Your boss is a thief

Confessions of a Capitalist – Part 1

In this series, I’ll be highlighting my long journey from humble beginnings as a right-wing capitalist to becoming the radical anarcho-communist I am today. Some names may change but I will otherwise try to present the facts as clearly as I can remember them.

For over fifteen years, from my formative teenage years and well into my late 20s, I was a right-wing libertarian. I firmly believed that human progress was rooted in the individual. I saw the government as directly opposed to this progress. In my mind, laws and regulations rarely did more than subjugate and oppress citizens. We would all be much better off if every citizen could go out into the world and rule their own destiny in an environment of pure and unbridled liberty.

One of the most offensive powers of government, in my mind, was taxation. Taxes rob us of our wealth and transfer it to the state. Every time I filled out a W2 or filed my taxes I was filled with rage. My hard-earned income was being siphoned away by a bullying oppressive entity that ruled me without consent.

“How dare they?” I thought, every time I saw hundreds of dollars sucked out of my paycheck. “What makes these bureaucrats think they have a right to my money? What makes them think they’re entitled to take the money that I earned, hour by hour, day by day?”

My blood pressure would rise every time I read an article about some wasteful government program. I was an entrepreneur, after all. By the time I graduated from college I had already built my first small business. I knew what best to do with my money, certainly much better than some senator I would never even meet. If I didn’t have to throw a few hundred dollars out the window every single month I could grow my business, pay off my student loans, maybe even save up some money and get health insurance. Taxation was standing in the way of my financial security and doing almost nothing to help me with my daily struggles through life.

It wasn’t long before I hired my first employee. She was young and inexperienced but I spent a lot of time teaching her the ropes and she was a fast learner and a hard worker. If I sent her out on a job I’d charge my clients $50 for an hour of her time and then pay her $10. This was natural. It was a win-win situation. She was making more money than she’d make working at a cafe or something, and I was teaching her important skills.

Things were going great. I worked hard, I built my business up, created more jobs as I hired more employees, rented a bigger office space. I joined the small business chamber of commerce, did some pro bono work whenever I could here and there for charity and arts organizations.

I was a leader. An upstanding member of the community. A capitalist. Get out of our way and just let us do our work, Big Government. We don’t need you.

When the economy collapsed in 2009 things got pretty rough. My clients were unable to pay. I had to take out a huge line of credit to keep paying my employees as I tried desperately to collect on outstanding invoices from clients who were also fighting to keep their heads above the water. The company credit card bills were ballooning fast. Every day was a tireless battle just to stay on top of the interest.

“These bastards,” I thought, every time I saw a creditor’s statement. “They’ve already taken double the principle amount and plenty more on top, how can they keep squeezing me like this? I’m just a small business man, don’t they have any compassion in these hard times?”

The stress wore me down, slowly but surely. I was able to keep my head just above the water. I managed to keep paying most of my employees, though I had to get a full time day job for myself just to pay for my own cost of living. I was on the ropes.

Finally, I’d had enough. I sold the business assets to my employees and flew off to Korea for a one year English teaching contract. It would give me a chance to slow down, pay off those credit cards, and think about what I’d do next.

For the first time in my adult life, I was just another wage-earner. A working stiff. An employee.

I was making pretty decent money for someone with no teaching experience, almost $2,000 per month plus a free apartment in a fancy part of Seoul. I worked 40 hours per week and got paid for every hour I worked. I had one job to do. Just one! No uncompensated time courting prospective clients, writing up contracts and proposals, keeping the books in order, and sweeping the floors after everybody else had gone home for the day. Being an employee was a pretty sweet gig. It felt secure.

The owner of the school was a very wealthy man named Mr. Shin. He had two very nice SUVs in a city where almost everyone took the subway. He went golfing on the weekends. He spent a lot of money on good food and nice clothes. He was living my dream of being a successful capitalist.

The students were wealthy, too. I came to find out over time that they were paying a lot of money to be taught by a native English speaker — namely, me.

If I taught a class of 10 kids the school would pull in a hundred dollars or more, and I’d receive about 18% of that. But I was doing all the work. There was no teacher assistant, nobody helping me with the curriculum, none of that. It stung a little, having to sacrifice such a huge cut while the company was raking in so much. But that was simply business.

And anyway, I was making a lot more than any of the Korean teachers. At that time Korea was having a pretty rough time. The global economy was still reeling from the collapse of 2009 and unemployment was pretty high in Seoul. The Korean teachers subjected themselves to much longer, harder hours than me. Most of them even had secondary degrees in education and English, and they were all bilingual. I could barely even write my name in Korean at that time and had no teaching experience whatsoever and I still got paid almost twice as much as many of them. And none of them got a free apartment from the company. So who was I to complain?

My year of teaching went by pretty quickly. From my position as a foreigner and an outsider I came to feel a great deal of pity for those native teachers. They worked their asses off while  Mr. Shin phoned everything in. They fawned over him like a celebrity and sucked up to him day after day. Once a week we’d sit through very long “meetings” where he’d lecture to all of us for two hours or more. The Korean teachers would pretend to be fascinated by these monotonal droning seminars.

He didn’t know much about teaching. He wasn’t particularly bright. He made his managers do all the real work of running the business.

Mostly he’d go golfing.

I grew to resent Mr. Shin.

But why? I struggled with that question a lot. He was literally living my dream. When I was running my struggling business I wanted nothing more than to be the guy who shows up whenever there’s a problem, puts out a few fires, then jets off to some beach somewhere to soak up the rays while my employees would report in once or twice a day with the big important questions. Those same qualities I dreamed of having were the ones I hated so much about Mr. Shin.

It has taken me years since to process this contradiction, but I’ve finally come to terms with it:

I was a wannabe thief.

A failed thief.

The whole time I was running my business in America, I was dreaming of building my business and collecting bigger and bigger profits. I let myself believe that there was something special about myself that separated me from my employees. I was the leader, the visionary, the captain. I, alone, could steer our little ship through the storms. I deserved to reap the profits, didn’t I?

But my employees weren’t different at all from those poor overworked teachers in Korea. They weren’t following me because they thought I was some kind of business genius. They were working a shitty job for low pay because there wasn’t much else out there. And the whole time we worked together I was plotting and scheming to maneuver myself into a situation where I could grow fat and rich from their hard work. I wanted to steal from them. Unlike Mr. Shin, I just wasn’t smart and successful enough to figure out how to pull off the heist.

As a young entrepreneur, with all my angst and anger over the notion that “taxation is theft,” I never realized that the very profits I was seeking were just another form of theft.

I didn’t build my company alone. I had nearly a dozen other people putting in their time, talent, and energy to build that business.

Capitalists traffic in illusion. They must be seen, and see themselves, as the font from which all of the successes of a business flow. They must downplay the effort and brilliance of employees in order to justify the wholesale theft of labor value they take each day in the form of profit.

Study after study shows that CEOs and founders have middling impact on the success of a company at best. CEOs are not nearly as busy as they pretend to be. They don’t have that much impact on the businesses they run.  Hell, 1 in 5 of them are actual sociopaths.

The real heroes of successful companies aren’t CEOs and executives and founders. They’re the employees. While CEOs are revealed more and more to be incompetent wasters of time, employee productivity has risen by almost 250% since 1950 even as wages are dismally stagnating.

If you have a job, you should be paying attention to this productivity/pay gap very closely, because it demonstrates precisely just how much of your paycheck is being robbed from you every week. The average profit margin for a small business is about 15% in the USA, while average payroll expenses for most business categories are about 30%.

In other words, even if you work for a small business, in all probability the capitalists who own the company you work for are taking almost 50% or more of the value of your labor from every single paycheck you earn.

To paraphrase Marx and Engels:

Workers make very little money, and those who make a lot of money do not work.

It’s humbling now to realize that I spent the best years of my life chasing a dream of becoming a thief without even realizing it. Fortunately, I have met many great leftists who have introduced me to the true nature of capitalism. If, after reading this, you want to learn more about alternatives to capitalism, you can check out my reading list.

Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!

5 Responses to “Your boss is a thief

  • awesome reading this from a standpoint of an ex-capitalist, which means we can take your findings whitout a grain of salt, because you understand the concepts that make the capitalist rich while everyone just gets as little as possible to keep them obeying and doing their work.

    and i think youre not the exceptions, you are the rule, we get feed these notion that the rich people are somehow noble, deserving of wast wealth and much smarter then everyone else, and we should all strive to become these class of exploiters, we are taught to worship them and alot of big budget hollywood stories do their part in that, just think iron man, batman, who were all super rich people, above the law and so much better then the rest. i see this pattern of rich people worship so much in mainstream culture, it sickens me.

    its rare for someone to realize all this, especially if he is profiting of the staus quo, so its awesome to see you write this and try to convince other people too.

    • Emerican Johnson
      9 months ago

      Thanks for the comment, Comrade P! Really interesting point regarding Iron Man and Bat Man. Makes me want to do some writing on the nature of capitalist propaganda in modern Hollywood. It’s absolutely the case that capitalists are glorified and worshiped in modern society. I think dismantling this glorification is a key first step in fighting capitalism! Keep in touch and thanks for reading!

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