How Employers Rule Over Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It)
By Elizabeth Anderson, 2017
Elizabeth Anderson gave a series of Tanner Lectures at Princeton University in 2014 on Political Philosophy. During these lectures she discussed the rise of Industry and the loss of Independence of the Industry Workers. First she outlined the idea of Free Market and how it has been associated with the Far Right and Libertarians. She explains how the Free Market originated as an Egalitarian or Progressive Agenda. The Free Market was developed in opposition to Monopolies. Some famous Egalitarians were John Locke, Adam Smith and Thomas Paine. However, Adam Smith and Thomas Paine were for a System of Social Insurance.
In the Preface to her book she says, “If the US Government imposed such regulations on us [the same as private companies], we would rightly protest that our Constitutional Rights were being violated. But American Works have no such rights against their bosses. Even speaking against such constraints can get them fired, so most keep silent.”
The concept of the Free Market varies wildly from Adam Smith to Karl Marx. Adam Smith believed in Equality in the Exchange of Goods. It wasn’t until after the Industrial Revolution that Marx came along and saw a great deal of inequality in the system. Smith did not anticipate the corruption that would creep into Free Market System and take over.
The press would have us believe that we only have a choice between the Free Market or State Control. Those who support the Free Market often do not realize the truth. And the truth is that most people’s lives are ruled by Private Government.
Egalitarianism are referred to as Levelers. This revolutionary belief in the Free Market was a stark contrast to the Hierarchy of England. It was a world ruled by rich lords and other masters. It was a world of Patriarchy and Religious Rule. Women as well as men found that being the master of your own fate was appealing.
Paine believed most problems were the result of The Government. It is sentiment that Republicans echo these days—thought for a different reason than Paine did. Abraham Lincoln did not buy into the idea that Wage Labor and Slavery were the only choice available. Even Lincoln didn’t take into account Unpaid Domestic Labor though. Business owners raised themselves above the wage earners in the Hierarchy.
The Industrial Revolution dramatically widened the gulf between employees and employers. It is no coincidence that the 1800s not only gave rise to Industry and Factories, but to Prisons, Asylums, Hospitals, Orphanages and Poor Houses as well.
People rail against Communism, but they neglect to notice the Communist Dictatorships in our midst. Superiors at work give Inferiors rules to follow. The rules are often arbitrary and subject to change. We can’t remove the bosses or leaders of these Communist-like Companies. There are dress codes and rules to determine hair styles and accessories. There are random drugs tests and rules about fraternizing with co-workers outside of work. People can get fired for Facebook Posts. There is no privacy in these private companies. The Board of Directors operates like an Oligarchy. The CEO is a self-appointed dictator or appointed by the Oligarchy. And the consequences for leaving the Communist-like Company result in Exile (Firing) or Immigration (Quitting).
Essentially, the modern work place is a Private Government. This modern work place is where government and individual liberties overlap. Corporations and Churches are both examples of Private Government. A Government is Private with respect to subject if it can issue orders backed by sanctions in some domain of your life. Private Government has arbitrary and unaccountable power over those it governs.
Unregulated Commons are Anarchist Commons. Anarchy is not conductive to Business Production. If anyone can take whatever anyone else has produced then chaos reigns. Those who own Private Property have Exclusive Rights over that Property. Corporations must balance Exclusive Rights with Individual Liberties.
The Philosophical Ideals of The Egalitarian Free Market did not foresee or take into account the unequal power structure inherent in factories and corporations. About 25% of workers are subject to these dictatorships at work. Some workers are lucky enough to be self-employed or become management in someone else’s business, but not everyone is so lucky.
Works have been struggling for years to prevent abuse at work. They formed Unions and created a Bill of Rights. OSHA or Occupational Safety and Health Administration was created to prevent injury and death to workers due to poor working conditions.
Early Modern Theories of Equality and Freedom rationalize, but do not justify our current Market Driven Society. The Government is okay because it had a system of Checks and Balances put into it. We can hold Public Officials accountable in the Public Government. Private Government doesn’t have this system of checks and balances to protect the people. Workers need a voice.
Some jobs and some work places try to be fair. The lower the income at the job the less fair the conditions often are. The bottom half of the work force deals with low pay for long hours and substandard conditions. There are unpredictable schedules that don’t take into consideration the needs of their employers—particularly the need for childcare. There is often harassment, disrespect and downright abuse that is tolerated because the workers are desperate for income and don’t feel they have a choice.
As a nation, we need to reexamine our system and try to make it better. Perhaps we could find inspiration in The German System of Co-Determinism. They do have make less profits for shareholders, but the workers gain a lot more freedom and flexibility because of it. What do you think might be a reasonable solution to the problem of Private Government?