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PERSPECTIVE

And the Winner Is . . .

Economic Liberalization Increases Workers' Rights

FEBRUARY 01, 2002 by SHELDON RICHMAN

Someone should give the New York Times the “Most Absurd Headline of the Year” award. On August 22 this appeared on Page One:

“Workers’ Rights Suffering as China Goes Capitalist”

The news article by Erik Eckholm “reported” that as China has undergone a transition toward markets, workers’ interests are not effectively represented. Apparently, workers’ organizations don’t have a privileged position in the new China–as they had, so the article says, under Maoism. Eckholm hints that under communism, workers’ rights existed largely in theory, but he sticks to his story that the power and condition of workers have deteriorated with liberalization.

Incongruously, the story also said that throngs of young Chinese pour into the cities for jobs in the new factories.

The Times’s more-than-implicit message is that orthodox communist China was a workers’ paradise, at least in theory, and that Chinese employees nowadays have no reason to look with optimism on the change to capitalism. This, of course, is ludicrous. In the old days, there was one employer: the state. Any workers’ organization was a creature of the state, and woe betide anyone who did not toe the party line. Workers’ rights were not even “theoretical.” They were a sham. There are no rights under totalitarianism. At best there are privileges, which can always be withdrawn.

One would think that after so much bloody history, the establishment media would have lost their illusions about collectivism. They persist in the fantasy that collectivism of the communist (but not the Nazi or fascist) variety is good in theory–noble in its ideals–even if perhaps a rotten ruler here and there abused his power. No one disposed of this article of faith better than F. A. Hayek in his immortal chapter, “Why the Worst Get on Top,” in his immortal little book, The Road to Serfdom. Responding to those who believe that the rise to power of “blackguards and thugs” in totalitarian regimes is a “historical accident,” Hayek wrote:

There are strong reasons for believing that what to us appear the worst features of the existing totalitarian systems are not accidental by-products but phenomena which totalitarianism is certain sooner or later to produce. Just as the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans, so the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure. It is for this reason that the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful in a society tending toward totalitarianism. (1944, p. 135)

When will the ruling intellectual class discover that Mao, Stalin, et al. no more betrayed communism than Hitler betrayed Nazism?

* * *

Homeschooling is getting more popular, and that means more mothers are staying at home to teach their kids. So what do movement feminists think of this development? Wendy McElroy investigates. She also contributes a sidebar on the question of whether girls get a raw deal in school.

International free trade has many virtues. Best of all, it enables the individual to make a better life. Christopher Lingle tells the story of one such individual.

The self-proclaimed leading free-enterprise society is lagging behind others in at least one respect: its postal service is still a protected monopoly. Scott Esposito says that’s got to change.

Some people think it’s asking too much to expect the country’s passenger-rail service to be self-supporting. Scott McPherson says it’s about time.

When you return from a trip abroad, instead of saying, “Welcome home,” your government tells you to be prepared to be searched bodily. What kind of greeting is that, David Dorn wants to know?

Should immigration finally take its place beside free trade as a winning public issue? Dustin Kenall says it could happen.

In the free market, people have to eat, so they have to work. Does that make capitalism coercive? Only if you use words incorrectly, writes Allan Levite.

There’s an unending series of stories about the routine fleecing of the American taxpayer. Melvin Barger has an idea why we are such easy marks.

Energy is a critical commodity. For many people, that means it cannot be left to the vicissitudes of the market. On the contrary, say Ashton and Gary Pecquet, that is precisely why the laws of economics should be free to operate.

Scalpers perform an eminently legitimate economic function. Yet they are reviled. William Peterson sorts out that paradox.

South Africa is cracking down on private gun ownership. Violent crime is soaring. Coincidence? Jim Peron thinks not.

Columns this month: Mark Skousen compares India and Hong Kong. Lawrence Reed wonders why businesses have to “give back.” Doug Bandow says let’s really not forget the victims of September 11. Dwight Lee ponders prisoners’ dilemmas. Donald Boudreaux cautions against sound bites. Charles Baird sees more setbacks for the unions. And Ninos Malek, seeing populists denounce “price gouging,” counters, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Books coming under scrutiny this issue examine bad science, tax avoidance, state control of education, environmental regulation, the university, and teaching.


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February 2002

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SHELDON RICHMAN

Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and TheFreemanOnline.org, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families.

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