Can employers wield dictatorial power over employees? Join us for a lively discussion between Mark Pennington (King’s College London) and Elizabeth Anderson (University of Michigan) on how power accumulates in the market, which institutions can ameliorate the problem, and how Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) as a discipline helps us understand the human condition.

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The Guest

Elizabeth Anderson is the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor; John Rawls Collegiate Professor; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Department Chair in Philosophy at the University of Michigan.

Professor Elizabeth Anderson specializes in ethics, social and political philosophy, feminist theory, social epistemology, and the philosophy of economics and the social sciences. She is particularly interested in exploring the interactions of social science with moral and political theory, how we learn to improve our value judgments, the epistemic functions of emotions and democratic deliberation, and issues of race, gender, and equality. She is the author of Value in Ethics and EconomicsThe Imperative of Integration, and, most recently, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It), as well as articles on value theory, the ethical limitations of markets, facts and values in social scientific research, feminist and social epistemology, racial integration and affirmative action, rational choice and social norms, democratic theory, egalitarianism, and the history of ethics (focusing on Kant, Mill, and Dewey).

Professor Anderson is currently working on a history of egalitarianism from the Levellers to the present. Professor Anderson is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and designed and was the first Director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at UM.

Skip Ahead

1:10: How does it feel to be the recipient of a Genius award?

2:09: What is the ratio of women in major philosophy departments?

2:40: What do you plan to do with the MacArthur grant?

5:35: If I may, let’s discuss some of the things related to our work at the Centre, which is about governance arrangements, the relationship between formal and informal governance structures. And in your case you’ve done this interesting work on what I would describe as the governance of the employment relationship, and that work as I understand it really builds on your previous work thinking about what equality means or should mean.

9:05: You make some strong and provocative claims in the book arguing that some of the powers that employers have are equivalent to those you see in dictatorial regimes. I think at some point you say it’s almost as though the management of those firms resembles a communist dictatorship.

12:15: It really is challenging the way you list these kind of practices. Most people would have a gut reaction, that was certainly my sense when I read about this. But I was also thinking… how do you situate an understanding of the kind of abusive relationships that happen in these corporate environments with many other aspects of life? … I guess the argument would be, human beings aren’t always very humane. And this is true in all aspects of life. So if we’re thinking about the role of that private government plays in contributing to domination, we also need to have an understanding of the sources of domination outside of work. I didn’t feel you said all that much about that in the book.

16:39: Why on your account do you think that in this employment relationship we see these kinds of practices that lead to the domination of people?

19:25: Thinking about the arguments that economists would typically make in these situations, people would argue that if the employment relationship is really not working out for a worker or if there’s some kind of abuse… all that really matters is the existence of exit options. Is there competition operating in the labour market, etc.

24:35: Why do we not see greater movement to things like worker cooperatives?

27:27: Why do you take the argument that market forces themselves don’t lead to a sufficient treatment of workers? Is it basically that the labour market isn’t sufficiently competitive? Or is it a legal situation?

29:15: I think this is where you deliver a very powerful challenge to classical liberal or libertarian type arguments. Because people from that perspective are basically making arguments that we ought to focus on making constitutional limits on government power… but you’re actually saying that we should think about constitutional limitations on this private government power.

33:20: Do you see the solution just coming from the state itself through a democratic structure introducing regulation into these situations or do you see other vehicles?

37:22: How does co-determination address situations where part of the abuse is coming from other workers?

39:07: On the empirical side of this… you’re obviously quite sympathetic toward the German type co-determination model, but how do you compare the outcomes of that model with those of alternatives?

44:41: What I take from that is there isn’t a one size fits all model… this is very much a pragmatic search for a solution, and that there are multiple different types of approaches depending on the cultural context, which can interact with the functioning of the labour market.

45:46: It sounds like one reading of pragmatism could be an argument for a focus on quite decentralised arrangements to tackle these problems. One of the thinkers that inspires our work at this centre is Elinor Ostrom…. Although would the polycentric arrangements not be subject to some of the forms of domination you’re talking about?

47:22: So you’re not going to recommend that we roll out the German style model everywhere?

47:45: Do you think there are any insights from what you’re saying here about how we think about employment relationships outside the western context?

50:01: Thinking about your overall approach to political philosophy, what I really enjoy about your work is that you bring together insights from economics to inform political philosophy and vice versa. And that’s very much in what I would call a PPE tradition of research. Is that informing the kind of project you’ve been engaging with? How do you see the state of PPE research at this point in time?

Full Transcript

Mark Pennington

Welcome to The Governance Podcast from the Centre for the Study of Governance and Society of King’s College London. I’m Mark Pennington, the director of the centre and head of the Department of Political Economy where the Centre is based.

We’re delighted to have with us today Professor Elizabeth Anderson. Elizabeth is John Dewey Distinguished university professor of philosophy and women’s studies and author and now professor and department chair in philosophy at the University of Michigan. Elizabeth’s work lies at the interface between social science and moral and political theory with specialisms in feminist theory, social epistemology, and the philosophy of economics. 

She’s written widely on these topics, and he’s the author of several important books, including value in ethics and economics imperative integration, and most recently, “Private Government: How employers rule our Lives”. I’m delighted to say she’s recently been granted one of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius grants. And I think it’s safe to say that Elizabeth one of the world’s leading political philosophers.  So Elizabeth it’s great to have you with us here today at the centre. How does it feel to be the recipient of a genius award?

Elizabeth Anderson

Well, it feels really great, but I do want to push back a little bit on the genius thing. There’s actually been a lot of research done on the correlation between the belief that in order to be successful in a discipline you have to be a genius and what percentage of women are in the field.

The more people think you have to be genius, the fewer women and philosophy sort of off the charts in the belief that you got to be genius to do it. I’m a firm believer that philosophy is for everyone. Anyone can do philosophy in fact everyone does philosophy whenever they reflect on any moral or political issue and wonder what’s right or just.

So I don’t think philosophy is particularly difficult he does require the application of discipline, and I have been pushing back against that I can encourage more women to enter and bring down the ego level of my discipline.

Mark Pennington

So I’m just following up on that mean what is the sort of ratio of women in philosophy and major departments at the moment is that I do have us data.

Elizabeth Anderson

It’s about a quarter, 1 in 4, which is pretty crazy. I mean in biology for instance about 50/50. So philosophy and physics are the two outliers and economics pretty close there as well but most of the other disciplines are much better gender integrated.

Mark Pennington

That’s really interesting. So, could you tell us a little bit about what you actually plan to do with MacArthur.

Elizabeth Anderson

I’m going to be buying out my time because I have a giant research agenda, lots of books in progress and projected, so I need the time to be writing.

Mark Pennington

So could you give us a little bit of a sense of what those books are about? I it going to be a development of your recent work looking at, basically, the governance of employment I guess is how we could we could describe what you’ve been working on recently. 

Elizabeth Anderson

So, one of the books I’m currently working on is about the history and legacy of the Protestant work ethic. So that’s a follow on to private government, thinking about the role that the work ethic has played both in history political font and in the history of public policy in the UK and the US which are sort of the extreme work ethic key societies are really strongly influenced by the work ethic.

So that’s one blog but I just recently came from Oxford University where I gave the hero lectures. And that’s on a totally different topic, it’s, it’s about the ethics of political communication, you know, polarised age. And that’s also I think highly relevant both for the US context, and for the UK and even many countries in Europe that are driven by populist politics.

Mark Pennington

So is there any particular sort of line of argument that you’re developing in that work on communication?

Elizabeth Anderson

Well, populist politics is a politics of finding enemies within. And so, it’s based on sowing distrust among citizens. And I think the key goal to sustain a democratic society is to rebuild trust between citizens and that requires adopting modes of communication that disarm fear and resentment, and the other emotions that are making people feel antagonistic to each other across social identities.

Mark Pennington

That’s  pretty challenging in the contemporary context.

Elizabeth Anderson

It is but I think that’s really the challenge we have to face it and why rescue democracy. 

Mark Pennington

Actually, enabling people to speak to each other. Even if they disagree quite profoundly I mean that’s one of the great challenges. 

Elizabeth Anderson

Yes, but that’s really what democracy that’s what democratic practice I think has to be, we have authority, all democracies are deeply pluralistic and we have to learn to talk to each other even, even with profound disagreements and not assume that the other person is some existential threat.

Mark Pennington

Okay. Well, if I may, let’s what’s going to talk about some of the things I think which relate to the work of the centre, which is really around thinking about governance arrangements the relationship between formal and informal governance structures. And in your case you’ve done this really interesting work on thinking about what I would describe as a governance of the work relationship employment, relationships, and that work as I understand it really builds on all of your previous work thinking about what equality means are shifting the discussion to the quality. 

So, in your previous work, you’ve challenged kind of looking at retiring arguments, which think about equality in terms of sort of compensating people in various ways for those differences that they might have, or disadvantages they might have to focus on an account of equality and non domination, in essence, and that theme comes across very strongly in this work you’ve done on the governance and of the employment relationship, that we should be thinking about good governance and Employment Relations as being about non domination. 

And you make this interesting argument that thinkers on the left should recognise that historically promarket arguments have been arguments about trying to avoid domination so in the past, people were supportive of free trade or a meeting various kind of restrictions. But you suggest that, in recent discourse. 

People have forgotten that I guess this is an argument you’re making as people on the right call. We can see that the nature of the Industrial Revolution was such that the employment relationship changed on where employment, instead of necessarily being an area where people could be liberated is one where they can be dominated by employers, as I understand the argument. 

You’re not opposed to the kind of hierarchies that existing firms such as organisations, but you are opposed to effectively unaccountable hierarchy. That is the route of personally the position that you hold. 

Elizabeth Anderson

Yes. So the general picture is whenever you have a large scale organisation, designed to deliver some product or service, some kind of hierarchy of offices is virtually inevitable.

You can’t run participatory democracy and a really big, large scale complex organisation. You have to divide it up into offices and then they’ll be heads of those offices and so forth and they’ll have to report up the chain of authority.

I think that is inherent in these complex organisations but the issue is our is everybody in that chain of authority accountable for their behaviour and accountability is not just accountability, make sure that the product or service that’s being created is actually delivered but also accountability to the other people in the organisation who are, who lie under that authority. So, private government is government that is accountable to those government. And my argument is that, certainly in the United States, but I think in many European workplaces as well.

We do see private government. And that’s really problematic because when you get accountable power, people abuse it, and workers suffer, then that’s what domination is all about. 

Mark Pennington

Yeah, I mean you make some really quite, quite strong and provocative claims in the in the in the in the book, arguing in effect that some of the powers that employers have are equivalent almost to those that you see in dictatorial regimes. I mean I think at one point you say it’s almost like the management structure of firms is like a communist dictatorship, which is a bit of a provocateur just just trying to provoke libertarians. But what you’re really concerned about is, as you say, not the idea of being hierarchies, but the idea that these are, in some sense, I’m accountable to those who are subject to them. 

And you list in the book in the book private government a number of examples of what looks like. I think to be pretty horrendous abuses of the power that bosses or administrators in large companies actually have can give us, you know just walk us through a few of the kind of examples that you’re highlighting in the book. 

Elizabeth Anderson

So here I’m speaking, particularly in the US context which American workers have far fewer labour rights then are secured under the regulations of the European Union. American slaughterhouse workers are deprived of access to the bathroom for their entire shift and are told to come to work wearing diapers. Now, just imagine the indignity of that, not to mention that health hazards involved if they’re also processing meat.

We also have workers who are told that they’re not allowed to speak to their co workers during their entire shift because that amounts to time fifth stealing time from their employer. They have to be nose to the grindstone every second of their shift.

In addition, American employers commonly regulate workers lives even off duty workers have been fired for making political contributions to candidates that the boss disapprove them. They’ve been forced to attend political rallies, for candidates the boss approves it or they would suffer last wages if they don’t show up for that.

Their pressure to make campaign contributions to the political action committee of their firm and monitored if they fail to make such contributions. They can be fired for their choice of partner.

So all these off duty activities that we imagine ought to be free, and I think they ought to be free and really none of the bosses business. In fact, in the United States are subject to the employer regulation.

Mark Pennington

Yeah, I mean, it really is very challenging when in the book the way they’re listening to kind of practices something they strike that most people would think that they are you know there’s something that sort of gets in your gut, in reality, and so I know that was my sense when I read about this, but I was also thinking this I guess is a bigger question for thinking about political philosophy, and how we think about what the best way of dealing with problems is, is how you situate an understanding of the kind of a piece of relationships that having these kind of corporate employment relationships with actually many other aspects of life, how do they compare. So if we’re thinking about, you know, the kind of arrangements that may make things better or worse on these dimensions. Then we need some kind of baseline or most to think about the other sources that might be of domination.

Elizabeth Anderson

So, I mean I guess the argument here would be human beings aren’t always very human. And this is true in all aspects of life. So thinking about the role that these private government is and describe it plays in either in contributing to domination. We also need to have an understanding of the sources of domination outside of work. And I didn’t feel reading the book that you said all that much about that. So, if I if I give an example i mean you know there are some illustrations in the book about a pieces of women, for example, in the employment relationship, but to make my point I think I’d be saying, we know that women are abused outside. 

Mark Pennington

Is there any sense that it’s better or worse, in the employment relationship than it is in the outside world. It seems to me that that’s quite an important consideration, could you speak to that issue a little bit. 

Elizabeth Anderson

So, there is it there’s enormous variety and and in how much domination takes place in both the domestic sphere, and in the employment domain and there are interactions. So, the worse the conditions are for women, the more vulnerable, they are to domestic violence at home. And similarly women who have who enjoy much better treatment at work, tend to also have quite a lot of autonomy at home. This is strongly correlated with class income, professional status.

Mark Pennington

You say the things that are interesting into interacting that way that makes that makes a lot of sense to me. But do you have a sense of, do we have data for example on the relative prevalence of some of these kind of abuses that take place in the corporate environment, relative to what happens in other aspects of life.

Elizabeth Anderson

You know, I’m not aware of any someone might have looked at it but I’m not aware that the read the reason I’m thinking about thinking I’m thinking of other examples of, you know that some of the examples that you list are many examples of bullying of a kind. Yeah. But we know that bullying happens in, in many aspects. Yeah, no, I mean, I remember, you know, to be frank, I hated school.

You know, and so you can have bullying in the family you can have bullying from other workers for example workers, each other. So these are common human traits that, you know, as I say, people are not always very humane.

Mark Pennington

And I guess what I’m asking is, where do we have evidence to it whether actually within corporations Is it a particular problem. Is it a particular problem in corporations relative to other areas or actually might be the case the same in some dimensions organisations. It’s better than can be the case outside. I mean, I don’t know, do we have any data on those kind of comparisons. 

Elizabeth Anderson

So, I’m not aware of data on on this, I think it’s an interesting question. But I think wherever bullying happens we ought to look into policy responses that could get that under control and they obviously they would be tailored differently depending on whether we’re looking at the workplace or say a police station, or the home.

Mark Pennington

Okay, let’s let’s let’s go on to think about this a little bit, a little bit more. So why on your account, do you think that in this employment relationship, we see some of these kinds of practices? So why is it that the employers, introduce that kind of restrictive arrangements that you think lead to the domination of people in this relationship? I mean, are they doing it just sort of for the sake of it, is there some sort of efficiency reason that they have for these kind of practices? What do you think are the reasons why employment relationships are conducted in this way. 

Elizabeth Anderson

Yeah, so that’s a really great question because I think we can distinguish two different types of abuses of workers. One is directly associated with some notion of efficiency. So the slaughterhouse managers who don’t want workers to be using the bathroom during shifts, that’s strictly a matter of time management. The whole idea of time theft, they imagined that workers can be on the job without any rest for a whole shift that’s fictional in fact we do know that he when he were organisms and we actually do need some rest and we need breaks and so forth. So is it a fundamental lack of appreciation for actually even the physiological needs of workers.

And of course that’s been a classic critique of, of how employment works ever since the Industrial Revolution, where human beings, workers have been forced to work at the pace of machinery, rather than at their own organic pace.

But then there’s another and there’s a second class of regulations of worker behaviour that don’t really have anything to do with productive efficiency and everything to do with the boss taking advantage of legal prerogatives to just, you know, impose their will, in domains that are rather irrelevant to production or might even undermine it.

Classic case here sexual harassment in the workplace, it actually isn’t good the workers, it’s not good for efficiency. It’s just the boss indulging, you know their own whims and lust for power, but those abuses are made possible by a legal regime. That is very effective in many contexts in protecting workers from this kind of bullying.

Mark Pennington

I’m sure you’ve been faced with this sort of question before but thinking about the kind of arguments that economists would make in these kind of situations. I mean, typically people are going to argue that if the employment relationship is really not working out for work at all if there’s some of the kinds of things that you’re talking about, and all that really matters is always an exit options is there competition operating in the labour market, such that if your boss isn’t treating you very well you can go somewhere else where they can treat you better. Now I know part of your argument is well when you exit actually you just go into another mini dictatorship, so there’s not a lot of variety around but I some economists would still tend to argue that if you’re in a competitive situation, that is going to put a kind of upward pressure on standards, or at least one that limit some of the kind of abuses you’re talking about. 

Now, as I understand, I mean, there will be specific situations if you had a monopsony situation where that might not apply. 

Elizabeth Anderson

Abuse in the workplace and in labour markets has been steadily increasing in the United States, it’s a serious problem. 

Mark Pennington

I’m aware of the studies you’re talking about that but most economists would say, I think, you certainly have situations I like to do company towns maybe in some rural areas, but this will be a relatively a relatively isolated type of scenario where you’ve literally got, you know, a choice of one employee or two employers. I think what’s more interesting about your argument which is perhaps challenging to economists, is that, well let’s assume that the exit mechanism is working reasonably well that the market is reasonably competitive. There is still some of these kinds of practices that are likely to be operative.

Elizabeth Anderson

We observed, you know, so one of the factors behind this there is a difference between the professional managerial class and has some more clout to protect themselves from abuse, because their skills are relatively scarce. They have real bargaining power, but a lot of work is commodified, and it’s deliberately Deskilled, so that you can have pretty much infinitely replaceable workers. 

Many businesses have a business model of very high turnover. So, the workers are subjected to horrible conditions and maybe they only last for a few months but that’s okay they quit and then another post vulnerable person is brought in there, and they face abuse, and they’re just continual turnover and those workers really am no effective way to resist, because the business model has already been set up to accommodate high uqit rates.

Now those workers then go to another firm where they face the same kinds of abuses. There’s no escape. 

Mark Pennington

I guess the question again, maybe more for our kind of economic angle, is why. I mean, I don’t think you need to see something like a perfectly competitive market right this kind of argument but why isn’t it the case then you don’t get new employers spotting a gap in the market where basically they could profit from the fact that there are people who are dissatisfied with the type of jobs that are on offer, maybe they could pay people less, but they will be offering them a more attractive working environment. Why doesn’t the market operate in that way because if it. If you’ve got some sort of competition you would expect some new talent from maybe a new employer coming into the market offering different types of arrangement, maybe a flatter management structure in exchange for lower pay something of that kind, if it’s something about the legal arrangement you’re suggesting that actually blocks that from happening.

Elizabeth Anderson

Well, I do think that, at least in the United States the default legal role is employment at will, which means that the boss can hire and fire for any or no reason at all. With only a tiny number of exceptions and it mostly having to do with discrimination. So all kinds of other abuses bosses ae free to engage in. That’s a big, I think problem for workers.

On top of that, firms tend to copy other firms and how they divide up the labour. It’s a lot easier and cheaper just to copy models that are already out there. There is some economic pressure due to the demand to maximise profits to try to commodify as many workers as possible so that the farm farm it’s actually been steadily shrinking just around a small number of high skilled workers, with a lot of then outsourced gig workers, people on temporary contracts, uou know, zero hours contracts and so forth. Those people are extremely vulnerable because they’re not even considered employees. So they even have fewer rights than the formal employees within a firm and pretty much they can be treated however the boss wants.

Mark Pennington

So, do you have a sense, maybe from continuous thinking about some of the sort of solutions you propose to to some of these sort of problems later on but. But, why, for example, can you not see a greater movement of things like worker cooperatives.

I know that’s something that you actually speak about something quite, quite, quite favourable towards the idea of worker cooperatives. Why do you think that they don’t arise spontaneously? Because you’d think that if you know the situation is as you described there would be some market opportunity for someone to say well let’s sort of cut out the boss, workers do it themselves. I mean, I guess, some of the arguments is sometimes men against worker cooperatives actually that, you know, the kind of bullying that can come from a boss can also come from other workers, and in some situations you might actually prefer having someone who’s separate from the situation being your boss, rather than your co workers but i don’t know i mean how do you how do you feel about that sort of issue?

Elizabeth Anderson

Yeah, I mean, worker cooperatives can be very attractive model. And the reason why I’m not pushing to maximise that in the current context is that workers get to be co equals in a cooperative situation because they also actually own the firm. So in their capacity as capital owners. They have the authority to run the firm for the firm.

But that would require workers to put up an awful lot of capital and generally speaking, especially that for the larger firms, they would never be able to come up with the, with the capital investment required, and it might not even be an optimal investment for them because then they’re putting all their eggs in one basket. So I don’t think it’s I don’t think it’s easily universalize bubble and especially you have like nonprofit organisations organisations which are non trivial like colleges and universities, and you don’t really have share holders anyways.

But those workers also need protection. So that’s why in my alternative I’ve been arguing that some system like codetermination, which doesn’t require that workers have shares in the firm, but simply that they be employed there would be a way to give workers, a voice in how they are managed and empower them to push back on all kinds of abuses. 

Mark Pennington

So that’s something that happened in the event in the model that you mentioned is the German model in the book. It’s actually something that’s been proposed in this country. The former prime minister and they were talking about doing this, there were people in the Labour Party, we were talking about, about this as well as a, as a possibility. So, why  do you take the argument that market forces themselves don’t need to have sufficient treatment of workers? I mean is it basically an argument that the labour market isn’t sufficiently competitive is that the underlying cause or is it this kind of legal situation that you think is the…

Yes, so I do think that the law that coin and I will. Yeah, disempowers workers very profoundly, and that’s a legal arrangement. 

Mark Pennington

It’s not something that’s intrinsic to the way the actual market works itself.

Elizabeth Anderson

Well, it’s, it’s one of the constituent rules of the labour market but of course you could redesign the labour market. And one can ask what the internal constitution of the farm is. And my point is that the Constitution of the firm, a firm government is part of the legal infrastructure that’s set by the state. So it’s not an output of open competition the state supplies the default employment contract, and the default constitution of the firm, and that default constitution is very authoritarian, the state could decide that the default constitution is as some kind of democratic structure that requires representation of workers in management. That’s a state decision. It’s a legal decision, you’re not going to get people capital owners who’ve been dealt all the authority cards stealing any of those authority cards back to the workers, if they don’t have to.

Mark Pennington

I think this way you do make a very, very powerful challenge to sort of classical liberal or libertarian type arguments because people from that perspective, are basically making arguments that we ought to focus on effectively constitutional limits on government power, and the economic reasons for thinking about those.

But I mean, I guess. I think this is a problem actually for both perspectives. For the libertarian view an absolute perhaps also for the video that you hold of what is the baseline that we’re actually comparing things against so it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that you know we don’t start from some baseline, which is all free contracting without some legal privileges which might for example favour corporations.

But it’s equally not obvious what the alternative baseline might be that you have to compare things again, so there aren’t any democratic structures that haven’t arisen. for example, in many cases, without there being some form of domination, or violence even that’s being used. I did a really interesting podcast something with Barry Weingst actually before, and he was very much sort of challenging the neoclassical economic idea that if you like. In the beginning there are markets. And then we have to think about the opinion differences in markets.

And he says that as someone who’s quite a pro market economist, his view is in the beginning as violence that human beings, you know the starting point is one of violence and then you move on to get some kind of institutional solution to that. But that’s also a problem I think that argument actually for people who talk about democratic structures. So it’s not in the beginning as democracy as what. 

Elizabeth Anderson

Yes. That’s really great. And so, I think I want to step back a little bit and talk about my philosophical methodology, which is crying.

So, in contrast with most political philosophers who want to think out of their heads, some ideal principles of justice. And then judge institutions by their shortfall from from your that ideal, I want to start from problematic experiences that people have, and then move to a diagnosis of what the problem really is. And with a refined enough diagnosis, the remedy can pop out of that.

And then of course you don’t just do that theoretically, you put that remedy into practice. And in doing so that will likely reveal some incompleteness in your original diagnosis or new problems arising from the remedy itself.

So learning involves a constant iteration of this process and diagnosis and solution. And so eventually you know, hopefully, you get to improve over time. And that’s pretty much what we see with the evolution of democracy, this is a centuries long project, democracy is still under construction. And you’re quite right that just because you have something like elections, or representatives, doesn’t mean that you end the violence and the domination right there.  These things pop up in other contexts and so that requires more institutional innovation.

Mark Pennington

And where do you think that innovation actually comes from. And I guess you know I’m going back to the point about why is it that, you know, in a market where there is domination there are dominating employees we don’t get innovations from employees of a more humane coming into the market.

So do you see the solution just coming from, from the state itself to a democratic structure, introducing regulation into these situations or is it the other vehicles, where that might happen or is it some combination. I mean, is it, is it something that we just learned through empirical experience is that the pragmatist that aspect that. 

Elizabeth Anderson

So I do want to push back on the idea that there’s that there’s no innovation in say management techniques, not towards more humane techniques and I want to cite the case of Richard lock. He’s a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Business has done, amazingly interesting work on how to improve the treatment of workers in supply chains of major corporations like Nike.

And he argues actually that you outsource the manufacturer of athletic shoes to someplace, you know, maybe in Thailand. And most of the small manufacturers in Thailand who are taking the subcontracts have no really management training. And so they think like the best way to get work out of their workers might be to beat them up.

And like I said she got out there and help these corporations implement serious management training in business schools about how to motivate workers by other means, then very harsh treatments, a lot to be learned about that, and what he discovered is most managers actually don’t want to be beating up their employees, they if they have an easier way to motivate people. That’s good for both sides. 

So yeah, I mean, there has been innovation within management it’s not all top down, it’s not all state mandates. But I also think that even in the land of management, if it’s still within a fundamentally a fine authoritarian constitution, it still means that there’s a lot of issues that employees might have with how they’re being managed that they don’t feel free to articulate, because they can get in trouble maybe they’ll be considered a troublemaker if they raise a complaint. 

One of the functions of labour union representation is to give voice to workers so they can articulate complaints, without losing their jobs or benefits or access to, you know, raises and things.

Codetermination constitutionalizes that, so it’s not just a contention product of bargaining power, but workers just get it automatically as part of the Constitution of firm governance.

Mark Pennington

Do those kind of mechanisms or do they address the problems were, you know the the abuse or the domination, or the bullying in some cases, isn’t only coming from the employer, but might actually coming from other employees.So, yes, I know, I mean some of the examples we talked about in a book about employers having rules about what people put on Facebook or Twitter or other some of these other kinds of things. On the face of it they seem quite, you know, extreme restrictions that many of us would think are justifiable, but then when you go into the non ideal world, and you realise that in some cases, it’s other workers who are putting up you know racist a piece on Facebook or whatever it is, or, or bullying their co workers, then you know what do we do about those kind of situations? How does codetermination address that, when part of the abuse is coming from other workers?

Elizabeth Anderson

Right, well you know if workers have a problem with being bullied by other workers. That is an issue that can be raised in a codetermination context, and they can implement rules against harassment by coworkers. And I think it’s pretty important. 

Now as far as speech that’s totally off duty, that is where the worker is it’s addressing say co workers on social media. And here it doesn’t matter whether they’re office hours or on hours, but if they’re just saying like totally obnoxious things off hours not addressing their, their co workers, I think the case for regulation is a lot less unless they’re like talking about, you know, killing people are some other violence. Lot of people have noxious beliefs, and in general and unless it raises to the level of threatening.

I think I would be reluctant to bring in the employer to put pressure on the worker co workers may want to initiate a conversation about, you know, why they find these opinions problematic, but I’d rather not bring in the employer to regulate an employee’s opportunity speech.

Mark Pennington

No, I mean I can, I can see the arguments about. I wonder if we could think about, actually the empirical side of this thinking about different mechanisms that may address this problem and how we actually compare them so you’re obviously quite sympathetic towards the German time model is codetermination model.

But how you actually compare, in a sense, the outcomes of that model with the outcomes of alternative models when there is so many different sort of moving parts of the dimensions here?

So what I’m thinking about that. And the example I’m you know going to give maybe a little bit out of date but certainly, Germany. Historically, you know, arguably, partly because of the role of work has played in in management, some people would suggest, that’s been one of the key factors in effecting achieving employment status and immigrants, Germany, well you know Turkish immigrants for example had temporary visiting status, and we’re very much, you know treated in the society as that sort of second class citizens. And you can see that as being part of the problem and also the inside of an employment relationship wanting to leave other people. 

And then how you compare a situation like that to a more liberal labour market for example, where you know there are some of the problems that you’re talking about, but there’s also a sort of greater supply of jobs you know much more, much greater fluidity in the market. So how do you actually compare these situations in terms of the level of domination that’s actually taking place?

Elizabeth Anderson

So that’s a really interesting point. And at this point, you would really need to get people out there, developing measures , and looking at worker satisfaction and for different groups of workers and think really seriously about what it actually takes to successfully integrate immigrants into a labour movement. 

Generally speaking, I think, the United States has has done a pretty good job but as a that is with bringing immigrants in, although the overall level of treatment of workers is pretty poor, compared to Europe. Are you suggesting that there is a kind of correlation between those two things that the more liberal the labour market, the easier it is to come in and to integrate?

Yeah. And in a sense. Also, if the market is providing some more job opportunities, I mean Germany actually does quite well in terms of you know relatively low unemployment, but if you have to compare say for example in France where unemployment is quite high. Yes. Yeah, the situation would be one where well you may have more integration in the more liberal system. You may have better workers right say in France. Most of our work is excluded from the labour market.

Elizabeth Anderson

Yeah, so that that is an excellent point. And I, you know, I’m not entirely convinced that that that we’re forced into a trade off it seems to me that there are also cultural differences here that matter.

So for instance compare the situation of Muslims in France and Muslims in the United States and France I think we have a very troubled situation, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that a lot of those Muslims came from Algeria you had a colonial context for all history of colonialism I think many toxic relationships between the, you know, the native French, and the people of immigrant origins.

Whereas in the United States, United States does have a trobuled history but it’s, but with respect to Muslims, it doesn’t really apply. And also, the United States has, like, amazing religious diversity, never had an established church, there’s a new religion being invented practically every day. There’s a kind of relaxation about these issues. 

So for instance, in my classrooms at University of Michigan. I have lots and lots of Muslim women wearing a hijab and it’s never been an issue like nobody gets upset about this, it’s just like, wow, there’s freedom of dress and all kinds, there’s all kinds of clothing that students are wearing in the classroom.  And that that cultural difference I think has has made it easier.

And also, the United States is a, is a nation of immigrants anyways and so we’ve had practice. Integrating immigrants from all corners of the world for centuries, literally, and those habits I think have made it easier.

so if you actually look at economic outcomes for Muslims in the United States in the last 30 years, it’s above the average. Not greatly, but a little bit in education, income and general prospects and I can see it in the ambitious in the ambitions of my male and female students who are Muslim, they’re becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers, really looming ahead the women as well as the men.

Mark Pennington

So, what I take from that, I mean if you’re thinking about the solutions to this, this particular problem is that there isn’t necessarily a kind of one size fits all model that you’re looking for here that this is very much a sort of pragmatic search for just highlight what you see as being important problem, but saying maybe there are sort of multiple different types of approaches that might be required to address it depending on for example what the cultural context is and how that might interact with the nature of the labour market or these are the sorts of factors. 

Elizabeth Anderson

Absolutely I agree with that view and that’s really at the heart of a pragmatist point of view.

And so we do have to attend to local concerns, which differ from society in crafting solutions to these problems. 

Mark Pennington

I mean I think if I was, if I was pushing here, I would say this sounds like one reading of pragmatism could be an argument for focus on quite decentralised arrangements actually to try to tackle these problems so one of the things that inspired the work of decentralisation is. 

Elizabeth Anderson

I love Ostrom, Ostrom has such a wonderful approach to address some of these kinds of conditions. 

Yeah, I guess, the argument against that kind of view, on one hand is well you might by relying on something that’s polycentric or decentralised replicate the very thing that you’re trying to challenge in the first place in this case with the polycentric arrangements and not be subject to this and other forms of domination that you’re, you’re talking about.

Elizabeth Anderson

So, so let’s keep in mind that the real beauty of Ostrom’s work so Ostrom is looking at a common pool resources like said many people with us or irrigation systems, water systems in general, and how local communities establish governance systems so that you don’t get a tragedy of the commons but everybody gets a fair share of these resources. And it is true that she does stress the importance of the emergence of these institutions in the community, kind of organic, we’re doing out of differences, but at the same time her research also draws out apparently some common features of successful systems and some common features of this cut types of systems that don’t really work out. So, there is real learning here and if you want to set up a new system you can learn from experience even though there will be local variations on the theme. 

Mark Pennington

Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking about. So you’re not going to recommend that we roll out the German style?

Elizabeth Anderson

Right now I think actually to adapt it to the US context that would require a lot of experimentation, you know we can’t just take the German legal infrastructure and planted in the United States to there are too many other differences need a lot of adjustment.

Mark Pennington

Do you think there anything, any insights from, you know what you’re saying here about how we think about employer employment relationships say outside of the Western type of context so I mean I’m thinking of. 

I read a paper, it was a National Bureau of Economic Research Paper, three or four years ago which was making the argument that actually in many cases, foreign investment in parts the developing world I think the, the papers were focusing on Bangladesh, specifically, is the single biggest predictor increases in women status.Because people exposed to employment relationship. It’s taking them out from exposing them to a new form of life, new types of relationships, and so on that view that’s a slightly more positive understanding actually of the role that corporate investment can actually play in situations because people are being exposed to different ways of life. Different opportunity different conceptions which directly improve their lives but also raise their aspirations about what they might reasonably expect in the way they may expect to be treated both at work, and perhaps also home

Elizabeth Anderson

Well we do know that women get a lot more power when they can bring in outside income. Yeah, then that’s really huge. And it also is finding the case and a lot of foreign investors, actually, for to hire women into a lot of these jobs, especially light manufacturing, you know, textiles, things like that, that is empowering to women but there’s another thing too, and that is there are advantages to formal employment, as opposed to informal employment. If anything, the informal sector. There’s. What makes it informal is that there’s really no legal infrastructure at all. And that means is kind of even more wide open, in terms of the vulnerability of workers in those contexts formalisation as a lot of advantages. But then you want the formalizations to be done well.

Mark Pennington

I wonder if it just moving away from that the specific theme of this work I wonder where we could maybe, maybe reflect on some of these issues but think about your overall approach to clinical philosophy.

I mean what I really enjoy about your work. And you really fits the spirit of the department here at Kings is that you bring together insights from economics to inform the political philosophy, and vice versa.

And that’s very much in what I would call a sort of PP tradition of of research. I mean, is that something that you think is really informing this kind of project that you’ve been engaged with on work and how can you see the state of this sort of field of peeking in the field of research at the current point in time?

Elizabeth Anderson

Absolutely. So I agree with you entirely in your description of how I work it’s very much PPE style. And I think this is just a very rich way to be thinking about the problems in our society and how we can come up with. Responsible solutions. So the way I conceive of PPE as kind of mode of inquiry is that it is focused on identifying various kinds of collective action problems that require institutions to solve. 

PPE investigates, a very wide variety of institutions that might, they’re like tools in the toolbox for solving these problems, and some of them are formal like company rights and markets and governments, and some of them are more informal like social norms. 

And we then investigate empirically, how we can package together, these tools into more complex systems and organisations. And then we look at the results and see whether it actually helps people’s lives. 

And there is then a normative dimension to that, where philosophers come in and think about the criteria of evaluation, which don’t just involve advancing human welfare although that’s like a terrific thing, but they’re also fairness, justice considerations and considerations of human dignity and esteem and so forth. 

I’m very much in favour pluralist mode of evaluation and also the use of consultation and democratic forms as people continuously revise their revise their own values, their value standards, their ideals their aspirations, all of that can be studied empirically, and is relevant to the evaluation of institutions. 

Mark Pennington

I mean that’s that’s certainly something that we’ve been trying to do here in the broader department that we’re, we’re we’re situated and we really want to emphasise that PPE should be seen as an integrative sort of enterprise where the three pillars are not seen as separate that you studied them separately, you actually look at ways of showing to students and actually the broader citizenry because we want an educated citizen to actually understand something about these principles how the three fields actually interact. Whereas, I think a lot of teaching in this area and even to some extent research, I guess, has been very much a lot of separation and seeing them as separate and then somehow maybe you figure out that they work together we think you actually ought to start from the beginning by thinking about how they actually interact Is that something that you’d be sympathetic

Elizabeth Anderson

Oh I agree completely I mean, the real payoffs of keeping ease integrating those approaches. Other you can’t make progress on the problems.

Mark Pennington

Well, it’s nice to say that. I know that’s very much what we’re about in in this department, so well is with thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us. We are actually expecting quite a lot from you. I know you’re giving you a little lecture this evening and a seminar tomorrow so I hope you’re going to enjoy the rest of your stay here at Kings this week- thank you very much indeed. 

Elizabeth Anderson

You’re welcome.