Fuck me or you’re fired!

by Chris Bertram on May 29, 2012

What’s wrong with an employer saying to an employee (who needs the job, has bills to pay and kids to feed): “If you want to keep your job, you’d better let me fuck you”?

Rather like the wrongness of slavery, this strikes me as being one of those cases where my confidence that it is wrong outstrips my confidence in any of the explanations about why it is wrong, but, contemplating the case, I experience no great sense of puzzlement about its wrongness. But then, I’m not a libertarian.

I came across philosophical reflection on the issue at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site after following a link from a Corey Robin posting on employers who insist that their workers piss themselves rather than take toilet breaks . This instance of private tyranny elicited a comment at Corey’s site from one of the “Bleeding-Heart Libertarian” crowd, Jessica Flanigan, deploring trade unions . An odd reaction to the case, you might think. Flanigan had herself written on workplace coercion at BHL , and, in the course of her discussion, commended Japa Pallikkathayil’s excellent paper on coercion at The Philosophers’ Imprint .

In that paper, Pallikkathayil writes:

Consider a case of sexual harassment. Let us suppose that the employer says to the employee, “I will fire you if and only if you refuse to have sex with me.” This announcement affects the employee’s options in a way that is inescapable. So on the veto conception of constraint, this announcement constrains the employee’s options. In order to determine whether this constraint is impermissible, the impaired normative authority account begins by asking whether the employer may permissibly fire the employee. … The employer may have institutional or contractual obligations to fire the employee only on certain grounds. If this is not one of those grounds, it would be impermissible to fire the employee in this case and the impaired normative authority account can use this to explain how the employer necessarily denies the employee a moral veto and hence impermissibly constrains the employee’s options.

OK, so here’s hoping we’re somewhere where employers can’t fire at will….. But she continues:

Let us suppose that there are no such institutional or contractual obligations in this case. There are two further grounds one might potentially appeal to in order to establish that it is impermissible to fire the employee. First, notice that acting on the employer’s conditional intention involves paying for sex. On some views, that might be impermissible. Second, notice that it may be very intuitive to think of the sexual harassment case as involving an abrupt and radical change in job descriptions. Instead of simply being, say, a secretary the employee must now also act as a prostitute. Perhaps there is something morally objectionable about employment contracts that involve the possibility of this kind of abrupt and radical change.

In the event that neither of these grounds kicks in,

in the absence of any such explanation, the impaired normative authority account is indeed committed to the conclusion that the employer does not impermissibly constrain the employee’s options and hence that the announcement is not wrong or responsibility mitigating in the way that the mugger’s announcement [your money or your life!] is. But if all of the above considerations for thinking that it would be wrong for the employer to act on the conditional intention are ruled out, this does not seem to me to be an implausible assessment of the case.

Right, got that. Either buying and selling sex is always wrong (and ought to be prohibited?) OR the wrong here is a bit like your employer hiring you to write advertising copy and then suddenly declaring that he expects you to take the mail to the post office too.

Now I’ve no idea whether Pallikkathayil is a libertarian. The charitable reading is that she’s an honest philosopher who has produced an account of the wrongness of coercion who is worried and embarrassed at a putative counterexample. Fair enough. We philosophers are used to worrying cases where some theory we espouse seems to lead to the conclusion that slavery, incest or cannibalism are OK. That’s part of the way philosophical argument goes. It doesn’t commit us in the world.

Flanigan, though a philosopher, is also a paid-up libertarian, so, I think a fairer target. Here’s her reaction at BHL to the case:

My intuition is that something like (b) [abrubt change in job description] makes sexual harassment wrong. In these extreme cases employees do have the authority to decline certain tasks that employers demand. In this case the employee may say ‘you lead me to believe that the job did not require prostitution, so I have been deceived.’ Because it is wrong to deceive people, it is wrong to radically change a person’s job description, and so threatening to fire someone for refusing to comply with an impermissible demand is also impermissible.

Naturally, I’m relieved to discover that Flanigan does think that “fuck me or get fired” is wrong. But the explanation which her libertarianism pushes her to – “sex wasn’t in the contract” – still strikes me as bizarre. Lots of things which we are expected to do in our jobs aren’t explicitly in the contract. Indeed, no employee-employer relationship could function on the basis of strict adherence to contractual terms, which is why “work to rule” is often an effective tactic. And there are lots of jobs where women know, as they agree to work, that there’s a high probability of being asked to have sex by an abusive supervisor or employer. So what about those cases where the employees knew, perhaps it was common knowledge, that this was a hazard of the job?

This is hardly just hypothethical. A recent Human Rights Watch report states that

Hundreds of thousands of immigrant farmworker women and girls in the United States face a high risk of sexual violence and sexual harassment in their workplaces because US authorities and employers fail to protect them adequately, [the report] describes rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, or vulgar and obscene language by supervisors, employers, and others in positions of power. Most farmworkers interviewed said they had experienced such treatment or knew others who had. And most said they had not reported these or other workplace abuses, fearing reprisals. Those who had filed sexual harassment claims or reported sexual assault to the police had done so with the encouragement and assistance of survivor advocates or attorneys in the face of difficult challenges.

The issue seems to me to be emblematic of what’s wrong with the BHL people. They can’t and don’t take seriously the realities of private power, of domination, and of the need for someone (the state or the unions or both) to step in and protect people who have nothing against those who believe they are entitled to do what they want on their private domain. In an unequal world, where access to employment is in the hands of the few, then it is certain that at least some of the few will take advantage of their position to abuse and humiliate their subordinates in various ways, including sexually. Now the BHLs may cry “wait, wait, we’ve got that covered … social minimum, basic income, …” Whatever. They haven’t. Even in a world with a social minimum there will be people who get themselves into situations of neediness or dependence through bad choices or bad luck. People who owe more than they can pay, who need that job, people who aren’t in a position to say “no”. Providing people with protection against getting fired for arbitrary reasons isn’t an unwarranted interference with freedom of contract, it is essential to protecting people from humiliating and degrading bargains, or agreeing to lengthy stretches of unpaid overtime, or any of the other things that unequal power can force upon them.

I mentioned Corey Robin at the outset of this post. I didn’t get to read Corey’s book until way after it came out, so missed writing on the controversy surrounding it at the time. It is a great book, and a superbly written one at that. One of the things that comes out most clearly in it as a defining feature of conservatism, is the enduring sense of entitlement of those with property to do what they like with what is theirs, and their ressentiment towards employees who get above their station and become less than compliant with their master’s will, a ressentiment that extends to forces like trade unions and states that enact labour-protection laws. Corey’s focus on this feature of reaction brings out the otherwise mysterious deep affinity between traditional conservatives and libertarians. Why do libertarians with their race-blindness, tolerance of sexual diversity and easy-going attitude to hallucinogens consistently line up at the polls with old-style reaction? It is because of this: because of a sense of the right of private power to do what it likes on and with its property. All of which brings me to Marx and to that withering analysis of the reality of the private power to which “libertarians” are blind

This sphere …, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.
On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.

{ 285 comments }

1

enzo 05.29.12 at 1:42 pm

One of these things is not like the others! Why pit egalitarianism/socialism against egoism/individualism? That’s the sort of moralised communitarianism that puts many people off more radical left-wing positions. Crudely, to me ‘capitalism sucks’ is a better line than ‘capitalism is wrong’.

But yes, the more I read about the private/public distinction, the more I think it’s little more than a fig leaf for oppression.

2

Rob Hunter 05.29.12 at 1:46 pm

It would seem that the affinity between libertarians and authoritarian conservatives goes all the way down to natural law-style assumptions about property. One gets the sense that libertarians are unwilling or unable to acknowledge that property rights are the product of institutions and legal norms; instead, they think of rights to property as natural, immutable, inherent, whatever. And when it is pointed out that property relations form a matrix of domination and power relationships in the private sphere, the libertarian response seems to be that this is No One’s Fault or Problem, since of course one can do with one’s property as one pleases. The idea that property rights are merely instrumental toward other goods and ends is apparently off the radar. (As is the idea that power is, more generally, distributed unequally.)

3

enzo 05.29.12 at 1:46 pm

Sorry, the blockquote didn’t come out in my post. It was this line:

There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham.

4

AcademicLurker 05.29.12 at 1:53 pm

They can’t and don’t take seriously the realities of private power

Which pretty much sums up everything that needs to be said about libertarianism.

5

Chris Bertram 05.29.12 at 1:57 pm

Just for the record, Rob Hunter, I think there can be perfectly sound extra-institutional claims to property, albeit conditional and defeasible ones that compete with other desiderata.

6

Rob Hunter 05.29.12 at 2:00 pm

Just for the record, Rob Hunter, I think there can be perfectly sound extra-institutional claims to property, albeit conditional and defeasible ones that compete with other desiderata.

I’m happy to sign off on that — I suppose there’s no need for me to overstate the case against libertarian property rights maximalism.

7

Both Sides Do It 05.29.12 at 2:05 pm

Am I wrong in thinking that the lack of discussion about integrity and dignity is a huge oversight?

What if instead of having sex, we imagine an employer requiring an employee to, say, literally lick their shoes every time they see them. Or to stand up in front of the office every day and say “I am a terrible person who has disappointed my parents and failed my children.” (a la those scenes from There Will Be Blood: “I have abandoned my child!” “I am a false prophet and God is a superstition!”) Or has to masturbate while interacting with superiors.

These requirements seem to violate a basic human dignity that no amount of diddling over “implicit re-negotiation of contract” or “payment for sexual acts” adequately captures, and they seem no more derogatory or outrageous to human decency than saying “we’re gonna bone or you’re out the door.”

But it does seem to go back to the larger issue discussed in the post, which is that the employer/owner/capitalist is sovereign within the domain of his ownership and can do whatever he likes within those bounds. If that’s true, then violating a little basic human dignity isn’t a problem.

Another related point is that, especially from a public policy perspective but even I think from a theoretical one, these distinctions aren’t internally consistent and break down of their own accord. Because the arguments turns on employers “constraining options” of their employees, and of course there are lots of degrees and facets to “constraining options.”

What if an employee has already made such commitments and an investment of resources such that working in a particular field is her only option, and quitting a job in that field is professional suicide? What if an employee has to work within a specific geographic area because of economic or family reasons, and being fired from a particular employer makes it very difficult for the employee to get a job in that geographic area? What if an employee has a particular set of circumstances beyond his control, such as a chronic illness that requires employer health insurance to have any hope of being able to pay for treatment, that prevents him from being able to commit to an unknowable amount of time without being under the umbrella of an employer’s health insurance?

There are hundreds of these scenarios, and they each influence the concept of “constraining options” in different ways, and cannot possibly be lumped together and dealt with en masse as if they were just like the inconvenience of having to find another job.

From the perspective of actually instituting this stuff as policy, this makes it impossible, and from a theoretical perspective it means the argument collapses under its own weight.

8

Chris Bertram 05.29.12 at 2:11 pm

BSD, indeed, there are a variety of such possible humiliations. See for example

http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/odd/news/a329255/rebekah-brooks-asked-news-of-the-world-journalist-to-dress-as-harry-potter-on-911.html

In the UK, where employees have more protection than in the US (something the Conservatives want to change), someone treated like this could walk out on the grounds of “constructive dismissal” and get compensation from a tribunal. Of course it isn’t always effective, but you don’t need to enumerate all the possibilities in advance. Courts and employment tribunals can deal and do perfectly happily in practice with ideas of dignity, humiliation, bullying etc.

9

Paul Sagar 05.29.12 at 2:16 pm

Everything you say is true, but there’s also the point that there is something utterly warped in a philosophical worldview that wants to make economic contract the sovereign virtue and can only make sense of the disvalue of sexual exploitation in reference to economic exchange. Here, I’m tempted to say that all that’s required to resist such a stunted worldview is what Bernard Williams urged was needed to resist Utilitarianism’s claims to ultimate authority on what matters: namely, a sufficient willingness not to be bullied. If only women facing sexual exploitation around the world were in such a fortunate position.

10

mw 05.29.12 at 2:30 pm

But the explanation which her libertarianism pushes her to – “sex wasn’t in the contract” – still strikes me as bizarre.

Really? In the porn industry, sex is obviously in the contract and — if you accept that porn should be legal at all — then how could it *not* be acceptable to fire a porn star who decides that they’d like to keep the job but will no longer perform sex acts? I wouldn’t be surprised if porn contracts ‘explicitly’ call out particular types and numbers of sex acts that the star agrees to perform in the film.

11

William Timberman 05.29.12 at 2:36 pm

Seems to me that the artificers at the Cato Institute were recently offered just such a choice. Did it surprise anyone that they didn’t react as consistency with their own theories should have dictated?

12

Corey Robin 05.29.12 at 2:41 pm

William @11: Yes, that’s true. I blogged about that at the time, which is what kicked off the whole discussion with Flanigan that Chris references above. Here’s my post: http://coreyrobin.com/2012/03/07/when-libertarians-go-to-work/

13

Chris Bertram 05.29.12 at 2:42 pm

mw: the reason it is bizarre is _not_ that there couldn’t be a contract to perform sex acts. (Maybe such contracts shouldn’t be permitted, but that’s another issue covered by the first of her two putative explanations.) Rather, it is because (a) there are inevitably many things that employees are reasonably required to do that are not explicitly covered by there terms of contracts and (b) it seems strange to think of having sex as being relevantly like those other non-covered cases. To give my example again: being hired to write advertising copy and then being asked to take the mail to the post office is not like being hired to write advertising copy and then being asked to give a blow job.

14

bianca steele 05.29.12 at 2:44 pm

Pallikkathayil’s (a) has the attractive feature of equating being ordered to have sex for compensation with being ordered to bribe a foreign government. (I think.)

(b) is less attractive because it seems to be the equivalent of working 80-hour weeks or letting the boss’s mother-in-law take over your guest room. Obviously at some point even the most obnoxious supervisor will expect an employee to walk. Similarly, one would have to be a real jerk to hire someone who, for example, explained they’d work from 7 to 3 and a couple hours at home at night, because they had to be home when their children got out of school, and continued to pressure them about the unacceptability of such behavior.

15

Data Tutashkhia 05.29.12 at 2:46 pm

This seems to have more to do with hierarchy than property rights.

16

Bruce Baugh 05.29.12 at 2:46 pm

Someone who’s written very well about a bunch of these issues is Judith Martin, in her Miss Manners persona. Seriously, since at least the ’80s she’s had an ongoing theme about etiquette as one of the ways to protect workers from abusive, intrusive employers. She’s been very harshly critical of the long-term trend to break down the barriers between working hours and the rest of one’s life, and big on ways to say “no” when invited to join in the destruction of one’s own private life.

I’d turn the instigating question around. Most women have to endure sexual harassment at some point in their career, but not all do, and most don’t have to endure it all the time at every job, and most men have to endure little or none in theirs. What makes it okay for bosses to feel entitled to select out some of their employees for sexual favors, or other unwelcome burdens? What makes it okay for bosses to feel that’s just up to their desires? But of course that starts by presuming capital and management don’t have unlimited rights, so it wouldn’t be of interest to folks like that.

17

Nicholas Weininger 05.29.12 at 2:47 pm

Chris, I think you’re misinterpreting a difference of principles and/or values here as “blindness”. In my experience, many, perhaps most, libertarians do not in fact fail to see that private power exists or that its exercise can be humiliating and degrading to those who have less of it. Rather, they (we) believe that the use of state force to counter the exercise of private power is an _even worse evil_ than that humiliation and degradation. Employers saying “Fuck me or you’re fired!” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one. Or to put it another way, people are entitled to have the state respect their freedom of contract *more* than they are entitled not to be humiliated or degraded thus.

I’m sure you don’t like this scale of values, but you might be a little less quick to assume naivete or disingenuousness, and a little more open to the possibility that some people just have very different views from yours on relative rights and wrongs.

18

Steve LaBonne 05.29.12 at 2:49 pm

Employers saying “Fuck me or you’re fired!” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one.

Any sane and decent person should regard this sentence as a reductio of libertarianism.

19

Rob Hunter 05.29.12 at 2:51 pm

Steve @18: This sentence as well:

people are entitled to have the state respect their freedom of contract more than they are entitled not to be humiliated or degraded thus.

20

Chris Bertram 05.29.12 at 2:53 pm

Yes Data: property rights are just one way of achieving hierarchical domination over people. They are, however a significant way. Libertarians seem very sensitive to other sources of such domination, but not, for some reason, to this one. Hence the focus here.

21

Bruce Baugh 05.29.12 at 2:58 pm

Employers saying “Fuck me or you’re fired!” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one. Or to put it another way, people are entitled to have the state respect their freedom of contract more than they are entitled not to be humiliated or degraded thus. This is an awfully good way to spell “I should never be trusted or respected”.

22

AcademicLurker 05.29.12 at 3:03 pm

Libertarians are sociopaths, film at 11…

23

Barry Freed 05.29.12 at 3:03 pm

It would do well to remember that it was only a few decades ago that:

Employers saying “Fuck me or you’re fired!” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one.

Took the form of “Business owners saying “No blacks served here” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one.

24

MPAVictoria 05.29.12 at 3:03 pm

Shorter Nicholas Weininger:
Look Chris, some people are just assholes. Why are you being so quick to judge them?

25

Chris Bertram 05.29.12 at 3:12 pm

Aside from the obvious points made already in response to NW, I’d simply point out that I identified two routes by which employees might get protected against asshole employers: state legislation and union organization. Where employees choose the latter route and thereby interfere with an employer’s business, libertarians are usually less concerned about state involvement (to uphold the rights of property). They seek police action against striking or occupying workers and sue unions for loss of income (where they can). Of course, there’s a certain consistency in that, but it exposes that the dominant concern is not “keep the state out of our lives” but “it is my stuff and I make the rules round here.”

26

Katherine 05.29.12 at 3:13 pm

Two thoughts, not necessarily related:

(1) people are entitled to have the state respect their freedom of contract more than they are entitled not to be humiliated or degraded thus. fails to recognise that contracts are nothing without enforcement. When you say “respect” you mean more than acquiese, you also eventually mean enforce. And enforcement is provided by… you guessed it… the state, in the form of the courts.

So the bringing out the government guns are okay in order to enforce the exercise of the private power of the already powerful (ie the employer) is okay, but not bringing out the government guns to enforce the exercise of the private power of the less pwoerful (ie the employee) to say they don’t want to be humiliated and degraded.

(2) How can it possibly be logically coherent to support corporations (ie companies with limited liability – limited that is by the state – which are a group of individuals putting their resources together to act collectively) but not to support trades unions (ie a group of individuals putting their resources together to act collectively)?

27

Salient 05.29.12 at 3:18 pm

This whole approach to contracts seems weirdly backwards (maybe that’s part of the point being made here). Employment contract should be implicitly whitelisted (you can’t hire people for anything, except if…), not implicitly blacklisted (you can hire people for anything, except if…). Employment contracts should only be whitelisted if they help fulfill the goals of the state, with consequences acceptable to the state.

The opportunity to make money off another person’s labor, ought to be considered a special privilege, not a human right. The privilege should only be extended to employers that reliably treat their employees humanely and engage in commerce responsibly. (For whatever appropriate definitions of humane, responsible, etc.)

28

Bruce Baugh 05.29.12 at 3:22 pm

I like Salient’s version of the idea we share better than mine.

29

Dragon-King Wangchuck 05.29.12 at 3:39 pm

Since the rest of youse are too classy to make the comment,,,

being hired to write advertising copy and then being asked to give a blow job.

But you repeat yourself.

30

Data Tutashkhia 05.29.12 at 3:50 pm

But you repeat yourself.

Exactly. There is a certain logic to their view: since you’re such a loser that you already agreed to work for somebody, broken in, “timid and holding back”, what the heck are you complaining about now?

31

mpowell 05.29.12 at 3:52 pm

Salient, I like where you’re coming from with that idea, and I think as a way to look at the issue from a philosophical perspective it’s good, but I don’t think ultimately it is the right way to go as a practical matter. I think there is a lot to be gained by experimentation with types of jobs and employee contracts that will be lost with state white-listing. And the damage that comes from the black-listing approach- that some inappropriate contracts will sneak through, especially for a short-time in many cases, can be mitigated by a government and public that takes these issues seriously. You are trying to smuggle this seriousness in by the white-listing approach, but I don’t think it will accomplish what you want. The government and public won’t take the issue any more seriously and instead you’ll just get a less flexible economy. The principle the public is more likely to be invested in is incumbent protection.

32

Stephen 05.29.12 at 3:53 pm

Would it make a difference if the offer was “Fuck me and I’ll make sure you get promoted”?

Logically I don’t think it should; practically, well, I have seen two cases where I am fairly sure, and one where I have reasonable grounds for belief, that such an offer was more or less explicitly made, and in each case the lady concerned was as far as I could tell deeply gratified by all aspects of her situation.

33

Manta1976 05.29.12 at 3:55 pm

What is the “libertarian” position on an employer saying (more or less explicitly) that he expect sex from his secretary when he hires her? What is your position, Chris?
(See e.g. the recent case of Herman Cain)?

34

MPAVictoria 05.29.12 at 4:02 pm

“What is the “libertarian” position on an employer saying (more or less explicitly) that he expect sex from his secretary when he hires her? What is your position, Chris?”

This strikes me as a difficult question. If you support legal prostitution, which I do, how is this type of arrangement any different? It feels different but I am not sure why.

35

Manta1976 05.29.12 at 4:07 pm

Victoria (assuming you are a woman): how would you react to such an offer?

I am of your same “opinion”: I don’t like it, but I cannot say why (on the other hand, I think that moral judgements do not obey logical rules, or descend from general principles, and that there is no reason why they should).

36

Bruce Baugh 05.29.12 at 4:10 pm

MPAV: Well, one of the obvious differences is that very few office workers are hired with any explicit discussion of sex as a condition of employment. It almost always comes up later. Which is just one part of why Nicholas’ contract talk is so obviously wrong – sex wasn’t discussed, or negotiated, or spelled out in terms, and there are no general provisions in common or statute law setting baseline standards for it. It’s all the boss’ lust and hubris. (This is an invitation for Nicholas or someone to show the slightest scrap of evidence that providing sexual services for the boss is a common item of negotiation at hiring time, and that it’s routinely spelled out in contract. What? No contract? Then where’s this sanctity of contract we’re trampling on?)

By contrast, as I understand it, prostitutes generally negotiate the boundaries quite clearly up front: the john is paying $X and getting services A and B but not C or D for that amount.

37

Watson Ladd 05.29.12 at 4:11 pm

What makes sex that much different from working with toluene without gloves, or a factory with iron dust in the air, just to pick two rather horrible examples? All work conditions are dependent on the balance of power between the worker and their employer, and so banning some egregious abuses leaves others yet unchecked. The only solution is to improve the organization of the working class.

38

Mike Huben 05.29.12 at 4:16 pm

I think we ought to explore the difference between labor towards capitalist purposes and personal services.

One of the liberating things about capitalism is when you are asked to do work that creates salable product AND NOTHING ELSE. This is a modern concept.

As opposed to the old concept of servant, whose job is to serve the whims of the master in all ways.

One of the key ideas of liberalism is to abolish the old idea of servant, to make people equal. Reintroducing servitude into capitalism is corrupt in this vision.

I think that’s the normative idea which makes the title of this post repulsive.

39

Data Tutashkhia 05.29.12 at 4:16 pm

It feels different but I am not sure why.

Shouldn’t mix business with pleasure.

40

MPAVictoria 05.29.12 at 4:22 pm

Hi Bruce. I take your point but I believe that Manta was talking about a situation where the requirement for the employee to have sex with her/his boss was made explicit during the hiring process.

41

rea 05.29.12 at 4:30 pm

What makes it okay for bosses to feel entitled to select out some of their employees for sexual favors, or other unwelcome burdens? What makes it okay for bosses to feel that’s just up to their desires?

I’m fairly sure that the boss who says, “It’s okay–I make all my employees have sex with me. And I don’t even enjoy it with most of them, but it’s not just about my desires,” is worse than the garden-variety sexual harrasser.

42

Pascal Leduc 05.29.12 at 4:32 pm

Personally Victoria, I feel there is a difference between a company putting out an employment ad for an office prostitute, where part of the interview marks out the limits and obligation of such a job. And the situation where the newly employed secretary, having just taken a mortgage, put her kids kids in school and so on is now told that prostitution is a basic requirement of her employment.

I guess that makes me more ok with the coercive powers of employers when they are explicitly mentioned at the beginning then when they are introduced partway through employment.

I’m not to sure what that makes me though. I think its partly personal bias, I cant imagine myself ever willingly taking a shitty job, since I do have access to privileges that protect me from being that desperate. On the other hand, being forced to do dehumanizing work once I have finally gotten one is something that is far more possible and scary.

43

chris y 05.29.12 at 4:33 pm

Took the form of “Business owners saying “No blacks served here” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one.

It’s my understanding that the Pauls, père et fils, who in some sense remain part of the American political mainstream, continue to argue this to this day.

44

Salient 05.29.12 at 4:53 pm

Salient, I like where you’re coming from with that idea, and I think as a way to look at the issue from a philosophical perspective it’s good, but I don’t think ultimately it is the right way to go as a practical matter.

Agreed. I meant it mostly philosophically, in the sense of Rawls’ social contract. Like, that’s how we should think about employment from a moral perspective, even if no such arrangement for employment literally exists in the real world (the same way we agree that no social contract literally exists in the real world).

If a state actually attempted to literally implement a strict whitelist model, I’d be somewhere between apprehensive and alarmed. Maybe there are some industries that are hazardous or environmentally damaging enough to warrant a more literal whitelist–the financial industry comes to mind immediately, but maybe also utilities and mining-type operations. (Come to think of it, those are all industries I’d prefer to see nationalized…)

45

bianca steele 05.29.12 at 5:03 pm

Bruce Baugh @ 16: Most women have to endure sexual harassment at some point in their career, but not all do, and most don’t have to endure it all the time at every job, and most men have to endure little or none in theirs.

W/r/t sexual harassment that is true, but in general men do often have to do things they wouldn’t prefer not to, and the issue is occasionally framed as a matter of manliness: “I have to support my family, so I do things I couldn’t otherwise justify.” But there is something else going on: I don’t remember the story Corey Robin linked to mentioning that men were refused bathroom breaks (and more or less meekly went along).

46

William Timberman 05.29.12 at 5:12 pm

Corey Robin @ 12

Well said, and I’m sorry I missed it when it first appeared. But since I’m wondering out loud — and knowing full well that such wonderings are usually not original, except in insignificant ways — I wonder if the reluctance to grant to others less fortunate what one reserves to oneself isn’t the link between libertarians and racism. John C. Calhoun wasn’t a libertarian as far as I know, but what I do know about him is that that he only got really incensed about violations by the state of one particular liberty, namely the liberty to own slaves.

Libertarians think we hate them for their freedoms. If they only knew! Then again, if they did, they wouldn’t be libertarians.

47

geo 05.29.12 at 5:19 pm

Watson@37: The only solution is to improve the organization of the working class.

Three cheers for Watson (and for the OP)!

48

William Timberman 05.29.12 at 5:23 pm

bianca steele @ 45

Many, many years ago, a friend of mine worked for Ma Bell in NYC, in something called a frame room. Apparently it was a place where incoming trunk signals were split up and hooked to the various exchanges and individual phones in that part of the city — if I understood correctly, what was going on was a sort of analog de-multiplexing. His job was to find unused pairs, i.e. individual phone lines that were inactive, but not listed as such in the company’s records.

Anyway, at one point, management decided that bathroom breaks were being abused, and had all the doors to the john stalls removed so that supervisors could monitor the goings-on more easily. (This was before single-chip spy cameras.) To make a long story short, the union struck, and the doors were restored.

The good old days. (Sort of….)

49

Eli Rabett 05.29.12 at 5:40 pm

What if the employee responds, I have a gun, if you fire me I will use it.

50

mw 05.29.12 at 5:44 pm

To give my example again: being hired to write advertising copy and then being asked to take the mail to the post office is not like being hired to write advertising copy and then being asked to give a blow job.

But it’s a fair bit like being hired to write advertising copy and then being asked to operate a jack-hammer. It’s not bizarre to think that the problem, in both the cases, is that those duties are neither in the written contract or the normal scope of duties (e.g. the implied contract) of somebody in the position.

And there are plenty of grey areas between blow jobs and trips to the post office. For example, actors in mainstream theater and movies are also contractually obligated to do things that fall far short of porn (appearing naked, kissing, simulating sex) but which would still be outrageous if demanded of, say, a receptionist. And setting sex aside, what of a gung-ho CEO who decides to take his staff on an adventurous ‘team-building weekend’? Is being fired for refusing to go whitewater rafting team-building exercise like being fired for refusing to give a blow job or like being fired for refusing to do the mail?

You could throw a lot of regulations at these kinds of issues. But, I think that in the long term, that backfires. In a statist, heavily-regulated job markets, you end up with very high levels of youth unemployment and great difficulty in young people finding permanent positions (e.g. Greece or Italy). Because firing is difficult, employers are risk-averse. In that environment, a boss (in the public or private sector) with permanent jobs to dispense is in an extremely powerful position relative to job seekers. Much better is a open, flexible, lightly regulated job market with at-will employment combined with a solid safety net (e.g. Danish ‘flexicurity’). Bosses lose the power to abuse employees not because of bureaucracy, but because the empl0yees can afford to tell the bosses to go fuck themselves.

51

Billikin 05.29.12 at 5:46 pm

Talk about human dignity gets at this, but it seems to me that objectification is no small part of what is wrong with the demand for sex. Sex object is not just a phrase. Objectification allows viewing the objectified person as, to some degree, property, subject to the exercise of property rights.

As for the question of contract, is there not a spirit of contract that is being violated here? Legally the letter of the contract may rule, but do contracts not presuppose agreement between free and more or less equal parties? Otherwise a contract may be a tool of oppression, the enemy of freedom?

52

GeorgeNYC 05.29.12 at 5:52 pm

I think the problem, at its core, is merely a reflection of information asymmetry in the bargaining process. I think that is what the “change in the contract” issue is about. It is one thing if the advertisement is for an “office prostitute” then there is no question s to what is going on. However, if I advertise for a secretary knowing full well that I am going to ask her to become the office prostitute then there is an information asymmetry. Some would call it fraud in the inducement. One could say that in a perfect libertarian society the harassed individual would be able to sue for compensation.

However, that might solve the nice theoretical problem posed by this it does not really address the core issue. There problem is that there will no doubt be a “race to the bottom” (pun intended) in the terms of such jobs. Under the right set of circumstances I would expect that any person desperate enough for work would submit to any level of harassment in order to get and keep a job. This would, in turn, put pressure not eh less desperate to also include such “extras” in their job performance. The point of such harassment laws, like child labor laws, is to correct for these uncomfortable equilibria.

53

MPAVictoria 05.29.12 at 5:54 pm

“In a statist, heavily-regulated job markets, you end up with very high levels of youth unemployment and great difficulty in young people finding permanent positions (e.g. Greece or Italy). Because firing is difficult, employers are risk-averse. In that environment, a boss (in the public or private sector) with permanent jobs to dispense is in an extremely powerful position relative to job seekers. Much better is a open, flexible, lightly regulated job market with at-will employment combined with a solid safety net (e.g. Danish ‘flexicurity’). Bosses lose the power to abuse employees not because of bureaucracy, but because the empl0yees can afford to tell the bosses to go fuck themselves.”

Are more “flexible” labour markets really doing that much better? Youth unemployment is pretty high in both the US and Canada.

54

Jeffrey Davis 05.29.12 at 6:05 pm

I devoutly wish more people were appalled at reductionism.

55

geo 05.29.12 at 6:10 pm

mw: Much better is a open, flexible, lightly regulated job market with at-will employment combined with a solid safety net (e.g. Danish ‘flexicurity’). Bosses lose the power to abuse employees not because of bureaucracy, but because the empl0yees can afford to tell the bosses to go fuck themselves.

Is it that simple, mw? What if the employee has moved to a city to take the job, or bought a house or car on the strength of their new salary? They’re supposed to just scramble for something new, and hope that it all works out, while the boss gets to stay in his post, unreproved and unsanctioned, to harass the next employee?

56

Anderson 05.29.12 at 7:08 pm

“It is a great book, and a superbly written one at that.”

There are a lot of actually great books out there whose feelings you’ve just hurt.

Robin has a great *introduction* to his book, and some good pieces of journalism inside.

I would much rather have read a book that went on to develop the arguments in his introduction.

57

mw 05.29.12 at 7:12 pm

Is it that simple, mw? What if the employee has moved to a city to take the job, or bought a house or car on the strength of their new salary? They’re supposed to just scramble for something new, and hope that it all works out, while the boss gets to stay in his post, unreproved and unsanctioned, to harass the next employee?

If the job market is dynamic and unemployment protections are robust (as they are in the Danish model). Then it isn’t a desperate scramble for a job when worker decides to leave. Likewise in such environments, bosses have to worry about their own careers if they can’t hire (or keep) good people.

58

Changa Mwene 05.29.12 at 7:16 pm

Employers saying “Fuck me or you’re fired!” is a bad thing, but bringing out the government guns to stop them saying that is a worse one.

And this is why you are a terrible human being and exactly why we should have laws that prevent you from imposing your sick fantasies on the rest of us. Thank you for demonstrating that so clearly here.

59

bob mcmanus 05.29.12 at 7:20 pm

The traditional solution to this philosophical quandary involved very big older brothers.
Or sisters, community, co-workers if they are really tough like Tomlin, Fonda, and Parton.

I could try to bring up Polanyi here, but I can never keep track of embedding versus disembedding. In any case, the frame that imagines an isolated individual needing governmental or institutional protection is probably one that will always favor the capitalist and rationalized employment relations and thus one that libertarians might accept.

First rule of libertarianism? The state has a monopoly on legitimate violence.

60

politicalfootball 05.29.12 at 7:24 pm

If you support legal prostitution, which I do, how is this type of arrangement any different? It feels different but I am not sure why.

If we lived in a society where it was generally understood that women are subject to coercive sexual advances if they choose to take paid employment, it still wouldn’t matter if they knew that when taking the job.

An unfortunate aspect of legal prostitution is that people feel compelled to employ themselves that way. Given the intrinsic power of employers, that compulsion would be magnified if any employer felt free to add prostitution to the list of job responsibilities.

We have minimum wage laws, child labor laws, OSHA-type laws, etc., to protect people from the worst abuses. That’s why we have sexual harassment laws, too.

61

Pascal Leduc 05.29.12 at 7:27 pm

First rule of libertarianism? The state has a monopoly on legitimate violence.

Isint that a good thing? After all I wouldn’t want to live in a society where there are multiple parties that can legitimately commit violence on me.

62

bob mcmanus 05.29.12 at 7:27 pm

I mean honestly, people, you have the desk next to hers, and as she is walking out the door you aren’t walking into the boss’s office? It may not come to blows, but words would be exchanged.

What the hell has happened to us?

63

MPAVictoria 05.29.12 at 7:38 pm

“What the hell has happened to us?”

We have become cowed and scared but maybe it has always been thus.

64

piglet 05.29.12 at 7:51 pm

““What is the “libertarian” position on an employer saying (more or less explicitly) that he expect sex from his secretary when he hires her?”

This strikes me as a difficult question. If you support legal prostitution, which I do, how is this type of arrangement any different? It feels different but I am not sure why.

Those of us who support legal prostitution probably also support a sex worker’s right to refuse service. Regulated legal prostitution is still a different concept from “sign here and now I own you”. At least it ought be. In reality, sex workers are certainly at a high risk of sexual harassment or assault. But at least we still recognize certain treatment of a sex worker as sexual assault. The legal system doesn’t say, nowadays, in liberal countries where prostitution is legal, that a sex worker gives up their sexual autonomy in exchange for money. He or she can still refuse and it is a crime not to respect that refusal.

To restate that: whether you take a job as a secretary or as a prostitute, in both cases you (should) have the right not to be sexually harassed by your boss or clients.

65

SusanC 05.29.12 at 7:57 pm

“not in the contract” was my first thought as to how you’ld theorize it, but “dignity” is good, too.

In most occupations, sex work is really not in the contract, unlike some tasks (e.g. taking mail the post office) that might be implicitly part of the job spec even if they weren’t explicitly named in the contract.

Sex work is possibly bordering on the kinds of things that legally can’t be put in a contract. For example, you can’t be contractually obliged to do something illegal. (Even if sex work is legal – which some forms are in the UK – the same kind of public policy considerations might apply to it as do to contracts to commit a crime. I have no idea what the actual legal position is in the UK; but a law to make such contracts unenforcable would have a certain amount of moral sense to it). Health and safety regulations can also sometimes be impossible to contractually opt out of.

“dignity” serves reasonably well as a reason why some kinds of work (like sex work) should be regarded as definitely not in the contract if they weren’t specifically mentioned. Though it might be better to say that they are things most people would be highly averse to doing.

[I hope this isn't a thread derail, but it suddenly occurred to me that the Geneva Conventions etc. act as a limitation on what people in the military can be required to do by the superiors - so they protect soldiers, as well as the potential victims of soliders. Unlike most employees, soldiers can be required to kill someone or take a serious risk ... but there are still things they cannot be asked to do. The situation seems somewhat analogous]

66

Robin Green 05.29.12 at 8:28 pm

This is a good way of exposing the horror of libertarianism, but perhaps we could heighten the contradictions further by talking about violent murder (which libertarians would “ordinarily” be against) instead of economically coerced sex.

Suppose an employer is angry at an employee for union activities, and says to his employee: I’m going to punish you for your union organising, and I’ll give you two choices:

1) You get brutally murdered by my henchmen right now.

Or 2) You quit, and I tell all my capitalist buddies that you are a no-good union organiser, and it would be a very bad idea to hire you.

So either way, in a libertarian utopia with no welfare, he is very likely dead.

It seems to me that libertarians who approve of the coerced sex scenario are committed to the view that the the government should not interfere with this state of affairs either. That is, the government should not arrest anyone for threatening violence – except to protect the employers against any violent reactions from the employee or his friends!

Maybe they are not committed to such a view – but then where draw the line, and why?

67

piglet 05.29.12 at 8:47 pm

“For example, you can’t be contractually obliged to do something illegal.” (65)

One way to look at it is that sexual harassment is illegal in many countries and so cannot be part of an employment contract. Sexual harassment laws however are fairly recent. What would libertarians say if there were none?

Another way to look at it is to say that if it’s consensual, it’s usually not illegal. So what if the contract says, as a condition for employment, you consent to X and Y? The reason we all know intuitively that is wrong is because that employment conditions are coercive. We know that the asymmetry of power between boss and employee makes free consent unlikely. AND we assume that sex is different from most employment tasks in that nobody should ever have to engage in it against their will whereas it may be ok for an employee to have to clean toilets against their will (or resign if they don’t like the job).

The point in any case is that somehow the line must be drawn between what an employer can and cannot demand of an employee and that line can’t be left to contract law alone, precisely because of the power asymmetry.

68

Substance McGravitas 05.29.12 at 8:54 pm

sexual harassment is illegal in many countries

Not just sexual harrassment. SusanC above brings up health and safety; it’s a component of labour law in a lot of countries that employers can’t order employees into situations where there is risk of harm (beyond, say, chopping the tree down if you’re a logger). I wonder if libertarians think rape is harmful.

69

Josh R. 05.29.12 at 8:54 pm

I’m somewhat surprised by this thread’s lack of mention of this recent week’s Mad Men – given that a plot point in the episode is rather relevant.

70

Salient 05.29.12 at 8:55 pm

“What is the “libertarian” position on an employer saying (more or less explicitly) that he expect sex from his secretary when he hires her? What is your position, Chris?”

This strikes me as a difficult question. If you support legal prostitution, which I do, how is this type of arrangement any different? It feels different but I am not sure why.

Solicitation of prostitution should be illegal, even if/when/where prostitution is legal. (Folding this into a harassment statute makes the most sense, I think.) You would want to very carefully and precisely define exceptions to this, so that only soliciting prostitution from a legal, available, and willing prostitute is legal.

This suggests one weak and kind of amusingly circumabulatory argument against prostitution–perhaps, it shouldn’t be legal to solicit someone for labor that you could rightfully get arrested for attempting to solicit from someone else. (Better arguments exist — e.g. the inherent impossibility of successfully prosecuting the rape of a prostitute — but that’s probably going too far OT. Though the notions of consent, and of implied consent, are right at the heart of what we’re talking about here. Asking a secretary to stamp and post some letters probably falls under the set of tasks we could reasonably believe a secretary implicitly consented to by accepting the employment.)

71

Robin Green 05.29.12 at 8:58 pm

Also, what if the employer is the State?

Is it immoral for the legislative branch to pass a law that managers in the executive branch should not use their power to extract sex?

Put simpler, is it immoral for the government to regulate itself? It doesn’t have to “send men with guns” in this case.

If not – because I can’t see how it would be, even in the libertarian worldview – why would public sector employees get more rights than private sector employees in this respect?

72

James 05.29.12 at 9:04 pm

Robin Green @66. The libertarian fear exactly what you imply. The difference is that the libertarian fears the state and the union more than the employer. Given the both the state (via communism) and the unions (eg teamsters/mob) have used murder, the fear is not unreasonable. To my mind, the important question is how does one counter the actions of evil individuals in positions of power regardless if that power is from being an employer, state official, or union leader.

73

Barry Freed 05.29.12 at 9:05 pm

I wonder if libertarians think rape is harmful.

That’s easy, Substance: If the state does it it’s harmful. If it’s a private actor, not so much.

To return to one of Chris Bertram’s points:
Of course, there’s a certain consistency in that, but it exposes that the dominant concern is not “keep the state out of our lives” but “it is my stuff and I make the rules round here.”

I’m reminded of the recent spate of stories about employers forcing employees (current or prospective) to divulge passwords to their email and facebook accounts.

74

Substance McGravitas 05.29.12 at 9:13 pm

Given the both the state (via communism) and the unions (eg teamsters/mob) have used murder, the fear is not unreasonable.

What about Vikings? Do libertarians fear Vikings? Or dogs with sharp teeth?

75

Pascal Leduc 05.29.12 at 9:21 pm

James your statement seems rather restrictive, are you implying that employers have never used murder? or non-communist states for that matter? or non-union employes?

76

Carl 05.29.12 at 9:30 pm

Because you people took the opportunity to gang-shame the libertarian infidel, you missed the opportunity he offered to think a little more clearly about this issue. He acknowledges, just as if he really cared to think along with the discussion, that private employers collect power that can be used against their workers. He then replies that the state can similarly collect power that can against its citizens. Did you think he was wrong about this? He finds the latter more scary than the former, and therefore faced with two evils he chooses what he sees as the lesser. We have here what might be called a Genuine Honest Disagreement ™.

It’s great if you all trust the state to use its power wisely. This is a faith commitment no less than trusting private employers to use their power wisely. The extra problem with the state is that its power over us is unavoidable. We can’t go citizenship hunting, but we can look for another job. Of course this sucks, but it’s not completely insane or monstrous to prefer job hunting to citizenship hunting.

The state is also accountable to citizens in a different way than employers are accountable to employees. (Marx would say not much, and mostly cosmetically. See Capital as quoted above, or “On the Jewish Question.”) But the state regularly tramples the preferences of minorities, sometimes for generations, making this accountability a little unreliable even on a positive liberal account. And again, all this to say only that although most of the libertarians I know are somewhere thataway on the sociopathy spectrum, not all of them are and the argument has some merit regardless. And it’s certainly not well understood, let alone addressed, by ad hominems and liberal groupthink.

And I’m still not clear on why ‘fuck me or you’re fired’ is (W)rong, although I can see various reasons it’s (w)rong conventionally, pragmatically and intersubjectively, which are plenty to rule it out in my case at least.

77

bob mcmanus 05.29.12 at 9:42 pm

Between the citizen/property owner and the state, between the personal and the political…is the social.

Since the political seems to have utterly failed us, I think it is time to remember it and recreate it in new forms.

78

Bruce Baugh 05.29.12 at 9:44 pm

As is often the case, we’ve got a bunch of guys talking about what’s okay to do to women. Let’s try a scenario.

Brother Libertarian! You’ve been hired for some kind of specialized office or technical work. Your sexual availability to the boss was never discussed. Now you’ve settled in, and the boss has started to make it clear that you’d better be putting out or getting out. Your boss is one of the following: a 350-pound woman with a collection of exotic strap-on devices, or a bulky, burly, gay or bi man who is not sexually appealing to you. Nonetheless, you will be bending over and taking one for the firm, or you will be heading on.

How do you feel about your status and obligations in such a situation?

79

Carl 05.29.12 at 9:55 pm

Bruce, it looks to me like your question is like the one capital punishment supporters ask where I’m supposed to imagine my wife/daughter/childhood pet slowly tortured to death by leering psychopaths, at which point I’m supposed to have a conversion experience that state-sanctioned revenge killing is totally the way to go. Are you suggesting I ought to read my moral positions straight off my personal preferences?

80

piglet 05.29.12 at 9:59 pm

“He acknowledges, just as if he really cared to think along with the discussion, that private employers collect power that can be used against their workers. He then replies that the state can similarly collect power that can against its citizens. Did you think he was wrong about this? He finds the latter more scary than the former, and therefore faced with two evils he chooses what he sees as the lesser.” (76)

Wrong, dishonest, and was pointed out way back in 25. But go on and embarrass Libertarianism even more. Let the world know that sexual workplace harassment is the price that must be paid (by others of course) for freedom from state intrusion.

81

leederick 05.29.12 at 10:06 pm

From a libertarian perspective, in most cases the employee-employer relationship doesn’t usually exist in the sense people are talking about. The employer is a limited company or partnership rather than an actual person, and the the person making the offer isn’t an employer but a manager and is carrying out an abuse of position at the expense of the company and employee.

I should also say I know people are phrasing objections around ‘dignity’ or constrains of ‘private power’, but I’m not sure that really works. Suppose I threaten to dump my girlfriend and kick her out of my house and into the street if she doesn’t perform various humiliating sex acts. That’s a straight up exercise in private power and violation of dignity. But unlike sexual harassment in the workplace, that falls on the other side of the line – I would be well within my legal rights to end the relationship and cease contact with her. So if dignity and contrains on power are the reason for the prohibition, I can’t see why it just applys to employment relationships?

82

Nick 05.29.12 at 10:11 pm

This is a reload of crookedtimber’s two-legged stool libertarianism, aka propertarianism. Add the third leg of actual libertarian theory (self-ownership) and this sort of behaviour by an employer (outside of specified contexts like formal contracted sex work, or being a fighter pilot in case of bathroom breaks) is ruled totally unjust. The employer should be liable for breach of contract and if any threats or harrasment are involved, its also criminal conduct.

83

Substance McGravitas 05.29.12 at 10:23 pm

Add the third leg of actual libertarian theory (self-ownership) and this sort of behaviour by an employer (outside of specified contexts like formal contracted sex work, or being a fighter pilot in case of bathroom breaks) is ruled totally unjust.

By…

84

piglet 05.29.12 at 10:30 pm

“So if dignity and contrains on power are the reason for the prohibition, I can’t see why it just applys to employment relationships?”

Because it doesn’t. Marriage is a good example. It used to be thought in Western culture that a husband had an implicit right to sex (qua marriage contract) but that has now been officially and legally repudiated.

“The employer is a limited company or partnership rather than an actual person, and the the person making the offer isn’t an employer but a manager and is carrying out an abuse of position at the expense of the company and employee.”

On the one hand, your argument fails for small businesses actually managed by their owners, a few of which still exist. On the other hand the very assumption that employers are NOT persons like everybody else contradicts the romantic version of libertarian contractualism which is always based on the vision of two humans freely negotiating a contract. Once you acknowledge that that vision is a fiction, how can you maintain the concept of employment relationships being contracts freely agreed on by equal parties? And if you don’t, what exactly is your objection to legally enforceable employee rights? And also, what was said in 25.

85

Bruce Baugh 05.29.12 at 10:31 pm

Carl: Not really. I’m just trying to emphasize how unattractive the imposition of sexual favors is on a lot of employees for whom many libertarians have little or no sympathy, and whom the libertarian is often imagining in a sort of cinematic hot babe way. It’s an effort to get some thought about “What would I, the actual me, feel in a situation of entirely unwanted imposition?” Not that I was really expecting anything to come of it, but the darnedest things sometimes turn out well.

The real point here its hat the typical sexually coerced employee isn’t enjoying it, any more than you’d enjoy being sodomized by someone who turns on none of your sexual stimuli, and finds it as intrusive and unwelcome as you would, but if she’s a women is much more widely presumed to be enjoying it or at least to be entirely capable of just putting up with it as no big thing. But so many libertarians so successfully train themselves out of empathy for anyone on the lower end of any power exchange that stuff like this generally has to be personalized to register.

86

leederick 05.29.12 at 10:45 pm

“Because it doesn’t.”

But it does, doesn’t it? It’s legal for me to use my freedom to dispose of my personal wealth to coerce my girlfriend to sleep with me through threat of penury (personal relationship) but not my secretary (employment relationship). Why? They’re both uses of private power and violations of dignity.

“On the one hand, your argument fails for small businesses actually managed by their owners, a few of which still exist.”

I’d agree. But that feels relevant to me. A personal servant employed directly by a rich individual to cater to their whims has more in common with a sex worker than someone employed by a corporation with the aim of generating profit. Harrassment feels wronger in the second case.

87

AWS 05.29.12 at 10:53 pm

Substance: “By…” The Invisible Hand of the Free Market. Duh.

88

Nick 05.29.12 at 11:01 pm

‘By…’

… reserving all rights that are not explictly or reasonably constrained in an employment contract to the individual employee. The employer/employee relationship is not a master/servant relationship.

Admittedly, there are extensive employment forms, such as those conducted through limited liability corporations, that do not comform to this voluntaristic ideal. And voluntary labour institutions like the representational and negotiating role of unions are often unjustly legally constrained. But that just means we have a set of employee friendly reforms to aim for.

89

Chingona 05.29.12 at 11:05 pm

Suppose I threaten to dump my girlfriend and kick her out of my house and into the street if she doesn’t perform various humiliating sex acts. That’s a straight up exercise in private power and violation of dignity. But unlike sexual harassment in the workplace, that falls on the other side of the line – I would be well within my legal rights to end the relationship and cease contact with her.

It certainly wouldn’t be illegal to end the relationship, but you’d be hard pressed to mount a legal defense for unlawfully evicting a legal resident from your home because she won’t submit to your rape fantasies. So that analogy is still pretty shit, isn’t it?

90

Chingona 05.29.12 at 11:07 pm

Pardon, replace “resident” with “tenant.”

91

Substance McGravitas 05.29.12 at 11:16 pm

reserving all rights that are not explictly or reasonably constrained in an employment contract to the individual employee.

Okay, I have those rights hovering above me like an angel on a cloud. Who enforces them for me? Government stormtroopers? Union thugs?

92

leederick 05.29.12 at 11:17 pm

That’s a bit of a telling replacement. As I understand it if you’re a tenant, you have rights under a separate rental contract. If you’re a resident, you don’t, the owner can do what they like with the property, and you’re in the street. Which is pretty much my point.

93

Chingona 05.29.12 at 11:22 pm

It’s not a replacement, it’s a redaction of an incorrect and misleading noun. If you don’t like the implications of your hypothetical, don’t tell us your hypothetical. “Kicking” someone out of your house and “into the street” means that they live in your home and have no other place of residence. The hypothetical girlfriend is both a tenant and a roommate, and tenants can’t be evicted willy-nilly without notice. Try again.

94

leederick 05.29.12 at 11:46 pm

“The hypothetical girlfriend is both a tenant and a roommate, and tenants can’t be evicted willy-nilly without notice.”

I’m sorry, but this is my hypothetical girlfriend and I get to say what she is or isn’t. I don’t know where you live, but where I live – and in pretty much all common law countries – tenant has a specific legal meaning. For the sake of clarity, my hypothetical girlfriend is not a tenant.

“you’d be hard pressed to mount a legal defense for unlawfully evicting a legal resident from your home because she won’t submit to your rape fantasies.”

That’s only true by definition, I think it would be easy to defend legally evicting an illegal resident from my home.

I really don’t see where this is going or why it matters; if you want to introduce an hypothetical notice period before she is evicted and plunged into poverty you are welcome. I don’t see the broader point. Presumably a secretary subject to harassment and firing would get the same notice from her landlord. It’s still an arbitrary exercise in private power.

95

Ed 05.29.12 at 11:52 pm

How much difference does it make in this situation in that its not legally nor socially acceptable for businesses to simply explicitly hire staff prostitutes?

96

Chingona 05.30.12 at 12:05 am

It’s still an arbitrary exercise in private power.

Which means precisely what, and is relevant to this discussion how?

Again, apart from being silly, your hypothetical is flawed because it disregards basic civil law governing housing and tenancy. Just look it up, dude.

97

Chingona 05.30.12 at 1:42 am

I really don’t see where this is going or why it matters; if you want to introduce an hypothetical notice period before she is evicted and plunged into poverty you are welcome. I don’t see the broader point.

In the grander scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. For the purposes of this thread, wherein you posed a hypothetical ostensibly designed to support a particular opinion, it matters ‘cos it’s not serving any purpose and is, in fact, undermining your stated “broader point.” You suggest that the wildly unethical behavior in your hypothetical is a “private” matter between adults, lawful, and wouldn’t be regulated or somesuch; so far, so libertarian, except that it clearly isn’t a private matter and should someone behave in the way you suggest (illegally evicting a tenant and domestic partner) they’d easily end up at the wrong end of a civil court ‘cos there are laws already in place and an abundance of precedents dictating precisely how and under what circumstances a dude can “kick” his roommate “into the street,” and–surprise–that said roommate chooses not to fuck him is not one of those circumstances.

Interesting, too, how you’re particularly keen to strip the matter at hand of ethics (cf your distaste with the concept of dignity), and yet you’re not quite imaginative enough to dream up a scenario in which a woman isn’t a victim, and the crime isn’t coercive sex interspersed with economics. Bruce Baugh had it exactly right.

98

James 05.30.12 at 1:56 am

The OP is about the abuse of power by an employer over an employer and why libertarians are unwilling to extend state powers or support unions to counter such an abuse. The comments then head down the rabbit whole until comment @66 mentions murder by the employer. The not so strange response is that the Libertarian is and has always been more fearful of extended state powers. Given the state use of murder vs employer use of murder, I am on solid historical grounds. The teamster reference was a specific response to comment @66.

For all the various digs concerning the conservative mindset of following authority figures, the solutions to problems put forth by the liberals always seem revolve around granting the state or some trans-state entity more power as long as these entities mouth the right platitudes. People who seek to abuse power are equally likely to join groups you support as they are to pick the other side.

99

Dan 05.30.12 at 2:13 am

Those of us who support legal prostitution probably also support a sex worker’s right to refuse service.

Even if the only clients that are refused are those of a particular race?

100

Bruce Baugh 05.30.12 at 2:15 am

So, self-ownership is fundamental, except when it’s a piece of the self that the libertarian observer anticipates never being called up on to sell or yield up on demand, and which the observer may wish to buy or demand from another. Then it’s all up for grabs, presumption lying on the side of the employer, regardless of the job, so long as confine ourselves to the sexual servitude of people unlike the observer.

101

Bruce Baugh 05.30.12 at 2:21 am

A random thought: let’s take two employees, A and B, with similar expertise and experience, and who do similar quality work – as in, if you had work product in front of you, you’d be really hard pressed to say whether B or A did it, and in either case, it’s good stuff. A has sexual features that employers fairly often demand access to; B presents nothing that many employers find tempting. A straightforward calculation suggests that good work + sex is more work than good work + no sex, and should be compensated accordingly.

Clearly, it’s not.

What is the source of this market failure, given that there’s no obvious “outside” governmental force demanding employers not compensate employees for required sex?

102

Substance McGravitas 05.30.12 at 2:27 am

This 95-page report describes rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, or vulgar and obscene language by supervisors, employers, and others in positions of power.

I say less regulation is the solution.

103

Stephen Frug 05.30.12 at 2:29 am

Since it seems relevant to the discussion, maybe y’all will forgive me if I link to a recent blog post of mine on the issue of libertarianism & slavery:
http://stephenfrug.blogspot.com/2012/05/do-libertarians-believe-in-slavery.html
…the basic question being, since libertarians only believe that coercion happens (or at any rate that coercion ought to be forbidden by “men with guns”, ie government) at the hands of the state, a fair number of versions of libertarian theory seem to lead to accepting slavery forced by starvation, i.e. a starving person is offered food in return for enslaving themselves for life.

Anyway, click over if you’re interested, and leave thoughts if you care to.

104

mtraven 05.30.12 at 2:56 am

Hey, if we are linking to old blog posts that explore the links between libertarianism and slavery, can I play too? (shorter: libertarian big thinker Murray Rothbard had an odd affinity for the Confederate cause, which is not so odd after reading some of Corey Robin’s work).

105

Bruce Wilder 05.30.12 at 3:17 am

Bruce Baugh @ 101

The OP implicitly posits a particular, and common form of employment relationship — one in which the employee agrees to show up and follow instructions from the employer, or the employer’s agent, aka the manager, in return for money wages at some more-or-less fixed rate. The economics of this relationship might be worth exploring a bit. Without rehearsing the whole long argument, for this contract to work, a couple of things, it would seem, must be true. One is that this relationship must dominate a simple market sale of discreet labor services, as a strategy for organizing production of some good. (Let’s note in passing that a prostitute might be a pimp’s employee, but is not a john’s employee; the prostitute is performing and selling a service.) Somehow, applying this relationship to the production process is more productive, than the alternatives, such as contracting for specific labor services. And, the open-endedness of the contract is a feature, not a bug. There may be some loose job description, limiting the scope, but the main feature of the contract is a willingness to follow instructions, to do as one is told.

Another thing that must be true is that the variable terms of the contract must be consistent with actually getting someone to follow instructions. We must not simply gloss over the question of whether someone nominally agreeing to follow instructions, will. This contract, as I said above, has to dominate alternative ways of organizing production, for the employer — has to be more productive. And, it has to dominate alternative opportunties for employment by the employee; it has to be more remunerative, adjusting for the subjective, experienced costs to the employee. Why does the employee prefer taking orders to being his own boss? And, what about the structure of terms compels the employee to follow instructions, even if following instructions and accepting various behavioral constraints (showing up on time, limited bathroom breaks, work pace, work environment, etc.), is unpleasant or not what the employee, under his own supervision, would choose?

The simple answer to all of this is the efficiency wage argument. The employee is paid a premium, from higher productivity, for accepting supervision, and that premium can be lost, when the employee re-enters the labor market. (Of course, if the Republican employer has driven the unemployment rate to 8%, it might not take much of a premium to deter the employee from risking a return to the labor market, but that’s another story.) The labor contract carries a risk of being fired: the form is essentially, “do as you are told, or you will be fired”. And, what you can be told to do is at least somewhat open-ended; if it wasn’t — if the services to be performed could be productively spelled out in advance, and didn’t have to be performed at a particular place, with particular tools, on a particular tools, with adaptive changes, then the employer would not need to hire an employee — she could just contract for the needed services.

So, ex-ante, people are given an opportunity to accept a labor contract, under which they are to do as they are told, and there is a substantial penalty for failing to do so, and the contract is open-ended or vague on exactly what one can be told to do. They are accepting a relationship of unequal power, with the expectation of benefitting from it: they will be more productive and will earn more.

A relationship of unequal power, though, is a relationship of unequal power, and comes with a substantial risk of being abused, by definition of unequal power.

It seems to me that liberals have a valid claim to a three-legged stool (contra Nick @ 82), in that liberals see the need for institutional governance, to see that the ex-ante expectations are realized, without ex-post abuse. Unions, a government labor department, courts of law empowered to intervene, etc. Imperfect amelioration from imperfect countervailing power, to be sure, but something.

Libertarians are libertarians precisely because they try to sit on a two-legged stool. That’s the definition of libertarian: trying to sit on a two-legged stool. Libertarian “free contracting” works if everyone is contracting for the exchange of goods and discrete services, if self-ownership means everyone is well and truly self-employed. That’s not the world we live in. There are big gains to the “do-what-you’re-told,-or-you’re-fired” relationship in organizing some production processes — quite a few production processes, apparently — and so lots and lots of people in society are in these relationships. And, they are vulnerable, in the absence of institutions of countervailing power.

106

DrJim 05.30.12 at 3:25 am

So if Big Boss said “If you don’t let me put my finger in your nose, you’re fired” do you write all this stuff about it? Right. That’s why it’s wrong.

107

Nick 05.30.12 at 7:02 am

‘Okay, I have those rights hovering above me like an angel on a cloud. Who enforces them for me? Government stormtroopers? Union thugs?’

By a court in which both sides in the employment dispute can present evidence. But just enforcement is a problem for any political theory!

108

Chris Bertram 05.30.12 at 7:16 am

Don’t think there’s much for me to respond to here. Except to say that those libertarians placing contractual freedom above protecting employees from humiliation etc on the grounds that THE STATE seem to have 2 possible grounds for thinking what they think. (1) that a bit of state regulation is intrinsically worse than the kinds of thing happening in that HRW report on US immigrant farmworkers happening or (2) slippery slope: let the state protect those workers and then we are on Teh Road to Serfdom. Neither of these looks remotely plausible.

109

Katherine 05.30.12 at 7:51 am

“By a court”… provided by, paid for, administered by… whom? And waving away “enforcement” as a problem for all political theories won’t do when the main plank of your particular theory is that state coercion (ie enforcement) is the root of all evil.

You can’t say private ownership rights are to be protected from state coercion when the only way to make private ownership rights mean anything is by state coercion.

110

Substance McGravitas 05.30.12 at 8:00 am

But just enforcement is a problem for any political theory!

In a practice, right now, I have an HR department. I have a union. I have law. None of these is perfect, but they look quite a bit better than what you have on offer. Why is what you propose better for me?

111

Anarcho 05.30.12 at 8:08 am

There is an easy solution to this apparent contradiction — they are NOT libertarians but rather propertarians. As Murray Rothbard admitted, the propertarians stole the name “libertarian” from its original users — anarchists like Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, etc.

The original libertarians were well aware that property was (to quote Proudhon) both “theft” (exploitation) and “despotism” (oppression). The modern so-called “libertarians” utterly reject this basic libertarian analysis — which is why you should call them what they really are, propertarians.

112

Niall McAuley 05.30.12 at 8:17 am

@Katherine #109: In Libertaria, the courts are independent businesses. When you sign an employment contract, there’s a clause setting out the fees which will be used to pay Big Al’s Employment Tribunal and Bar-B-Q Pit to settle disputes, and to pay for Big Al’s rulings to be enforced by Invisible Fist Security.

113

reason 05.30.12 at 8:54 am

Salient @44

“Maybe there are some industries that are hazardous or environmentally damaging enough to warrant a more literal whitelist—the financial industry comes to mind immediately, but maybe also utilities and mining-type operations. (Come to think of it, those are all industries I’d prefer to see nationalized…)”

I’m inclined to think the right approach is a mix of “public option” and accountable regulation. Part of the great weakness of soviet socialism, was that industries were expected to self-regulate, and conflict of interest is conflict of interest. Having different parties play different roles is a good thing. And monopsony in the labour market is not a good thing.

114

Peter Briffa 05.30.12 at 9:00 am

Most libertarians of my acquaintance take a dim view of rape, murder, and theft on the grounds that they tend to breach the general rules about consent. Of course there are exceptions. Just like there are a few lefties out there who rather approve of poverty, starvation and over-arching government. Bound to be a few goofballs on either side.

115

reason 05.30.12 at 9:03 am

Bruce Wilder @105
“And, it has to dominate alternative opportunties for employment by the employee; it has to be more remunerative, adjusting for the subjective, experienced costs to the employee. “

Yes, but you could have been more explicit that a lot of that renumeration is some protection from uncertainty (i.e. a predictable regulated life).

116

reason 05.30.12 at 9:05 am

Peter Briffa
“who rather approve of poverty, starvation” … name one?

“a dim view of rape, murder, and theft ” – this is not the issue. Abuse of power is the issue.

117

reason 05.30.12 at 9:09 am

Niall McAuley @112
I sort of wonder who watches the courts in Libertaria. Particularly what happens when fat envelopes are passed around behind people’s backs. I suppose these people must have thought about such things, but it took hundreds of years for functioning systems reasonably free from corruption to be developed. Empiricism does so muck up clean fantasizing doesn’t it.

118

Peter Briffa 05.30.12 at 9:10 am

Pol Pot, Stalin. that’s two.

Abuse of power gets the thumbs down a lot. Libertarians are very keen on competition and against monopolies.

119

reason 05.30.12 at 9:17 am

@118
Ah I see, you are confusing the words “approve of” with “instrumentalised”.

120

reason 05.30.12 at 9:25 am

“Abuse of power gets the thumbs down a lot. Libertarians are very keen on competition and against monopolies.”

Being keen on something, doesn’t mean it happens. This is a good example of wishful thinking. Ask Bayern München fans.

121

Chris Bertram 05.30.12 at 9:28 am

OK you 2: enough of 2-person tit-for-tat. No added value.

122

reason 05.30.12 at 9:31 am

Chris,
gladly – I’m sure there are more serious commenters out there. But I think Peter might think it unfair to ask him to quit when he is behind.

123

Nick 05.30.12 at 9:51 am

“In a practice, right now, I have an HR department. I have a union. I have law. None of these is perfect, but they look quite a bit better than what you have on offer. Why is what you propose better for me?”

Well I don’t know exactly what I have on offer, because I don’t know exactly what would arise out of voluntary negotiation in a free society. I imagine your union would exist, since unions tend to emerge unless prohibited and opposed by state regulation.

But I often find it more useful to talk about radical reform of the current system rather than what ideal alternative systems would look like if everyone’s rights were respected. So if you want to know where I would go from here: abolish occupational licensing and limited liability for corporations. This would increase opportunities for employment/self-employment while decreasing the power of business owners to avoid their legal obligations.

124

reason 05.30.12 at 9:56 am

Carl @76
“It’s great if you all trust the state to use its power wisely. This is a faith commitment no less than trusting private employers to use their power wisely. The extra problem with the state is that its power over us is unavoidable. We can’t go citizenship hunting, but we can look for another job. Of course this sucks, but it’s not completely insane or monstrous to prefer job hunting to citizenship hunting.”

No we in fact don’t all trust the state to use its power wisely. We take “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance” seriously. But we have a vote, and we have developed systems of the rule of law that constrain the state. We want to constrain private actors as well.

And we can actually go citizenship hunting. It’s called emigrating. Both I and some of my ancestors can vouch for it.

125

Salem 05.30.12 at 1:02 pm

126

reason 05.30.12 at 1:14 pm

Salem,
yes he has a point (but this is of course a side issue), but isn’t the problem here really the ambiguity of much of the GOP to illegal immigration. Their pay masters like it (cheap labour), their voters don’t.

If prosecution was concentrated on the employers of illegal immigrants and not on the illegal immigrants themselves, then
a. there would be fewer of them assuming incentives work
b. immigrants could report abuse without fear of personal repercussions

127

Chris Bertram 05.30.12 at 1:16 pm

Well “interesting” in that he makes the correct point that vulnerable people without an alternative are vulnerable to exploitation. In the case he discusses, one source of a lack of alternative, namely visas that tie immigrants to particular employers. As he rightly says, that legal tie is the fault of the government (which thereby empowers the private employer vis a vis the worker). If this were the only source of vulnerable people lacking an alternative then he’d have an argument against me. But since it manifestly isn’t, and he doesn’t affirm any facts of substance I need deny, Osimek’s piece is just a bit of diversion from an apologist for private power.

128

Steve LaBonne 05.30.12 at 1:21 pm

A law written at the behest of private powers who bought influence on the government that they wouldn’t have if it were actually democratic, shows that it’s not private power that’s the problem? Wow, what a brilliant and convincing argument.

129

reason 05.30.12 at 2:21 pm

Steve 128
His argument is that government has power, and government regulation can be poorly designed. Yep 100% agree. What he doesn’t show is that the poorly designed legislation ALONE is responsible for the private abuse of power – or that the private is ALONE the result of the poorly designed legislation.

But yes, the main point here is that power of all sorts can be abused and we need systems that work to constrain abuse of power. I don’t see here any positive suggestions from Osimek. I think that US democracy is badly need of structural reform, and that worship of the 18th Century constitution is a big psychological obstacle. And nobody in the US seems willing to talk about it, instead blaming one side or other of the political divide. The polarised politics are a function of the disfunctional political system, the political system isn’t just disfunctional because of polarisation.

130

reason 05.30.12 at 2:23 pm

oops one important word omitted – … or that private POWER is alone the result of poorly designed legislation.

131

MPAVictoria 05.30.12 at 2:25 pm

“So if you want to know where I would go from here: abolish occupational licensing and limited liability for corporations. This would increase opportunities for employment/self-employment while decreasing the power of business owners to avoid their legal obligations.”

Want to know how I know you are crazy? I will give you a hint. It is the phrase starting with abolish….

132

Barry 05.30.12 at 2:34 pm

Niall McAuley 05.30.12 at 8:17 am

” @Katherine #109: In Libertaria, the courts are independent businesses. When you sign an employment contract, there’s a clause setting out the fees which will be used to pay Big Al’s Employment Tribunal and Bar-B-Q Pit to settle disputes, and to pay for Big Al’s rulings to be enforced by Invisible Fist Security.”

And the advantage of this system is that ‘regulatory capture’ never happens; instead it’s built into the system – as a feature!

133

Watson Ladd 05.30.12 at 3:07 pm

reason, that presumes that being unemployable is not a bad thing. National divisions among the workers always act to divide them and their political power. The whole call for different systems of enforcement concedes that where people are born should decide what rights they have when they move, which is dubious.

134

Nicholas Weininger 05.31.12 at 1:38 am

Christ, 100+ more comments before I get another chance to take a look. This is what one gets for leaving comments when one has limited free time, I suppose.

Bruce, you make a legitimate point and point to what may have been a lack of clarity on my part when you say

“This is an invitation for Nicholas or someone to show the slightest scrap of evidence that providing sexual services for the boss is a common item of negotiation at hiring time, and that it’s routinely spelled out in contract. What? No contract? Then where’s this sanctity of contract we’re trampling on?”

Obviously it isn’t. And obviously it is not defensible, more generally, for an employer to ask for something to be done that is neither spelled out in the employment contract nor reasonably construable as having been implicitly consented to at time of employment.

But the BHL’ers Chris is responding to already made that point– as the reason why most libertarians should, in practice, find it perfectly defensible to sue over sexual harassment. And I read Chris (correct me if I’m wrong about this) as making two claims in response to this, one fairly weak and one much stronger:

1. this argument fails (claims Chris) because you can’t spell out everything formally in contracts that employees are expected to do

2. it fails further (he claims) because *even if it were* reasonably expectable given the employment contract, it’s still wrong due to its humiliating/degrading/exploitative nature

Now (1) I think is the less interesting claim and the easier to respond to: even though you can’t spell out everything formally, you can set with confidence some bounds on what a reasonable person would infer from the terms of a contract and the job description that they might be expected to do, and gross violation of those bounds on the part of the employer is clearly actionable, and sexual harassment in practice today is just such a gross violation. mw and SusanC allude to variants of this response.

But (2) is what I was actually responding to, the idea that if someone *has* made a contract as a consequence of which you might reasonably expect that they’d be asked to do X, then you can still prohibit the other contracting party from asking them to do X on the grounds that it is humiliating, degrading, they are taking advantage of desperation, etc. That is what I take Chris to be arguing, and implicitly saying that libertarians would agree with if only they really understood how bad the degradation was. And that is what I disagree with on the libertarian moral grounds that freedom of contract trumps any entitlement not to be humiliated or degraded.

And this again generalizes: libertarian morality (in common deontological variants) really does hold that the defense of property and contract may sometimes be legitimate reasons for the use of force, but the defense of dignity or the equalization of economic power imbalance are not. In particular, to address Chris @25, that means it is not wrong to defend rightfully-acquired property by force against intruders, be they unionists or otherwise: but it is wrong to abrogate contracts because you think they violate the dignity of a contracting party.

And the source of this is the idea that the use of force in human interactions is a supremely bad thing and has to be very rigorously justified and given very narrow scope for legitimate use, so that there are plenty of situations in life where one should say “I think that X is a Very Bad Thing but I think it would be a worse thing to use force against those who do it”, and for instance threatening to fire someone if they don’t do what you want isn’t even remotely close to as bad as threatening them with physical violence if they don’t do what you want.

Anyway. This is now very long, but I wanted to be absolutely clear this time.

135

Substance McGravitas 05.31.12 at 1:44 am

find it perfectly defensible to sue

Let’s say I make $2.50 an hour in Libertopia. How realistic is this?

136

snuh 05.31.12 at 2:18 am

re James at 98

For all the various digs concerning the conservative mindset of following authority figures, the solutions to problems put forth by the liberals always seem revolve around granting the state or some trans-state entity more power as long as these entities mouth the right platitudes. People who seek to abuse power are equally likely to join groups you support as they are to pick the other side.

given other subjects mentioned in this thread, i’m just going to assume that “trans-state entity” refers to unions. apologies if otherwise. it doesn’t matter to my broader point, which is, just what is the libertarian objection to workers voluntarily joining trade unions? it can’t be that unions are some sort of artificial non-person entity or that unions have various capabilities that have been granted by the state (legal personhood, protections from certain kinds of liability etc), because corporations are in basically the same position in that respect and you never hear libertarians in full-throated opposition to corporations.

i completely appreciate the tribal reason for this state of affairs (i.e. right wingers hate unions, the end). but i’d like to know if there’s any actual principled libertarian explanation.

137

QS 05.31.12 at 2:26 am

This entire discussion is incredibly creepy. I see a bunch of men equivocating (bloviating, really) on whether men should force women to have sex. How many of you are imagining women bosses forcing their male underlings? Or male bosses forcing their male underlings? Doubt it. Is “fuck me or you’re fired” much different from rape? In one respect, it’s perhaps more damaging, not only do you feel forced to have sex but also that you have “consented”. Congrats, now you have a worker who hates her life but herself as well.

What next, a hunt to find a universal principle to prohibit rape? Then (predictably) finding none, only the “normative” or “conventional”, and further equivocation?

Sex is one of the few social acts/relations where we as a society have demanded that each participant must explicitly consent and that no great power asymmetry be present. This is why we ban date rape and teachers having sexual relations with their students. If only we could expand such a demand to all workplace relations.

138

Patrick 05.31.12 at 3:07 am

Its not that hard to come up with a principle that prohibits the use of employment to coerce sex. 1. It increases human misery, 2. arguments that granting the government the power to regulate this will somehow yield a slippery slope to worse misery are empirically false, and 3. no external benefits exist sufficient to justify it. QED. Don’t play the myopia game with a libertarian, he’ll win.

139

JT 05.31.12 at 4:05 am

“for instance threatening to fire someone if they don’t do what you want isn’t even remotely close to as bad as threatening them with physical violence if they don’t do what you want.”

Hello! Fucking when it isn’t a free choice, when it is coerced, certainly ‘is’ physical violence.

140

Chris Bertram 05.31.12 at 7:07 am

NW @134 has the virtue of being very clear in his reply, which is an instance of “biting the bullet”. But note what he’s saying. When he says that the use of force is a “supremely bad thing” which requires justification, he’s not saying that the use of force is not justified. He’s saying that force is justified for one reason (in defence of property) but not for another reason (to protect desperate people from sexual exploitation and other humiliation). If the sexually harassed and humiliated occupy the factory to demand that the owners stops his harassment, and the owner calls the police to have them thrown out, Nicholas is clear which side he’s on. So am I.

141

Nick 05.31.12 at 8:49 am

‘Let’s say I make $2.50 an hour in Libertopia. How realistic is this?’

In Libertopia, lawyers would charge less.

“you never hear libertarians in full-throated opposition to corporations”

I am right here in the thread, for trade union rights and against limiting corporate liability (which makes breaking laws much less dangerous for business owners and bosses).

Libertarian institutions are meant to disperse power and property, creating more opportunities for employment and self-employment so that there are plenty of alternatives to bad or undignified employment situations. In so far as they fail to achieve that, I would no longer be in favour of them.

142

Manta1976 05.31.12 at 10:31 am

I suppose you are not a true Scotsman, Nick.

For Chris: how sanguine are you about “humanitarian” interventions (e.g. “responsibility to protect”)? Or do you think that a state is justified in using force to redress torts is justified (almost) only when it is against its own citizens?

143

Chris Bertram 05.31.12 at 11:04 am

Manta1976: I think no state has the right to immunity from external intervention to prevent serious breaches of basic human rights. However, as recent experience shows, actual interventions nearly always make things worse. So I’m generally but not universally opposed to humanitarian interventions, on grounds of pragmatism rather than principle. How do you think this is relevant to the present discussion?

144

Manta1976 05.31.12 at 11:50 am

They are both about what should be the proper limit of state power: in foreign policy, I think a general principle “all use of force on humanitarian grounds unjustified” is, while it might not be sound in theory, is a very good principle in practice.

Thus, while I don’t share it, I can understand libertarian’s blanket opposition to state use of force in private matters (except in narrowly defined circumstances, i.e. enforcements of private property rights).

145

Tim Wilkinson 05.31.12 at 11:56 am

One of the first things I thought when I heard about the Cons’ latest Overton-stretcher about firing at will was that opponents should be focusing on the ‘identity politics’ issues about the lack of redress for discriminatory firing or firing on (secret) grounds of non-compliance with sexual advances etc.

Because of course any other concern is all to do with ‘being in the pockets of the unions’ and goes against the current masochistic ideology, the mad race to the bottom of the contest to be the most hard-working, ‘productive’ and ‘professional’ (uncomplaining) worker. (Cf. public sector gets decent conditions, the private sector doesn’t -> fuck up the public sector.)

Unless and until new generations can be re-introduced to classical leftist ideas, translating workers’ rights into minorities’ and womens’ rights (esp the latter which though historically ‘left’ has for decades been yoked to right-wing ‘aspiration’) is the best rhetorical alternative.

146

snuh 05.31.12 at 1:11 pm

I am right here in the thread, for trade union rights and against limiting corporate liability (which makes breaking laws much less dangerous for business owners and bosses).

good for you. what i should have said is that you don’t usually hear libertarians in full-throated opposition to the corporate form, apologies (but in my opinion the usual libertarian view of the corporation is that it is perfectly compatible with libertarianism, see e.g. the “nexus of contracts” theory which reductively is the libertarian defence of the corporation and widely accepted amongst libertarians).

but the thing i’m interested in is a libertarian willing to explain why it is that libertarians (usually) have nothing positive to say about unions.

147

bianca steele 05.31.12 at 1:17 pm

Tim,

minorities’ and womens’ rights (esp the latter which though historically ‘left’ has for decades been yoked to right-wing ‘aspiration’)

Not sure I agree. Yes, feminism in part is about including women in the traditional middle class professions–so is activism regarding the rights of minorities. Some of this is based in “left” ideas and some is not. In part it is also, for many years, includes the promotion of “female” ideas, or the promotion of the idea that “female” ideas are equal in value to “male,” or the promotion of the idea that traditionally female pursuits are equal in dignity to the male ones. In theory, this latter variety of feminism might turn out to be compatible with the idea that women should be excluded from traditionally male segments of the workplace. You probably don’t mean to suggest that this latter variety of feminism is “left” and the “include women in the professions on an equal basis” variety (which might include encouraging women to see the burdens of work for hire in the same way men do) is “right.”

148

Consumatopia 05.31.12 at 1:18 pm

Thus, while I don’t share it, I can understand libertarian’s blanket opposition to state use of force in private matters (except in narrowly defined circumstances, i.e. enforcements of private property rights).

This is nonsense–to defend private property, you have to use exactly as much force as you would need to use to defend any other regime. We’re all using force in private matters. It’s not a matter of when we use force that causes us to disagree, but on whose behalf.

The employer wants to be able to fire people at will and do with their factory as they wish. The employee wants to work at their job without fear of sexual harassment. These desires are in conflict. The state may decide that the employer is right and the employee must leave the job, or that the employee is right and the employer must compensate the employee. When is force employed? No matter what the state decided, force is employed at exactly the same time: whenever anyone tries to overrule what the state decides.

If the employer prevails, but the employee decides to break into the employer’s office to take their pay anyway, the state will use force to arrest the employee. If the employee prevails, but the employer fails to send the compensation determined by the state, the state will use force against the employer (or the employer’s bank account) to compel such compensation. In both cases, force is being employed for exactly the same reason–to defend state-recognized claims to property.

The foreign policy comparison doesn’t work–we aren’t choosing between intervening or not intervening, we’re choosing which side to intervene on. It is as if you decided you would not intervene for humanitarian reasons, but you would intervene on behalf of the local government against all acts of violence committed by civilians or rebels.

If Nicholas had used the words “power” or “coercion” instead of “force”, he might have been able to get away with using those words with the circular definitions libertarians typically give them–state actions represent coercion when libertarians only when libertarians don’t like them, so defending property is not coercion. But you can’t do that with “force”–guns and batons can’t be defined away.

149

Tim Wilkinson 05.31.12 at 1:29 pm

bianca, yes I was thinking of the equal rights side of things rather than the more positively ‘feminist’ feminism of difference.

150

Dan 05.31.12 at 1:57 pm

good for you. what i should have said is that you don’t usually hear libertarians in full-throated opposition to the corporate form, apologies (but in my opinion the usual libertarian view of the corporation is that it is perfectly compatible with libertarianism, see e.g. the “nexus of contracts” theory which reductively is the libertarian defence of the corporation and widely accepted amongst libertarians).

My impression is that almost no libertarians believe that the “nexus of contracts” theory justifies limitations on liability with respect to third parties who lie outside the nexus.

but the thing i’m interested in is a libertarian willing to explain why it is that libertarians (usually) have nothing positive to say about unions.

Well, it’s pretty complicated. To the extent that my own personal views about unions are negative, it stems from the facts that (1) their political activities lean heavily and substantially towards the anti-free market wing of the Democratic party (just look!: http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php); (2) “collective bargaining” as it exists under the NLRA allows unions to unjustly force employees to join or contribute, potentially and sometimes actually against their will; and (3) it’s hard to see how the government can plausibly negotiate with public sector unions in a way that actively represents the interests of taxpayers. I imagine many libertarians feel similarly. Are any of these good reasons that unions should be banned? No; although arguably (2) means that they shouldn’t exist in their current form. But they do seem to me to be good reasons not to like unions. If there were voluntary organizations dedicated primarily to protecting the interests of employees (and yes, this is distinguishable from overt political activity), then I’d probably be in favor of them. But that’s not what unions are, or at least so it seems to me.

151

rea 05.31.12 at 2:16 pm

“In Libertaria, the courts are independent businesses. When you sign an employment contract, there’s a clause setting out the fees which will be used to pay Big Al’s Employment Tribunal and Bar-B-Q Pit to settle disputes, and to pay for Big Al’s rulings to be enforced by Invisible Fist Security.”

And what happens if , faced with an unfavorrable ruling from Big Al, you hire Even Bigger Security to fend off the minions of Invisible Fist? War?

The point is, unless you assign responsibility for enforcement of contracts to some entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, you go straight to a situation in which the winner is always going to be the one who has more guns, or can afford to buy more guns. And that’s why we have government.

152

Manta1976 05.31.12 at 3:09 pm

Consumotopia: if I understand them correctly, the position expressed by Nicholas is that the only legitimate reason for use of force is to defend property rights; the position expressed by Chris is that there are other legitimate reasons, e.g. defend the dignity of people: in this sense, Nicholas has a more restrictive take of when force can be used.

Historically, state power has been more often than not used to oppress people (see for instance the frequent “this day in labor” series at Lawyers, guns and money): a position that restrict the use of such power is not unreasonable (even if the restriction _is_ pretty arbitrary).

153

Consumatopia 05.31.12 at 3:39 pm

Would Chris actually support the police throwing out the anti-harassment factory occupiers?

Either way, you’re still wrong. If a legislature or court decides that if an employer sexually harasses an employee, they must pay compensation, this decision itself is NOT an application of force. Force is only applied if the employer refuses to hand over what now rightfully belongs to the employee. In other words, the only force is defending the employer’s property. Both sides would use force in the same way–defending property. It is absolutely false to claim that Nicholas has a more restrictive take of when force can be used.

154

Consumatopia 05.31.12 at 3:55 pm

Force is only applied if the employer refuses to hand over what now rightfully belongs to the employee. In other words, the only force is defending the employer’s property.

Should be employee‘s property.

155

Chris Bertram 05.31.12 at 4:13 pm

Jessica Flanigan has replied. Unconvincingly, but ymmv. I’ll write a reply as a separate post in a few days:

http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/05/employee-and-employer-rights/

156

bianca steele 05.31.12 at 4:46 pm

Is Flanigan really claiming that “liberals” believe “permanent employment contracts” have no binding force? That post doesn’t encourage me to change my mind about libertarians’ wish to rethink everything from first principles. I’d be afraid to let them alone with a concept like “the importance of power relations in society,” frankly.

157

Consumatopia 05.31.12 at 5:31 pm

I’m totally for employers and employees having symmetric exit options. If a manager wants to leave, let the manager quit. If the owner wants to leave, let them sell or give away their business. It’s only if you want to command the other party to leave while you get to stay and keep everything that things get complicated.

The marriage comparison makes this clear–either spouse has the right to exit the relationship. But after the relationship is over, who gets the house and kids?

158

Hershele Ostropoler 05.31.12 at 8:48 pm

Nick @ 123

So if you want to know where I would go from here: abolish occupational licensing and limited liability for corporations.

Abolishing occupational licensing entirely would help the strong to exploit the weak. Remeber that different skills are, um, different. The ability to heal people is orthagonal to the ability to promote yourself as a healer; insofar as the latter is necessary to be a successful doctor, I’d like to see some mechanism for the former to be necessary to be any sort of doctor.

That said, I don’t think it should be used to artificially create oligopolies unless there’s a commons issue and a way to keep people from gaming the system.

159

Nick 05.31.12 at 10:30 pm

‘The ability to heal people is orthagonal to the ability to promote yourself as a healer’

Yep and there are plenty of ‘qualified’ doctors in the latter category, and arguably large swathes of medical activity. There are voluntary alternatives to statutory accreditation, that can be enforced through laws against passing off, and of course the existence of statutory regulation doesnt stop ordinary people (both weak and strong) from swearing by various quack remedies and faith healing.

If you are supplying some healthcare as a public good, then the state will have to decide or have a role in selecting which accreditations it will accept. Ironically in the UK, complementary medicine (medicine for which there is no actual evidence of efficacy) is sometimes funded by the NHS and often recommended by NHS doctors. Powerful public perceptions, and some special interests, ensure this is a stable policy. So you dont necessarily avoid the opportunity to expolit the weak by statutory accreditation. You shift that opportunity towards those who have political nous.

160

Substance McGravitas 05.31.12 at 10:42 pm

Clearly the answer to the problem is to let everyone do the bad thing more.

161

elm 05.31.12 at 10:51 pm

CB @155

From Flanigan’s reply:

Similarly, it’s obviously wrong in most cases to tell an employee that she must preform sexual favors in order to keep her job

Clears that right up: “Fuck me or you’re fired” is not always wrong.

162

Malaclypse 05.31.12 at 11:31 pm

From the reply:

Imagine a recent graduate who wins a prestigious hourly internship at a literary magazine, but the job requires that she also manages the magazines social media accounts 24/7 and be ‘on call’ for the staff writers. Is unpaid overtime problematic in this case?

Well, the FLSA says it is, yes.

The point is that where contracts are incomplete, there is usually an implicit or explicit understanding about the nature of a job, which either does or does not include sex or overtime.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

163

Nick 05.31.12 at 11:47 pm

You can ridicule this approach all you like. A lot of sex workers would appreciate having normal employment and contractual practices available to them, from which they tend to be excluded at the moment. By ruling sex work as essentially an illegitimate subject of employment, you make abuse more likely, not less.

164

Substance McGravitas 05.31.12 at 11:48 pm

By ruling sex work as essentially an illegitimate subject of employment, you make abuse more likely, not less.

Me?

165

snuh 05.31.12 at 11:49 pm

dan, i completely understand why libertarians dislike actually existing unions (which are left wing, which is something that most (american) libertarians are not). and yes, obviously i can anticipate the libertarian objection to public sector unions i mean come on.

what i’m interested in hearing is, what is the libertarian objection (if any) in a theoretical sense? i.e. in the sense of, once the state has withered away and we are living in a society organised in a libertarian way, should unions exist?

166

Malaclypse 05.31.12 at 11:59 pm

I never said sex work was illegitimate. She, on the other hand, said sex workers could expect to have coerced sex be part of their employment.

167

Hershele Ostropoler 06.01.12 at 12:09 am

If a licensing system works as intended — and if I’m comparing it to a hypothetical arrangement that is stipulated to work as intended, I think I should get the same stipulation — it does the same thing as laws against passing off, only before and not after the passers-off have had a chance to do any harm.

The existence of regulation assigns the identification of quackery to a body with the leisure and resources (if not always the will, in practice) to do so.

168

Nick 06.01.12 at 12:59 am

Well thats fair enough. If licensing laws really were only aimed at preventing passing off, they would be socially beneficial. If thats the case, there shouldnt be anything to stop, for example, a british medical association accredited doctor from practicing in the US as a ‘BMA certified doctor’ so long as they didnt pass off their qualifications as US specific. Mutual recognition of competing professional bodies would itself a powerful break on licensing oligoplies. They seem to go much much further in practice.

On sex clauses, i dont think flanigan is defending forced sex as part of employment, just sex. If she is defending it, she is wrong.

169

elm 06.01.12 at 1:41 am

Nick @168

From Flanigan:

Similarly, it’s obviously wrong in most cases to tell an employee that she must preform sexual favors in order to keep her job, but maybe not for an employee whose job already includes other kinds of sex work.

She doesn’t stipulate which types of sex workers should be forced to fuck their bosses as a condition of employment. Perhaps prostitutes should have to fuck their bosses but maybe phone sex workers can get away with just a hand job.

170

Consumatopia 06.01.12 at 1:49 am

You don’t have to rule sex work as an illegitimate subject of employment in order to rule that sexual labor should be limited to jobs that are intrinsically sex work jobs (e.g. no “sex secretary” job is allowed.)

171

Asteele 06.01.12 at 2:13 am

169: Wow, this conversation has really convinced me that we can’t legalize prostitution, we’re all about 3 weeks away from having everyone’s employment contract include: “perform sex acts on whoever, or get fired” as part of it.

172

elm 06.01.12 at 2:27 am

Asteele @ 171: It’s almost like Libertarians just aren’t familiar with the real world. In the real world, any attempt to recognize prostitution as legitimate work must be accompanied by recognition that a sex worker has the right to refuse service to any potential customer. That Flanigan could get that completely backwards would astound me — if I was unfamiliar with Libertarianism.

173

uffy 06.01.12 at 2:45 am

If the UBI is generous enough I’m not sure it isn’t reasonable to simply allow bosses/managers/employers to ask for whatever type of “services” they so choose of their employees short of harming third parties. It becomes quite a bit harder to argue the coercive power imbalances inherent in employee-employer relations need state oversight when the consequences of dismissal are strictly limited.

Now we’ll just have to figure out what an optimal definition of B is.

174

Watson Ladd 06.01.12 at 2:51 am

elm, that’s not exactly the issue. A worker has the right to refuse to work under conditions that are not of their choosing, and likewise someone being harassed could always quit. But we don’t see the refusal of the prostitute to take particular clients as analogous to a harassed person quitting.

175

elm 06.01.12 at 3:32 am

Watson, it’s a wholly separate topic. A prerequisite for legitimizing sex work is that a sex worker must have the right to refuse customers, full stop.

It’s not analogous to the harassed person quitting, but Flanigan suggests that perhaps sex workers should be forced to fuck their bosses as a condition of employment. That’s 100% backwards. They should have a meaningful right to refuse anyone at all.

176

John Quiggin 06.01.12 at 4:20 am

I haven’t read all the comments, but I think the key point is that nobody should be forced to take jobs that involve demeaning requirements, such as having sex with the boss, or not being able to take toilet breaks.

There are basically two ways that could happen. One is that society is organised so that everyone can get an adequate living without taking jobs like this. The other is to regulate low-wage jobs to prohibit bargains like this, ensuring that such conditions don’t apply.

That’s consistent with legalising sex work, I think, for a couple of reasons. First, most people will have the option of some kind of job other than sex work. Second, lots of jobs involve work that’s inherently demeaning in some way – for example, cleaning toilets. That’s different from arbitrarily adding demeaning personal power into the employment relationship.

Still, the conclusion is that, if you’re a BHL, you should be really interested in relatively low-coercion ways of achieving a more equal society, where specific restrictions on freedom of contract become much less necessary, since there is no imbalance of power involved.

177

js. 06.01.12 at 4:43 am

“collective bargaining” as it exists under the NLRA allows unions to unjustly force employees to join or contribute, potentially and sometimes actually against their will

Really? Well, they didn’t have to take the job, did they? They chose to! If they didn’t like the union, they could of course have taken some other, non-union job. Why didn’t they? Hell, they could’ve started their own small business if they wanted to. No coercion here!

Wait, where have I heard this line of argument before…

178

js. 06.01.12 at 4:50 am

In case this isn’t obvious, my last comment is not actually anti-union. (And what Consumatopia @148 said.)

What I really wanted to say was that everyone on here, well (most of) the men anyway, should read QS @137—again and more carefully if necessary—and think about it for a second before going on and on about sexual harassment. I’ve found a good bit of this thread distressing, and QS’s comment nails why.

179

snuh 06.01.12 at 5:00 am

also:

My impression is that almost no libertarians believe that the “nexus of contracts” theory justifies limitations on liability with respect to third parties who lie outside the nexus.

it’s true that a major weakness of “nexus of contracts” theory is that it doesn’t really deal with limited liability. there’s no obvious reason, if a corporation really was just a set of contractual relations, that said set of relations should have limited liability. but that doesn’t change the fact that many libertarians accept “nexus of contracts” as the explanation of what a corporation is (even though it does not account for limited liability), and moreover it is taken by them as a theoretical justification for why corporations should exist and why their existance is not contrary to libertarian principle.

180

reason 06.01.12 at 8:44 am

Watson Ladd @133
If we lived in a more equal and a more just world, I might agree with you. But the law of second best, says trying to solve just one of many injustices may not always be a net improvement.

181

Nick 06.01.12 at 8:51 am

175: Sounds about right. A citizens basic income or a negative income tax would go a long way towards making these relationships less distorted by power.

182

reason 06.01.12 at 9:09 am

@139 & @140Nail it.

The problem is the definition of “violence” – the Libertarian view of this and the Social Democrat view are just simply incompatible. Putting up a fence around a vital resource and saying to someone – either you pay for it in whatever way I want – or you go without (potentially implying starvation or worse) IS violence. At least in the way I look at the world.

183

Data Tutashkhia 06.01.12 at 9:20 am

Putting up a fence around a vital resource and saying to someone – either you pay for it in whatever way I want – or you go without (potentially implying starvation or worse) IS violence.

Very true. It does constitute the foundation of civil society, however. According to Rousseau.

184

Manta1976 06.01.12 at 11:38 am

John Quiggin @175
“That’s consistent with legalising sex work”. How do western countries where sex work is legal (say, Germany) deal with this kind of situation?
I am pretty sure that it is illegal for a boss to require sex from his secretary; how does it work for prostitutes? Can an employer require sex from one of the prostitutes he is employing?

185

Katherine 06.01.12 at 11:59 am

js@178 – I feel you. This thread is making me puke.

We’ve ranged from discussing whether the state should stop a boss demanding sex from an employee in order to keep her job (because, let’s be honest, we talking about men trying to fuck women, in all senses of the word) to whether state sanctioned a sex work contract should or could allow a prostitute to say no.

So basically, is it legitimate for the state to try to stop rape?

My personal response is STFU and GTFO, but apparently it’s worth 180-odd comments to consider the possibilities.

186

reason 06.01.12 at 1:14 pm

Katherine,
while I sympathise, I think the issue is the more general abuse of power, rather than the particular form of that abuse. But I think this is a general problem with the hard Libertarian view of the state, they end up having to try to justify the unjustifiable, because they simply ignore power disparities.

187

mds 06.01.12 at 2:07 pm

js. @ 177

Really? Well, they didn’t have to take the job, did they? They chose to! If they didn’t like the union, they could of course have taken some other, non-union job.

Snark aside, this does illustrate how strange an attack on union shops is, since American right-libertarians normally demonstrate such an excellent grasp of the free rider problem. Whoops, I did say “Snark aside,” didn’t I? Apologies.

188

Barry 06.01.12 at 2:26 pm

Reason: “If we lived in a more equal and a more just world, I might agree with you. But the law of second best, says trying to solve just one of many injustices may not always be a net improvement.”

And the standard right-wing argument is to jump from ‘may not always be a net improvement’ to ‘it’ll make things worse’.

And I second (or third or fourth) the idea that this thread comes down to a bunch of guys blithely talking about women being coerced into sex.

189

Manta1976 06.01.12 at 2:34 pm

Isn’t all of philosophy (and, for that matter, science) a bunch of guys (and sometimes gals) blithely talking about about stuff?

190

Katherine 06.01.12 at 2:43 pm

I think the issue is the more general abuse of power, rather than the particular form of that abuse.

Yeah but no.

191

rf 06.01.12 at 2:57 pm

“a bunch of guys (and sometimes gals) blithely talking about about stuff?”

But that definition is so broad it could encompass anything, (“what was prison like?”, “what did you do down the pub last night?”)
On that spectrum, I have to say, I agree with the growing consensus that this conversation resembles less an extended conversation with John Rawls than dinner time at Belmarsh.

192

Bruce Baugh 06.01.12 at 2:57 pm

Reason: As Katherine said, “Yeah but no.” Control over one’s sex life is a fundamental issue for power relations in any society. Demanding sexual submission from one’s underlings is precisely about taking one of the most personal, private parts of another person’s life and making it the tool of your own whims. That so many libertarians can get worked up over threats to their real estate but not about the real constant exploitation of other people’s own bodies shows just how useless the rhetoric of “self-ownership” is at the most crucial points. [1]

1: Saying “oh, of course it’s bad, but anything that might conceivably fix it is worse, and besides, some of those hoes really get off on it, just look at this sex queen I ogle on Youtube or my net friend who claims to be nymphomaniac, so we can just not talk about other people’s sexual servitude and get back to admiring employers some more” does not count as real moral outrage. That’s bare minimum lip service; the next step down would simply be to deny that it is ever a moral issue. Which I suspect that a fair number of them would like to do, except that they have the vague uncomprehending sense that it would make them look even worse.

193

rf 06.01.12 at 3:01 pm

That should be:

that PARTS of this conversation resembles less …..

I wouldn’t be so rude to write of the whole thread
But the bad parts are really quite shocking

194

Bruce Baugh 06.01.12 at 3:02 pm

Er, to finish up my previous, the point is that sex is very distinctively personal. And the ways it’s made a tool of abusive power in our culture are ones that seldom afflict men, and in particular seldom afflict relatively high-status men.So it’s a a crucial measure of people’s ability to be aware of their own position in society and to have a clue about anyone else’s.

195

piglet 06.01.12 at 5:43 pm

Nobody noticed this (from Flanigan referring to Ibsen’s Doll House):

Consider an analogy to marriage… Similarly, if Torvald wanted to leave Nora he ought to have been legally permitted to, even if his choice would have been wrong, even if he left Nora poor and stigmatized. The freedom to choose a spouse is so important that both spouses ought to be legally permitted to leave marriages at will.

Seriously Flanigan advocates 19th century divorce law? The dependent spouse can leave the marriage at the price of poverty? Flanigan doesn’t mention child support (in Ibsen’s time, Nora had to leave the children) but it seems clear that she objects to the dependent spouse having any rights other than the right to leave a bad, unfulfilling, maybe abusive marriage. Well, and this also replies to leederick 86, we do have laws nowadays designed to protect dependent spouses in part because we have understood the problem of power asymmetry in personal relationships. This must be shocking to libertarians but there would be no women’s emancipation without those protections.

196

elm 06.01.12 at 9:04 pm

piglet @195

I hadn’t noticed that particular horrific aspect of Flanigan’s horrifying post, though in part that’s because I haven’t read Doll House.

I had noticed that her dissolution-of-marriage/dissolution-of-employment analogy was hopelessly flawed. Back here in the real, 21C developed world, divorce is expensive and painful. It requires lawyers and court hearings over custody, division of property, child support, spousal support, etc… I can’t imagine that Flanigan actually wants to make ending somebody’s employment as difficult as divorce.

Bruce’s points at 192 and 194 are well put. Flanigan’s claims and reasoning are absurd, dismissive, and offensive. She wrings her hands at the prospect of an employee exploiting his or her poor, powerless employer but whistles past real, everyday exploitation as if it’s a theoretical matter of expectations.

Katherine @ 185: All your points are well-taken. The only sane response to Libertarian ethics is to point and laugh. If your purported ethics can’t even handle this case, when what can it do? Sadly, I have little hope for my own sanity; the cursory reading I’ve given to Flanigan’s posts makes me feel like I’ve stared into the abyss too long.

As js emphasized, QS @ 137 makes excellent points as well. The literal topic here is sexual exploitation and in practical cases, it’s about men exploiting women.

197

Dr. Hilarius 06.01.12 at 9:54 pm

I’m way late to this party but it does give me the advantage (?) of wading through 195 comments on whether some theory of society or justice can be constructed to make it OK to fuck your employees through economic coercion. Every discussion of libertarianism I’ve read has a hallucinatory feel to it. We aren’t really debating this are we? Do libertarians actually live in the real world?

A friend of mine was a lawyer with a legal aid firm (long ago when such frivolities still existed for civil cases). He was at public meeting in a poor community, speaking about how to deal with unfair consumer practices. After explaining the legal alternatives, a voice at the back of the room asked “what if we just burn the motherfucker down?” Indeed, do libertarians seriously think that people can be abused, whatever their theories say, without consequence? If a contract theory is preferred, here’s mine: you hire me to file documents for pay, if you ask me to have sex with you or be fired, my unspoken contract provision is that I will wait for you in the parking lot and club you from behind. Or something similar. Or you could have a union and deal with a grievance hearing.

198

Jim Henley 06.01.12 at 10:41 pm

elm @ 196

While libertarian arguments in defense of private power tend to be very bad, I don’t think we can lay the thread-long sexism off on libertarianism as such. I inferred Katherine to be suggesting that even many of the critics of the libertarian position here have been too blithe about the gendered aspects of the discussion. (If I’m wrong, Katherine, just say so!)

199

Bruce Baugh 06.02.12 at 12:06 am

At the root of this is a simple question with complex implications: are rights more important than people?

The libertarian answer seems to be that although it’d be nice if following the libertarian sense of rights led to better lives for people, it’s entirely acceptable that people be condemned to shame, pain, misery, and early death for the sake of the rights. No price in human misery will ever be too great to deter us from protected the sacred rights of property and contract, as we interpret them.

I used to think that. Then the more I thought about it, the less sense it made to me. I believe in rights because I think that overall, in the long run, they promote human well-being. That’s what’s fundamental for me: people living well. Not theoretically able to but barred by myriad practical obstacles, genuinely living well, with health, security, prospects, fulfillment, all that stuff. There are times – sometimes a lot of them – when maintaining rights imposes a real cost on people. Those times are hard. I look for some offsetting gain in the enforcement, and for ways of compensating for the harm done when that doesn’t work.

But there is no tradeoff of one great good against another in this case. The employer’s desire to fuck his underlings is not a right that we must respect. It’s a wish on his part. But the world is full of wishes that go unfulfilled, and many of them deserve to. The employee’s desire to have sex only at times and places and with partners of her choosing, on the other hand, is a fundamental part of self-ownership, and a desire we should respect and back up with legal force. Any alleged right that says that a small handful of people should have unlimited rights of immiseration over others is a bad alleged right, one contrary to the reality of human well-being.

200

JanieM 06.02.12 at 12:14 am

Bruce Baugh — that’s great stuff. Thanks.

201

chris 06.02.12 at 12:29 am

abolish occupational licensing

Have fun at your next doctor visit! But of course if anything goes wrong you can just hire someone who claims to be a lawyer…

I can’t imagine that Flanigan actually wants to make ending somebody’s employment as difficult as divorce.

Me neither, but I am having fun with the idea of having all assets obtained during the period of the employment relationship equitably distributed between the employer and employee.

202

Bruce Baugh 06.02.12 at 1:30 am

One more stray thought, as I think things over.

I think it makes sense to interpret the seeking of employment in conservative, minimal terms. “I am able, willing, and interested in performing the duties you list here, either at this compensation or at something nearby I hope we can negotiate” shouldn’t be construed as an implicit “I would also like to provide you with sexual gratification” or even “I would like you to know all about my home life and be an important part of my social life in hours outside the workplace”. (I’ve pointed at Miss Manners on the evil of work intruding outside work hours and places. I will again.)

Likewise, “I want to hire people to perform these duties at this compensation, or as close to it as we can negotiate” should mean just that. It shouldn’t mean “and therefore I sensibly expect that you will want to gratify my sexual urges” or even “and I expect you to act like you welcome my company after hours, regardless of whether you do or not”.

Yes, lots of workplaces fail to get anywhere near this standard. But that’s just part of how our work culture is sick, not a norm that we should praise and use as a baseline. Employees should own their time and friendship as much as they own their bodies, and not have to put any of these things on the line for the sake of their business duties and compensation. The demand for sexual submission is especially vile, but it is part of the larger pattern of acting as though all work boundaries are optional, at the boss’ choice alone.

203

js. 06.02.12 at 2:06 am

I inferred Katherine to be suggesting that even many of the critics of the libertarian position here have been too blithe about the gendered aspects of the discussion.

This seems right to me. At least, I took QS @137 to be saying just this as well.

And Manta1976 @189: What if it is true that philosophy (or science for that matter) is “a bunch of guys (and sometimes gals) blithely talking about stuff”? All that this shows is that at least in some areas, the discipline lacks a self-awareness it would do well to gain.

204

So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 3:02 am

Hundreds of thousands of immigrant farmworker women and girls in the United States face a high risk of sexual violence and sexual harassment in their workplaces because US authorities and employers fail to protect them adequately, [the report] describes rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, or vulgar and obscene language by supervisors, employers, and others in positions of power.

Is it worth pointing out how worthless this is as a source? Anyone who puts rape in the same category as vulgar language is deliberately trying to mislead. What this means is that a migrant worker who was raped is counted the same as a migrant worker who has heard her manager call someone else a Son of a Bitch. The only reason to do that is to jack up the number of people who give a positive and so mislead people into thinking rape is extremely common.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 3:13 am

piglet 06.01.12 at 5:43 pm

we do have laws nowadays designed to protect dependent spouses in part because we have understood the problem of power asymmetry in personal relationships. This must be shocking to libertarians but there would be no women’s emancipation without those protections.

Well with all due respect, perhaps we should not have women’s (or at least this particular form of) emancipation. Because what are the costs of that? America has abolished debtor’s prisons. Except for people who owe child support. Large numbers of men regularly go to prison for that.

In fact child support from a liberty point of view is a nightmare. Courts make a guess at what men earn and then determine how much of that guess men should pay. Even if it is actually more than they earn. Otherwise they go to jail, they have their driving licences revoked and there are moves to strip them of their passports too. From any civil liberties point of view this looks worse than the disease it was supposed to cure. There is a man who is in prison for contempt of court, and has been for several decades, because he has refused to hand over money a Court says he probably has in the Cayman Islands. He denies having any money in any such bank accounts. How can he prove he doesn’t?

Which comes back to the real point. Perhaps migrant workers are subject to threats and sexual abuse. I am sure some are. But many, perhaps even an absolute majority, of rapes in the US take place in prison. Where the State is in control. There is hardly a week that goes by without reports of sexual assault or extortion by guards or the administration in some prison or other. Going to a juvenile center more or less means you will be raped by someone. We all know this. It is all made possible by the State. With our silent tacit consent. Any complaint about the free market has to explain why the alternative would be better. How is policing every single work place going to do anything other than send more people to prison and so increase the number of rapes? Even if you opt for civil remedies.

Freedom means the freedom of people to be assholes. If someone makes sleazy comments at work or does not want to rent rooms to Black people, they are being an asshole. But the alternative means such a deep penetration into literally every single aspect of our lives that freedom becomes meaningless. What you want is for the State to monitor and punish every single word spoken between every single man and woman outside the home in the country. To idea that words like Orwellian properly apply.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 3:30 am

Bruce Baugh 06.02.12 at 12:06 am

The libertarian answer seems to be that although it’d be nice if following the libertarian sense of rights led to better lives for people, it’s entirely acceptable that people be condemned to shame, pain, misery, and early death for the sake of the rights. No price in human misery will ever be too great to deter us from protected the sacred rights of property and contract, as we interpret them.

Well we all tend to think that. People are dying in Africa. They are hungry. That does not mean I have to right to come and steal your car to sell it in order to pay for food and medicines for said Africans. We all agree that Africans will have to continue to live in pain and misery and suffer an early death so that you can continue to live (I am guessing here) a middle class lifestyle – a fabulously wealthy lifestyle by the standard of most of the world anyway. Do you think this is wrong?

That does mean, for you, for me, for them, that no price is worth paying. Just not this particular price in this particular case.

But there is no tradeoff of one great good against another in this case. The employer’s desire to fuck his underlings is not a right that we must respect. It’s a wish on his part. But the world is full of wishes that go unfulfilled, and many of them deserve to. The employee’s desire to have sex only at times and places and with partners of her choosing, on the other hand, is a fundamental part of self-ownership, and a desire we should respect and back up with legal force. Any alleged right that says that a small handful of people should have unlimited rights of immiseration over others is a bad alleged right, one contrary to the reality of human well-being.

Sorry but no. For a start, someone’s desire to have sex with an employee is a right worth defending. How can you do otherwise? How can you stop a university lecturer, say, from desiring his students? Acting on it, yes, but thoughts in his mind? That is a private domain worthy of protection. We also back up an employee’s right to have sex only at a time and place of her own choosing. Not even the libertarians are suggesting otherwise.

The issue here is one of negotiating those two desires. We would all agree that a man has the right to ask to ask a girl if she would like to sleep with him? So far no one’s rights are violated. We perhaps would also agree that a man has the right to buy a girl he wants to sleep with some roses, a few dinners and a diamond ring in order to get her to sleep with him? Anyone’s freedom been infringed as yet? Some of us would also agree a man who desires a woman has a right to offer her $800 if she will. Some of us wouldn’t. But if she then chooses to sleep with him, has her right to choose the time and place been violated? I think not on the whole. The situation is not much different if he offers her a place to stay or a promotion or even on-going employment if she will sleep with him – ignoring the fact that often he is using his employer’s property and money for his own personal ends which is a different wrong. Because the point you are missing is that he cannot force her to sleep with him. Perhaps you are taking the pop Marxist approach that jobs are so rare that he is de facto forcing her to do so. I am sure if she was a starving refugee and some UN peacekeeper offered her money, it would be close. But does that apply in the US? I think not.

Yes, she is not making a decision free of material constraints. But America is hardly so poor or so lacking in alternatives that, in my opinion, this is coercion. She can walk. She can refuse and take the consequences. She can complain to his manager. At least she can in the private sector. If she lived on a Chicago housing estate and she wanted to get her door repaired, I would agree that she is likely to have to pay someone in some way, probably of a sexual nature, and she would not have much choice. But we are back with the State’s domination, not the market’s.

Again, the issue is to look at the cost of the remedy. Even if we agreed employers should not ask for sexual favors – and I strongly agree they should not – what are you going to do about it? A massive government bureaucracy backed by prison and men with guns who will oversee every single interaction between every single employer and employee? I would suggest this is not, in the long term, compatible with a free society of any description and will inevitably become corrupt and abused. Even if we were like angels and could operate such a machine honestly and competently, the cost would be enormous and out of line with the desired result. Better to leave people to cope with their own problems.

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Bruce Baugh 06.02.12 at 4:22 am

Any interference with the power of bosses over their employees is theft and evil.

Maybe someone else can explain to this person why this is a championing of rape as a prerogative of ownership. I think I’m written out.

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JW Mason 06.02.12 at 4:37 am

Maybe someone else can explain to this person why this is a championing of rape as a prerogative of ownership.

I think Katherine had the right response to this person: STFU and GTFO.

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js. 06.02.12 at 5:21 am

So Much For Brevity!

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Chris Bertram 06.02.12 at 6:00 am

_If someone … does not want to rent rooms to Black people, they are being an asshole. But the alternative means such a deep penetration into literally every single aspect of our lives that freedom becomes meaningless._

I live in a jurisdiction where discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin in the fields of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public function is outlawed (by the UK’s Race Relations Act) and has been since 1976. As such, I think I’m in a good position make a judgement on _a priori_ arguments about the effect of such provisions on freedom.

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.02.12 at 7:27 am

Chris: I think So Much For Subtlety (given his monicker) wouldn’t get the subtlety of your answer. So to raise one of his questions again:

Even if we agreed employers should not ask for sexual favors – and I strongly agree they should not – what are you going to do about it? A massive government bureaucracy backed by prison and men with guns who will oversee every single interaction between every single employer and employee?

No. Why not? Because it is not necessary – not in the UK, nor in Australia, nor in other countries – to have massive, Orwellian bureaucracies to reduce harassment and discrimination. You would know that if you had actually researched the matter.

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elm 06.02.12 at 8:13 am

Jim Henley @ 198,

I agree. I’d originally written more than a plain reference to QS @ 137 but I’d edited it down. It was something like this:

The literal topic here is sexual exploitation and in practical cases, it’s about men exploiting women. It’s too easy for men in particular (myself included) to lose track of that fact, but it’s worthwhile for everybody to keep it in mind.

It’s a humiliating and extraordinarily personal reality for many people (again, almost all women), so it’s insensitive and offensive to draw too many analogies or to treat it as hypothetical or venture into hyperbole. Even well-intended sarcasm can be misunderstood.

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Nick 06.02.12 at 8:14 am

‘I live in a jurisdiction where discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin in the fields of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public function is outlawed (by the UK’s Race Relations Act) and has been since 1976. As such, I think I’m in a good position make a judgement on a priori arguments about the effect of such provisions on freedom.’

Not terribly well enforced at the private informal flatmate and tenant level though, is it? Can you imagine how weird that would be if it were? Officials pouring over Gumtree ads and interviewing landlords about their decisions to choose this tenant but not that one. Some overt discrimination (‘women only’, ‘no undergrads’, must have parental co-signatory) is still permitted – and all for perfectly understandable reasons.

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elm 06.02.12 at 8:15 am

Down and Out of Sài Gòn @211

You would know that if you had actually researched the matter.

No research please, we’re Libertarians.

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.02.12 at 9:41 am

elm@214: most Australian Libertarians seems to have some level of awareness that there are other countries in the OECD. Some might not approve of what William Beveridge wrought, but at least they would have heard of him.

American ones, on the other hand, appear to be utterly parochial in their ignorance. They could choose to compare and contrast Danish and German anti-discrimination law, but it always far easier to contrive up some slippery slope strawman argument instead.

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.02.12 at 9:53 am

Not terribly well enforced at the private informal flatmate and tenant level though, is it? Can you imagine how weird that would be if it were? Officials pouring over Gumtree ads and interviewing landlords about their decisions to choose this tenant but not that one. Some overt discrimination (‘women only’, ‘no undergrads’, must have parental co-signatory) is still permitted – and all for perfectly understandable reasons.

It would be weird and ironic if anti-discrimination authorities got involved with tenancy ads containing the code phrase ‘green leafy suburbs’. Bit of a giveaway in Brisbane.
I wouldn’t expect the anti-discrimination authorities to get too heavy involved.

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Dr. Hilarius 06.02.12 at 9:54 am

Nick. I don’t know where you live but take my advice: take a deep breath, then another. Check your pulse. Wait until it gets back down to below 80.

In my little corner of the world (Seattle, WA) the law makes a clear distinction between rental relations between landlord and tenant and living situations involving social guests and/or rentals in the landlord’s own home. Granted, there are sometimes gray areas but for the most part it works without the collapse of civilization as we know it.

I really don’t know why I’m trying to be polite. Libertarians are like flat earthers but worse, given that their lunacy creeps into respectable public discourse without generating immediate laughter. The correct response should be cream pies flying out of the wings into said libertarian’s face. Good night.

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QS 06.02.12 at 10:23 am

JS @203, that was part of my intention, yes.

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Nick 06.02.12 at 10:32 am

I am actually perfectly calm thanks, i wouldnt enter these discussions unless i enjoyed them, but thanks for your concern:) That sounds like a relatively sensible division to make. The (uk) laws that I deal with are often not so well-designed and because they would be rather crazy if enforced to the letter, tend to involve giving a large degree of discretion to public officials. Which is in itself a potentially dangerous solution.

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Katherine 06.02.12 at 10:52 am

What QS said also. Thanks for you initial comment QS by the way – it nicely encapsulated the feeling I had of rising bile.

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Manta1976 06.02.12 at 11:26 am

js @203: my question was not rhetorical.

Anyhow, I don’t understand this attitude of yours, Katherine and QS: it is quite acceptable to talk blithely about violence (see the field “trolley problems”), but if sex is involved we are supposed to become all grave and austere (this does not mean that the content of the discussion should not be serious).

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Katherine 06.02.12 at 12:00 pm

You misunderstand my attitude.

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Hershele Ostropoler 06.02.12 at 6:15 pm

I don’t see anyone defending sexual harassment, only noting that a flaw in libertarian philosophy as typically propounded is that it’s difficult to get it to condemn sexual harassment. But this is cited as a flaw.
* * *
What about nationalizing unions, i.e., regulations on businesses that demand a lot of things that are typical of CBAs.

I’m not saying there is no downside to this, only that I haven’t bothered to think about them, which in blog comments is typically euphemized as “just throwing that out there.”

Also, good-faith question: what conclusion can be drawn from the fact that in nearly 225 comments over the better part of a week, no one has mentioned the notion of the worker saying “fuck me or I walk”?
* * *
Nick @ 181:

A citizens basic income or a negative income tax would go a long way towards making these relationships less distorted by power.

Not really? Because if everyone had more money (greater ability to pay), everything would be more expensive. If we gave everyoe $10,000, prices would go up, on the assumption that people would pay the difference out of the extra $10,000.

Unsubtle @ 205:

America has abolished debtor’s prisons. Except for people who owe child support. Large numbers of men regularly go to prison for that.

Not for debt, for violating a court order. There are channels for challenging a court order, just as someone who has been unjustly imprisoned has the opportunity to appeal the decision (though not on the grounds of “I don’t feel like serving time for that crime”). Simply ignoring it, in either case, is not an option.

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Hershele Ostropoler 06.02.12 at 6:17 pm

Mind, I might have overlooked or privilegedly forgotten about comments defending sexual harassment.

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Michael 06.02.12 at 6:30 pm

This misunderstands libertarianism, and here’s why:

One BHLer, Roderick Long, has written extensively on power disparities in the workplace, and everywhere else. He represents “Left” libertarianism, and writes about a cognitive problem among mainstream “Right” libertarians here:
http://aaeblog.com/2010/05/15/fall-right-swing-left/

In short, Left libertarians speak of corporatism, inequalities, etc. … all those good things the progressive Left talks about. Right libertarians, instead, tend not to focus on the modern corporate system, and so fall prey to criticisms such as this post, because they SEEM like they don’t care about the plight of the disadvantaged.

If you pry deep enough, however, you’ll notice that all libertarians today and back well before Marx believe that free markets are an antidote to the inequalities the Left rightly highlights. To the extent that inequality (i.e. of opportunity, of power) remains is the extent to which freedom has been stifled by government fiat.

To that end, as Jason Brennan writes in his response to this post, “Our political disagreements are as much empirical as they are moral.”
http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/06/some-comments-on-bertram/

Libertarians believe that the power disparities in employment, in marriages, and elsewhere are functions of government action. For example, minimum wage is famously accepted to be responsible for higher unemployment, which could plausibly lead to the plight of the mother in this post. To them, still FURTHER government action is antithetical to “the solution.”

And because this is a question of empirics, I would not start with BHL, which is primarily a philosophical blog. I would look elsewhere for answers along these lines. For corporatism, check out Roderick Long, C4SS, and Charles Johnson. For sweatshop and immigrant labor, check out Benjamin Powell.

For what it’s worth, this is the direction (it seems to me) mainstream libertarianism is headed in.

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Michael 06.02.12 at 6:34 pm

^[the plight of the *coerced employee*, not the mother]

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Nick 06.02.12 at 7:01 pm

‘Not really? Because if everyone had more money (greater ability to pay), everything would be more expensive. If we gave everyoe $10,000, prices would go up, on the assumption that people would pay the difference out of the extra $10,000.’

Nope. Create $10,000 for everyone and you raise the price level, and create inflation. That will be born disproportionately by those with higher savings. More progressive would be to use taxation and transfers which, bar a few deadweight costs, would simply redistribute demand from rich to poor: a couple fewer yachts, a few more coach seats.

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js. 06.02.12 at 7:39 pm

js @203: my question was not rhetorical.

I didn’t think it was, and I didn’t mean to treat it as such. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

More to the point, I don’t think anyone is saying that we need to be “grave and austere” when talking about sex-related abuses of power—at least I’m not. The problem isn’t really a “tonal” one, so to speak. It’s about what seems like a fairly widespread failure to understand or acknowledge one’s status as a member of the (or a) privileged group. It’s problematic when one’s going on about a particular abuse of power—whether “blithely” or “gravely”—without any evidence of awareness of one’s own default position within the relevant power dynamic. So while I think that discussions of trolley cases often have their own problems, the two aren’t really comparable.

Sorry this is horribly abstract. Bruce Baugh @192 and 194 says it better.

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QS 06.02.12 at 8:27 pm

Sexual harassment is violence, how can you possibly separate the two?

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Purple Platypus 06.02.12 at 8:51 pm

js @226, I see your point, but what’s not so clear is what precisely members of the privileged-by-default group should be doing about it in contexts like this. Staying away from such topics seems much more problematic than at least trying to engage with them, precisely because of the privilege at issue. If there has been unintentional insensitivity along the way, pointing out some specific instances of it might be enlightening – the only reasonably specific claim that’s been made about what’s problematic about it is, as Hershele @ 223’s first paragraph points out, exaggerated at best.

(And of course, dismissing such comments just because they’re made by men – I’m not sure if anyone here is actually doing this, but I’ve certainly seen it happen, and some remarks here come problematically close – would be an instance of the same injustice that motivates the concern in the first place, albeit pointed in the reverse of the usual direction.)

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Manta1976 06.02.12 at 10:59 pm

Thanks for the clarification, js.

However, I have 2 objections: the first one is that, insofar as the discussion is about the relationship between employers and employees, I think that I can safely say that many of the commenters here are employees; and insofar as the discussion is about state power, we are all subject to it.

On the other hand, for the specific discussion about sexual harassment, it is true that I am not directly involved (and it is unlikely I will be in the future); but how do you think one can be unaware of such a fact about his own condition escapes me: it is like saying that in discussing about flight we may forget that we are men and not birds.

On different subject, I agree with Bruce @199, which writes it quite nicely; however, I don’t endorse his objection to the fact that work may be required to be “an important part of an employee social life in hours outside the workplace”: it seems to me that he is arguing for an alienating view of workplace relationships.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 11:12 pm

Chris Bertram 06.02.12 at 6:00 am

I live in a jurisdiction where discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin in the fields of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public function is outlawed (by the UK’s Race Relations Act) and has been since 1976. As such, I think I’m in a good position make a judgement on a priori arguments about the effect of such provisions on freedom.

Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. You live in a jurisdiction where discrimination is banned and that power has not yet been abused. Yet being the key word. If you concede the right of the State to intervene in every interaction you have with an employee, a student, or pretty much everyone else, what protections have you got left except the fact that the State does not yet have the motivation to abuse those powers? Yet being the key word. Or to put it another way, if the State can determine that it is wrong for me to say the word “fuck” in front of someone of delicate sensibilities, what is to stop them punishing me for saying “God does not exist”? Or “2+2=4″ for that matter.

211 Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.02.12 at 7:27 am

No. Why not? Because it is not necessary – not in the UK, nor in Australia, nor in other countries – to have massive, Orwellian bureaucracies to reduce harassment and discrimination. You would know that if you had actually researched the matter.

It is not necessary because so far they are still, more or less, liberal democracies and as such the people in power have little interest in creating an Orwellian society. But it is not sensible to give tools to people, no matter how good their intentions are, which may be abused later on. So in the UK in the last month a young man has been jailed for making rude comments on Twitter and a woman has just been convicted of making similar rude comments on a tram. I would call that a little Orwellian, wouldn’t you?

But I will agree that so far the British have not chosen the Soviet model of a massive repressive bureaucracy. They have chosen the Chinese model of getting British people to denounce each other to the authorities. Cheaper at any rate.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 11:17 pm

Bruce Baugh 06.02.12 at 4:22 am

Maybe someone else can explain to this person why this is a championing of rape as a prerogative of ownership. I think I’m written out.

I have not seen anyone championing rape. Have you? Can you quote anyone? Rape is rape and is illegal. Even in libertopia, I assume, it would be illegal. The issue is asking for sex from an employee. Or saying “Son of a bitch” in front of him/her.

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Substance McGravitas 06.02.12 at 11:20 pm

Or to put it another way, if the State can determine that it is wrong for me to say the word “fuck” in front of someone of delicate sensibilities, what is to stop them punishing me for saying “God does not exist”?

Clearly the answer to crap-your-pants fear of something bad happening at some point in the future is to ensure that everything bad can happen right now.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 11:25 pm

227 QS 06.02.12 at 8:27 pm

Sexual harassment is violence, how can you possibly separate the two?

In what possible way is sexual harassment even remotely like violence? This is one of the many reasons why these sorts of powers should not be given to the State. It is a creeping Orwellian misuse of language designed, I assume, to cover a creeping Orwellian misuse of people.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.02.12 at 11:30 pm

Substance McGravitas 06.02.12 at 11:20 pm

Clearly the answer to crap-your-pants fear of something bad happening at some point in the future is to ensure that everything bad can happen right now.

That might be one remedy. The other might be to think about the consequences of what you are doing before you do it. You know, looking before you leap. Whatever else you can say about the Federalist papers I am impressed by the extent to which they thought about the future consequences of what they were doing. Now we seem to have a rush to some new legislation to catch the 9 o’clock news headlines regardless of intent or purpose much less consequence. In Britain especially. It is a pity that sense of history has been lost.

The trade off here seems minor. We allow some assholes to be rude in public and perhaps refuse to rent rooms to Black people. Or we allow the State to intervene in every single transaction between adults outside the bedroom and quietly hope for benevolence and good sense from our rulers.

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rf 06.02.12 at 11:30 pm

@ Hershele Ostropoler 224

“Mind, I might have overlooked or privilegedly forgotten about comments defending sexual harassment.”

Well I hope the last few comments have cleared that up for you, and highlighted the pretty obvious problems with a number of comments in this thread?

238

leederick 06.02.12 at 11:57 pm

“Well, and this also replies to leederick 86, we do have laws nowadays designed to protect dependent spouses in part because we have understood the problem of power asymmetry in personal relationships. This must be shocking to libertarians but there would be no women’s emancipation without those protections.”

Dunno. There are abtruse legal argument about whether marriage is a status or a contract, but it’s at least sort of contract-ish. If you married someone, I don’t see how you have that much ground to complain about them being able to enforce rights against you on account of that.

“I live in a jurisdiction where discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, ethnic and national origin in the fields of employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public function is outlawed (by the UK’s Race Relations Act) and has been since 1976. As such, I think I’m in a good position make a judgement on a priori arguments about the effect of such provisions on freedom.”

Dunno. Whatever your thoughts on the merits of laws against racial discrimination, the historic record pretty clearly backs up So Much For Subtlety’s point. They were the first stage on a slippery slope which has lead to all sorts of legislation about discrimination and insulting language to do with sexuality, religion and belief; and there’s certainly more rather than less of that stuff coming in the future.

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.03.12 at 12:10 am

It is not necessary because so far they are still, more or less, liberal democracies and as such the people in power have little interest in creating an Orwellian society. But it is not sensible to give tools to people, no matter how good their intentions are, which may be abused later on. So in the UK in the last month a young man has been jailed for making rude comments on Twitter and a woman has just been convicted of making similar rude comments on a tram. I would call that a little Orwellian, wouldn’t you?

The first case is the “Twitter bomb” joke, which has nothing to do with anti-discrimination law, and everything to do with Fear of Terrorism. Orwellian? The second case is clearly “racially aggravated intentional harassment”, which has even been admitted by the accused. Considering the people she abused included children present at the time, I’d say a term in jail is appropriate, wouldn’t you? 21 weeks isn’t exactly a trip to the Kolyma.

Slippery slope strawman arguments do not add to the discussion, and I wish you would stop making them. You have to go with the tyrannies you have, not the tyrannies you imagine will materialise later.

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js. 06.03.12 at 6:30 am

insofar as the discussion is about the relationship between employers and employees, I think that I can safely say that many of the commenters here are employees; and insofar as the discussion is about state power, we are all subject to it.

But this isn’t what it’s really about, is it? What this is about is women being forced to be subject to arbitrary male desires just because the man in question happens to be the woman’s boss. I mean, what exactly is debatable abut this? Seriously, I just don’t get what’s with the massive fucking blindness.

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js. 06.03.12 at 6:51 am

In other words, a bunch of relatively privileged dudes going on about “sexual harassment” and its ifs and buts sounds a whole lot like privileged white dudes going on about the ifs and buts of slavery a couple of hundred years ago. For example.

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bob mcmanus 06.03.12 at 7:05 am

241:whole lot like privileged white dudes going on about the ifs and buts of slavery a couple of hundred years ago.

Let us not despair; it is a blessed cause, and success, ere long, will crown our exertions. Already we have gained one victory; we have obtained, for these poor creatures, the recognition of their human nature, which, for a while was most shamefully denied. This is the first fruits of our efforts; let us persevere and our triumph will be complete. “Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, under which we at present labour, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonour to this country.”

William Wilberforce,
speech before the House of Commons, 18 April 1791[108]

So you think this insufferable twit should have STFU and gone to play billiards. I am growing to understand modern “liberals” better every day.

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Chris Bertram 06.03.12 at 8:17 am

js and others:

the original example to to which the OP referred, and to which Jessica Flanigan discussed at the BHL blog, was raised by a non-white woman. Flanigan herself is female. Insofar as the example exposes, imho, a significant inability of libertarianism to handle an important issue of oppression it is entirely legitimate to discuss it. It is, sadly, predictable, that some commenters will cross a line into creepiness (and we will all draw that line in different places). I could moderate very fiercely, but that would doubtless be resented by some people who are non-creepy but who draw the line differently.

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Walt 06.03.12 at 8:36 am

I’d like to thank So Much For Subtlety for his/her excellent parody of the libertarian slippery-slope argument. If anyone had any doubts that the libertarian argument here is self-refuting, I’m sure they’ve been cleared up.

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Chingona 06.03.12 at 9:41 am

Chris Bertram, we have eyes, ears, and, presumably, search engines, so you do not have to describe the demographic into which Flanigan falls, and doing so for our own benefit, as if we’re stupid or are over-reaching in our comments, sounds a wee bit condescending. We are also all presumably aware that women, even “non-white” ones, can and often are misogynists who happily engage in misogyny, even ultimately at their own expense and especially when doing so advances their particular political agenda or because they think boys are watching. As we live in a misogynist, patriarchal culture, where intersections regularly occur, it would be kind of difficult not to, from time to time. Finally, no one is asking that the poor white men (and occasional non-white women) be censored. Some commenters here are merely pointing and laughing at the dudes as they pontificate (and, let’s be honest, fantasize) broadly about things they’ll never actually have to experience by virtue of their male privilege. It’s starting to mildly resemble a parody, yes.

Is that all right with you? Is it okay if the ladies grumble a bit at some of the pissing contests passing for grown-up talk? Or is that too oppressive?

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Chris Bertram 06.03.12 at 9:50 am

Chingona: It is perfectly fine with me. But as the moderator here, and the author of the OP, I thought I’d better respond to some of the disquiet expressed above. It isn’t easy to do so, however, in terms that don’t come across to someone as also being problematic. For example, as an illustration of that difficulty: your own remarks come over to me as (your words) “a wee bit condescending”.

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QS 06.03.12 at 9:58 am

You’ve turned sexual harassment into an intellectual game, that is where the “creepiness” originates. How do you moderate that? You don’t. You realize that your ability to treat the issue so dispassionately, playing the game of Find the Universal, probably has something to do with your maleness and position outside this particular terrain.

Sexual harassment was banned not because we found the Universal Principle Against Harassment but because women and men who believed it to be wrong fought successfully for prohibition. These people were likely motivated by a variety of ideas and experiences. The way we keep the libertarians marginalized is not by abstract philosophical games but by appealing to this concrete history.

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Manta1976 06.03.12 at 10:00 am

To Chingona; I, for myself, was not aware of some of the stuff Chris mentioned: I usually don’t care much about the background of people presenting some argument (on the internet nobody knows if you are a dog); a different thing would be if I would have to trust his words.
Aren’t you saying that only women can discuss seriously sexual harassment, only immigrants about immigration, only blacks about race, and so on; or, maybe better, only the right kind of women, immigrants, blacks, i.e., the ones who agree with you (the wrong kind are “misogynists who happily engage in misogyny”) .

Regarding the slippery slope argument I don’t get it neither in this particular case, nor in general. To take an example, last 10 years escalation of anti-terrorism related abuses was not an unavoidable march on some “slippery slope”: in any moment (even now) the state could reverse its policies. The problem is that the public opinion likes those policies, and even asks for more, not that once the security theater is in place it is particularly difficult do dismantle.

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Chris Bertram 06.03.12 at 10:06 am

QS: your latest tells me that you see political philosophy as it is usually practised as involving a profound mistake. You are entitled to that opinion. It is not one that I share.

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leederick 06.03.12 at 11:18 am

“Sexual harassment was banned not because we found the Universal Principle Against Harassment but because women and men who believed it to be wrong fought successfully for prohibition. These people were likely motivated by a variety of ideas and experiences.”

That’s wrong. Certainly in the US the actual history is the other way around, the reason why sexual harrassment was banned was because Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson found that sexual harrassment was a form of sex discrimination and prohibited by the Civil Rights Act, based on an argument by Catharine MacKinnon. No-one was thinking about sexual harrassment while passing the Civil Rights Act – it happened because MacKinnon tried to Find the Universal and made an abstract philosophical argument.

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Katherine 06.03.12 at 11:55 am

Aren’t you saying that only women can discuss seriously sexual harassment, only immigrants about immigration, only blacks about race, and so on; or, maybe better, only the right kind of women, immigrants, blacks, i.e., the ones who agree with you (the wrong kind are “misogynists who happily engage in misogyny”) .

Thank you for that perfect of example of being obtuse for the sake of being irritatingly contrary.

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Manta1976 06.03.12 at 12:31 pm

To Katherine:
Some time ago here in CT there was a discussion about “spousal arrangements” for academic couples.
A few non-academics commented, and often they gave opinions quite different from the academics, viz. the fact that spousal separation is not uncommon outside academy, and that there is nothing special about the academic position that would justify special arrangement for the spouse; some of them even said that such arrangements were tantamount to corruption.

If I understand what you are saying, the proper thing to do regarding their comments would have been “pointing and laughing at the dudes as they pontificate broadly about things they’ll never actually have to experience”.
To be honest, in some cases I was tempted to dismiss their opinion on the grounds that they are not “insiders”: but, on reflection, it would have been a stupid thing to do.

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ptl 06.03.12 at 1:08 pm

238 all sorts of legislation about discrimination and insulting language to do with sexuality, religion and belief

232 if the State can determine that it is wrong for me to say the word “fuck” in front of someone of delicate sensibilities, what is to stop them punishing me for saying “God does not exist”?

under UK Law, you are of course free to call me a fucking woman, to say fuck on television, to go on and on on TV or elsewhere to the effect that God does or does not exist, or whatever.

And atheism is protected (atheists are protected) by equality law.

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ptl 06.03.12 at 2:19 pm

The first case is the “Twitter bomb” joke, which has nothing to do with anti-discrimination law,

@239

actually, I believe both his “rude comments” cases refer to racist “rude comments”. The first was the “abuse of Fabrice Muamba as he lay close to death” case, and was prosecuted under section 4 of the Public Order Act after Twitter users reported it to the police. ( The tweets have been posted to Youtube; google Liam Stacey.)

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QS 06.03.12 at 3:30 pm

Leederick: the Civil Rights Act didn’t fall out of the sky nor was it dreamed up by one intrepid philosopher who discovered a universal principle that wowed the nation. Women’s rights became codified because women and men fought for them.

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Watson Ladd 06.03.12 at 4:12 pm

QS: Explain to me why exactly those who stormed the Bastille found it necessary to put forward a demand for universal rights. When Simon de Beauvoir writes of the utilitarians that they had displayed unusual impartiality on the issue, it was precisely because of the universal principals they subscribed to. Only principal makes a struggle different then a mugging: after all the mugger seeks to fight for the right to dispossess another of their property.

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QS 06.03.12 at 6:56 pm

All those seeking to legitimize their struggle do so by positing universal principles. As women’s rights activists posit the principle of consent libertarians posit the principle of non-interference or negative liberty. All universals are birthed by particular humans engaged in particular social relations and therefore are not universal but pretenses to legitimacy.

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Purple Platypus 06.03.12 at 8:17 pm

QS, ignoring your “pretenses to legitimacy” crack, which doesn’t seem t0 follow from anything else you’ve said, you’ve only been able to make a decent case for your claim that particular struggles are more important than universals at the cost of (implicitly) denying that that claim has any implications at all about how a discussion like this ought to be conducted. If the examples of Mackinnon and the Bastile don’t move you, then I don’t see how you’re saying anything more interesting than that such universals always have SOME sort of grounding in lived experience – which I’m pretty sure nobody is denying. That doesn’t tell us anything about how useful or appropriate they are for a discussion such as this.

Katherine @251, I hope nobody actually believes what Manta said, but I take his (?) point to be that some of the things you and js (maybe others too) have said DO seem to imply that. Surely that’s not what either of you actually means, but as I already mentioned once, it’s far from clear what exactly you DO expect men to do about their relatively privileged position and a straightforward, concrete statement of this would not be out of place.

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Chingona 06.03.12 at 8:58 pm

Aren’t you saying that only women can discuss seriously sexual harassment, only immigrants about immigration, only blacks about race, and so on; or, maybe better, only the right kind of women, immigrants, blacks, i.e., the ones who agree with you (the wrong kind are “misogynists who happily engage in misogyny”) .

That’s the precise opposite of what I said. Bertram thought it pertinent to mention that the OP originated from two women (one “non-white”) in a comment that suggested calling fellow male commenters “creepy” for their rape fantasizes was akin to silencing them. He tried very hard to suggest that some of the women and feminist allies here were asking for moderation, but I don’t see evidence of that anywhere. My objection is and was very clear: even women are not above criticism when it comes to misogyny. Political and philosophical hypotheticals (the “fuck me or you’re fired” scenario) that are directly informed by misogyny and are based on sexist tropes are going to be criticized, whether it’s a woman or a man dreaming them up. I find it slightly disingenuous on the part of Bertram that he thought that might fix the problem–“see! even some ladies are saying this!”–and I said so. Got it?

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Manta1976 06.03.12 at 9:36 pm

To Chingona: your post is a bit unclear, because you use the passive voice “are going to be criticized”: do you also share such criticism, or are merely point out that Chris answer to it was not good enough?
If not, I apologize for conflating your position with the one of QS et al.

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Chris Bertram 06.03.12 at 9:45 pm

_Bertram thought it pertinent to mention that the OP originated from two women (one “non-white”) in a comment_

Yes I did, since the suggestion that this was all about “privileged white dudes” had been made (@241) . The fact that the issue, as I responded to in the OP, had originally been raised by two women did indeed seem relevant.

_suggested calling fellow male commenters “creepy” for their rape fantasizes was akin to silencing them_

Nope, I said nothing about “silencing”, I simply tried to make my position as moderator clear to commenters. If we’re talking about “suggestions”, note how the “fellow male commenters” line suggests that I am motivated by some sense of solidarity with the other men in this thread. People who question my honesty and good faith are, however, in grave danger of being silenced.

_sexist tropes_

In my experience, the use of the word “trope” in these situations is a sure sign that the commenter simply wants to project their own arbitrary bullshit onto other peoples’ words rather than engaging honestly with an argument. This doesn’t seem like a disconfirming instance.

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QS 06.03.12 at 9:46 pm

@258, that isn’t a ‘crack’ but the premise. I could try to communicate this by restating the point, but I’m unsure how to make it more clear.
@259, I’m not a racist, I have a black friend…

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js. 06.04.12 at 2:19 am

CB @243:

I agree with everything you say here. (Fairly sure Japa P.’s a woman as well.) Speaking for myself, I did not at all mean to shut down conversation. I meant only to point out what I feel was an obvious blind spot for a lot of commenters.

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js. 06.04.12 at 3:04 am

Yes I did, since the suggestion that this was all about “privileged white dudes” had been made (@241) .

You’re quoting me here, and I think unfairly. The “white dude” reference was an analogy, in part in response to Manta. I thought this was pretty obvious. The point is obviously—obviously—not that only someone who falls into some exploited group can talk about the exploitation suffered by the group they belong. Where has anyone said this? It’s also though true that privilege can create blind spots. Several of these blind spots are very evident on this thread, which is what some of us were responding to.

Also, if it’s to come to this, I might as well point out that I’m a brown dude.

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js. 06.04.12 at 4:51 am

And bob mcmanus, (a) I’m kind of sad that you called me a liberal, and (b) I’m with you—stress is on the “ifs and buts”.

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Chris Bertram 06.04.12 at 7:14 am

js. @264 Yes. You’re right about that. Probably I scanned your comment too quickly and just got it wrong.

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Manta1976 06.04.12 at 7:49 am

On further reflection, I think that I was too “generous” with QS, Katherine, et al.: their point is not that only women can talk about certain topics; their point is that certain topics should not be discussed at all: “Political and philosophical hypotheticals that are directly informed by misogyny and are based on sexist tropes are going to be criticized, whether it’s a woman or a man dreaming them up”, to quote Chingona..

In defense to my obtuseness I will say that I would never have thought that somebody could expose such a position, especially on a blog directed to academics.
The irony is that a feminist point of view, who purports to give voice to a marginalized class, should be particularly hostile to attempts to declare some topics taboo, since usually “dominant” culture will have much more easily the power to silence discussions (and if writing “This entire discussion is incredibly creepy” (QS@137) is not an attempt to silence discussion, pray tell what would constitute such an attempt on this blog) than the more marginal ones; but I suppose that power corrupts, and the fact that feminist become mainstream did have a corrupting effect on some feminists (I emphasize the “some” part).

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GiT 06.04.12 at 8:58 am

I read the following piece at 3AM magazine a while ago. Given that the person is now a maybe-libertarian-maybe-not, non-white woman possible misogynist, or whatever, I figured some people might like to read the interview with Pallikkathayil here:

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/rethinking-the-formula-of-humanity/

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Chris Bertram 06.04.12 at 9:37 am

Thanks GiT. Like I said in the OP, Pallikkathayil’s paper is an impressive piece of work. In fact, I’m drawing on it for something I’m working on at the moment. I wouldn’t want my selective use of a part of it to give anyone the wrong impression.

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rf 06.04.12 at 3:01 pm

Congratulations RF – the first person I’ve actually deleted in this thread (though I’ve come close). I’m sure you were just trying to be witty, but some of us have to clean up around here. CB

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TallDave 06.04.12 at 3:55 pm

Isn’t this tantamount to asking “Should prostitution be illegal?” And would this scenario ever come up if prostitution were legal?

I think what the scenario misses is that it’s inefficient to fire people who are otherwise good workers simply because they won’t have sex with you. Businesses that operate this way will tend to be punished by the markets, particularly by the large proportion of the public who find the behavior heinous.

This seems much more likely to occur in the absence of markets for sex. Otherwise, employees would either know sex was expected of them or they would refuse on the grounds they weren’t hired for and aren’t being paid enough for that, and the employer would have little reason to attempt to get sex from them anyway since it was legally available elsewhere without injuring the business.

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Bruce Baugh 06.04.12 at 4:10 pm

TallDave: Notice how the existence of gay bars and a whole apparatus for publicly seeking same-sex partners hasn’t stopped some prominent people from favoring risky, shameful rendezvous, for instance. There are plenty of people (Altmeyer’s The Authoritarians is handy here) who thrive on doing things because they are forbidden, or discouraged, or whatever. For some people the exercise of power is always best when it’s transgressive.

I don’t think legalized sex trade would affect this at all.

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Katherine 06.04.12 at 4:16 pm

If I understand what you are saying, the proper thing to do regarding their comments would have been “pointing and laughing at the dudes as they pontificate broadly about things they’ll never actually have to experience”.

That sentence was not written by me.

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Chris Bertram 06.04.12 at 4:59 pm

_Isn’t this tantamount to asking “Should prostitution be illegal?” _

No [note that in many jurisdictions prostitution is legal: there is a world beyond the US]

_And would this scenario ever come up if prostitution were legal?_

Yes.

[Generally, I wish that people whose brains are in "ideal market world" would think before commenting or, even better, not comment at all. If your argument establishes a priori that successful businesses can't behave unethically then there is a major problem with it somewhere. Don't come back until you have figured out where that problem is.]

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Barry 06.04.12 at 6:30 pm

Manta1976: “(and if writing “This entire discussion is incredibly creepy” (QS@137) is not an attempt to silence discussion, pray tell what would constitute such an attempt on this blog) than the more marginal ones; but I suppose that power corrupts, and the fact that feminist become mainstream did have a corrupting effect on some feminists (I emphasize the “some” part).”

To me, the phrase “This entire discussion is incredibly creepy” is an attempt to pull people back to reality, from the sociopathic glibertarian/ivory tower philosopher world.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.05.12 at 2:31 am

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 06.03.12 at 12:10 am

The first case is the “Twitter bomb” joke, which has nothing to do with anti-discrimination law, and everything to do with Fear of Terrorism.

Sorry but what fear of terrorism? Someone, while drunk, made some nasty comments about Fabrice Muamba. Which neither Muamba or his family would ever have heard about if he had not been charged. He was convicted of racially aggravated harassment – of whom precisely is hard to say. Nothing to do with terrorism and pretty much everything to do with the Orwellian use of the law to silence vile opinion.

Orwellian? The second case is clearly “racially aggravated intentional harassment”, which has even been admitted by the accused. Considering the people she abused included children present at the time, I’d say a term in jail is appropriate, wouldn’t you? 21 weeks isn’t exactly a trip to the Kolyma.

You think jail is appropriate for using vile language when children are present? Half of Britain would be in jail. Even Mary Whitehouse did not go this far in prissiness. I do not deny that the law, as flexible as it is, covers what she did. But that is the point isn’t it? Something that was not a crime 100 years ago, is not a crime in places where they take civil liberties seriously like the US and would not be a crime in any liberal society, is a crime now and a woman has gone to jail for it.

Slippery slope strawman arguments do not add to the discussion, and I wish you would stop making them. You have to go with the tyrannies you have, not the tyrannies you imagine will materialise later.

I am sorry you do not like the argument but it is not a strawman. It addresses the central issue directly. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this thread who have responded with a series of irrelevant smears – accusing the other side of supporting rape for instance, or now of having rape fantasies or being creepy. Anything other than actually addressing the issue. The cure here is worse than the disease. We have a relatively small problem, how small we do not know, and the ending of the freedom to speak as we please is not worth it.

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So Much For Subtlety 06.05.12 at 2:44 am

ptl 06.03.12 at 1:08 pm

under UK Law, you are of course free to call me a fucking woman, to say fuck on television, to go on and on on TV or elsewhere to the effect that God does or does not exist, or whatever.

For now. British people have no guarantee that their rights to do so will exist next year. Or that they will not be charged under some creative interpretation of existing laws if they do it now. Which is my point – once you concede the State has the moral duty to police language you have no idea where that is going to end up except that it may well be a bad place.

Notice that it was the unelected House of Lords that stopped Blair’s stupid attempt to criminalise what some atheists had to say. He tried to make Religious Vilification a crime. Something Rowan Atkinson campaigned against. The Hereditaries are gone from the House now and so the next time there is little to stop the law being passed. You really think that this law would not have been used against people like Richard Dawkins or even Aktinson?

And atheism is protected (atheists are protected) by equality law.

That is the other problem with politicising the law – the politicians pick favourites. Atheists are favoured. Christians are not. Britain has also had a recent experience of this too. James Watson has spent a life time working on genetics. In a minor and otherwise unremarkable interview he made his views on the chances of development in Africa working out well known. So what should have been a scientific issue became a political one. He was hounded out of the UK and forced to resign at his Lab in the US. His views were not exactly protected were they? Academics have been fired for saying similar things. Frank Ellis for instance. There is no legal protection for the politically unpopular. Now as vile as Watson’s views were (and I can well believe E. O. Wilson called him the nastiest man he had ever met), the way to deal with them in a free and liberal society is by debate.

It is not a slippery slope when we are well down it already.

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Substance McGravitas 06.05.12 at 4:36 am

Now as vile as Watson’s views were (and I can well believe E. O. Wilson called him the nastiest man he had ever met), the way to deal with them in a free and liberal society is by debate.

You’re arguing that people must pay/employ him when they don’t want to? Also.

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Chris Bertram 06.05.12 at 6:39 am

SMFS: Well yes, as Substance points out, you have shot yourself in the head there. In the US, employers can fire people for their political views, and that’s what happened to Watson – the law didn’t protect him. Since the OP was about the workplace as a site of domination, maybe you ought to switch sides? (Not that I have a problem with firing racists.)

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So Much For Subtlety 06.05.12 at 8:44 am

Substance McGravitas 06.05.12 at 4:36 am

You’re arguing that people must pay/employ him when they don’t want to?

God no. Partly it is sadness that what used to be handled by civil debate – not just in science but in almost every aspect of Western public life – is now handled by this sort of borking. As Erasmus said, what starts with words of this sort will end in blows. It is bad all around. But more importantly, as Montesquieu said (do I get some sort of medal for pretentious name dropping? Concentrated in one short post too), the less of our lives are governed by social mores, the more of our lives need to be covered by law. I prefer people to do the gentlemanly thing on both sides. That is not what happened in this case.

279 Chris Bertram 06.05.12 at 6:39 am

SMFS: Well yes, as Substance points out, you have shot yourself in the head there. In the US, employers can fire people for their political views, and that’s what happened to Watson – the law didn’t protect him. Since the OP was about the workplace as a site of domination, maybe you ought to switch sides? (Not that I have a problem with firing racists.)

The law should not protect him. But the British Left and the media should not whip up a lynch mob mentality either. I don’t have a problem with firing anyone. But that is not really the point. Which is why I don’t think I have shot myself in the foot much less the head. Liberal Britain is dying. America is not far behind. As Watson shows. Not because the laws are bad, but because people’s mentalities have changed and changed for the worse. British intellectuals are no longer liberal in any meaningful sense. It is only a matter of time before they align the law with their values. We can see that with these sorts of laws. The fact that my arguments are so alien, and alienating, to so many people while at the same time they are not comfortable with any counter-argument except mockery and smears shows how dead liberalism is.

The State should not sit in judgement over every interaction between adults in the workplace. Once that would have been so obvious it would be trite. Now it is like a throw back to the Middle Ages. I may as well defend the Divine Right of Kings.

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ptl 06.05.12 at 8:45 am

277 do you deliberately misunderstand, or are you simply rather ill-informed? The same laws protect theists and atheists. The same laws.

Notice that it was the unelected House of Lords that stopped Blair’s stupid attempt to criminalise what some atheists had to say. He tried to make Religious Vilification a crime. Something Rowan Atkinson campaigned against. The Hereditaries are gone from the House now and so the next time there is little to stop the law being passed.

1. Hereditaries are not gone from the House, though their presence there is greatly reduced. 2. The reduction occurred well before the introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. 3. Anthony Lester, who drafted the Lords amendment, which the government did not oppose, is a life peer. 4. The Bill’s origins lie in a Lords’ Private Member’s Bill proposed by one of the remaining hereditary peers…

He was hounded out of the UK

Well, there was (and is) no UK law to prevent (for example) the Science Museum and others cancelling appearances by Watson.

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Walt 06.05.12 at 8:58 am

SMFS, people are calling your argument ridiculous _because_ it self-evidently is ridiculous. You’re just running together two things in your mind that you don’t like and claiming they’re the same phenomenon, even though they point in opposite directions. You want employers to be free to fire Watson. That’s the whole point of your argument. Watson is free to find a job elsewhere, just like the hypothetical employee who doesn’t want to sleep with her boss.

So far in this thread, your sympathies lie with a) the boss who demands sex from his employee, and b) the racist who gets fired for racism. And you’re surprised when people find your views alienating? Christ, if I were deliberately trying to discredit the libertarian position through parody, I couldn’t do nearly as good of a job as you just have.

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Data Tutashkhia 06.05.12 at 9:00 am

as Montesquieu said…

As Jean Renault said to Special Agent Dale Cooper: Before you came here, Twin Peaks was a simple place. My brothers sold drugs to truck-drivers and teenagers. One-Eyed Jack’s welcomed curious tourists and businessmen. Quiet people lived quiet lives. Then a pretty girl dies. And you arrive. Everything changes. My brother Bernard is shot and left to die in the woods. A grieving father smothers my surviving brother with a pillow. Arson, kidnapping. More death and destruction. Suddenly the quiet people here are no longer quiet. Their simple dreams have become a nightmare. Maybe you brought the nightmare with you. And maybe, it will die with you.

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ptl 06.05.12 at 10:24 am

SMSF 276, I oppose the sentence on Liam Stacey. However

Someone, while drunk, made some nasty comments about Fabrice Muamba. Which neither Muamba or his family would ever have heard about if he had not been charged. He was convicted of racially aggravated harassment – of whom precisely is hard to say.

Neither Muamba nor his family? Muamba is on Twitter. His partner tweeted for him, when he could not, to thank his fans for their support. His football team is on Twitter. Various footballers who know him are on Twitter. And the tweets were widely reported.

Harassment of the Twitter users he abused?

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Chris Bertram 06.05.12 at 11:02 am

I’m going to close this thread now. Discussion relevant to the OP seems to have petered out and I shall be posting a reply to Flanigan soon.

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