Privatization Kills Freedom

For all of the freedom loving going on with those that celebrate private industry taking over where government is supposedly falling short, an interesting conversation is happening. A challenge to libertarian thinkers to consider in reality how much freedom private enterprise allows. The simple fact is that an adult in the workplace is at the mercy of whatever governing style is in place. The invention of labor laws, stories of clandestine and overt abuse, and modern day anecdotes from our “favorite” brand name sweatshops let us know that, yes, workers are taken advantage of when no one is minding the minder. Here is the leading argument from Let it Bleed:Libertarianism in the Workplace:

1. Abridgments of freedom inside the workplace
On pain of being fired, workers in most parts of the United States can be commanded to pee or forbidden to pee. They can be watched on camera by their boss while they pee. They can be forbidden to wear what they want, say what they want (and at what decibel), and associate with whom they want. They can be punished for doing or not doing any of these things—punished legally or illegally (as many as 1 in 17 workers who try to join a union is illegally fired or suspended). But what’s remarkable is just how many of these punishments are legal, and even when they’re illegal, how toothless the law can be. Outside the usual protections (against race and gender discrimination, for example), employees can be fired for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reason at all. They can be fired for donating a kidney to their boss (fired by the same boss, that is), refusing to have their person and effects searched, calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a personal letter, and more. They have few rights on the job—certainly none of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Amendment liberties that constitute the bare minimum of a free society; thus, no free speech or assembly, no due process, no right to a fair hearing before a panel of their peers—and what rights they do have employers will fight tooth and nail to make sure aren’t made known to them or will simply require them to waive as a condition of employment. Outside the prison or the military—which actually provide, at least on paper, some guarantee of due process—it’s difficult to conceive of a less free institution for adults than the average workplace.

2. Abridgements of freedom outside the workplace
In addition to abridging freedoms on the job, employers abridge their employees’ freedoms off the job. Employers invade employees’ privacy, demanding that they hand over passwords to their Facebook accounts, and fire them for resisting such invasions. Employers secretly film their employees at home. Workers are fired for supporting the wrong political candidates (“work for John Kerry or work for me”), failing to donate to employer-approved candidates, challenging government officials, writing critiques of religion on their personal blogs (IBM instructs employees to “show proper consideration…for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory—such as politics and religion”), carrying on extramarital affairs, participating in group sex at home, cross-dressing, and more. Workers are punished for smoking or drinking in the privacy of their own homes. (How many nanny states have tried that?) They can be fired for merely thinking about having an abortion, for reporting information that might have averted the Challenger disaster, for being raped by an estranged husband. Again, this is all legal in many states, and in the states where it is illegal, the laws are often weak.

3. Use of sanctions inside the workplace as a supplement to—or substitute for—political repression by the state
While employers often abridge workers’ liberty off the job, at certain moments, those abridgments assume a larger function for the state. Particularly in a liberal state constrained by constitutional protections such as the First Amendment, the instruments of coercion can be outsourced to—or shared with—the private sector. During the McCarthy period, for example, fewer than 200 men and women went to jail for their political beliefs, but as many as 40% of American workers—in both the public and private sectors—were investigated (and a smaller percentage punished) for their beliefs…

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.

The typical libertarian argument to this is, “the worker chose to work there”. In tough economic times, multiple choices of different flavored oppression don’t actually constitute an exercise of free will or consent to that oppression.

Employees are often hired and fired for no reason apparent to the employee – the employer holds all of the cards (in a non-unionized work place). The work we do – more often than not – goes beyond our original job description. Are we expected to take our work home? Call in during vacation? Wear restrictive/provacative/or specialized clothing? Can we talk to our co-workers? Can we call our spouses? Do we actually get the breaks mandated by law? Are we doing illegal things and supposed to stay quiet? Are we allowed to ask questions? Can we demand to be paid on time? Do we have to buy special equipment? Do we have to complete tasks that are unsafe? Will someone spy on us? Are we allowed to display our religious beliefs? Must we tolerate sexual advances? Can we get the promotion without sleeping around? Can we go to the bathroom when we want to? Are we allowed to sit down? Will we be fired if we have a sickly kid? Can we keep our jobs if we decide to quit drinking?

Boss says “jump”, we say how high. Check your freedom at the door when you punch in.

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39 thoughts on “Privatization Kills Freedom

  1. Robert Malt says:

    “The simple fact is that an adult is the workplace is at the mercy of whatever governing style is in place.”

    Not true. One can always quit. No one is holding a gun to your head.

    I can quit my employer. I can not so easily quit my government.

    • Amy Meier says:

      Another quote from the piece, “The typical libertarian argument to this is, “the worker chose to work there”. In tough economic times, multiple choices of different flavored oppression don’t actually constitute an exercise of free will or consent to that oppression.”

    • Amy Meier says:

      I would say, “of course you can quit your government” if I used your logic. No one is putting a gun to your head to say that you can’t leave any time you’d like.

      However, you are correct that it is not easy. It is also not easy to find a workplace that gives you individual freedom. Not all private employers are oppressors, but they all have the option to oppress at will. The larger and more powerful a private employer is, the more likely they are to suppress individual freedom. The main difference between them and govt. IMO is that one has an accountability to We the People tied to it, the other has no recourse for unfair (and sometimes illegal) treatment; one has a bottom line of serving the People, the other has a bottom line of serving shareholders.

      • Robert Malt says:

        Really? You really believe that government is accountable to, and serves We the People? LOL. Perhaps you should attend a local county school board meeting. You will see something very different than you describe. Taxpayers (and even board members) can’t get answers to basic questions, or even ask questions without being censored. Is Eric Holder accountable for his actions? Is the Obama Administration the most transparent and accountable in history, as he promised it would be? The Bush Administration? The Clinton Administration? Wake up!

      • Amy Meier says:

        So you are LOL at my values? That is the sort of cynicism and tone I am trying to discourage. I realize I am hitting a nerve, but please try to be respectful of other’s opinions. I want to hear about your values, beliefs and passion,

        Perhaps I don’t like the way my city govt is run – I must work to change it. Same goes for any other level of govt.

        Yes. Govt is made up of We the People and is supposed to be for We the People according to our founding documents. Are you an Anarchist? Do you believe govt should exist at all? If so, who should it serve. If you had your dream world, would it consist of roaming thugs threatening violence to any individual at any time? You want to go back to the days of living in fear for the rape, pillage and plunder of your family while you are away trying to provide? Without government, we would be at the mercy of the craziest and most violent behaviors on a minute by minute, person by person basis. As is, we only have to worry about that if we are in the direct line of fire from a bad govt decision.

        Admittedly, it is still not ideal (and quite awful for many people – especially those at the mercy of our military industrial complex, but I’m guessing we will NEVER have an ideal governing situation, we can only work to change the one we have. I would like to feel safe walking around my own neighborhood and town – and I do. The government provides many excellent services and protections that I appreciate.

        There is some semblance of safety in my air, water, and food due to government. I can visit my family in another state and not worry too much about building a road or getting hijacked (it’s hard to hijack someone going 80mph – plus it is a route thick with cops). I’ve encountered many amazing teachers and families through my children’s public school experience – is it perfect? Far from it, but a whole lot of positive has happened around that community.

        There are many, many areas that you and I would agree in a terrible state and need fixing. Transparency and accountability are absolutely needed at all levels as well as effective feedback loops. You just sound like an advocate for zero government and I can’t abide. I believe that you, I and everyone need to WAKE UP and get activated to allow the government to actually represent us. I’m not even saying that the measures available to us for govt. change are adequate, I’m just saying that I can’t imagine the alternate world you would want (or does it exist somewhere already).

      • Robert Malt says:

        Another series of straw man arguments. Did I ever say that I wanted no government? No. Did I ever say that I was an Anarchist? No. Did I ever say that I wanted raping and pillaging, and general lawlessness? No. Did I ever say that government shouldn’t have the role to protect our liberties…our freedoms? No. Please stop with the straw man arguments. That is not a civil discussion. It is disingenuous.

        And no, I didn’t LOL at your values. I present facts, and you respond with opinions. That doesn’t make for a productive discussion.

      • Amy Meier says:

        The aim of this site is to talk about the values behind our opinions. You are not the demigod of facts and talking about policies and programs never gets anywhere when two people don’t share values. We (me, you and everyone else) always can find facts that fit our frames so today “quoting facts” gets you next to nowhere – just ask the Dems.

        I did not state any of those ideas as facts, but as questions. You didn’t answer them.

      • Robert Malt says:

        “I did not state any of those ideas as facts, but as questions.”

        Really? These were not opinions of me, but legitimate questions for me to answer? You really think that I possibly want raping and pillaging? How sad. Hard to have a civil dialog with someone with that kind of passive aggressive mentality.

      • Amy Meier says:

        Sorry you think I’m “sad”, they really were questions.
        I’m still curious what sort of government you would like since you seem offended at the idea of Anarchy. I don’t really think you like raping and pillaging, but that is what happens more frequently when there is no governance. You have continually referred to “government” as something negative. What would a positive governing system look like to you? I really do want to know.

        I suspect you don’t like bureaucracy, cronyism, partisan politics, and corruption – I hate that stuff too – but I don’t want to put words in your mouth, I am guessing.

        I also am not partisan. The Democratic party has harmed our country if not by its direct behavior, then by its complacency. I am happy to call out Democrats that go against my values as well as Republicans or anyone else. I would be thrilled if this were a country with numerous parties, or if we just tried to figure out a better way to govern (maybe like Dynamic Governance).

      • Robert Malt says:

        How about starting with the idea that the federal government should do what it was intended to do, protect our liberties within the confines of the Constitution. More generally, government should provide police and courts…protecting against force and fraud. Some would refer to this as the “night watchman” state, or a minimalist government. At the state and local level, one could argue for other things that can’t be provided by individuals or private enterprise. Most of the government we have today falls way outside these parameters, and is simply legalized theft by the state for redistribution in exchange for votes.

  2. Robert Malt says:

    The government kills freedom.

    The TSA probably legally molests more people in a day than all the sick individuals working in private industry in a year. And they do it legally because they have the power to do it. No private industry has that power.

    The government can draft you into the military, and send you to the front lines of a war you don’t believe in, to kill or be killed. No private industry has that kind of power.

    The government can tell you how much or how little you can work (e.g. 30 hr work week in France), or if you can work at all (through licensing laws), and fine or imprison you, if you disobey. Private industry doesn’t have that kind of power.

    Only government can kick in the doors of your small business, confiscate your property, and arrest you….for selling raw milk, or making guitars. No private enterprise or individual has that kind of power.

    And so on and so forth.

  3. Eric Melching says:

    The simple fact is we DO have a choice. The fact that we choose to stay in a job that we don’t find ideal indicates that, for whatever reason we value that job over the next best alternative, if we didn’t we would quit. What you may consider abusive, another may not give a second thought. The labor market, like all other markets is based on individuals subjective values that are constantly changing. Labels like “abusive” are also subjective and misleading. People’s tastes and expectations change over time, what was once considered normal is now out of the question.

    • Amy Meier says:

      If you have a choice of only water A with feces in it or water B with arsenic in it, do you really have a choice?

      In SOME cases, the job market exists with employers that respect their employees and treat them accordingly with as much freedom as is productively possible. In SOME cases, no such alternative exists – all choices are bad and oppressive. Until you’ve attempted to be qualified and hired in every sector of the market, you can’t really speak for other workers.

      That is great that you are satisfied with your choices, I wish I was satisfied with the choices we all had – which is for meaningful, productive employment we can work at with integrity. Our current system absolutely does not support that.

      • Eric Melching says:

        The fact that you choose to stay in a job that you don’t find meaningfully or productive indicates to me that you value the income from you job more than these others things. If you didn’t you would have quit your job. Our actions indicate our preferences far more than our words. My job is far from ideal, the hours are horrible, the pay is far below industry average, and my employer doesn’t respect there workers. I choose to stay, because the next best alternative is even less favorable. No one owes me a job that’s meaningful, a job that’s satisfying, or a job at all! I sell my labor at a price, just like everyone else, and like ALL markets, that price is determined by my subjective values, by the employers needs and subjective values, and by subjective values of others selling there labor on the market. The price(ie wages&benefits) is constantly changing and is always based on the constantly changing values of those involved in the market.

  4. Robert Malt says:

    “Our current system absolutely does not support [productive employment we can work at with integrity].”

    So you believe that government bureaucrats in Washington will be able to ensure that every American has “productive employment with integrity”?

    Please provide examples of where this has worked anywhere in the world?

  5. lokywoky says:

    Very interesting non-discussion here. OOH, person who seems to believe that ‘government’ is the big bad evil and can do nothing right. OTOH, person who thinks that government isn’t necessarily bad but needs fixing and is looking for some ideas on how to do that.

    First person doesn’t seem to have any ideas on how to fix anything – just keeps coming up with the same thing – government is bad. So….not much discussion can really take place as a result.

    I agree with second person. Government has its problems – but it is not inherently evil – after all – the government is us – We the People. I think it can always do better – if we choose to make it. As far as the arguments that were made about accountability – we can make government at all levels accountable for what it does if we demand it. And it has worked when we do so. Moaning about a candidate’s broken promises is not how that works. The people making demands and continuing to make those demands is how things get done.

    Interesting laws get passed when groups of people get passionate about something, take the time to organize around an issue, and then show up – whether it be at a city council, a state legislature, or the US Congress. And not just once but over and over – just like the paid lobbyists do. How do you think the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act got passed? That was not done by paid lobbyists. It was done by a group of concerned, and angry women who were angry at private businesses who were oppressing women by not paying them the same wages as men for doing the same jobs. And Lily Ledbetter’s case perfectly illustrates the point of this discussion, dontcha’ think?

    • Robert Malt says:

      “First person doesn’t seem to have any ideas on how to fix anything…”

      On the contrary, my “idea” is simple…let the private market fix these problems. For virtually every problem we face, there is a market solution. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t allow the market to function in many cases.

      • lokywoky says:

        The “market” has had decades to “fix” all the problems. Instead, the problems have only gotten worse, and the “market” has instead only created new ones. And the government has been doing its best through de-regulation to get out of the way and let the market function. With the dismal results we have seen.

        Sorry – but that solution doesn’t work. It was tried before – several times, and it didn’t work then either.

      • Robert Malt says:

        Please provide a real world example to back up your claim, so we can discuss. Thank you.

      • Eric Melching says:

        Whenever someone refers to “the failure in the market”, they are really referring to the failure, not of a FREE market, but the failure of the state to allow the market to function properly. Cronie capitalism is NOT capitalism. Regulations are written by industry lobbiest. Bailouts prevent poorly run businesses from failing, there by freeing up new capital for entrepreneurs to use. And lobbiest use their political connections to the State to prevent real competition. Without the State and with the absent of politically motivated regulations and laws, the market would be governed by natural economic laws that organically develope through human actions. When the State interferes with the natural market process, and things go wrong, instead of blaming the culprit (the State), they say look, the free market doesn’t work. Of coarse the cronie capitalist are in favor of the regulations, because it protects them from compition, and of coarse the politicians are in favor of regulation because it justifies there existence. The ones truly hurt by the State are the consumers of goods and services (…ie everyone else).

      • Amy Meier says:

        I disagree that there is always a market solution. The market is an imagined construct, when it meets with real world problems, the construct falls apart and – well, you can’t drink money.
        What is the market’s solution for a poverty stricken sick child? Or the pollution that is being thrust upon us against our will, making us sick? What’s the market’s solution for radioactivity in the food chain? What’s the market’s solution for people that do not have money?

      • Eric Melching says:

        Free markets increase the total quantity of goods and services available there by making us all richer. “you can’t drink money”- you must understand what money is. Your right you can’t drink fiat(paper) money, the kind of money governments have created. Real money (commodity money) is organically created through human interaction and voluntary trade.
        Pollution is nothing less than the failure of State to protect property rights of the individual. Would you rather live in North Korea or South Korea, East Germany Or West? Capitalism and free markets minimize poverty, States increase poverty!

      • Robert Malt says:

        “The market is an imagined construct…”
        The market is voluntary exchange. It is very real, and the natural order of things.
        The state is involuntary exchange. It is an artificial construct based on authority, power, and ultimately, violent force.

        “What is the market’s solution for a poverty stricken sick child?” – voluntary charity

        “Or the pollution that is being thrust upon us against our will, making us sick?” – private property rights enforced by a court of law

        “What’s the market’s solution for radioactivity in the food chain?” – people stop shopping at the store selling radioactive food…store goes out of business

        “What’s the market’s solution for people that do not have money?” 1) productive jobs that the market creates, and 2) voluntary charity.

  6. Amy Meier says:

    Thanks for all the great comments.

  7. The “market” can’t be considered a part of a “voluntary exchange” if the alternative to participation is starvation, malnourishment, and death.

    • Amy Meier says:

      “The market” has no solution for poor, sick, hungry, jobless people; the market is not an actor. It fails and the system needs a charity to step up so that it doesn’t seem like a cold, heartless system of the rich getting richer despite mass suffering. The actors that believe in this system either choose to look away from human suffering and ignoring it, or they point to the “morality” of “the market” and shrug their shoulders.
      The market treats humans exactly as it treats machines – expendable and replaceable.

      • Robert Malt says:

        In just the past 30 years, the free market has brought hundreds of millions of people in third world countries out of grinding poverty, and into the middle class (especially in China and India). In the 20th century, the free market brought the United States the greatest prosperity ever known to mankind. Once again, you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

        The free market is not perfect…no economic system is, but it is far more moral than the European social welfare states you seem to prefer. If it is immoral to break into your neighbor’s home to steal, then how can it be moral for a government agent to do your stealing for you? Are your hands and cleaner, or your conscience any clearer, because you voted for theft instead of doing the deed yourself?

      • Amy Meier says:

        The demigods of the Market have been caught stealing millions from all of us by gaming LIBOR. Their money pile is plain to see – it is the wealth of the 1%. (check out today’s post -7/9/2012)

        As you’ve framed it, the government legally creating a law to tax is stealing, but Banks and Big Business that create policies that rob freedom and create suffering (legally) and game markets (illegally) are morally superior.

        The Market has put hundreds of millions of people into grinding poverty. The IMF vowed to reduce poverty but leaves impoverished nations in debt and dependent on richer nations – they are also told to do the “smart thing” and sell their precious resources (one way that they are rich) and rock bottom cheap workers (another they are rich) for extreme cut rates and proceed to pollute the globe due to lack of oversight. Almost worse is that most of these people work very hard and STILL can’t afford their basic needs and a dignified life.

        If the Market had not been protected by government, it might be reduced to the level it deserves – as one method in a portfolio of systems used in economics instead of the insatiable monster that wants to dominate the world.

        How is it possible that “too big to fail” is a meme of the market. It is an oxymoron. The mechanism of the market is supposed to be that only the hearty survive. The meme implies help from govt.

        It is becoming clearer and clearer that it has much more to do with cronyism than heartiness or health.

      • Eric Melching says:

        Could you please explain the mechanism that the free market uses to “games” labor? Can you tell me where the hundreds of millions in grinding poverty live? “to big to fail” is defiantly NOT a free market principle! Cronie Capitalism is NOT Capitalism, it is interference from the State.

      • Amy Meier says:

        LIBOR, not labor. Check out my piece, LIBOR:The Market Is A Fairy Tale.

      • Eric Melching says:

        There is nothing “free market”about the banking system. Once again cronie capitalist use the power of the state to their advantage, nothing new about that. The more the state is involved with an industry, the greater the potential for fraud and corruption. Certainly fraud would still exist without the state, but markets have a natural method for eliminating companies that engage in fraudulent activities. eBay is a perfect example of how bad behavior is dealt with without the use of the state. Word spreads quickly if someone is not living up to their word,a bad consumer rating is for more damaging to a company than the treat of a fine by some government bureaucrat.

      • Amy Meier says:

        So really it’s about getting the cronyism out, whether it’s govt or business. Business will never police itself and the consumer is too busy trying to survive to report bad businesses to the proper authority. No doubt it’s a very small number of bad business practices that actually get reported to anyone.

      • Robert Malt says:

        “As you’ve framed it, the government legally creating a law to tax is stealing, but Banks and Big Business that create policies that rob freedom and create suffering (legally) and game markets (illegally) are morally superior.”

        I have never, ever said that. Please stop with the straw man arguments. People that commit fraud by manipulating markets should be tried and convicted in a court of law, and go to jail. I have be completely consistent with this position.

        Furthermore, too big to fail is not a free market creation. The LIBOR manipulation was either ordered by, or at least condoned by, the Bank of England, a central bank, printing non-market fiat money, and manipulating interest rates every day. Why do you not find the central banking manipulation of interest rates equally wrong?

        The central banking model is supported by Krugman and other Keynesian economists. Market-based money would stop most of these shenanigans. Until you educate yourself about money and the banking system, you will continue to be confused by these world events…consistently making the wrong diagnosis of the problem…and coming to the wrong conclusions. If you are interested, I have a lot of information that can help you understand these things.

    • Eric Melching says:

      We ALL act to avoid starvation and death, the question is HOW should we act. We can either make everything oursevles, or recognise that exchange is mutually beneficial. There are 2 and only 2 ways in which exchange can occur; the first is voluntarily through gift or mutually agreed apon exchange, the second is by force, either directly or by convincing others to do it for you. Voluntary exchange is how the free market works, compulsory exchange by the use or threat of force is how governments work. Voluntary exchange, by definition benefits BOTH parties, otherwise they would not agree to the it, compulsory exchange by for ONLY benefits one party. Somebody wins somebody loses.

  8. Eric Melching says:

    “The market” has no solution for poor, sick, hungry, jobless people; the market is not an actor. You keep repeating this, but there is clearly no evidence for this statement. The market does not guarantee equal outcomes. We all have different skills, ability, talents, ambition etc… There are always going to be some who do better than others but trying to ensure equal outcomes will only ensure we are all equally poor.
    You are correct that the market is not an actor, it is simply the sum total of millions of decisions by individuals acting voluntarily every day. It is easy to think that entrepreneurs take advantage of consumers, they live in big houses and have lots of money. But the poor benefit far more from the entrepreneur. No one gets rich by selling to a few wealthy people, you get rich by meeting the needs of a lot of poor people. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, may have become wealthy, but they created an entire industry, benefiting all of us in the process.
    The accumulation of capital does creates jobs, and reduce poverty, the evidence is clear. The European social welfare states are in the process of collapsing, and the US isn’t far behind. Taxation and over regulation erode capital and the ability to create real job growth. Europe and the US have been able to maintain a growing social welfare state only by printing more money, making us all poorer by devaluing our currency. This process can’t continue forever, somebody has to actually pay for all these programs, and credit isn’t the answer!

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