By Samuel Miller-McDonald
One of the central tenets of late-20th century consumer capitalism is the sanctity of the individual. Margaret Thatcher declared that “There’s no such thing as society, there are individual men and women.” Ayn Rand’s philosophy glamorized anti-social übermenschen who stand against everyone else. Friedrich von Hayek thought mild social welfare policy could be compared to Nazi fascism because they are both “collectivist.” Libertarians promote “individual freedom” with a level of brand discipline that would make Apple proud.
It’s easy to swallow this idea at face value, agreeing that market fundamentalists really do value the inviolability of the individual, while the left believes instead in the collective and the community. After all, market zealots don’t merely try to dismantle policies that benefit the common good. They attack the idea that there can be a common good to begin with. Because leftists talk about social welfare, and supporters of markets put the Individual at the center of their framework, one can forgive those who are seduced by this rhetoric.
But it is only rhetoric. In fact, today’s economy is a collectivist enterprise, insofar as collectivism elevates the good of the aggregate and the organization over that of individual human beings. Get past the well-crafted agitprop, and we see that corporate capitalism is all about subsuming the particular will of an individual to that of the institution. The institutions vary: a monopolistic corporation, a nonprofit charity, an arm of government, the police. But in each, the individual is actually helpless and powerless, with the needs, wants, and will of the larger entity taking priority. Amazon workers work for Amazon: They don’t set the rules of their own workplace, that’s done from above. They don’t own the company, they don’t get to say what it does. And Amazon in particular is a pioneer in sacrificing the sanctity (and dignity) of the individual to the company. The employees serve the corporation, rather than the other way around.