A three-author piece on libertarianism and workplace coercion has been ripping through the popular political blogs in the last few days. The piece is long, and its points are varied, but the biggest one is that laissez-faire capitalism — the favored economic form of libertarianism — generates conditions of coercion that violate the very liberty that libertarians claim to treasure. The libertarian focus on government power ignores the very substantial amount of private power held by those who control the gates of employment, i.e. bosses.
At any moment, bosses can terminate at-will employees for no reason at all, thereby eliminating those employees’ access to food, clothing, housing, and any other basic necessity that requires an income. It is not hard to imagine then how the constant threat of termination can coerce employees to do what the boss wants. The choice between doing what the boss says or having your kids go hungry is not really a choice at all. You do what the boss says. If the boss is a conservative willing to fire anyone who speaks out against the war for instance, an employee has to consider that when she decides whether to attend an anti-war rally. That is, she must decide whether to exercise her freedom of speech or not. The consequence of doing so will be employer retaliation instead of state retaliation, but that seems to many to be a distinction without a difference. [++]