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Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It)
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Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It)

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  247 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Why our workplaces are authoritarian private governments--and why we can't see it

One in four American workers says their workplace is a "dictatorship." Yet that number probably would be even higher if we recognized most employers for what they are--private governments with sweeping authoritarian power over our lives, on duty and off. We normally think of government as
Hardcover, 196 pages
Published May 23rd 2017 by Princeton University Press
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Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Newest Industrial State

The world we live in is neither capitalist nor socialist but corporate. This world conforms to none of the theories of economics or politics that are commonly used to justify corporate action or government policy. The corporate economy combines the hierarchical bureaucracy of extreme communism with the ideological force of extreme free enterprise to create a culture which now rules the planet. John Kenneth Galbraith predicted a half century ago in his The New
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ✺❂❤❣
Somebody doesn't like their employer and this book is the result of feeling it. Really feeling it!

If one puts aside the jokes, there are too many faults with this book to list here. Therefore I'll try to list only the major grumbles.

I'll start with the good thingy:
🎓 Yes, there are awful employers.
🎓 Yes, we live in capitalist times and market rules our lives. Or does its level best (or worst) to.
🎓 Yes, this is an unfair world.
🎓 The major point for me is that I would have dearly liked to not have
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
This book covers big lacuna in our political discourse and our personal lives. We focus most of our political ire at the encroachment of our liberties by the government but private workplaces exercise a degree of control on workers that at times can match that of communist dictatorships. While these hierarchical mini command economies don't have the power to imprison or execute they do have the power to deprive and exile. The choices of a worker are to starve or find another private ...more
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Anderson may just be my new favorite thinker. I don't actually fully agree with her theory of private government here, but there is so much here in the history and the thinking thru the pre-industrial capitalist thinkers like Smith and how the industrial revolution completely changed the assumptions they had made about markets and where power of domination would be most dangerous--spoiler: it's the sweatshop bosses and not the government who has dominion over you day to day
Paul Crider
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
In Private Government Elizabeth Anderson presents a compelling case that our political ideologies have been shaped by historical contingencies. Specifically, it made perfect sense for egalitarian reformers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to enthusiastically embrace free markets. State-backed monopolies were one among many forms of unjust hierarchy and domination, others being the clergy (who could forcibly extract tithes), the patriarchal family structure, chattel slavery, monopolist ...more
C. Scott
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Consider some facts about how employers today control their workers. Walmart prohibits employees from exchanging casual remarks while on duty, calling this 'time theft.' Apple inspects the personal belongings of their retail workers, who lose up to a half-hour of unpaid time every day as they wait in line to be searched. Tyson prevents its poultry workers from using the bathroom. Some have been forced to urinate on themselves, while their superiors mock them. About half of US employees have ...more
Shaun Richman
This is a deeply, simply radical book. As a philosopher, Anderson approaches her subject - why we submit ourselves to a 24/7 dictatorship of our bosses and why we don't even notice most of our lack of rights and power- from a fresh, historically-researched point of view.

This is essential reading for anyone working on the socialist project in the 21st century.
Eric Bottorff
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant analysis, as always, from Anderson, who once again demonstrates why she's one of our great living social/political philosophers. (I also took great pleasure in her demolition of Tyler Cowen's response--that asshole needs to be knocked off the pedestal he's placed himself on.)
Peter Geyer
The contradiction between working for any organisation and living in a democratic society should be obvious to anyone who has ever been an employee, public or private sector. Organisations by their very nature have their own rules and regulations, incentives and desires. A person who would now be called a middle manager used to exit my public service workplace with a farewell that cheerfully addressed us as "wage-slaves" and this caused no comment. This same person at one point exhorted his ...more
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This will please readers wearied by engaging with libertarians who rail against governmental regulations while extolling the free market. Anderson presents a picture of American workplaces as private dictatorships where the majority of workers are anything but free.

(The four stars indicates exasperation that some of her commenters missed her thesis and chose to focus on their own interests rather than on her argument.)
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
At first I was a bit put off by some of Anderson's use of terminology, but overall I find her argument convincing and important.

The book contains a pair of lectures by Anderson on the concept of "private government," followed by responses from scholars in four different fields. The last chapter is Anderson's response to these other scholars' critiques.

My favorite part came in this final chapter: after economist Tyler Cowen defends the system that allows power abuses, Anderson offers a
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The second lecture is probably the clearest statement I've read on why arbitrary domination in the workplace should be one of the defining issues for those who care about social justice in the 21st century. We've internalized the notion that democracy is good at the level of the *state*, yet most people spend 8 hours of every waking day subject to the arbitrary whims of their superiors, and this system remains almost universally unquestioned.
Cody Sexton
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
The American workplace is marked more by hierarchy and domination than any other abstract idea concerning freedom and democracy. Managers can, and do, impose, for almost any reason, sanctions including job loss, demotion, pay cuts, worse hours, worse conditions, and harassment. Millions are pressured by their employers to support particular political causes or candidates and subjected to suspicion-less drug screenings. Soon employers will even be empowered to withhold contraception coverage from ...more
Soleil Shah
Jul 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book, though I think the best parts are at the end, when Anderson responds to counterpoints made by Tyler Cowen and Niko Kolodny. Andersons main argument is that, contrary to the libertarian belief that free markets promote individual autonomy, most workers in capitalist societies find themselves constrained to a dictatorial form of private government at the workplace - one that dissolves their freedoms and rights, expect those guaranteed by law.

Her explanation for this is simple
Sam Ludwig
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
A little too much time in the ivory tower, not much in the real world. If they still taught business ethics, kept religion in schools, and if central banks halted financial repression 90% of workplace problems would be solved. Dont mistake a few sadistic managers you hear in the news degrading employees as an authoritarian norm. Most intrusive behaviors shown by companies is due to regulation from government, not the results of free trade and manufacturing of scale. If the government forces a ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Exercising autonomy-directing oneself in tasks, no matter how exacting and relentless they are-is no ordinary good. It is a basic human need. No production process is inherently so constrained as to eliminate all exercise of autonomy. Elimination of room for autonomy is the product of social design, not nature. It is not merely "unpleasant" to be denied a rest break when one needs it. When some authority denies it (as opposed to when some natural constraint prevents it), the restriction demeans ...more
Senny Stevens
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is an eye-opening conversation starter. Americans take too many concepts about labor and economics for granted, and Anderson's work should help people reflect on them. The inclusion of rebuttals from other authors is a great touch rarely seen in books. I'd like to see more on this topic, but this is at least a good start.
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
the history in this book is bad. the philosophy in this book is bad. the conclusions of the book are bad. folks, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a bad book. do not buy. it has two stars because it's so bad it's kind of interesting:
Daniel Teehan
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
This book gained a whole star in my estimation in the last section of the last chapter. To explain why, I should give the context of this book's structure - Anderson presents an introduction and two lectures (the first on a progressive vision of free markets among pre-industrial social reformers including the Levellers [boy do I know more about the Levellers now!] and the second about the titular role of Private Government in contemporary economic life).

After the two lectures there are four
Sharad Pandian
Sep 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I. Quick Summary

Anderson argues that although today's free market defenders are part of the right-wing trying to minimize the State's role in economic affairs, original free market defenders like Adam Smith and the Levellers were using the ideal of the free market to oppose domination in many forms - this was after all the era of "primogeniture, merchant monopolies, serfdom, slavery, and debtors prison." However, the industrial revolution showed labour that this naive defense of the free market
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Private Government is a thoughtful and well-edited book about how free market ideologies from pre-industrial economies have been widely misused by capitalists, libertarians, etc. in contemporary (that is, post-Industrial Revolution) economies, which has resulted in organizations resembling communist dictatorships (Anderson's words) dominating the private sector. As a result, workers are subject to arbitrary uses of power and left without a voice. Anderson fails to highlight good examples or ...more
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, politics
Like her previous book, The Imperative of Integration, I think Anderson's biggest flaw is not thinking radically enough. With that book I thought she was bending a little too much in order to convince white male academics to give a crap about the plight of African Americans, and made too big a deal about a supposed distinction between ethnocentrism and racism. With this book she seems to want to avoid outright endorsements of Marxist critiques of capitalism, and stating flatly that capitalism ...more
Mark Plakias
Jan 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is addressed on the worker/employee relation, and comes as an unplanned but perfect segue from my previous book read, which was about being a seasonal worker in a German Amazon warehouse. Anderson's core thesis is that the managerial class in free market liberal economy functionally operates as a communist dictatorship, with no democracy in sight after the free market's self-regulatory model stops dead in its tracks at the door to the factory.

She examines today's workplace, including
Frank Strada
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Anderson, professor of philosophy and women's studies at the U of Michigan, certainly does what most teachers teach, or try to teach, their students: think critically and think outside the box. This book is an eye opener to many people and I'm no exception. She's an unabashed liberal, in the current iteration of that term. The premise of her book is that working people live under the rules of two different types of governments: public governments, which include the federal, state and ...more
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it
This collection of essays on the dictatorial nature of the workplace is good - as far as it goes. But it suffers from some heavy ideological blinkers.

The free market of middle class freemen enjoying their Biblical vine and fig tree is a myth as surely as Jefferson's society of yeoman farmers: concentrated wealth has always sought their destruction. Modern capitalism is a social contract between inherited wealth and this ideal; as usual those with the most money have come out ahead. The
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
No production process is inherently so constrained as to eliminate all exercise of autonomy. Elimination of room for autonomy is the product of social design, not nature. p128

The main point I have argued in these lectures is that the problem of workplace governance needs to be put on the table for what it is: a problem of government, not of markets or freedom of contract. p131

Reading Dr. Andersons insightful book has me rethinking the concept of liberty as I experience it in my retail career,
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth Anderson makes the case that the left could at one time argue for a market society of free and equal producers. Then, the Industrial Revolution and its economies of scale overtook prospects for market allocation of land and capital to self-employed workers. Ever since, we have been left adrift in a world where vast sectors of the labor market are employed by of large firms of an authoritarian cast where employees have no real share in workplace governance.

The first lecture of
Junwen He
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a freshly graduated student joining the society as a wage worker, I share, in part, the sentiment presented by the author in the book. Upon signing the labor contract, the employer and the employee are of equal standing executing their own wills--one willing to pay for the other's man power and the other willing to accept the deal with (well) negotiated and mutually agreed compensation. After all, this is exactly one of the many rosy ideals free market economy promises. But after entering the ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I suppose you already know if you are the kind of person who wants to read a novella-length treatment by Elizabeth Anderson about why, exactly, laissez-faire ideology fails to capture the lived experiences of workers after the Industrial Revolution and whether American workplaces are, quite literally, communist dictatorships. (Anderson does not think it is a metaphor.) If you are that kind of person, then I recommend the book. If you aren't, then stay far away. You've already met the villain of ...more
Bob Baker
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent book with a new take on libertarianism, egalitarianism, and and the private dictatorships that are most workplaces. Dr. Anderson first explains how the free market ideas of todays libertarians are being applied in an entirely different context than when Adam Smith first talked about the invisible hand of the marketplace. Adam Smith was an egalitarian in the Seventeenth Century, some 200 years before the advent of the industrial revolution and the creation of an entirely new ...more
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Elizabeth S. Anderson (5 December 1959), is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan and is a notable American philosopher specializing in moral and political philosophy.

(from Wikipedia)

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April is the most hopeful of months, promising warm days and sunshine just around the corner. The weather is a little unpredictable, sure, but tha...
56 likes · 10 comments
“We are told that our choice is between free markets and state control, when most adults live their working lives under a third thing entirely: private government.” 1 likes
“People continue to deploy the same justification of market society—that it would secure the personal independence of workers from arbitrary authority—long after it failed to deliver on its original aspiration. The result is a kind of political hemiagnosia: like those patients who cannot perceive one-half of their bodies, a large class of libertarian-leaning thinkers and politicians, with considerable public following, cannot perceive half of the economy: they cannot perceive the half that takes place beyond the market, after the employment contract is accepted.” 1 likes
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