The editors of the Queens Chronicle admit that it “shouldn’t be surprising when” those who “seem determined to drive businesses out of” New York City “bill themselves as Democratic Socialists, but it still is” (“Another anti-biz bill to nix,” December 1).
Their shock evidently isn’t at socialists being anti-business. The editorial posits that employers being “allowed to hire and fire whom they choose” makes “the free market better respected,” unrestricted not only by legislation — such as a proposal from the New York City Council’s Tiffany Cabán to require “just cause or a legitimate economic reason” for terminations — but organized labor negotiation. “Unions aren’t always appropriate,” since they can keep “rubber-room teachers or excessive-force cops” on the payroll.
What should be startling is that the assumptions that workers have it better than they would in a freer market, and that their bargaining power is bad for business, have lasted so long.
The Wall Street Journal has lauded the socialist mayors of Milwaukee who “implemented a range of new programs, but paid for them largely through gains in efficiency rather than tax increases.” Other socialists went beyond such “an entrepreneurial approach to government, improving systems, cutting waste” to entrepreneurialism in the private sector. Some even did so in New York, before its markets became synonymous with the hard-charging capitalism of Wall Street and The Apprentice.
The town that elected Mike Bloomberg leader of its business nearly made free-trade populist Henry George mayor in 1886 on the United Labor Party ticket. Brentwood, Long Island hometown of hip-hop duo EPMD of Strictly Business fame, was where Josiah Warren’s ideals of Equitable Commerce were put into practice by voluntary trading of “labor for labor.” The dominance of bookstore chains over independents once seemed so inevitable that You’ve Got Mail needed Tom Hanks’s likability to make it palatable. A decade before the first Barnes & Noble, New Yorkers had laissez-faire socialist Benjamin Tucker’s Unique Book-Shop, which boasted the “Largest Stock in the World Of Advanced Literature in English, French, German, and Italian” … all at the “Lowest Prices in the United States.”
Tucker’s little shop shouldn’t have remained an anomaly. He proposed that a free market in credit would “secure the greatest possible production of wealth and its most equitable distribution.” And dismantling the interlocking monopolies he identified would spur producers by the promise of getting well paid for serving consumers rather than the sheer dread of hearing “you’re fired!”