Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Alvaro Vargas Llosa (Guest Blogger)
This repugnant practice strikes me as a confirmation of what Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek argued many years ago. In Bureaucracy , Mises explained that the prevailing statist system was helping turn private enterprises into bureaucratic organizations that replicate the modus operandi of government. For his part, Hayek argued in Law, Legislation, and Liberty that the tendency of private firms and associations to operate in the"organizational" mode-i.e. under top down arrangements geared to the pursuit of a deliberate goal-was debilitating the social foundation of the free society. More and more people are becoming used to operating under the rules of"organization" as opposed to the rules of the"spontaneous order", even though, paradoxically, these private companies or associations sell and buy in the market place.
From a classical liberal perspective, of course, as long as arrangements between employers and employees are voluntary bosses can do what they like with their companies and organizations, including snooping. Friends tell me, furthermore, it is perfectly legal for organizations and companies to spy on their employees.
But it is not the legal dimension of this that concerns me. What concerns me is what-borrowing the title of a marvellous essay by Albert J. Nock--I would call doing the right thing. As we know, the history of civilization is in many ways the history of learning to do the right thing regardless of, and often against, what the law said. Now, I am not arguing that the law should interfere. If we allow the government and the courts to prohibit and punish spying in the workplace, we will open the doors to all sorts of dangerous forms of interference with private arrangements. The point is not a legal one. It is an ethical one. A lot more harm than good is done by employers who snoop and spy on employees. The overall effect on society is to further weaken that most vulnerable and precious little creature, the sphere of the individual. Spying by invading a person´s personal communications in the workplace is a way to exercise too much power over that person. The fact that the employee might reluctantly accept those rules does not diminish the corrosive effect this practice has on the overall fabric of the open society by encouraging mistrust, the overreach of one of the parties to a voluntary transaction (in this case an employer-employee contract) much beyond the realm of what is necessary for the fulfilment of that transaction, and laying down precedents for other types of invasions of the individual sphere. Trust plays an important role in today´s society--the great majority of our transactions and exchanges are impersonal due to the complexity of modern life. Snooping and spying in the workplace is a great way to erode it.
Quite sickening, really.
Roderick T. Long
Happy (Celtic) New Year!
My talk"They Saw It Coming: The 19th-Century Libertarian Critique of Fascism," delivered at the Mises Institute Conference on Fascism, is now available in three different formats:
Prepare to embark on a multimedia antifascist experience!