The Workplace

From Critiques Of Libertarianism
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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.

See also: Corporate Threats to Liberty

Links

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.
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.
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.
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."
Adam Smith on how to make the working class happier and more productive: pay them more [More...]
That famous socialist Adam Smith says: "If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion rather to moderate, than to animate the application of many of their workmen."
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.
Contract Feudalism [More...]
Contract Feudalism describes the increasing power of employers over employee's lives outside the workplace.
Do People Really Dislike the State So Much? [More...]
A reversal of one point of "Seeing like a State": "Rather than fleeing from the state and resisting it, ordinary people are demanding the expansion of its authority in order to attain freedom from arbitrary and coercive local elites."
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."
Firm Market Power and the Earnings Distribution [More...]
Market power, a form of market failure, produces a positive relationship between a firm's labor supply elasticity and the earnings of its workers. This paper provides empirical evidence measuring market power and showing that employers with more power pay lower wages. Especially at lowest incomes.
Free Speech (5 links)
Free speech is one of our most important liberties: yet somehow libertarians have no compunction about prohibiting free speech on private property. Especially the workplace. Nor do they recognize that there are practical limits to free speech, such as incitement to violence. And suspiciously, they are very opposed to regulation of commercial speech, despite the tendency to fraud.
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."
Keynes on Laissez-Faire [More...]
Gavin Kennedy writes: "‘Laissez-nous faire’ is not advocated as a universal principle for merchants and their customers; it was a very partial principle for merchants only... [Mill and mine owners] wrapped themselves in laissez-faire flags to wipe up the blood of their employees when they demanded their own freedoms and not those of their labourers or their customers."
Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace [More...]
"What makes the private sector, especially the workplace, such an attractive instrument of repression is precisely that it can administer punishments without being subject to the constraints of the Bill of Rights. It is an archipelago of private governments, in which employers are free to do precisely what the state is forbidden to do: punish without process. "
Libertarian Judges Rule! [More...]
"Government regulations of advertising? Terrible violation of free speech. Telling a worker what she can read? Market freedom."
Libertarian Mugged by Reality [More...]
Alex Beinstein, a U. of Chicago student, gets a job and loses his libertarianism.
Libertarianism is an Ideology Built on Neoclassical Economics [More...]
"One of the things that has always put me off libertarianism is that it clearly has neoclassical economics at its heart. The only difference is that all of the flaws – assumptions, rational economic man, framing issues as governments versus markets – are transposed onto a political ideology."
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."
Noam Chomsky Explains Exactly What's Wrong with Libertarianism [More...]
"Well what’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else -- a little bit in England -- permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. "
Private Government (5 links)
Most workplace governments in the United States are dictatorships, in which bosses govern in ways that are largely unaccountable to those who are governed. They don't merely govern workers; they dominate them. These are feudal forms of tyranny and coercion.
Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom [More...]
"[The politics of freedom] views the state the way the abolitionist, the trade unionist, the civil rights activist and the feminist do: as an instrument for disrupting the private life of power. The state, in other words, is the right hand to the left hand of social movement."
Rethinking collective action and U.S. labor laws in a monopsonistic economy [More...]
"Many economists point to this disconcerting rise in market power as leading to a simultaneous rise in monopsony power—the ability of the firm to have an influence over the determination of workers’ wages—which may contribute to the persistence of stagnant wages despite relatively low headline unemployment numbers in recent times."
Silicon Valley billionaires believe in the free market, as long as they benefit [More...]
"Google, Apple and other tech firms likely colluded to keep their workers' wages down. So much for that libertarian worldview."
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.
Tech workers should not be libertarian [More...]
Many libertarian tech workers benefit from government policies that libertarians seek to eliminate. Even worse, they complain about private industry practices that could be rectified with government intervention while holding a viewpoint that the private industry is always right.
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 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 Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012 [More...]
There has been a huge, nationwide, state-level attack on workers led by ALEC and others. "This policy agenda undercuts the ability of low- and middle-wage workers, both union and non-union, to earn a decent wage."
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.
The Techtopus: How Silicon Valley’s most celebrated CEOs conspired to drive down 100,000 tech engineers’ wages [More...]
A conspiracy to fix wages by chief executives of Apple, Google, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Adobe, Intuit and Intel has been certified as a class-action lawsuit. "For all of the high-minded talk of post-industrial technotopia and Silicon Valley as worker’s paradise, what we see here in stark ugly detail is how the same old world scams and rules are still operative."
The Unfreeing of American Workers [More...]
"You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land."
The United what of America?
Julian Assange points out that some corporations rival nation-states in size. Then he compares their systems of governments, pointing out that corporations have civic freedoms comparable to those of the 1960's Soviets.
Three sentences no one should forget about unions [More...]
"[...] unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts -- and there's nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract -- to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with."
Wage Theft (5 links)
The simplest way for a capitalist to make more money is to not pay employees what he has promised and what he is legally obliged to pay. That's wage theft, and it is epidemic. Donald Trump exemplifies this problem, and is notorious for non-payment.
Workplace coercion and the capability approach [More...]
Procedural liberty fails because one person's liberty forcibly excludes others. Amartya Sen's Capability Approach is an alternative.
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"
Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.
Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays (1928), Chapter 13
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"
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.
This notion, that the preservation of freedom sometimes requires the restriction of freedom, may induce incomprehension or apoplexy in the libertarian—but it should not. After all, [minarchist] libertarians are themselves committed to such a thought in their basic justification for the state: the coercion of the state frees people from the “wild” coercion of lawless individuals.
Chris Bertram, "Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace"
Outside a unionized workplace or the public sector, what most workers are agreeing to when they sign an employment contract is the alienation of many of their basic rights (speech, privacy, association, and so on) in exchange for pay and benefits. They may think they’re only agreeing to do a specific job, but what they are actually agreeing to do is to obey the commands and orders of their boss. It’s close to a version of Hobbesian contract theory—“The end of obedience is protection”—in which the worker gets money, benefits, and perhaps security in exchange for a radical alienation of her will.
Chris Bertram, "Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace"
Most workplace governments in the United States are dictatorships, in which bosses govern in ways that are largely unaccountable to those who are governed. They don't merely govern workers; they dominate them. This is what I call private government.
Elizabeth Anderson, "Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives", p. xxii.
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"
Some people giving orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course, as Hospers smugly observes, "one can at least change jobs," but you can't avoid having a job -- just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can't avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters.
Bob Black, "The Libertarian As Conservative"
To demonize state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst.
Bob Black, "The Libertarian As Conservative"
Unlike side issues like unemployment, unions, and minimum-wage laws, the subject of work itself is almost entirely absent from libertarian literature. Most of what little there is consists of Randite rantings against parasites, barely distinguishable from the invective inflicted on dissidents by the Soviet press....
Bob Black, "The Libertarian As Conservative"
... the place where [adults] pass the most time and submit to the closest control is at work. Thus, without even entering into the question of the world economy's ultimate dictation within narrow limits of everybody's productive activity, it's apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the ordinary adult is _not_ the state but rather the business that employs him. Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.
Bob Black, "The Libertarian As Conservative"
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.
[...] our economic life contains plenty of coercion; Nature coerces us, as a community, to provide ourselves with food, shelter, and other necessities; we mediate that coercion, reduce it with technology and self-organization, add to it with structures of power and authority, and apply it to individuals. Specifically, many individuals are coerced into labor. The curious nature of our economic system requires that this coercion take the _form_ of consensuality, but it is consensual only in the sense that a slave consents to slavery if she does not kill herself.
Gordon Fitch, alt.politics.libertarian Sat Feb 12 14:35:07 EST 1994