Labor

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Libertarians should support labor rights and unions because workers are more free when employer power is limited. But libertarians oppose labor rights and unions because they side with the private exercise of power by employers. If an employer wishes to deny you bathroom breaks, requiring you to sit in your own urine, that is his privilege until he is limited.

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The Workplace (38 links)
Our greatest daily loss of liberty is in the workplace. Libertarian pretense that the workplace is voluntary would only make sense if people had an equal alternative to the workplace. Power differences between employer and employee result in many losses of liberty.
Unions (15 links)
With anarchist exceptions, libertarians align with their wealthy funders to oppose unions. Supposedly unions have special privileges from government: but these libertarians somehow don't notice that corporations have special privileges from government. John Kenneth Galbraith pointed this out in his theory of countervailing powers.
Right To Work (1 link)
In the USA, this is a cynical ploy to strike down unions and regulation.
A Job Is More Than a Paycheck [More...]
"In most of economic theory, a job isn't treated as something inherently valuable -- it's just a conduit through which money flows from employer to employee... To most people, the idea that jobs give people dignity and a sense of self-worth seems laughably obvious... But among economists, there remains a relentless unwillingness to consider the importance of dignity and social respect."
A Recession-Era Economic Myth Goes Up In Smok [More...]
"For years, the media was filled with stories about jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. Now we know how wrong they were... It’s also a victory for left-wing economists, dealing a blow to the supply-side argument that inadequate worker skills are to blame for high unemployment."
Adhesion Contracts (1 link)
Almost all consumer contracts nowadays are adhesion contracts, standard forms which you can accept or not accept. No negotiation. They are used to remove rights of consumers to judicial remedies (through enforced arbitration and prohibition of class-action lawsuits) and entrap employees through non-compete and non-disclosure clauses. This is a case where restricting freedom of contract (to contract away rights) retains other freedoms for the consumer.
Arbitration (7 links)
Libertarians promote privatization of justice through arbitration. Supposedly it is more economical, but it is obviously biased towards employers who require workers to give up rights to take disagreements to court. It is also a common method for business to keep customers out of courts.
Child Labor (5 links)
Many libertarians defend child labor because the alternative is for popular, labor, and government action to end the cycle of poverty, low education, and child labor.
Ethical Assumptions in Economic Theory: Some Lessons from the History of Credit and Bankruptcy [More...]
Capitalism does not "distinguish between free contracts and contracts into bondage, or between agreements reached by self-debasement or a dignified offer." Thus it will "often require constraints on the scope of freedom of contract and property rights, against the laissez faire ideal."
How Crowdworkers Became the Ghosts in the Digital Machine [More...]
"Since 2005, Amazon has helped create one of the most exploited workforces no one has ever seen." "According to critics, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk may have created the most unregulated labor marketplace that has ever existed."
Inequality Against Freedom [More...]
"What don’t go together – in the real world – are inequality and freedom. So-called right-libertarians therefore have a choice: you can be shills for the rich, or genuine supporters of freedom – but you can’t be both."
Libertarian Judges Rule! [More...]
"Government regulations of advertising? Terrible violation of free speech. Telling a worker what she can read? Market freedom."
Minimum Wage (15 links)
Contrary to Economics 101 dogmas, minimum wage law has no harmful effects on employment according to many real-world studies. And definitely not the harmful effects long claimed by its opponents. Minimum wage does effectively reduce poverty.
Monopolies May Be Worse for Workers Than for Consumers [More...]
There isn't much evidence that they raise prices, but they do seem to hold down wages.
My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Poor [More...]
" I didn’t realize the stamina that would be necessary, the extra, unpaid duties that would be tacked on, or the required disregard for one’s own self-esteem. I had landed in an alien environment obsessed with theft, where sitting down is all but forbidden, and loyalty is a one-sided proposition. For a paycheck that barely covered my expenses, I’d relinquish my privacy, making myself subject to constant searches."
Non-compete Clauses In Contracts (3 links)
Non-compete clauses in contracts are a restraint on trade that reduces the liberty of employees by requiring them to give away their rights to get a job. Recent research has also shown that these clauses are economically harmful. Liberals think such clauses should be unenforceable, just as slavery contracts should be unenforceable. Libertarians (a) often think you should be able to sell your rights or (b) don't care about workers.
One of the biggest crime waves in America isn't what you think it is [More...]
Wage theft by employers, estimated at up to $50 billion, is vastly more than the total losses from robberies of all types, roughly $341 million. But because it is a white-collar crime, penalties are mere slaps on the wrist.
Private Limitations Of Liberty (25 links)
Libertarians like to claim only government limits liberty. But that's not what people experience. First world government is actually a minor source of repression and loss of liberties. Private organizations, particularly business, employers and the workplace are the major sources of repression and limitations of liberty that we experience most frequently and heavily. For example, all lynching was private. See also: Corporate Threats to Liberty.
Sweatshops (1 link)
There is a huge literature on the known harms of sweatshops, but these are usually excused by theoretical benefits. Now literature is appearing that shows the supposed benefits aren't really there.
The Connection Between Work and Dignity [More...]
An efficient economy leaves unemployment high: some inefficient but useful jobs can alleviate unemployment and create dignity for the workers. "If we work hard and produce something of tangible value, we tend to feel a sense of self-worth when society rewards us for it with a decent, middle-class life."
The Left's Big Sellout: How The ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights [More...]
"I went to the websites of three of the biggest names in liberal activist politics: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU. Checking their websites, I was surprised to find that not one of those three organizations lists labor as a major topic or issue that it covers." Hayek and Koch influences are blamed.
The legend of the free labour market [More...]
"The myth that there was a time before The Fall, when the state didn’t meddle in the affairs of free men, is persistent, especially on the libertarian right. When it comes to labour law, though, it is just that, a myth... The pre-20th century labour market was not without its red tape, it’s just that the red tape was used to bind the servants, not the masters."
The Programmed Prospect Before Us [More...]
Robert Skidelsky reviews: Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans. “Scientific management” and “Computer Business Systems” are resulting in de-skilling of the worker and dehumanisation of the workers and the workplace.
There is no necessary trade-off between good work and more work [More...]
"A macroeconomic perspective also shows the short-sightedness of laissez-faire fundamentalism. Even if, in the short term, a “low road” of exploitive labor practices benefits many in their role as consumers, they will eventually end up losing out as producers."
Why the 101 model doesn't work for labor markets [More...]
The Econ 101 supply-and-demand model is just not a good description for the labor market. Supply-and-demand graphs are for one single commodity; labor is highly heterogeneous.
Worker Owned Cooperatives (4 links)
A socialist model that ranges from wholly worker owned to codermination (worker representation on corporate boards.) A long history of successful businesses, including the German model of 40% worker representation on all corporate boards. They compete quite well with capitalist ownership.
Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers [More...]
"Amazon’s system of employee monitoring is the most oppressive I have ever come across and combines state-of-the-art surveillance technology with the system of “functional foreman,” introduced by Taylor in the workshops of the Pennsylvania machine-tool industry in the 1890s."
You Prevent Private Coercion With Labor Market Regulation [More...]
Megan McArdle calls a firing "private coercion." Matt Bruenig replies: "The legal framework that provides safeguards to protect individuals from private coercion is called labor and employment law. "

Quotations

In most of economic theory, a job isn't treated as something inherently valuable -- it's just a conduit through which money flows from employer to employee... To most people, the idea that jobs give people dignity and a sense of self-worth seems laughably obvious... But among economists, there remains a relentless unwillingness to consider the importance of dignity and social respect.
Noah Smith, "A Job Is More Than a Paycheck"
The state needn't punish men and women for their heresies; the private sector will do it for them. That's why during the McCarthy years so few people went to jail. Two hundred tops. Because it was in the workplace that Torquemada found his territory: some twenty to forty percent of employees, monitored, investigated, or otherwise subject to surveillance for their beliefs. The ruling elites in this country have always understood what Hamilton wrote in Federalist 79: "In the general course of human nature, a power over a man's subsistence amounts to a power over his will."
Corey Robin, "The Personnel is Political"
Until unemployment no longer holds out the prospect of death or dishonor every employment contract is made under duress.
Dale Carrico, "Dispatches from Libertopia: An Anthology of Wingnut Chestnuts and Democratizing Remedies"
Initial regressive distributions of wealth are no less the product of government intervention than are subsequent progressive redistributions of wealth.
Dale Carrico, "Dispatches from Libertopia: An Anthology of Wingnut Chestnuts and Democratizing Remedies"
Odes of praise to the common law, and mistrust of legislative modifications of it, allow libertarians to say that the true benchmark of rights is provided by the older rules, not the newer ones. Judged against this standard, of course, the rules that benefit employers, landlords and manufacturers simply define liberty and property rights whereas the rules that benefit workers, tenants and consumers are interferences with liberty. The rules one likes are the foundations of sacred property rights, those one does not like are meddlesome regulation. This is a nice trick...
James Boyle, "Foucault in cyberspace -- Chapter 2: Libertarianism, Property and Harm" pg. 19.
The invisible hand of the market makes a very good pickpocket.
Mike Huben
For all this vast and sparkling intellectual production, though, we hear surprisingly little about what it’s like to be managed. Perhaps the reason for this is because, when viewed from below, all the glittering, dazzling theories of management seem to come down to the same ugly thing. This is the lesson that Barbara Ehrenreich learns from the series of low-wage jobs that she works and then describes in all their bitter detail in her new book, Nickel and Dimed. Pious chatter about “free agents” and “empowered workers” may illuminate the covers of Fast Company and Business 2.0, but what strikes one most forcefully about the world of waitresses, maids, and Wal-Mart workers that Ehrenreich enters is the overwhelming power of management, the intimidating array of advantages it holds in its endless war on wages. This is a place where even jobs like housecleaning have been Taylorized to extract maximum output from workers (“You know, all this was figured out with a stopwatch,” Ehrenreich is told by a proud manager at a maid service), where omnipresent personality and drug tests screen out those of assertive nature, where even the lowliest of employees are overseen by professional-grade hierarchs who crack the whip without remorse or relent, where workers are cautioned against “stealing time” from their employer by thinking about anything other than their immediate task, and where every bit of legal, moral, psychological, and anthropological guile available to advanced civilization is deployed to prevent the problem of pay from ever impeding the upward curve of profitability. This is the real story of life under markets.
Thomas Frank, "The God That Sucked"
Working people are far, far freer than slaves or indentured servants, but they are not as free as their bosses and not nearly as free as they might be. [...] In a society that is forever boasting of its dedication to democratic ideals, employees are, however affluent they may have become, members of a subordinate, unmistakably lower, class.
Richard Cornuelle, "The Power and Poverty of Libertarian Thought", Cato Policy Report Volume XIV Number 1, pp. 12-13.
Libertarian thought is wonderfully sound as far as it goes, but there are two gaping holes in it that that are now taking on a decisive importance. For one thing, there is no very distinct libertarian vision of community -- of social as distinct from economic process -- outside the state; the alluring libertarian contention that society would work better if the state could somehow be limited to keeping the peace and enforcing contracts has to be largely taken on faith. Nor have libertarians confronted the disabling hypocrisy of the capitalist rationale, which insists that while capitalists must have extensive freedom of action, their employees may have much less. Their analysis of how an invisible hand arranges economic resources rationally without authoritarian direction stopped abruptly at the factory gate. Inside factories and offices, the heavy, visible hand of management continues to rule with only token opposition.
Richard Cornuelle, "The Power and Poverty of Libertarian Thought", Cato Policy Report Volume XIV Number 1, pg. 10.
As the dust settles on the ruins of the socialist epoch, a second crippling deficiency of libertarian thought is becoming more visible and embarrassing. The economic methodology that the Russians have lately found unworkable still governs the internal affairs of capitalist and socialist countries alike. An economy presumably works best if it is not administered from the top; a factory presumably works best if it is.
Richard Cornuelle, "The Power and Poverty of Libertarian Thought", Cato Policy Report Volume XIV Number 1, pg. 12.