Prof. Oren M. Levin-Waldman will discuss his most recent article: “Republicanism Requires a Wage Policy” By Oren M. Levin-Waldman, on Wednesday, December 20, 2017th at 10am EDT on the Westchester On the Level radio broadcast. Listen “Live” or “On Demand”. Use the following hyperlink … http://tobtr.com/s/10467385 to listen, make an inquiry, or share your perspective by calling 347.205.9201. Participants are asked to be respectful and to stay on topic. This segment will air from 10-11am.
Republicanism Requires a Wage Policy By OREN M. LEVIN-WALDMAN
Much of America’s core foundational ideas can be found in liberal political philosophy. Although there is much public discussion about liberalism, especially what is wrong with it from its critics, not enough attention is paid to republican political philosophy, which also forms many of the country’s foundational ideas. The U.S. is said to be a republic; not a liberal democracy. The U.S. Constitution creates a tripartite separation of power, which is a republican idea. And when new states are admitted to the union, they are required to have republican forms of government.
What does all this mean and what might it imply for economic policy, especially a wage policy? A republican government has separation of powers whereby the legislature is separate from the executive. The legislature should be bicameral, meaning it has two chambers: upper and lower. In all states and the federal government the lower chamber is reflected in state assemblies and the House of Representatives respectively and the upper chamber is reflected in state senates and the U.S. Senate respectively.
The government should pursue the public interest which is said to be larger than the summation of individual interests. Ideally, a republican society would be homogeneous so that there would not be too much dissension over what constitutes the public interest. A republican government is not necessarily a democratic one. In ancient Athenian democracy citizens attended all public meetings and voted on all matters affecting the public interest, and by extension public policy. Of course, very few people were permitted to be citizens.
In a republic, we have representative government, whereby we elect officials to represent us. Republican thinkers did not place much trust in the masses to exercise reason. Therefore they should be represented by others who would govern on the basis of reason; not irrational passion. That is why the early Constitution created a Senate to be selected by state legislatures and the President to be selected by the electoral college. The idea was to remove the Senate from direct election by the people, and to remove the election of the President from both the people and the states.
Republican political philosophy, however, goes much deeper. Many of the states are called commonwealths to denote that they serve the common good. The purpose of tripartite separation of powers is to create a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of power and authority. The idea of creating a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of power and authority is to protect liberty. But there is more to it than that. When a government cannot exercise power and authority arbitrarily it is protecting itself from becoming corrupt.
A republican government seeks to serve the common good for the purpose of achieving public virtue. When public officials are no longer serving the common good, but their own respective self-interests, they become corrupt with public virtue being destroyed. One way to protect this public virtue is to create a structure of government that safeguards against the arbitrary exercise of power and authority. But there is also a deeper meaning here which should have relevance to economic policy.
For many republican thinkers the essence of republicanism is non-domination — the idea that no person should be subject to the domination of others. Government should not dominate anybody through its actions. But it should also protect individuals from domination in the private sphere. In other words, a government that allows its citizens to be dominated is not living up to its republican ideals. Non-domination is more than the absence of arbitrariness; it is in essence non-interference in the agency of others
If human agency means the ability to make choices for one’s self and to live autonomously, then non-domination as non-interference means that steps need to be taken to ensure that individuals can realize their agency as fully autonomous beings. This, of course, raises a serious question: can one be autonomous if one’s wages fall below what may be needed to be self-sufficient? If one’s wages are so low that one then needs to be subsidized through social supports paid for by society, does that person not become susceptible to being dominated?
If low wages mean that one cannot be autonomous, but is at the mercy of a low-wage employer because as a needs trader that person needs that job, that person may well be subject to the employer’s domination. Although the state can easily pass laws against discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, dependency on wages may make it difficult to file claims against either. And yet, the main point is that if low wages mean that the individual is unable to be autonomous, that person is unable to develop what Amartya Sen calls capabilities — the ability to act on one’s agency free from the interference of others.
Could we not then argue that not only would republican government support policies that boost wages, but that republican government would in fact require them? Arguably, anybody who works for wages, whatever their level, is subject to potential domination by an employer. But those at the top of the distribution, or close to it, may enjoy greater freedom to walk away than those at the bottom. This is perhaps one of the reasons why wage inequality may be so corrosive not only to democracy, but to republicanism. It places those at the bottom of the distribution in greater danger of being dominated.
A case could then be made that at a minimum, republicanism requires a $15 an hour minimum wage because that is the point at which we would begin to see low wage workers needing to rely less on the state for social supports. But republicanism as non-domination may actually require a universal basic income (UBI) because the only way to guarantee that low-wage workers will not be dominated is to ensure that they have an effective exit option.
They can only have an effective exit option if they are transformed from needs traders to wants traders. Those who continue to work because they want to are no longer at the mercy of their employers which means they aren’t as easily subject to domination. Although free markets may well represent progress and may be the best form of economic organization relative to others, they are still built on the control and domination of workers by property owners.
The only remedy for that is to make workers effective property owners through a UBI. It isn’t only that capitalist markets may make the UBI inevitable, but that republicanism does too. Now if only the Republican party could figure out how to connect to republican political philosophy, then we might be able to have a meaningful discussion about the rightful direction of public policy.
Dr. Oren M. Levin-Waldman, Ph.D., Professor at the Graduate School for Public Affairs and Administration at Metropolitan College of New York, Research Scholar at the Binzagr Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, as well as faculty member in the Milano School for International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School. Direct email to: firstname.lastname@example.org