You Prevent Private Coercion With Labor Market Regulation

McArdle has joined the ranks of conservatives suddenly concerned about private coercion. In a prior post, I discussed Dougherty’s entry into that discussion and so here I want to also address McArdle’s.

Overall McArdle’s piece mostly mirrors the ones that came before it: mass outrage at someone’s opinions or statements can destroy their ability to get employment, something they need to survive. This is not entirely unlike the way a state might kill you or throw you in prison for your opinions or statements. McArdle makes sure to say private sanctions are not as bad as state sanctions, but it seems like they certainly could be as bad. After all, a private sanction that fully eliminates your ability to get income is a death sentence. You literally starve without income.

Like the other writers working in this genre, McArdle struggles to understand that there exist institutions perfectly capable of stopping this kind of thing, albeit institutions that conservatives loathe.

Mass private coercion, which even if not quite as bad, still needs to have safeguards put in place to protect individual liberty. But we have no legal or social framework for those.

The legal framework that provides safeguards to protect individuals from private coercion is called labor and employment law. Through that framework we create rules that forbid employers from terminating people for certain reasons. These reasons include discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and some other categories. They include retaliation against certain worker conduct: self-organization, whistleblowing, and filing complaints with government agencies. The list goes on.

In the case of conservatives being worried that major corporations no longer share their social worldview and are thus prepared to oust them for expressing it, one very obvious solution to that problem would be to amend the Civil Rights Act to include political opinions and statements as one of the things employers cannot discriminate against.

Such a rule already exists in Denmark’s equivalent of the Civil Rights Act:

The Anti-discrimination Act prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the labour market on grounds of:

  • Race, colour or ethnic origin
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • National or social origin
  • Political opinions
  • Age
  • Disability

Or, if you want to be more comprehensive about it, you could pass a law that forbids terminations carried out for reasons other than incompetence or economic redundancy. By whitelisting the kinds of things you can fire people for, you get out ahead of having to constantly add to the blacklist of things that you cannot be fired for.

As I pointed out in my Dougherty post, these kinds of protections do more than directly block the application of coercion. Once they are well-established, they should stop efforts to apply the coercion in the first place. People try to get businesses to fire people, get web hosts to drop content, and get payment networks to cancel payment services because these entities actually have the power to do these things. Once the power is removed, it will become futile to try this stuff and so people will stop trying it. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why nobody thinks to call the local sheriff to have the people whose opinions they don’t like arrested?

Ultimately, conservatives will never come around on the utility of basic labor market regulation, even as they somewhat comically grasp in the dark towards that obvious conclusion. This is because a major constituency of the conservative coalition is very affluent people whose interests are best served by ensuring managers have as much discretion to hire and fire as possible.