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“Specious Phrases to Spread Over Its Nefarious Designs”

In my most-recent column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I riff on John Taylor of Caroline’s observation from 1822 that “Tyranny is wonderfully ingenious in the art of inventing specious phrases to spread over its nefarious designs.”  Here’s a slice from my column:

“Elect me and I’ll stop foreigners from stealing our jobs.” This boast — issued by politicians from across the political spectrum — is especially devious. The reason is plain: Because no worker owns a job, jobs can’t be stolen.

If you disbelieve me, ask yourself if Amazon owns the right to have you spend in 2017 at least the same amount of money shopping at that website as you spent there in 2016. If you answer “no,” you understand that your having spent a total of, say, $1,000 in 2016 at Amazon does not commit you to spend each year for the rest of your life at least $1,000 at Amazon.

But if Amazon doesn’t own the right to your continued employment of its services as a retailer, how can Amazon’s workers own rights to their jobs? If you and others reduce the amounts that you spend at Amazon, it won’t be able to afford to employ in 2017 and beyond the same number of workers that it employed in 2016. If it doesn’t reduce the size of its workforce, it will go bankrupt, thus destroying all jobs at Amazon.

The only ways to prevent this outcome — the only ways to treat jobs at Amazon as being owned by Amazon workers — are either for the government to subsidize these jobs with funds taken from taxpayers and then given to Amazon or for the government to forcibly prevent you and other consumers from reducing the amounts that you spend at Amazon. In either case, you as a taxpayer or you as a consumer are treated as if Amazon owns, as a matter of right, a portion of your income.

Yet if you believe that Amazon does not own a portion of your income, then you have no reason to believe that any other employer in America owns a portion of your or other consumers’ incomes. And you therefore do not believe that workers at these companies own their jobs.

Jobs arise from contracts for services. Each worker agrees to give his or her time and effort to an employer in return for pay. Neither the worker nor the employer owns any right to the indefinite continuation of the arrangement.

The bottom line is that, unless you believe that merchants have rights to your and other consumers’ incomes, you do not really believe that workers have rights to jobs. It follows that jobs cannot be stolen.