by Alice Temnick

Warning: “communist dictator bosses” may be hindering the freedom and dignity of American workers with their nearly unaccountable power…..

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Elizabeth Anderson sees bosses as ruling workers’ lives and firms as internal “private governments” with excessive and often abusive control over employees. In this EconTalk episode, host Russ Roberts poses questions about such abuse, monopsony power, freedom of choice in the workplace, and more in this discussion about today’s labor markets, which Roberts says stretched his thinking considerably.

1. Is Professor Anderson’s argument predicated on data of the inflection point of the 1970’s or is her point more that any degree of employer abuse – no matter how much the nature of the workplace has improved over time – worth examining? What do measurements of the middle class reveal or conceal about market forces in today’s workplace? 2. Professor Anderson argues that the reach of employer power over workers can extend beyond the workplace into people’s private lives as revealed through social media. One objection is that employees may exercise their “exit option,” but what else might counter this power? To what extent do you believe potential boss abuse is restrained due to ubiquitous tweets, posts and articles about employers?

3. How can employees mitigate the potential monopsony power of an employer? Beyond choosing a different “dictator boss” (Anderson) or choosing self-employment (Roberts), what other options or factors contribute to workers’ autonomy?

4. As choices for low skilled/low income earners in urban housing, higher education, and licensing continue to be limited and as the trajectory of increased productivity through automation and innovation reduces the quantity of low-skilled available jobs, what do you predict about the future of the American workforce? Are you more optimistic or pessimistic, and why?

5. Why don’t more temporary work agency that pay workers more (exploit them less) emerge? To this suggestion, Anderson replies that there are only a few of these firms and that a competing firm would make less profit. What determinants of supply of and demand for labor will likely be explored in Roberts’s promised future episode on the market for temporary? (Bonus points if you can graph it!!!)

Alice Temnick teaches Economics at the United Nations International School in New York City. She is an Economics examiner for the International Baccalaureate, teaches for the Foundation for Teaching Economics and Oxford Studies Courses and is a long-time participant in Liberty Fund Conferences.