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“I do not focus on the balance of freedom because I think that free choices should be respected, not maximized”

There has been an interesting back and forth about work place freedom amongst some social democratic liberals and libertarians that was triggered by a few initial posts by Jessica Flanigan over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians. The blog Crooked Timber posted a response to the original posts by Jessica from some left-liberals, and since then the libertarians (Tyler CowenAlex Tabarrok, and Arnold Kling) have weighed in — followed by another rejoinder at Crooked Timber. I highly recommend checking out all these posts as I think they clearly highlight the difference between high liberal and classical liberal/libertarian thought when it comes to core issues of economic liberty and freedom and the exercise thereof (see also, John Tomasi who has so eloquently sought to reconcile and bridge the gap between these differing camps in his new book). But I have to highlight the most recent salvo by Jessica Flanigan as she responds to the folks at Crooked Timber. Her whole post is a must, must read, but I want to simply leave you with her closing, knockout gambit:

BRG [the Crooked Timber writers] think that workers are entitled to the benefits of employment unless they do something that is obviously wrong. They claim that this right requires a lot of regulation and state interference.  The idea is that employees should be able to exercise all their rights in the workplace without fear of getting fired for doing so. On this view employees may even have political rights to control their workplace.

I think that all workers are entitled to make employment agreements for themselves without state interference. Employers have rights to stop extending the benefits of employment to their particular workers just as employees have rights to quit. Employers can permissibly place conditions on employment just as employees can negotiate the terms of their contracts when they are hired. While I agree that no one is entitled to harm others, employers and employees may have rights to do wrong. This means that the law should not prohibit wrongful behavior in all cases. This doesn’t mean that horrible bosses and bad employees act permissibly; I just doubt that further limits on occupational freedom are the right tool to address workplace unfreedom.

I suspect that some of this controversy is because the Crooked Timber crew thinks that my proposal would fail to maximize freedom on balance. I do not focus on the balance of freedom because I think that free choices should be respected, not maximized.

Where does this leave us? BRG propose law, regulation, and economic democracy. They call it more voice. I call it more bosses. I see that BRG have a different conception of rights and freedom. What I still don’t see is why workplace democracy and regulation would be liberating on any conception of freedom. Why are these self-proclaimed liberals are so hostile to the UBI? Do they really think that right to own productive property and contract are so insignificant that they can be radically curtailed and even eliminated without the state and the workplace becoming less free? How did we get to this point where the libertarians are the vocal advocates of a basic income while the Marxist liberals are arguing that what workers really need is less choice?

Image via Onextrapixel

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