My arguments on decentralization are due, in part, to skepticism toward any central authority charged with regulation. I can, perhaps, acquiesce to local governments exercising some power to regulate certain activities in which a company might engage in the area. However, giving a faraway authority (one surrounded by the wealthiest counties of the country and awash with lobbyists) seems counterproductive to say the least.
I find your third paragraph quite curious. Before I became disillusioned with the left in grad school, I read much Rousseau. He tended toward such views of civilization, at least civilization beyond the nascent stage.
I would also say that, while exploitation has been around since the dawn of civilization, this is only a portion of the much larger picture — one in which safety, prosperity, technological innovation, and culture were able to develop. The history of the English Common Law, from its Germanic Pagan origins, is a history articulating the extent of individual rights. Admittedly, though, the advance of human rights under this system was more the result of necessity and precedent than genuine concern by those above for those below. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the more powerful treated the less powerful as ‘nothing.’
Before the advent of civilization, we had hunter-gatherers and warring nomadic, or semi-nomadic tribes. In his Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker builds on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes with hard data to show how violence has decline. While some, such as Nassim Taleb, have questioned various aspects of the data presented, the general picture seems to be a fairly accurate one. I cannot speak for the particulars of all of the data points Pinker cites (perhaps Taleb is right) but this does little to undermine the general narrative of decline of violence with the rise of civilization.
Also, in a free society (or even one with significant restrictions on individual freedom, such as China), people are not forced to work for a particular employer. Those working in factories for low wages in China often moved from poorer conditions in the countryside. I’ve read many a leftist critique arguing the contrary — drawing on Romanticism’s lament for the fencing in of the common lands. In reality, the common lands were terribly unproductive and not kept up (think of many city parks in the modern era, filled with litter).
While no system of economics or government is perfect and people could certainly treat each other better, I am still unable to see how government intervention can get any society more than about 1–5 percent of the way toward such a goal.