Matt Damon Takes on a Libertarian

Posted: August 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

I was deeply pleased to see this clip mainly because Matt Damon isn’t the typical weak, wimpy, cowering Democrat; he actually makes an impassioned defense of the working class and in this case, American teachers. There are a few points that I thought important to examine…

This clip begins with the insidious Libertarian/Objectivist notion that job insecurity is an incentive which makes people work harder. It’s a softer way of saying that you should keep workers in a constant state of fear of losing their jobs to extract more surplus labor out of them in the process of production, be it cars or an educated workforce. High unemployment is actually good for the capitalist class because it provides them a reserve army of labor; employers use this to pressure the working class to accept working conditions on their terms or be fired and replaced by the roughly 20% of workers (in the US) who are unemployed or involuntarily underemployed.

Tenure is job security, not invulnerability from firing or layoffs. Tenure means that you get due process before being terminated and that you can do your job and enjoy a degree of academic freedom without having to worry about being arbitrarily fired, say, because the boss is in a bad mood that day or because he or she just doesn’t like the color of your tie, which is the state of affairs in what are obnoxiously termed “right-to-work” states. In Texas, for example, It’s just your luck if the boss spills his coffee on himself and decides to take it out on you by throwing you out on the street and barring you from the unemployment benefits you paid into while working.

The throwaway statistic that the cameraman pulled out of his ass about 10% of teachers being bad was just that, a throwaway statistic, and Matt Damon was absolutely right to call him out on it. I don’t doubt that every profession has it’s dirtbags, but presuming for the sake of argument that the cameraman was right, what other profession is subject to conversations which suggest that the other 90% of it’s members should be treated badly on the basis of the professional conduct of the 10% of those who are dirtbags?

What Libertarians and Objectivists either can’t understand, or ignore outright, is the fact that greed and the profit motive isn’t the be-all, (though probably end-all) of human existence, and is actually quite destructive to human life and livelihoods, as we’ve been learning so painfully for so long. Some tasks are so important to society that they should be done for their own sake and some people enter professions because they want to do them for their own sake as well. People who become classroom teachers know they won’t become rich doing such a job but they do it anyway out of love and dedication and the least society can do is ensure them a livable salary, working conditions that ensure student success rather than turning education into a political standardized test numbers game, and a comfortable retirement after 30 or 40 years of service. It’s important to remember that Texas teachers, for example, don’t get Social Security; short of gambling in the stock market with a 401(k), TRS is all they have to look forward to regarding a secure retirement.

The fight over how we treat teachers in this country is a microcosm in the broader fight over a much larger and more critical question: Does the economy exist to serve the people, or do people exist to serve the economy? Are people merely pieces in a wealth production machine, or are people an end unto themselves?

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