Symposium on Free Market Fairness, Exploitation

Is Economic Liberty Harmful?

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

Elizabeth Anderson argues that economic liberty is importantly different from other basic liberties because its exercise is often unacceptably harmful to others (not just self-harming.) Anderson provides a list of ways that the exercise of economic liberty is harmful, arguing that unrestricted economic liberty would enable corporations to stuff rat feces in sausages, market useless medicines, dump toxic waste in rivers and send the global economy into financial collapse.

Is this economic freedom? Many of these examples are cases of fraud. Just as a right to free speech does not entitle people to make fraudulent claims about the efficacy of the drugs they manufacture or the contents of the sausages they make, nor does economic freedom. Still, free speech is protected by the constitution and any legal limits are subject to judicial scrutiny. As Anderson points out, just as rights to free movement do not entitle people to directly harm others or their property, nor does economic freedom entitle companies to pollute the air and the rivers, which they do not own. Judges need not be experts on drugs or sausages or environmentalism to determine whether speech or movement or economic activity is harmful. Speech and advertising is often complicated and also deceptive. Freedom of speech and expression are not absolute, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t basic rights. So too with economic freedom. None of the basic rights entitle us to directly coerce or deceive others.

Anderson then points out that economic activity can also have less direct negative externalities. To illustrate this point, imagine that one person’s exercise of his economic liberty is harmful even if he doesn’t coerce or deceive anyone. For example, if Al contracts with Cindy to work 14 hour days, Bob may be made worse off because now Bob cannot find a job that only requires 8 hour days, or Bob’s wages are effectively lower now, or some similar effect. About people like Al, Andreson writes, “they are not entitled, in the name of their personal freedom, to undermine the conditions under which the vast majority of others can enjoy more important freedoms.”

This is where we part ways. I think that workers like Al are entitled to make their own labor agreements, free from regulation. To see why, consider another case. Al and Bob are factory workers with similar jobs. Al discovers a way to do his job better, more productively and with greater accuracy. Now by comparison Bob looks like a worse employee to their manager, Cindy. Say that this situation means that Bob now needs to work many more hours to keep pace with Al. Perhaps Al has undermined the conditions under which Bob enjoyed important freedoms, but Al was entitled to do so. In many professions, working longer hours are a way of gaining professional or economic advantage, but we don’t think that lawyers who log the most hours are doing wrong by their less productive coworkers. Why should we only reserve these opportunities for economic advantage for high-status professions like lawyers, and not for all workers, including wage laborers?

Nevertheless, Anderson is right to point out that in many ways the modern workplace does resemble a dictatorship. Tomasi overlooks that all the virtues of entrepreneurial freedom are impossible in an oppressive workplace. He talks about how important freedom is for employers, but overlooks the way those employers treat their workers. Yet it is the wrong diagnosis to say that work is a dictatorship because workers and employers have too much freedom to set the terms of labor agreements.

Rather, the morally problematic elements of work are due to the fact that not working isn’t an option for too many workers. But as Tomasi writes, “like social democratic regimes, market democratic regimes can include a constitutional guarantee of a basic income or safety net.” (I know, I sound like a broken record on this!) I agree that Tomasi should play this up more. I think he mentions a basic income only once, perhaps because it conflicts with Murray’s claims about paid labor and self-esteem, which Anderson rightly calls out as implausible and offensive to unpaid workers. Yet a UBI enables market democrats to respond to the dictatorship of the workplace without compromising on the economic liberties that matter most for self-authorship (e.g. the right to own productive property and freedom of contract.)

Such a proposal also has advantages over calls for workplace democracy. Anderson writes that

The case for workplace democracy and other democratic constraints on employers is the same as the case for democracy anywhere:  it’s better for securing the freedom and personal independence of the governed than the authoritarian alternative.

Sure, but also the case against workplace democracy is the same as the case against democracy anywhere—it trades the authoritarianism of a dictator for the authoritarianism of the mob. It’s bad enough that our neighbors have so much political power to influence our economic fate and limit our rights, do we really need that at work as well?

I realize that work can be oppressive, but that’s exactly why economic freedom is so important, along with social justice. Even where unfreedom in the workplace is a problem, more limits on freedom are not the solution., especially not limits on the freedom of the most vulnerable and unfree among us.

  • bill woolsey

    The solution to the “oppression of the workplace” is choice between workplaces.   Requiring that all workplaces be governed in the same way (having all workers vote rather than some investors vote or still some other alternative,) is not the answer.

    This is also the argument for federalism.   Lots of jurisdictions and citizens free to move between them.

    If I were to criticize the intital post, it focused too much on bargaining power.   Markets are all about bilateral monopoly.   That the alternative to working for one person (or producing and selling a product to one person, or buying a product from one person) is to trade with someone else is ignored. 

    Some argue that our economic intuitions are driven by thousands of years in small hunting and gathering bands.   Today, “economic” relations within the family is probably the closest useful application for these ethics.   Using those intuitions for rules governing huge groups of people where hardly anyone personally knows anyone else is very ineffective.   But political and social philosophers seem to break things down to these simple relationships.

    To criticize this post, not working and collecting welfare from the government is not the only alternative to working, and so not the one that should first come to mind.

    As for the road analogy and freedom of movement, do we really want to say that government is obligated to build convenient roads so that people are free to move?   What government may not do is set up the system of internal passports and then prevent people from using roads, rail, boats or planes from moving about.

    Consider a system of private railroads without shared tracks.   That a railroad has rules of the road that its engineers are required to obey is not a restriction on freedom of movement.   If the government owns the railroad and does the same, it isn’t a restriction on freedom of movement.

    Now, if the monopoly railroad were to develop some kind of discrimination as to who could travel,  that might be a problem.    But rules about who gets the right of way that apply to the engineers hardly apply.

    If there were a private turnpike, that the turnpike owners have rules of the road, is not a restriction on freedom of movement.    

    If they were only trying to extract monopoly rents, encouraging people to travel, but charging a lot, I don’t think it would be a restriction on freedom of movement exactly.   Though this would be a situation where government intervention would meet a market test.

    So, the government tries to regulate transport costs.   The monopolist says, freedom of contract and private property, and this would be a situation where those basic restrictions could be overcome because of monopoly.

    Now, exactly what the regulated fares should be might be given deference to the elected branches.  

    But to say that the monopoly railroad requires some kind of rules o the road so the engineers to run into each other _is_ irrelevant!

    Think about a system of competing private busses on the roads.  That the drivers have to stop at red lights is not a restriction on the freedom of movement of passengers. 

    If the government owns a steel mill, (which perhaps it should not,) that doesn’t require that all of the government employees there should be free from instruction from the government as to what to do.   That isn’t a restraint on economic freedom.

    The restriction would be prohibiting people from setting up steel mills.   And to get back to the initial point, prohibiting them from forming steel mills using alternative principles of organization.   That all steel mills must be operated on the principle of employee self-management would be a restriction on economic freedom.   If people want to set up steel mills based on stockholder governance, they should be free to do so.

    Operating a road as if it is a commons where people are free to do their own thing (including digging up parts of the roadway and planting flowers or food?) is absurd.    Of course, treating all of society as a commons would be equally disastrous.   That is why freedom of contract and private property are essential.

    Tomasi’s argument, as I take it, is that within a framework of private property and freedom of contract, deviations by government regulation would require a strong justificiation.  

    By the way, while it is true that judges are not experts on each and every economic activity, neither are voters.  

    Now, many of the arguments mentioned in the “traffic rules” analogy were really bad.  So, regulation aimed at preventing competion or mandating equal bargaining power in situations where there is no bilateral monopoly could be stricken down.   On the other hand, regulations to prevent polution harmful to others, where there is question about the harm or the exact nature of the regulations might be treated with deference.   While the voters and politicians probably don’t know very well how to handle this, neither does the judiciary.  

    On the other hand, arguments about how a regulation is actually directed to harm some specific firm for the benefit of other firms, should be subject to judicial scrutiny.   Difficult it may be, but no rational basis for this distinction that helps these politically powerful firms but hurts these other firms is a serious problem.  While having the justices design an alternative regulatory scheme might be impossible, striking down an unjust one and requiring the political branches to do it over, could be reasonable.

  • martinbrock

    … enable corporations to stuff rat feces in sausages …

    Rat feces in my sausage doesn’t sound appetizing; however, I sometimes lick my wife’s … I’m not sure why I like doing it, but I do, and I don’t want anyone jailing me for it. Where are we drawing the line exactly? If tolerating just a little rat feces in my sausage dramatically lowers the price of my sausage, maybe that’s what I want.

    … we don’t think that lawyers who log the most hours are doing wrong by their less productive coworkers.

    Don’t we? Apparently, many of us do.

    Rather, the morally problematic elements of work are due to the fact that not working isn’t an option for too many workers.

    The morally problematic elements of work are due to the fact that other work isn’t an option for too many workers. The problem is that you and I may not offer other, more attractive work to the workers even if we may profit by the offer. The problem is that states limit entrepreneurial freedom, often to favor rent seeking capitalists.

    A UBI as an alternative to a more complex and intrusive welfare state is an interesting idea, but I don’t want a UBI simply entitling able people to consume the produce of others without producing commensurately themselves.

    • “…but I don’t want a UBI simply entitling able people to consume the produce of others without producing commensurately themselves.” And neither would a lot of people , probably the majority of them in fact. Leaving aside philosophy for the moment, there are good evolutionary reasons to doubt that a UBI (at least of the pure type) could be justified to the general populace. I’m here following the common model of “cooperator”/”defector” (or “cheater”) dynamics where you end up with the vast majority of people being cooperators, an ineradicable minority being defectors, and the cooperators evolving heightened sensitivities regarding defector-like behavior and a tendency to over-react in an effort to punish it.

      I don’t think it’s any accident that one of the most insulting things you can say about someone is that they’re a “parasite” unjustifiedly living off the work of others. Clearly there’s a strong expectation, part of our inherited dispositions and reinforced by cultural teachings,  that able-bodied people should be employed at some sort of useful and productive work. There’s little political support for providing direct cash payments to people unless they’re physically unable to work (disability payments), are making a good-faith effort to work in support of their families (earned income tax credit), or are receiving payments tied to work in the past (social security). In other cases for support to be politically acceptable it has to be restricted in some way (e.g., as with food stamps) to minimize the perceived opportunities for cheating.

      A pure UBI (i.e., that involved direct cash payments with no restrictions on how it might be spent) is attractive from a theoretical point of view as a substitute for the wide range of goverment support programs in different areas. However as noted I think there are good reasons for why government support is handled in this fragmented inefficient manner; it’s not (just) due to a desire to expand the size and power of government.

      • martinbrock

        Yes, the “universal” in UBI is problematic. If a UBI replaces other welfare state programs, then it must provide a fully disabled person a decent living meeting all of his needs and some wants as well, but if it must provide this person a decent living, then it must provide every person the same living. In fact, it must provide able persons a better living, because a disabled person has more essential needs than an able person.

        In this scenario, I expect many able people to work less, but if these people work less, the burden on others to provide the UBI increases. The others then benefit less by working, and many of them also decide to work less. Ultimately, the system collapses.

        If I were simply entitled to decent food, clothing, shelter and internet access, I’d probably stop working myself. I’d start a blog and pretend that my blog is “work” benefitting others enough to justify my living. With this UBI, we’d soon be a nation of would be movie stars, novelists and opinion peddlers, all of us starving.

  • Hi Jessica,

    While I’m generally sympathetic with your arguments here I’m a little skeptical about a couple of points.

    First, as I (finally?) articulated in comments a couple of posts ago I’m intolerant of authoritarianism in all forms — my example being that even if Russia was Russia, Inc., and even if Vladimir Putin was CEO instead of President or Prime Minister, and the Duma a Board of Directors instead of a parlament, I’d still be equally intolerant of Putin and the Duma’s punitive sanctions against free speech and dissent. Whether Russia (or Apple, or the little shop down the street) is a private or public entity is irrelevant… as you tacitly admit when you say “the case against workplace democracy is the same as the case against democracy anywhere.”

    This doesn’t mean I think business owners should have no agency, nor for that matter that they shouldn’t have primacy in decision making.

    But do you seriously believe that an employer should be able to arbitrarily, say, administer random drug tests, impose gag orders, require that they sign loyalty oaths or sign non-disclosure statements, donate to certain charities or political parties, or drink or not drink sodas of certain sizes?

    How about this one: do you believe an employer should be able to arbitrarily appropriate Al’s factory-work innovations, teach them to Bob, and
    then require both Al and Bob to use Al’s method 14 hours a day on pain of either termination or reduction in pay? Because, seriously, in virtually all workplaces (factories more than most) all innovations by employees become the property of their employers. (If you’d ever worked in the private sector, particularly the manufacturing sector, you’d know Al would at best get a one-time bonus and maybe an employee-of-the-month award… before being sent back to work on the line.)

    Or let’s put it another way: if, but only if, individual factory workers had the same intellectual property rights enterprises did, such that if Al received royalties from his employer every time the employer had its other employers use the method Al innovated, then you might have a point.

    The issue being that if you were to argue as bluntly as you do that we should celebrate behavior in employers that we would deplore in governments, then Al not only has no right to profit from his innovation he’s subject to arbitrary discipline if he presses for recognition. Extra credit: to the extent government exists solely for the benefit of private-property protection, and thus is justified in participating in suppression of all hints of union-like association, collusion, or cooperation between employees, Al can’t even complain to his fellow employees! (Assuming his standard terms-of-employment non-disclosure agreement would permit such a thing in the first place.) Nor would his fellow employees have any right or even standing to back him up — at least not in any organized or coordinated fashion.

    Oh, one last point about the freedom to change jobs if, say, Al objects to being gag-ordered, to receiving no compensation for innovation, or for being obliged to work the same hours for no compensation while his employer profits from his innovation: you’re assuming it would be somehow illegal for employers to collude on decisions to gag employees, on compensation for innovation, and so on.

    Also, going back to the point about freedom to change jobs plus CEO vs. President Putin: While, yes, individuals always have the freedom to change jobs in principle when they disagree with the treatment or compensation they receive, it’s equally true that citizens of, say, Russia have similar or even identical freedom to emigrate. Therefore, if I wanted to tolerate the “freedom to move” argument, which I almost never want to do, then we’d stuck in the awkward position (for libertarians) that governments are actually no worse than employers and, even more awkwardly, that governments have the same rights over citizens that employers have over employees…. and finally that citizens have freedom equal to employees.

    I don’t think you’d like that last point. I certainly don’t! The difference is a lot of Libertarians argue that coercive authoritarianism is bad in government but laudable in employers. I say coercive authoritarianism is bad, period.


    • martinbrock

      Employers should be free to require drug tests or sexual harassment training or daily prayers or nude calisthenics and transcendental meditation. Employers should be free to offer any working conditions, as long as entrepreneurial opportunity is unrestricted, so that other free associations may offer other working conditions appealing to people not happy with these constraints.

      • Graham Peterson

        I agree that the guarantee of entry and exit here are fundamental, But I think broadly, workers command greater and greater agency in the firm as economic development progresses. So I’m not sure the “factory as dictatorship, 1920’s style” is even a good exemplar here.

        • martinbrock

          As productivity increases, people may organize themselves less productively (working fewer hours for example) and still produce enough to meet their needs. They must then consume less than others organized more productively.

          As long as less dictatorial factories compete freely with more dictatorial factories, I have no problem with a highly dictatorial factory. I recently read a statement by an Apple executive impressed by the just-in-time capacity of a Chinese manufacturer. Many workers live in this factory and will wake in the middle of the night to start a shift on short notice.

          My first reaction to this executive’s praise of the factory was disgust, but after some reflection, my thinking changed. As a software developer, I work this way myself routinely. I have lived within walking distance of my office, and I liked it. I often work from home. I’m sometimes on call 24 hours a day, and I’ll work in the middle of the night if I feel like it.

          I don’t feel enslaved to these working conditions at all. They’re a choice. In fact, many people with less flexible hours envy my working conditions.

          Factory workers cannot be so isolated from other workers, but why should factory workers not have the same choice? In a sufficiently free market, laborers have this option along with others and may earn more working this way than working in other ways. My first reaction was the height of paternalistic arrogance.

          • Graham Peterson

            Agreed. Just like in agriculture though, in the long run factory work will go entirely to the machines, and market and firm structure will look much different than large hierarchical factories.

          • martinbrock

            Often, automation eliminates labor by making more skilled labor more productive. Eliminating labor entirely is easier said than done. No machine is remotely comparable to a human being in terms of flexibility and intelligence, and I don’t take the singularity very seriously. It’s more science fiction than science.

          • Graham Peterson

            Understood, but I am discussing the substitution toward service employments. So yes, as costs of manufacturing fall to zero in the event of exponential technological increase, labor becomes more productive — that is, people laboring to serve one another rather than operate machines, mostly (don’t need Kurzweil here, though he is correct that technology increases exponentially – Nordhaus and others corroborate).

    • j_m_h

      I’m of mixed feeling about the transfer of IP rights to the corporation when the employee develops some new innovation but there are clearly are situations where it’s justified and there are ways for the employee to get around these clauses. If they don’t use any of the employers property and do not develop the innovation during work hours then the employer has very little claim to the innovation. The simple fact that the idea occurred to the employee due to his working situation doesn’t convey any ownership right to the company. If the employee wants to bring the idea to the company there are also ways to do so that might allow them to share in the ownership of the IP — and derive direct compensation from the idea.

      • Emil_mi

        What other ways? It is easy to argue the fact that without the access to equipment, knowledge and opportunity one would not have the idea in the first place. The counter factual is harder to defend

        • j_m_h

          If the employee has developed the idea off hours then do like any inventor looking for a company to take the idea to market. Let the company know you have an idea you’re willing to present but want an agreement that you will share in the ownership. If they don’t want that don’t give them the idea. You’ll want them to had signed something that requires them to provide documented evidence that they were already working on the same thing within a very short period of time — I’d say less than 36 hours.

          The fact that some inanimate objects exists and are owned by someone else will not give that owner some claim to the idea someone else came up with.  Unless there’s something very unique about the knowledge of the company that’s of little merit in the claim – and even when there is a significant unique setting that knowledge is shared by all the employees and the managers and, in many cases, the owners of the company. If they didn’t come up with the idea themselves then clearly the one guy that did brought something more to that table and has the best claim to ownership of the idea and it’s implementation.

          One of the reason these terms are in employment contracts is that a number of engineer types have jobs that are to develop such innovations and if the company paying the person for such development work didn’t have those clauses the person could claim IP rights and then hold up the company for a lot if the company has changed it’s processes and spent millions doing so. I think that’s a legitimate protection for any employer be it corporate or a real person.

  • “Anderson provides a list of ways that the exercise of economic
    liberty is harmful, arguing that unrestricted economic liberty would
    enable corporations to stuff rat feces in sausages, market useless
    medicines, dump toxic waste in rivers and send the global economy into
    financial collapse.
    Is this economic freedom? Many of these examples are cases of fraud.”

    Interesting claim but I think in all but the most egregious fraud you’re either going to have to give it up or go for regulation.

    Take the very worst example, the rat-droppings in sausage one.  Consider the blunt fact that it’s simply impossible to guarantee that there will never, ever be any rat droppings at all in sausage.  Rats being a fact of life it just can’t be done.  Therefore it’s equally impossible to have any government anywhere dictate that there will be no rat-droppings, period, in sausage or indeed in any other prepared or unprepared foodstuff.  Nor is it practical to require that manufacturers disclose the possibility that rat droppings could be present in any and all sausages.  (As tobacco companies are arguing before the Supreme Court these days, requiring such warnings might even be a violation of then 1st Amendment!)

    So!  If a manufacturer can’t prevent at least some rat droppings, and since free speech can’t require warnings, in the absence of clear regulation a cagey or corner-cutting sausage maker could also use rat droppings as a filler and then argue (as the self-interested are wont to do) that a) people who complain are just quibbling about the amount, b) that their ingredients are a trade secret, and, a bit later (see your Al vs. Bob argument, above) they can also argue that c) everybody selling sausage at that price point is (now) doing it.

    Oh, and what the heck, they could also argue that d) rat droppings have never been proved to be unhygienic as long as they’re cooked properly and e) besides, they add valuable fiber that might otherwise be lacking in a pure-meat sausage.

    Again, the complete economic liberty experiment’s been done.  It was called the 1820s-1920s.  Same with the tobacco industry from 1961-2012 as well as the homeopathy (and mainstream pharmaceutical!) medicines industry, the asbestos mining industry, the carbon-producing industry today: it’s simply your opinion that tobacco products are bad for you, or our carbon emissions are bad for the environment, or our mine tailings make your kid sick, that our medicines are useless, that our CDOs and synthetic derivatives caused global economic collapse, that it’s safer if our flight crews get 8-hours of sleep between 12-hour shifts, and so on.

    The problem being that in a self-interested society members you’re not looking at choices of evil vs. no evil, the best you can do is attempt to minimize not evil (which would imply the kind of judgment calls we’re uncomfortable with legislatures or courts making, not to mention assuming one can legislate or adjudicate human nature) but the impact of evil.  And at least in classical liberal Madison/Adams/Jeffersonian terms the best way to minimize the consequences of evil is through checks and balances rather than unilateral disarmament in favor of one kind of evil against another.

    I happen to think small-l Libertarianism is an optimal way to get there.  Which is why I tend to prefer it to, say, crony capitalism, socialism, anarchism, or various fantasy-fiction-derived varieties of absolutism.


  • Aeon Skoble

    Depends on how you define “harm.”  If you define it as “an outcome I’d prefer not to happen,” then sure, economic freedom can cause harm.  But I submit that’s a silly definition.   How about “depriving me of something to which I’d otherwise be entitled”?  That might work better.  But then I’m failing to see how I can cause harm with my negative liberties.
    Furthermore, I recommend rejecting the “political freedom”/”economic freedom” dichotomy:  (I don’t pretend for a moment that this is some original insight of mine; it’s straight out of Nozick.)

    • Jessica Flanigan

       I agree, harm is a thorny concept! Ben Bradley’s article about all the problems with all the various conceptions of harm has convinced me that it’s pretty fraught to call anything harmful. That said, I just meant wrongful harming or something like that, or what you said, depriving someone of their entitlements. In that sense negative liberties can totally deprive people of their entitlements depending on the theory of entitlements. You might think people aren’t entitled to anything that would require any limits on negative liberty, I’m sympathetic but unconvinced. As  long as you think that some exercise of negative liberties can violate entitlements though, then we can ask questions about whether economic freedom is harmful in this sense.

      • Aeon Skoble

        “You might think people aren’t entitled to anything that would require any limits on negative liberty, I’m sympathetic but unconvinced.”

        Can you articulate the sticking point?  (I’m referring to pre-political rights, btw; obviously within the structure of some contractual arrangements there could be entitlements for Smith that limit Jones’ negative liberty.)

        “As  long as you think that some exercise of negative liberties can violate entitlements though, then we can ask questions about whether economic freedom is harmful in this sense.”

        In a pre-political context, I don’t. 

        • Here’s an example. Mr A and Mr B both fancy Miss C. They are all at the ball. The last dance is coming up. Mr A and Mr B is each entitled to ask Miss C for the last dance, i.e., each of them has the liberty. Mr A boldly goes, before the dithering Mr B, to ask Miss C for the last dance. She accepts. Mr B no longer has the liberty to ask Miss C for the last dance. This sort of example can be multiplied indefinitely. It depends upon the liberty to compete for scarce resources. For example, make A and B companies and C a customer. Of course, you might question whether liberties in Hohfeld’s sense are ‘negative liberties.’ I don’t know. I tend not to talk of negative liberties.

          I prefer to avoid use of ‘harm’ in explaining moral relationships; but I retain it as a descriptive notion, equivalent to something like being made objectively worse off. I only need the notion at all because I think moral theories should be tested against the facts, and one of the relevant facts is how much harm is done if people live according to the theory.

          • Aeon Skoble

            No, that’s not what I mean: they both _do_ have the liberty to _ask_ her to dance, but neither is entitled to have her dance with him.  If either one were entitled to a dance with her, that would mean she had an obligation to dance whether or not she wanted to.  If either A or B has that sort of right-to-a-dance, it violates C’s liberty.  That’s why neither of them has such a right.

        • Jessica Flanigan

          The hard cases for this kind of a view are easy rescue cases. An innocent person is drowning and you could easily save him, is he entitled to rescue? I agree that he’s not entitled in the sense that there ought to be legal penalties for failing to rescue him, but that’s a different question. If you don’t save him, have you done something wrong, and if so, have you wronged him in particular. If you have the intuition that you have done something wrong, and especially if you think you’ve wronged him, then negative liberty (your freedom not to rescue) has violated an entitlement (for rescue). Or in any case, those are the kinds of cases that are ‘the sticking point’ as you’d put it, but I do feel the force of the other view and I go back and forth on this question. All I want to be committed to here though is that if you deny that negative liberties can violate entitlements, because of these easy rescue cases, the intuitive price is very high.

          • Aeon Skoble

            “If you don’t save him, have you done something wrong, and if so, have you wronged him in particular”  Can’t I say yes to the first and no to the second?   And why am I not rescuing?  If it’s because I’m an indifferent jerk, then I’m doing something wrong, but if it’s because I’m a transplant surgeon and any delay will kill my patient, too bad for Drowning Guy, who is _not_ entitled to have me rescue him and kill my patient.

  • Aeon Skoble

    “…arguing that unrestricted economic liberty would enable corporations to stuff rat feces in sausages, market useless medicines, dump toxic waste in rivers and send the global economy into financial collapse.   Is this economic freedom?”

    Recall the distinction between liberty and license.  Freedom properly understood is a compossible freedom.  As you note, some of this fall under fraud.  Others speak to my poit above: the ostensible freedom to dump toxic sludge requires either (a) blatant disregard for the property rights of the owner of the dumping place, or (b) some incoherent notion of “public land” where there’s no well-allocated property rights at all.  In the case of (a), that’s definitely not part of economic freedom, any more than freedom of movement allows for hitting people.  In the case of (b), it’s a problem resolved with more CL, not less.  There is always regulation – the question is whether the regulations are organic ones “imposed” by markets and common law, or actual impositions commanded by the sovereign.

  • adrianratnapala

    For example, if Al contracts with Cindy to work 14 hour days, Bob may be
    made worse off because now Bob cannot find a job that only requires 8
    hour days,

    Suppose instead that Al and Bob were rivals for the love of Cindy.  Now if Al  improved his personal appearance and sharpened up (or smoothed out?) his manners, then he would also make Bob worse off.

  • Anderson’s post, along with the various defenses of workplace authoritarianism on this site in recent weeks,  is really solidifying my attraction to Pettit’s neo-republicanism.  The ‘liberty as nondomination’ formulation better captures the horrors of the authoritarian workplace that the BHL’s formulation of liberty seems to lead them to love better than just about any version of liberalism I can see. 

    • It is not loving authoritarianism to say that people should be able to choose whether to submit to authority. Since firms exist because management costs are often lower than transaction costs, there are economic benefits of such submission; and, in a competitive market, these benefits are shared between employer and employee. People who want less risk and (often) more income may choose submitting to a boss even though they don’t like it intrinsically. Some people work for themselves despite lower income and more risk because their aversion to taking orders is greater. So long as people have the choice to make the trade-off their own way, I see no problem.

    • Jessica Flanigan

       But Pettit’s theory of freedom as non-domination (as opposed to non-interference) has other problems. Namely, it allows for a lot of paternalism as long as paternalistic interferences track your objective interests. Authoritarianism (in the workplace or elsewhere) for the sake of ‘your own good’ is authoritarianism all the same.

  • David_Ellerman

    In the course of writing a review essay on Tomasi’s book (already committed to be published elsewhere), I have been struck by the narrowness of the spectrum between the right liberals (Deirdre’s nice phrase) and the high liberals. In the end, Tomasi’s book is important in showing the common misframing of the issues all across that liberal spectrum.One example is the most basic and almost defining misframing used by liberalism of the contrast between coercion and consent. Various shades of left-liberals, not to mention socialists, play an important social role of validating that misframing and then just taking the other side by arguing that, say, the employment relation is “really” coercive in various ways (all the way from the distribution of property to pee-breaks).
    Yet political thinkers (particularly of civic republican bent) such as Quentin Skinner and Otto Gierke, have long been clear that since the sophisticated defense of most any form of autocracy has been that it is based on an implicit social contract (vouchsafed by the prescription of time)– that the real division is between (1) consent to contracts of alienation (e.g., pactum subjectionis of Hobbes) that alienate/transfer the right of self-governance, and (2) consent to contracts which only delegate the exercise of that right to delegates, representatives, or trustees to be exercised in the name of the governed. That is the old translatio vs. concessio debate that seems to be intellectually “unavailable” across the liberal spectrum surveyed and remixed by Tomasi. And unavailable for a good reason. The principal virtue of the consent versus coercion framing in modern debates is that it puts political democracy and the employment contract on the same side of the dichotomy that frames the debate. And hence the importance of “bleeding-heart” lefties that accept that misframing, and want to argue about trade unions and pee-breaks. Since even the dullest commentator knows that the employer is not the representative or delegate of the employees, the more telling framing of the debate would put political democracy and the human rental contract on opposite sides of the framing dichotomy–which is why that framing is “unavailable.”
    Fortunately there is a deeper tradition that descends from the Reformation and Enlightenment and that is based on inalienable rights arguments against the alienation contracts per se (not against their abuses). Alienation contracts such as the self-sale contract, the nondemocratic constitution, and the coverture marriage contract have all been outlawed in the western democracies (although there are liberal attempts to revive consent-based nondemocratic government in the idea of charter cities, “free cities,” and seasteading). 
    Only the self-rental contract remains, and that is why it is so interesting to see Tomasi and the assembled writers as sticking to the consent-coercion misframing, and ignoring the inalienable rights tradition that outlawed those three other alienation contracts. [I should note that Tomasi does mention a pseudo-inalienable rights tradition that descends from Locke up to and including Rawls, but I have dealt with that as well as the other arguments elsewhere: .]

  • And this is how the concept of freedom is analyzed to death.

  • What I want to know is who adjudicates the endless claims from the Al’s of the world? it is fine to theorize the claim, but theorize the adjudication and even more theorize the enormous power concentrated in that adjudicator and theorize the potential for corruption. corruption.

  • My wife and I built a business and my basic question is why shouldn’t our business be a dictatorship? We took all the risk. Our life savings was put into the business. We have worked 60-70 hours weeks since it opened. We never have a day off. We are responsible for the lease. We are responsible for all the accounts. Our name is on the door. If the business fails the stigma follows us. Our employees work 40 hours a week, have no risk, and get paid for twelve months work but only work 11 months.
    If someone doesn’t want to be an employee then why don’t they take all the risk and open their own business. If you give employees rights without making them share the enormous risk associated with starting a business who will be motivated to start a business that creates jobs?

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