Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It) pdf epub –

In Private Government Elizabeth Anderson presents a compelling case that our political ideologies have been shaped by historical contingencies Specifically, it made perfect sense for egalitarian reformers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to enthusiastically embrace free markets State backed monopolies were one among many forms of unjust hierarchy and domination, others being the clergy who could forcibly extract tithes , the patriarchal family structure, chattel slavery, monopolist guilds, and the landed aristocracy In an environment where freer markets meant opportunities for individuals to tend their own land or their own shops and crafts, they represented an important source of independence and freedom from domination by masters what she calls republican freedom.But she argues no one could have predicted the Industrial Revolution or its ramifications With the advent of factories employing hundreds of workers in repetitive tasks, the division between wealthy and powerful capitalists and poorer workers with few options became not a source of independence but just another form of oppressive hierarchy Anderson argues that we have inherited the earlier rhetoric of free markets as a source of freedom appropriate once upon a time and continue to apply it today By doing so we extend moral cover to employers to tyrannize workers anyway they see fit Anderson laboriously documents examples of such tyranny, noting that it applies especially to poor and lower skilled workers who are easily replaced and not so much to skilled workers and academics, who tend to have cushier careers.Importantly, Anderson is not just another leftist anti capitalist with their head in the clouds She endorses not only strong but not absolute property rights, but also acknowledges the value of market freedom as an important arena of agency and self development She embraces the market economy as a vital engine of wealth creation She even acknowledges that firms in the market have solid reasons to need hierarchical organization and relatively open ended authority of the bosses.But the regulatory contours of markets and property rights are socially established, and there is nothing intrinsic to the vigorous operation of a market economy that requires workers to check their dignity and so many basic rights at the door of the workplace.I don t agree with all of Anderson s suggestions Tyler Cowen one of the four responders in particular landed some well targeted criticisms of Anderson s argument But at the very least Anderson has succeeded in obliterating the common knee jerk defense of absolute employer freedom with respect to how they treat workers and organize the workplace Notions of freedom and tyranny apply to the workplace. As someone who put in over a decade in a Fortune 500 firm and worked on K Street in DC, EA is spot on with respect to elucidating the unacceptable authoritarianism in workplaces in the US and elsewhere due to the legal regime that s created corporate governance Liberty is dead, corporate managers have killed it.. I came into this book with a fair amount of skepticism I come from a libertarian and economic background and the idea of thinking about government as a private entity is strange to me But Anderson s arguments are worth thinking about and, most credible of all, she acknowledges the solutions are not easy This is not a problem that can be solved without severe costs.What I really liked about the book is the comments and response chapters Anderson s argument is only 70 pages long so about half the book involves other academics giving her feedback and her responding to them This is a great idea More nonfiction should include civil back and forth discussion and this book should serve as a model for how to incorporate fruitful conversations.Unfortunately, Anderson was not always civil Tyler Cowen, the economic commentator, thoroughly critiqued her argument and she unprofessionally dismissed some of his comments as fallacious arguments and claimed that his opinion is completely distorted by his occupation standing and discipline bias These were inappropriate comments and cast a dark cloud over what would otherwise be an illuminating response.Thankfully, Anderson s comments were generally thoughtful I remain sympathetic to Cowen s points but less so than before I read the book It takes a lot of integrity to give your intellectual opponents voice in your book and I hope many nonfiction books include a comments and response section in the future. Private Government is an intriguing look at how American companies suppress the rights and control the lives of their employees through nearly unlimited private power Essentially a repost of her own important lectures on the matter, Elizabeth Anderson splits her time between establishing a historical perspective on how labor has changed from England s fiefdoms in the 17th century and how it gradually influenced American labor through the Industrial Revolution while also describing how modern firms have been able to consolidate their power to affect their employees lives far beyond the workplace Almost counter intuitively, Anderson invites a philosopher and an economist to provide a foil to her lectures with a conclusion in turn that argues their points.There s an irony that Anderson uses the conclusion to explain that handling these private governments should be an ongoing conversation because just as the conversation becomes interesting, the book ends A short read, Anderson explains the problem in detail, but offers little in the way of solutions, hinting slightly at employee owned firms in Europe Anderson acknowledges this, but that makes this book feel less like a comprehensive take on the matter and like the first few chapters for what could ve been a great book. I bought this book believing it was a sustained philosophical work on a single topic It is not It is a series of lectures given by one professor followed by commentators responding to her and her response to those commentators As a result, it is not particularly rigorous or well organized Many times it is frustrating in ways normal works of political philosophy are not Moreover, several of the commentators are not particularly insightful The English professor seemed almost completely batty.There are two very helpful prologues followed by Anderson s two key speeches The first provides a historical discussion explaining why right libertarians use the rhetoric of the 17th and 18th century egalitarians who were radically in favor of free markets to support freedom She argues that because the Industrial Revolution came and turned everything upside down, people failed to notice that, in its wake, markets were now no longer the tool of freedom, but either a non free device or an anti free device The second lecture is the actual Private Governments lecture It argues that government exists when someone has the authority to give orders without the receiving individual having the ability to resist them For example, states are governments, parents are governments, corporations are governments, etc We are very resistant to state governments national or state level telling us what to do, but we are much less resistant to private governments in the form of our employers telling us what to do They can fire us for our political views, have us do arbitrary and shameful things, etc etc There are many things our bosses get away with doing to us that we would never allow our governments to do While the first lecture was pretty boring, some background stuff of minimal interest, the second lecture is philosophically weighty and quite interesting I would give it a very high rating, individually, but it is a lecture, not an article Though she must be a very articulate speaker, the lecture is still less rigorous and organized than I would hope The rest of the book is very mixed Four individuals of different academic backgrounds were allowed to respond to Anderson The first two attempted to prove that society during the 17th and 18th centuries was worse than Anderson made it out to seem, that even back then markets were harmful to people Being a historian and an English professor, they both seemed a bit kooky and were not very organized The English professor proves how truly whacky English departments are by calling economics as a field a rationalization, proving that she both doesn t know what a rationalization is and also that she has never studied economics Also, their responses were too short to make any serious point except show that markets, even back then, caused problems The next two responses were much better The first was a philosopher asking Anderson for clarification about what exactly it is we find wrong with private governments and arbitrary power This one was fun to read but unfortunately still very short The last response, written by an economist, was definitely the most interesting Tyler Cowen attempted to use economic studies to eviscerate many of Anderson s main claims Some stuck, others didn t His response was, again, far too short, but I would have liked to hear of it, as Cowen s reply was by far the most interesting of the four The book ended with Anderson giving a reply to the four commentators Perhaps it didn t come off this way in person when the lectures were given, but in writing she comes off as very unpleasant and dismissive, especially towards Cowen Several of his arguments she dismisses as simply being fallacious without explaining how or why Her response to Cowen was in parts satisfying and in other parts not satisfying I wish there had been sustained ability for them to respond to one another The title essay, Cowen s reply and her reply to Cowen are worth reading a second time or , the rest of the book is not The first two commentators and her replies to those commentators may not even be worth reading a single time. Anderson asks that we consider some facts Walmart workers cannot exchange casual remarks at work because Walmart regards that as time theft Apple employees spend half an hour of unpaid time in the queue waiting for the daily search of their personal belongings Tyson Foods prohibits its employees from going to the toilet untold number of workers across the USA have been subject to drug tests without suspicion and millions coerced to support political candidates or causes She then asks two pertinent questions that she proceeds to answer in this book First, why do we talk as if workers are free at work, and that the only threats to individual liberty come from the state Second, what would be a better way to talk about the ways employers constrain workers lives, which can open up discussion about how the workplace could be designed to be responsive to workers interests Employers do not just govern they dominate their workers There are no choices Rules are laid down and employees obey It is as simple as that, and that brings us back to the question why do workers not see this We wrongly assume that the private sphere is where government ends, and by extension, private liberty begins That is an utterly wrong assumption As Anderson says, Most modern workplaces are private governments Employers exercise off hours authority over their employees irregularly, arbitrarily, and without warning such that workers are unaware how sweeping that power is The historical development to the present state is not complicated or long at least it seems so by the clarity and sharpness in Anderson s account She begins with the worker s lot under feudal lords, and the transformation, first from the English Civil War, and then by the industrial revolution The growth of big corporations and government inspired monopolies all chipped away the rights of the individual worker In the modern work place is compared to repressive state regimes The dictator is the chief executive officer CEO , superiors are managers, subordinates are workers We are treated with four thought provoking essays by Ann Hughes, David Bromich, Niko Kolodny, and Tyler Cohen which come at the end of the book, offering their views of Anderson s thesis, and Anderson closed with a reply to the commentators Hughes suggests caution in making social and economic comparisons with the 17th century Levellers, Kolodny does not think that being governed by another person is necessarily bad and Cohen thinks workers are compensated in any event Their comments are deeper and carefully developed so there is no space in a review to report them in detail It is a book worth reading several times. Why our workplaces are authoritarian private governments and why we can t see itOne in four American workers says their workplace is a dictatorship Yet that number almost certainly would be higher if we recognized employers for what they are private governments with sweeping authoritarian power over our lives Many employers minutely regulate workers speech, clothing, and manners on the job, and employers often extend their authority to the off duty lives of workers, who can be fired for their political speech, recreational activities, diet, and almost anything else employers care to govern In this compelling book, Elizabeth Anderson examines why, despite all this, we continue to talk as if free markets make workers free, and she proposes a better way to think about the workplace, opening up space for discovering how workers can enjoy real freedom Employers are slave masters. Loved this book Used in a contemporary political theory class Insightful, from a distinguished philosopher.