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Original Walton's Five and Dime, now the Wal-Mart Visitor's Center, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo taken by Bobak Ha'Eri. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Interchange – Freedom to Exit: The Libertarian Use of Market Ideology


Today we discuss the ideology of market egalitarianism and versions of libertarianism from the Levellers in 17th century England through Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” and Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and on to Lincoln’s political argument to poor whites that wage labor was slave labor and a man should instead stand on his own two feet on his own plot of land. As rhetoric this has all proven quite influential and persuasive. As reality it has kept most of us under the thumb of a boss and subject to the totalitarian state of the workplace.

Elizabeth Anderson joins us to talk about her book Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It). In many workplaces, employers minutely regulate workers’ speech, clothing, and manners, leaving them with little privacy and few other rights. And employers often extend their authority to workers’ off-duty lives. Workers can be fired for their political speech, recreational activities, diet, and almost anything else employers care to govern.

From the ideal of free labor for white men, born of westward expansion (at the uncounted cost of genocide and slavery), we end up at the much diminished claim that liberty resides in our unfettered ability to enter into a contract and then to exit from that contract. It’s exit that we’re left with…If you don’t like it, you can leave it…and go where, and do what? And eat what? And sleep where? It turns out you are free to suffer and your one true exit might be through the door feet first.

We begin with the concept of Egalitarianism.

Elizabeth Anderson is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Imperative of Integration (Princeton) and Value in Ethics and Economics. She joined us via Skype.

The Master Class on the Make by Andrew Hartman
What is the point of equality? by Elizabeth Anderson (Ethics, January 1999)
Inside Amazon’s Warehouse by Spencer Soper

From R.E.M.’s Document
“Finest Worksong”
“Exhuming McCarthy”
“Disturbance at the Heron House”

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer: Rob Schoon
Studio Engineer: Bryce Martin
Executive Producer: Wes Martin

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