Freedom at Work and Libertarians

Why are libertarians so afraid of governmental interference in personal freedoms but seemingly so blase about business or management interference in worker’s liberty?

Two recent essays and posts by Timothy B. Lee and at Reason magazine reminded me of this conundrum.

It seems obvious to me that a worker surrenders plenty of freedoms as soon as he or she enters the workplace. In some cases it is a surrender of political opinions in workplaces where having a different political point of view from your boss can get you fired.

But at a most basic level it is the routine of the workplace that is a loss of freedom. How many times have you gone into a meeting with a brilliant idea and been shot down by the boss for some reason? The decision wasn’t made by you - it was made by a bureaucrat in the home office who just happens to work at the same company that you do. How is that less of an infringement on your freedom than some bureaucrat in Washington D.C. telling you to pay more taxes or requiring you to pass a background check before you can purchase a gun?

For many people working in blue-collar jobs freedom is curtailed by the schedule, which determines when you can eat, when you can rest, when you can go to the bathroom. See Robin Hanson on borg at work, but not home

Robert Charles Wilson, in his most recent novel Julian Comstock, describes a future American society in which indentured servitude has returned after economic decline. In one conversation the landed gentry describe the justness of indenture by saying that people can only own their selves if they have the right to sell themselves. If someone has the right to inherit the estate of their parents then they should also inherit the debt or indenture.

I’m just as susceptible to the siren song of freedom as the next person but I see the limits on my freedom around me all the time, not just at the state capital or in the White House. We are all subject to limits on our freedom. The problem with libertarianism is that it sees only a single obstacle to freedom - the government.

Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.