“There is a condition called hemiagnosia, whose sufferers cannot perceive one half of their bodies. A large class of libertarian-leaning thinkers and politicians, with considerable public following, resemble patients with this condition: They cannot perceive half of the economy — the half that takes place beyond the market, after the employment contract is accepted, where workers are subject to private, arbitrary, unaccountable government.”
The above quote comes from a great article in Vox, written by Elizabeth Anderson, about how privately owned enterprises are basically small dictatorships. It’s true, we value democracy in all aspects of our lives except the workplace it seems… weird.
The Vox article gets into some interesting historical analysis, and in particular makes a point to address how most early champions of free markets (e.g. Adam Smith, Thomas Pain, Abraham Lincoln) were also egalitarian in many ways (moreso than many conservatives and Republicans seem to be today) and championed freedom from wage labor:
“Abraham Lincoln built on the vision of Smith and Paine, which helped to shape the two key planks of the Republican Party platform: opposition to the extension of slavery in the territories, and the Homestead Act. Slavery, after all, enabled masters to accumulate vast tracts of land, squeezing out small farmers and forcing them into wage labor. Prohibiting the extension of slavery into the territories and giving away small plots of land to anyone who would work it would realize a society of equals in which no one is ever consigned to wage labor for life. Lincoln, who helped create the political party that now defends the interests of business, never wavered from the proposition that true free labor meant freedom from wage labor.”
Reading the Vox article, particularly the part about how libertarians don’t seem to get how the state is only one kind of government and that every organization/society needs to govern itself (and, btw, it’s societies all the way down), reminded me of another article from a while back that I came across not long ago on Crooked Timber that also does a great job exposing how “libertarians cannot come to grips with the systemic denial of freedom in private regimes of power, particularly the workplace.”
Photograph above by Michael Wolf