The Reading Room

Benjamin Tucker Today

Benjamin Tucker’s April 1, 1882 issue of Liberty had a few things to say about our day’s concerns, such as prisons, Silicon Valley Bank, and immigrants’ impacts on wages.
Criminal justice journalist Radley Balko recently enumerated some “news from our nightmarish jails and prisons”:
According to a lawsuit, Louisville jailers locked a mentally and physically [disabled] woman in a small room that lacked running water, ventilation, a toilet, or a bed for 18 hours. She eventually hung herself with her soiled underwear in view of other prisoners – whose pleas for help were ignored. In Alabama, after a prisoner died just a few days before he was to be released, prison officials buried him without first informing his family. It took weeks for them to learn what they had done. Elsewhere in Alabama, a lawsuit alleges that a man froze to death after jailers left him strapped to a restraint chair in a walk-in freezer. By the time he arrived at the hospital, his body temperature was 72 degrees. This comes just a couple months after another lawsuit alleged that another prisoner was “baked to death” in a hot cell. His body temperature at death was 109 degrees. Finally, in New Jersey, a lawsuit and multiple complaints allege that guards at a rehab housing unit were staging their own “fight club,” in which they pitted incarcerated people against one another.
What would Benjamin Tucker say?
He might quote French radical Henri Rochefort’s comments on Russian prisons:
The real stranglers are certainly as cruel as any of the great bandits whose names have been handed down by history. Only they are infinitely more crafty. The Genghis Khans, the Cambyses, and even the Neros brought a certain bluster to the execution of their massacres. They exposed to the light the cruelties of which they willingly boasted. The Neros of to-day commit their crimes with closed doors, and then try to pass themselves off as the benefactors of the people of whom they have got rid in the darkness by means of the dagger or the rope.
Silicon Valley Bank
In March, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) reportedly “snubbed nonbanks [such as asset managers and private-equity firms] interested in buying [the recently collapsed Silicon Valley Bank (SVB)], resulting in increased costs to the insurance fund [FDIC].” Cato Institute financial analyst Norbert Michel can imagine “no good reason that anyone at the FDIC should be able to decide winners and losers by making it more difficult for nonbanks to purchase failed banks. All Americans are paying for this mess, as well as FDIC insurance, and they’re not banks.” Journalist Brad Polumbo summarized several ways in which Americans are and will pay for the FDIC’s bailout of SVB, which will be “passed on to everyday consumers.”
What would Benjamin Tucker say?
Auberon Herbert, the radical English nobleman, says in a recent letter to the London “Daily News”: “I have not a word to say against the speculators. We are all speculators in something, and we can all speculate with as much enthusiasm as we like, if only we have grace enough not to ask that the rest of the nation should be at the back of our speculations.” . . . When the State ceases to back the speculators, its occupation will be gone. It exists for little else than that.
Immigrants and wages
The Hill recently ran two pieces by Cato Institute scholars on the usefulness of migrant laborers to the United States. In February, Marc Joffe and Daniel Raisbeck argued that foreign labor could ameliorate worker shortages in Puerto Rico and states such as Utah. In March, Alex Nowrasteh argued that foreign workers could reduce fiscal deficits, detailing how their “[a]ge, increasing education, and lower consumption of government benefits are the three main reasons why immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.”
Disagreement abounds as to whether migrants affect jobs and wages among American workers, especially blue-collar workers.
What would Benjamin Tucker say?
To Tucker, immigration is irrelevant to “the labor question.” What matters is political and managerial control of resources (e.g., land and money):
The Chinese question is of no moment as a part of the labor question. Given land and money monopoly, it makes but very little difference whether laborers are few or many or to what nationality they belong: under such conditions they will not get much more [in wages] than they must have [to survive].
But, says Tucker, capitalists would rather not challenge laborers’ delusions about a supposed antagonism between foreign and native workers for fear of exposing their own role in the plundering of the working class.
This the capitalists and their political tools well know, and because they know it, they are willing to humor and even foster the delusion of the laborers and grant their short-sighted demand for the exclusion of the Chinese. By this means they hope to postpone the inevitable exposure of their own villainy, obscure the true causes of misery and crime, and prolong for a few more years their opportunities for plunder.