to be part of a union or obey its orders) – but where the government does one, it must (to counter balance it) do the other.

    One of Milton Friedman’s mistakes (great man though he was) was to not see this – Milton Friedman was AGAINST State Right to Work laws – even with the Wagner Act provisions still in place (although, to be fair, he was also against the Wagner Act in principle).

    To leave the “right to strike” in place without a counter balancing “right to work” makes industrial decline and mass unemployment (although perhaps disguised as “disability”) inevitable.

  • Rich Rostrom

    “The right to XXX” can also mean “the right to obtain XXX by one’s own efforts”. Also, equal access to something created by common effort.