The Way We Work Matters for Democracy

Dr. Nicholas Partyka I Labor Issues I Analysis I January 15th, 2015

The way we work matters for democracy. Or, more technically, the nature of the labour-process under capitalism matters for democracy. This is because the way we work affects who we are, how we see the world, and how we make decisions in it. Work transforms those who labour. Human capacities, or talents, are largely learned. If they are practiced they develop and grow, if not they wither and atrophy. Human beings never stop learning. The workplace is a site of learning. Leaving the formal school grounds does not mean one stops learning. One other way to look at learning is training. Education, especially in philosophy, history, and science, is training in how to see the world, how to think about it critically and independently.

The workplace is, no less than the schoolhouse, a site of learning, or as we might say, training. Workers are constantly being trained. Indeed, one need look no further than Samuel Bowles' & Herbert Gintis' classic study on the connection between training in school and training in the workplace. [1] The structure of their activity creates a force pushing workers toward a specific transformation. The nature of the specific transformation depends on which and how many of an individual's talents the latter structure inhibits or develops. In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls explains,

"the social system shapes the wants and aspirations that its citizens come to have. It determines in part the sort of persons they want to be as well as the sort persons they are. Thus an economic system is not only an institutional device for satisfying existing wants and needs but a way of creating and fashioning wants in the future. How men work together now to satisfy their present desires affects the desires they will have later on, the kinds of persons they will be."[2]

If we want to have a thriving and vibrant democratic society, then we need forms of work that encourage the development of democratic skills. Where else but the workplace, where adults will spend - or at least aim to spend- a great deal of time for several decades of their lives, can the training in these skills be more effectively delivered? If the way we work inhibits the development of important democratic skills in the majority of workers, then the quality of democracy can only be diluted. As history shows, a real democracy is a very hard thing to keep going. Depending on the rigor one applies, there have only ever been short outbursts of democracy, which have typically been violently suppressed. If the structure of most workers' jobs transforms them in a way that makes them less capable, less effective, citizens, then we need to find a better way to work. At least if we are truly concerned about living in a democratic society.


Democracy. A word we often and easily take as all too well understood. For all its historical warts, there may yet be a kernel of emancipatory potential in this well worn lexicon of 'democracy'. So I will be assuming throughout that the reader is committed to democracy as method of collective self-government. Democracy will serve here as a kind of ideological anchor. The argument I want to present turns on exposing a problem for a healthy democracy. I take a healthy democracy to be one win which citizenship is universal for adults, and citizen participation is robust, widespread, and as direct as possible. Without this commitment, what follows will fall flat. Democracy can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people, and a democratic society has many aspects. I cannot go into detail on all of them. So, we cannot do justice to the notion of democracy we'll appeal to here. But a simple sketch might be enough.

When we talk of democracy, most of the U.S. understand something like the following institutions or policies; universal adult suffrage regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, LGBTQIA identity, disability; "free" elections, in that voters have no undue burdens on their capacity to in-practice exercise their right to vote, and that any and all interested citizens have the ability to stand for public office; public legislative bodies make decisions by the majority of votes among its members; an informed deliberative process precedes voting; freedom of speech, assembly, and of the press; the right to petition the government for redress of grievances; equal treatment of all citizens before the law; right to a trial by jury of one's peers; detention only for a legitimate charge; punishments only for rightful conviction for a legitimate offense; among many others.

It is true that in all of its historical incarnations this ideal of democracy has failed to describe the reality. Society's calling themselves democratic, right up to the 20th century, excluded large sections of their population from participation in the political process. This is the very limited sense in which most "democratic" societies throughout history have been democratic. More often as not such democratic societies were only democratic among the elite. From ancient Greece to modern America 'democratic' societies excluded ethnic and racial minorities, women, and anyone who was a slave. Only in the 20th century did racial minorities and women in the United States gain the right to vote, even if they did not secure the practical ability to cast that vote.

Nonetheless, the idea of democracy, of what the ancients -and even early moderns- would call radical democracy, provides a handy model for the polity we seek. One that is inclusive, tolerant, and committed to the things we mentioned above. Those who are looking for a kind of society based on social justice, and participatory collective self-government still quite often find 'democracy', and its lexicon, the best available way to express their vision. So we'll stick with this word, despite its legacy, and look to the vision of a society grounded on liberty, equality, and solidarity that the word can still invoke. Its real-world failings do not need tarnish the emancipatory vision this vocabulary inspires.

The Typical Capitalist Firm

The place to begin is with a bit of terminology. The business of any firm can be described as a list of tasks that have to be accomplished in order for the firm to reproduce itself, for it to continue to exist. This includes everything from sweeping the floors and restocking materials, to sending out invoices and collecting payments. Individual tasks like sweeping the floor we'll call job-tasks. The "job" of any particular worker in the firm is made up of many job-tasks. This latter construction we'll call a job-complex. This distinction will help us be clear in the discussion that follows. In short, the job-complexes of most workers in a typical capitalist firm leaves them deformed in politically significant ways.

The most appropriate name for the kind of economic system in operation in the US and across most of the world is capitalism. Most all of the proponents of the current economic order universally employ this term. That we live in capitalist socio-economic reality should not be controversial. So, in discussing the dominant way that firms are structured in a capitalist economy, we are discussing the nature of a typical firm under capitalism. As Martin Weitzman has written, "the firm is the economy in a microcosm. So anyone who wants to comprehend the functioning of an economic system should begin with a thorough understanding of how a typical firm operates".[3]

Typical capitalist firms are organized predominantly by hierarchical power relations between employers, or their proxies, and employees. [4] Those on top of this hierarchy have the power to fashion a division of labour within the firm that best suits their pecuniary aims or their ideological fancies. Since the employer needs to extract a sufficient amount of labour-itself from his or her workforce, and knows that the wage relation produces an antagonistic relationship with that same workforce, the employer must decide on a model of workplace organization, a division of labour, that achieves the former goal in light of the latter constraint.

The first thing to notice about the typical firm is the labour contract it makes. Once this contract is made there emerges a basic opposition of interests on either side of it. The labourer primarily desires access to the means of subsistence, i.e. wages, while the employer is ultimately looking to make a profit and to accumulate capital. The labourer trades control over both the product and the process of his or her labour for a specific rate of wage remuneration. Thus, even before the contract is made, both parties know that the worker will have an incentive to provide as little labour-itself as possible for the most remuneration possible. The employer, on the other hand, will have an incentive to extract as much labour-itself for as low a payout of wages as possible. The employer and the wage worker thus meet in the labour market as opponents from the first instant. This is one of the foundations of the Labour Discipline Problem (LDP) as this market dynamic is often called.[5]

To see the other foundation of the LDP we have to look more closely at the employment contract, specifically what it is that is exchanged. When employer and worker meet in the market, what they contract for is the worker's labour-power, that is the worker's potential to do work. However, when the employer and worker meet in the workplace, after the contract is made, the employer must extract actual work in order to make a profit. [6] The rate of profit the employer earns is largely dependent on how much labour she is able to extract out of her workforce. The need to extract labour-itself from those who have only contracted for labour-power, and who have interests opposite from, or at least not entirely aligned with, that of their employer, is what causes employers to implement models of workplace organization which they hope will successfully extract a sufficient amount of actual labour from workers so as to make their enterprise a profitable one. These profit-driven models of workplace organization produce very important political side-effects because of the way they organize workplaces.

The ability of the employer to control the labour-process, combined with the incentive structure associated with being an owner, produces a significant incentive for employers to embrace one or another style of management control in the family of such systems known as Taylorism, or Scientific Management. The Labour Discipline Problem poses a dilemma to the employer about how to extract not only the necessary amount of labour-itself, but more importantly an additional or surplus amount of labour-itself, to which the employer responds with methods of organization inspired by the principles of Scientific Management. These principles involve breaking tasks down into simple sub-parts that can be easily learned and repeated.

This problem of Taylorism is not a problem of by-gone epochs.[7] Taylorist methods have endured, and even dominated, until the present day in the workplaces of not only developing but also developed economies. It has been fashionable at several points to declare the end of Taylorism, and yet these periodic obituaries notwithstanding we can see a great many examples of Taylorist forms of work organization still alive and well in the workplaces of the twenty-first century.[8] Despite growth in high-technology, high-skill, and professional service sectors in the economies of most developed countries, the large majority of types of jobs are still organized around production methods that are easily recognized as Taylorist, in that they rely on machine pacing, fragmented job-complexes, routinized job-tasks, and are geared toward large-scale production.

Taylorism is also a management ideology as much as it is a set of business practices.[9] Taylorism made conscious and explicit what had been, according to Braverman, an unconscious tendency in capitalist economies. As we have seen, the fact of inter-capitalist competition drives each capitalist to examine the labour process as a natural place to increase surplus through control. The views espoused by F.W. Taylor and his later disciples made clear the dynamics which had been the motivating force behind the development of the dominant systems of work organization.[10] Taylor sees the LDP, or as he calls it the problem of "soldiering", as the source of the need for his new efficiency-increasing scientific methods aimed at measuring labour-itself. By being able to more accurately measure and quantify the work done by workers, employers are able to more closely control the process of turning labour-power into labour-itself. Control over this process helps employers gain further control over the process of turning workers' labour-itself into their own profits. The imperative towards profit means that the organization of production from the point of view of the employer leads unconsciously toward workplace methods and practices that Taylor made explicit in describing them more systematically and scientifically.

Taylorism inevitably results in job fragmentation and simplification as a result of management's attempts to assert control over the labour-process. The system of Scientific Management is an attempt by management to acquire the job-specific knowledge that workers have and use it to further reorganize the labour process in the name of greater efficiency. According to Braverman, Taylorism has two basic principles: first, acquire knowledge through measurement; second, concentrate that knowledge in the hands of management.[11] The next step in this process would be to use this knowledge to organize, or re-organize, the labour process in more efficient ways, that is, ways that increase the amount of labour-itself extracted from workers. This dynamic ultimately results in what Braverman calls the separation of conception and execution, or the separation of mental work from manual work.

The LDP poses a difficulty to management in having to extract labour-itself from a workforce whose effort-reward structure works at cross purposes with employers' desire for surplus. To successfully extract the desired amount of labour-itself from the workforce, management must acquire the knowledge that workers have of the labour-process, so that they can use this knowledge toward their own purposes of increasing the enterprises' profits. In the hands of workers, this knowledge would help them regulate output in a way that maximizes their effort-reward bargain, usually to the employer's detriment. Workers' jobs become fragmented and simplified in the process of re-organization, so that management can exert control over the labour-process in the form of prescribing job-tasks, often down to precise movement patterns. This dynamic, where employer control of the labour-process leads to job fragmentation, also helps produce that separation of conception and execution, that is, the design and planning of work from the doing of work.

How Work Transforms Workers

Under the current capitalist-imposed division of labour, the owner or his agent, usually the manager, has the right to group job-tasks into job-complexes and then assign them to hired workers. Under the system of division of labour best described as Taylorist, we see that the job-tasks that lead one to engage one's higher cognitive faculties are grouped into one class of job-complex typically assigned to managers, i.e. to brain workers. Manual workers, on the other hand, are typically assigned job-complexes composed of job-tasks that are mundane and repetitive, and that fail to consistently - if at all - engage workers' higher cognitive faculties. The main difference between these two distinct kinds of job-complexes is that the ones assigned to managers allow for some perhaps large measure of self-direction in one's work, while the job-complexes assigned to non-managerial labourers allows for very little if any self-direction in work. This method of constructing job-complexes within the firm is the source of the alienation that poses a problem for workers' democracy.

As it turns out, research done by Seeman, as well as other research done by Melvin Seeman; Carmi Schooler et al, supports the use of the conception of alienation as powerlessness and its link to the labour-process. A study of male workers in Malmo, Sweden, conducted by Seeman found that a feeling of powerlessness is indeed strongly correlated with low expectancies for control, that is, low expectation that one's own action will deliver the outcome sought.[12] Moreover, research on American workers done by Melvin Kohn & Carmi Schooleret al has shown that alienation is significantly correlated with a worker's opportunity for the exercise of self-direction at work. [13] The opportunity for what Kohn & Schooler et al call "occupational self-direction" (OSD), or the "use of initiative, thought, and independent judgment in work", is negatively correlated with worker's feelings of powerlessness or alienation. [14] According to the results of their research,

"all three of the conditions determinative of the degree of occupational self-direction are related to powerlessness, all of them, in the expected direction: close supervision, routinized work, and work with little substantive complexity are all related to feelings of powerlessness". [15]

We saw already that the opportunity for self-direction is largely, if not entirely, a product of the particular division of labour in the firm. As Kohn & Schooler et al understand it, opportunity for occupational self-direction is correlated with one's "social-stratification position" within the firm. We observe this correlation because the firm is organized hierarchically according to a division of labour that sharply separates conception and execution, that is, that radically unequally apportions the range of opportunities for the exercise of self-direction available to workers with different job-complexes. The results of their analysis make it extremely "plausible to think that the psychological impact of social-stratification position might result in good part from the close relationship between social stratification and occupational self-direction". [16] The social stratification system within the firm, i.e. the division of labour, is structured such that opportunities for occupational self-direction are consolidated in the hands of a minority of management or supervisory workers. The result is that the majority of workers, whose job-complexes do not afford room for much if any occupational self-direction, are alienated, or have experiences of powerlessness forced on them, precisely because they lack the opportunity to exercise self-direction.

Workers who have a wide range of occupational self-direction do substantively complex work, perform non-routine job-tasks, and are not subject to close supervision. The most important of the three elements of occupational self-direction, according to Kohn & Schooler et al, is the "substantive complexity" of the work.[17] Again, as we saw earlier the division of labour of the typical capitalist firm is such that for most employees the main trend is toward the reduction of the level of substantive complexity in their job-complexes. At the same time, the vast majority of substantively complex work, which of necessity cannot be closely supervised, nor is it very often routine, is reserved for those higher up in the firm's organizational hierarchy.

That this is so can be gleaned from the description on the kind of work that makes for substantive complexity according to Kohn & Schooler et al. As they put it, "occupational self-direction is probable when men spend some substantial amount of their working time doing complex work with data or with people".[18] Thus, as we just saw, social-stratification position correlates strongly with alienation because of the intervening influence of capitalist division of labour and its unequal distribution of working conditions as regards the substantive complexity of work, the closeness of supervision, and the degree of routinized job-tasks.[19]

The results generated by Kohn & Schooler et al's research very importantly demonstrate that there is a psychological impact on workers from their level of occupational self-direction. The job-complexes assigned to individual workers have an important impact on workers' individual psychological functioning through the variable degree of occupational self-direction or substantive complexity present in different job-complexes. [20] Kohn & Schooler et al point to "intellectual flexibility", or "ideational flexibility", as the main indicator in workers of their level of psychological functioning. This indicator, as the data bears out, is directly correlated with the substantive complexity of work, which is itself directly correlated with occupational self-direction, which is again negatively correlated with alienation. In their words, "Jobs that facilitate occupational self-direction increase men's ideational flexibility…jobs that limit occupational self-direction decrease men's ideational flexibility".[21] So we can see now very clearly that the structure of firm has important consequences for workers' personalities.

Because the division of labour in the typical capitalist firm is structured in a pyramidal fashion, such that the degree of substantive complexity in one's work increases as one ascends the power hierarchy, the firm's structure serves to reduce the intellectual flexibility of non-supervisory workers, who are still usually the majority in most firms, by restricting access to the most important dimension of occupational self-direction. [22] It is for precisely this reason that Kohn & Schooler et al notice a correlation between social stratification position and psychological functioning. One's position within the firm, that is one's job-complex, dictates how much self-direction one will be able to exercise, and thus the direction of change in one's intellectual flexibility. The research done by Kohn & Schooler et al thus shows clearly that there is a very real connection between workers' workplace conditions, i.e. their job-complexes, and their personality. They show further that that the kinds of workplace conditions that predominate in the modern economy subject workers to daily experiences of powerlessness through alienating job-complexes.

Alienation Influences Change in Workers' Values and Orientations

Kohn & Schooler et al's research shows that social stratification position is significantly correlated with workers' values and orientations. By "values" Kohn & Schooler mean exactly what is colloquially understood by that term. Values are things that are of importance to individuals. What are being considered are traits of character, and thus, "values" are understood as those traits of character that persons esteem for themselves, and hence for others as well. "Orientations", on the other hand, is a more non-standard term. Kohn & Schooler et al understand "orientations" as persons' "conception of the external world and of self…emphasizing that they serve to define men's stance toward reality". [23] Workers' values and orientations, just like their psychological functioning, are affected by their experiences in the workplace.

Kohn & Schooler et al begin by marking a distinction between what they call "self-direction" and "conformity". The former regards internal standards of behavior, while the latter regards external standards of behavior. The contrast turns on whether "one thinks for oneself", or whether one gives "obedience to the dictates of authority".[24] What they observed is that the value of each of these varied according to social-stratification position. The results of several studies showed that parental values for children varied along white- and blue-collar lines, that is, along lines based on access to occupational self-direction. White-collar workers place a high value on self-direction, while blue-collar workers place a high value on conformity. The results of their work go on to show that values are related to orientations.

Indeed, what was found was that those with higher social-stratification positions tend to have personality traits like tolerance of non-conformity and open-mindedness, while those with lower social-stratification positions tend to be more authoritarian, and less tolerant of non-conformity. [25] Consonant with our discussion of alienation, Kohn & Schooler et al note a correlation between self-conception and social-stratification position.[26] The higher one's social-stratification position the more one tends to see their actions as efficacious to their ends, that individual action is a useful and practicable way to achieve one's ends. Persons with lower social-stratification positions, on the other hand, tend to see adherence to external authority as the best course of action, they tend to see the achievement of ends as largely a product of external circumstance rather than individual initiative.

These results about orientations suggest a qualitative difference between the type of persons associated with higher and lower social-stratification positions. Kohn & Schooler et al's study measured four dimensions of social orientation, namely authoritarian conservatism, trustfulness, stance toward change, and standards of morality. They found that, "Social-stratification position is linearly related to all four aspects of social orientation".[27] Those with higher social-stratification positions tend to be more tolerant of non-conformity, more trustful, more open to change, and tend to see morality as about the spirit of the law. Those with lower stratification positions on the other hand tend to be more rigid with non-conformity, less trustful, more resistant to change, and to see morality as about the letter of the law.

So, we can see now, the higher one's social-stratification position, the more substantively complex is their work, and the more they exercise self-direction at work. As a result they have higher intellectual flexibility, are more likely to value self-direction for themselves and their children, and they are more likely to have personal traits like being open-minded and tolerant. Kohn & Schooler et al highlight the critical role played by job-complexes, substantive complexity of work, and hence the range of opportunity for occupational self-direction in this causal chain. They summarize this role as follows,

"men's positions in the larger socioeconomic structure affects their values, orientations, and cognitive functioning, in large part because of the close link between socioeconomic position and the opportunity to be self-directed in one's work".[28]

What makes these consequences for worker's personality especially problematic is that these workers will leave the workplace and take their workplace experiences with them. Workers carry the effects of workplace relations into every other social role they have, very importantly including the political realm. Indeed, "in industrial society, where occupation is central to men's lives, occupational experiences that facilitate or deter the exercise of self-direction come to permeate men's views, not only of work and their role in work, but also of the world and of self". [29] The direction of this transformative effect is very simple, "Occupational experiences that limit worker's opportunities for self-direction in their work are conducive to feelings of powerlessness".[30] We saw in the last section that the dominant trend in self-direction for most workers is downward, at the very least it is not increasing in most places. This implies directly that experiences of powerlessness are increasing, or at least not decreasing for the majority of workers.

Alienation, Control-Relevant Knowledge, Adaptive Preferences, & Political Withdrawal

Kohn & Schooler et al go on to show that in addition to effects on workers' values and orientations, labour-process organization also has an impact on workers' non-occupational preferences. This comes out clearly in their study of the intellectuality of workers' leisure time pursuits. After constructing a measure of the intellectuality of individuals' leisure time activities, Kohn & Schooler et al find that substantive complexity of work has a direct and statistically significant correlation with the intellectuality of leisure time activity. [31] This research shows plainly that work organization affects workers' personality by altering workers' non-occupational preferences. Feelings of powerlessness learned on the job thus spill over into workers' non-occupational lives. These feelings are manifested in this case are an adaptive preference for leisure time activities with low intellectual content.

According to the results generated by survey research done by Melvin Seeman, workers who experience high levels of alienation selectively avoid control-relevant knowledge. Control-relevant knowledge, as it is understood by Seeman, is that body of knowledge specific to each different form of organization, that if possessed by an individual member of the organization, would enable him or her to most effectively pursue his or her own unique goals within the organization's structure. In democratic polities this selective avoidance of control-relevant knowledge is manifested in highly alienated workers having low political knowledge, as well as in their selective withdrawal from political life.

In his Malmo study, Seeman confirmed internationally results obtained in America in two other studies where he argued that one's level of alienation in large part determines one's level of control-relevant learning.[32] Alienation, for Seeman, means a sense of powerlessness, and the main characteristic of this sense of powerlessness is the low expectancy for control. Those who are alienated are made to feel powerless because they are conditioned to expect to have little control over their external environment. We also saw this in Kohn & Schooler et al in their distinction between the value of self-direction and conformity. They argued that in order to value self-direction one must see their ability to act as an effective means to accomplish desired ends. If one does not think that one's own purposive action will be a practical means to realize one's ends, then one will very likely not place a high value on self-direction.

In his study of workers in Sweden, the results of Seeman's research showed that alienation as powerlessness was indeed significantly correlated with low expectancies for control in workers. These expectancies for control he finds are in turn directly correlated with individual's acquisition of control-relevant knowledge. For example, one study conducted in a reformatory identified control-relevant information for prisoners as the body of knowledge about the parole system. In another study, which Seeman and Evans conducted in a hospital, control-relevant information for tuberculosis patients was identified as the body of medical knowledge related to their health matters.[33]

In Seeman's Malmo study, control-relevant knowledge for workers was understood as political knowledge. Thus, a battery of questions, within the survey given to a random sample of Swedish workers, was designed to measure workers' knowledge of both political and non-political topics. According to Seeman's results, "those who are high in powerlessness are less interested in political activities", which confirms his more general theoretical claim that "those who are low in expectancy for control are not interested in and do not absorb control-relevant knowledge". [34] The Malmo workers who were in the high alienation group scored worse on the political knowledge test than on the cultural knowledge test. Importantly, scores on the cultural knowledge test were consistent across the high and low alienation groups. Thus, low political knowledge is correlated with high powerlessness, i.e. high alienation. Workers who experience high alienation evidence a selective aversion to control-relevant knowledge, i.e. political knowledge. This is because they have low expectancies for control in the democratic political arena.

This aversion is specifically political, because the results indicate no significant change in workers' level of interest in non-political issues, regardless of whether the workers are in the high or the low alienation group. As we have seen in the previous chapter, many workers have this low expectancy for control as a result of the organization of the labour-process imposed on workers by employers. These low levels of learning, conditioned by the structure of workplace relations in the capitalist firm, further degrades workers' political skills by creating an adaptive preference against intellectual leisure time activity as well as for specifically avoiding political issues.

In addition to the lower scores on the survey designed to gauge political knowledge, Seeman's research provided one further, highly suggestive piece of evidence that highly alienated workers selectively avoid politics. After dividing the sample into high and low alienation groups, the time taken to return the two separate surveys was used a proxy measure of avoidance behavior by the alienated. The expectation was that those high in alienation would either not return or take more time in returning the survey gauging political knowledge than returning the survey on cultural knowledge. This expectation was confirmed, even after researchers excluded all the surveys returned within the first five business days after the deadline. They did this so as to attempt to control for Swedes' cultural pressures toward cooperation with researchers' requests. As Seeman himself acknowledges, this evidence is hardly conclusive, though it is highly suggestive.[35]


The reason the effects on workers' psychological functioning and personality are so problematic for democracy is that they undercut two important buttresses of public deliberation. The transformations of workers' personalities and skills brought about by the structure of the labour-process in the typical capitalist firm undermines the mechanisms designed to develop in citizens more active forms of character. Firstly, the dominant mode of capitalist work organization tends toward de-skilling for the majority of workers. This decreases the quality of the deliberative mechanism in that participants are less able to articulate their own reasons for policies, and are less capable as critics. This is because these same persons are low in political knowledge.

Secondly, the alienating effects of capitalist work organization lead to a specifically political withdrawal by the alienated, that is, a selective avoidance of control-relevant knowledge. This leads to an increased likelihood of class-based legislation since those who are most affected by current policies decide not to participate in deliberation about these policies. This degrades the quality of the deliberative mechanism in that it makes it easier for those who do participate in deliberation to lose sight of the general welfare and pass laws designed to advance the interests of some one particular group in society.

Worker exit from political life as citizens degrades the quality of democracy by undermining the quality of the deliberation, the process of which is supposed to help us arrive at policies that promote the general welfare. Without vigorous opposition, the marketplace of ideas will not as nearly approximate the general welfare as it will the private interests of those who continue to participate in the deliberative process. Exit, because it undermines voice in this case, it also disarms the deliberative mechanism by diminishing the competitive rigor of the deliberative process. This highlights the important difference between political institutions and private institutions. Whether or not one chooses to participate in the democratic political process the outcomes of that process are legally binding on all citizens, oneself included.

Withdrawal from the political process also degrades the quality of deliberative democracy by disabling the transformative process of participation from becoming a virtuous cycle. If citizens choose not to participate in the political process then the transformative process of which participation is the key component cannot begin. It is only by participation that one's preferences and sentiments can be changed. If one could as easily opt out of work as out of politics, then work organization would be equally ineffective at changing individual's preferences and sentiments. Mill as we saw had high hopes for the transformative power of participation to improve workers in ways that would make them better more effective citizens. Yet if worker-citizens are being subjected to forces which shape their preferences in ways that disincline them to participate in the political process when not at work, then the virtuous cycle of participation and transformation never begins.


[1] Bowles & Gintis. ­Schooling in Capitalist America: Education Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life. 1977. Haymarket Books; 2011.

[2] Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice. 1971. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003: 229. (Emphasis Added)

[3] Weitzman, Martin L.. The Share Economy. Harvard University Press, 1984: 11-12.

[4] The most prominent place I have found this view seriously contested is in Armen Alchain and Harold Demsetz 1972 article, "Production, Information Costs, and Economic Organization". American Economic Review. Vol.62 (1972): 777-795. Also see, Jensen, Michael C. & William H. Meckling, "Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behavior, Agency Costs, and Ownership Structure", Journal of Financial Economics. Vol.3 (1976): 305-360.

[5] We owe this terminology, the "Labour Discipline Problem", to Samuel Bowels & Herbert Gintis' article, "A Political and Economic Case for the Democratic Enterprise". Economics and Philosophy. Vol.9 no.1 (1993):75-100.

[6] This Labour Discipline Problem can be considered a kind of Principal-Agent problem in that it is about how inefficiency can be created when the interests or incentives of two collaborating groups diverge. The Agent may have interests that do not align with those of the Principal, from whose perspective the Agent's rational but nonconforming behavior is "inefficient".

[7] This worry about the deadening effects of Taylorism features prominently in Braverman's Labour and Monopoly Capital. 1974. Following Braverman there has developed a large literature both quantitative and theoretical addressing the question of what effects Taylorism has on worker's skills and personality.

[8] The death, or obsolescence, of Taylorism has been proclaimed in the 1960s for example by Robert Blauner (1964). It was later declared surpassed by Piore and Sabel (1984) in the 1980s. It was once again overcome in the 1990s according to more than one commentator as Grugulis and Lloyd (2010) note.

[9] See Thompson, Paul. The Nature of Work 2nd Ed. Pelgrave MacMillan (1989):74.

[10] For thorough discussion of Taylorism and Scientific Management see Braverman (1974), & Edwards (1979).

[11] Thompson 1989, 75.

[12] Seeman, M. "Alienation, Membership, and Political Knowledge: A Comparative Study". The Public Opinion Quarterly. Vol.30 no.3 (1966): 361 & Seeman, M. "Powerlessness and Learning: A Comparative Study of Alienation and Learning". Sociometry. Vol.30 no.2 (1967): 118-121.

[13] Kohn, Melvin & Carmi Schooler et al. Work and Personality: An Inquiry into the Impact of Social Stratification. Ablex Publishing Corporation (1983): 82-97.

[14] Kohn 1983, 2.

[15] Kohn 1983, 90.

[16] Kohn 1983, 164.

[17] Kohn 1983, 64.

[18] Kohn 1983, 22.

[19] Although Kohn and Schooler's study encompassed only male workers I think it very plausible to think that the same results would obtain for women. So, when male pronouns appear in quotations from Kohn and Schooler it should be read to imply the same things for female workers.

[20] Kohn 1983, 118-122

[21] Kohn 1983,152.

[22] For a good description of the hierarchical structures of capitalist firms and their historical evolution see Richard Edwards Contested Terrain. (1976).

[23] Kohn 1983, 6.

[24] Kohn 1983, 10.

[25] Kohn 1983, 15.

[26] Kohn 1983, 20.

[27] Kohn 1983, 16.

[28] Kohn 1983, 189.

[29] Kohn 1983, 33.

[30] Kohn 1983, 96.

[31] Kohn 1983, 225.

[32] Seeman, Melvin. "Powerlessness and Knowledge: A Comparative Study of Alienation and Learning". Sociometry. Vol. 30 no.2 (1967)B: 105-123.

[33] Seeman, M. "Alienation and Social Learning in a Reformatory". American Journal of Sociology. Vol.69 (1963): 270-284 & Seeman, M. & John W. Evans. "Alienation and Learning in a Hospital Setting". American Sociological Review. Vol. 27 (1962): 772-782.

[34] Seeman, M. "Alienation, Membership, and Political Knowledge: A Comparative Study". The Public Opinion Quarterly. Vol.30 no.2 (1966): 361.

[35] Seeman 1967 B, 119.