16 Tons and bricks without straw: Christianity Today wants to bring back the company town

Christianity Today is required by law to provide every member of its staff access to booze and porn.

Most of us don’t think of it that way. We would just say that Christianity Today is required by law to pay its workers for the work that they do. The wages paid to their workers then belong to those workers, and since that money no longer belongs to Christianity Today, it has no say in how those wages are spent. The compensation has changed hands. It no longer belongs to the employer, but to the employees, and it’s up to them what to do with it.

But CT says this isn’t fair. It is, after all, a religious company with religious values, and it seems to them to be a violation of their religious values if the pay they pay their workers can be spent on things like alcohol and pornography. Labor law, they say, restricts their religious liberty to ensure that wages they pay are not later spent on anything that would contradict their core religious convictions.

This is their argument.

It’s an astonishing claim.

An armed guard patrols a mining company town in Alabama in the early 20th century, making sure no miners try to escape into the free economy to purchase contraception.

Accepting this claim would fundamentally redefine the concepts of wages and of free labor — so much so that we would no longer even have language to name or to describe the payments employers make to their employees. We could no longer call them “wages,” because wages are the workers’ due, belonging to the workers and no longer under the control of the bosses. Nor could we any longer refer to “compensation,” because that also describes payment in exchange for the product of workers’ labor, and if employers still control the use of that payment, then such an exchange has not actually occurred.

We can find one historical model for the “religious exception” that CT is advocating, an economic structure once widespread in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many aspects of this model are no longer legal, and it has been universally condemned as an immoral, unjust and exploitative system. But perhaps CT can succeed in rewriting American law to make this model legal once again. (It’s not likely they can also successfully rewrite morality to accommodate its use, but that does not seem to bother them.)

The model in question — the closest historical model for what CT is endorsing — is that of the company town and the company store or “truck system.”

Our history classes tend to skim quickly past the darker days of industrial American capitalism, but even if you didn’t learn about this system in school, you probably at least remember the sketch of it provided by Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic song “Sixteen Tons”:

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go;
I owe my soul to the company store …

At their very best, company towns exerted a kind of benevolent paternalism over workers — controlling and dictating how they were able to spend their wages in ways that the company considered those workers’ best interest. Those workers weren’t free, but they were, in theory, cared for.

The premise of this arrangement was that power could be concentrated in a single set of hands, with benevolence and good intentions being a sufficient safeguard against exploitation. Yeah. That never turns out well. Unsurprisingly, companies that possessed complete power over the economic lives of their workers exploited that power in just the unjust ways that Ford sang about.

In a company town, workers were isolated from the rest of the world and the rest of the economy. They had no option but to rent company housing from their employer, from whom they were also forced to purchase their daily bread, clothing, equipment for work and everything else. The company was the only seller from which they could buy anything — any service, product, utility or necessity. And because the company thus had an uncontested monopoly, it was able to set its prices as high as the market could bear — meaning it ensured that every penny of workers’ wages would be returned to the company.

Every penny and then some, actually, since company towns were also creative pioneers in the exploitative art of payday lending. Hence “another day older and deeper in debt.”

In many cases, the company would abandon any pretense that its workers still belonged to the larger economy of free labor. Instead of paying workers in government currency, they would issue company scrip — a kind of privatized currency that could only be spent with the company itself.  (Imagine Walmart paying its employees with Walmart gift cards instead of cash — gift cards that included an automated employee surcharge rather than an employee discount.)

The use of such company scrip dispelled any illusion that workers owned or controlled their wages. Those wages still belonged to the company, just as the workers themselves did.

This is the model that Christianity Today is endorsing.

Not for everyone everywhere, of course, but only as a “religious exception” for devoutly religious employers. They are not (yet) arguing that ExxonMobil be allowed to retain control over how its employees spend their wages, but CT demands that saintly (their image, not mine) corporations like Hobby Lobby be granted such control over wages and workers.

We should step back for a moment here to recognize the absurdity of CT’s attempt to make this a “religious” claim, because their argument is simply indefensible on Christian religious grounds. The religion in question here is evangelical Christianity  — Bible Christianity. And the Christian Bible is resoundingly, unambiguously opposed to the exploitation of workers. This is not a gray area. From Laban’s swindling of the swindler Jacob, to Pharaoh’s oppressive edict to make bricks without straw (the original company scrip system), throughout the law and the prophets and the parables of the Gospels, from the epistle of James to the beastly monopoly of John’s apocalypse, the Bible is — start-to-finish and all the way through — vehemently opposed to the exploitation of workers. CT’s argument is not religiously permissible, let alone religiously supported. Their Bible forbids their argument.

But as biblically and religiously indefensible as CT’s position is, I don’t want to get sidetracked into a sectarian religious argument. First because sectarian religious arguments cannot be legally compelling. And second because, as CT sadly demonstrates, such arguments appear to be so infinitely elastic as to be meaningless. If the Bible can be read to approve of the denial of wages, then the Bible can be read to approve of anything. Why bother citing scripture to those who think the Bible allows and endorses such exploitation? Once “religion” has been redefined to endorse such views, it can no longer offer much in the way of a common language for moral argument.

So let’s keep our focus instead on the simple, practical questions at the heart of this argument. Do wages belong to workers or do employers retain the right to control how those wages are spent?

If the latter — if employers retain such control over wages — then what does that mean for how we understand all of those things, employers and wages and workers? It seems to me we would have to redefine all of them, and to do so in a way that established that all of the power, all of the control, all of the rights and all of the liberty resided on one side of the transaction.

No, thank you. I do not wish to repeal a century’s worth of labor law — and the 13th Amendment — to permit such a “religious exception.”

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  • Michael Pullmann

    The analogy I always thought of for company scrip was Disney World paying cast members in Disney Dollars. Which you know they would do if they could get away with it.

  • I fear WalMart may be more than willing to advocate this idea as well, one more reason I don’t shop there if I can help it.

  • Tofu_Killer

    Ouch. It wasn’t Tennessee Ernie that wrote “Sixteen Tons”, it was Merle Travis. 


  • histrogeek

    Henry Ford made quite a point of corporate paternalism in Dearborn, with many of the same attitudes CT has. He created his community to assimilate immigrant  workers and improve their moral well-being (restricting alcohol sales for example). He didn’t use corporate script or restrict movement, but he did have his own not-especially-secret police force, which checked up on workers for both moral infractions as well as hunting union organizers. (Weird how he was such a fan of Hitler right?)
    CT (and many Republicans) seems to imagine we live in some feudal society where the patroni is responsible for controlling their peasants. Mind you, CT and the GOP would freak if they had to maintain the lifelong employment for their peasants. So they prefer a system that is amazingly even more exploitative of workers than feudalism. Given them credit, that’s pretty hard to manage without actually selling people.

  • “Against the exploitation of workers”. Sounds like socialism to me, and I therefore do not need to listen to you.

    ….I really, really, wish I lived in a world where that statement was considered absurd.

  • “Against the exploitation of workers”. Sounds like socialism to me, and I therefore do not need to listen to you.

    ….I really, really, wish I lived in a world where that statement was considered absurd.

  • Fade Manley

    My introduction to the concept of company stores was that song; my older brother sang it for a high school choir performance, and my father had to explain it to me. I filed it away as one of those horrifying things from the days of children losing hands in fabric mills.

    When I took a temporary job at GameStop one December, they wanted to pay me with a special company card that could be spent at a variety of stores, like Walmart, or redeemed for Real Money by a complicated process. Which horrified the ever-living fuck out of me; I had to opt out of that via special paperwork. And frankly, I’m still appalled. Way too many shades of company store in that approach.

  • Tofu_Killer

     The parallels actually go much further than the company town, although that is one shining example of corporate paternalism. It used to be perfectly acceptable for a company with High Moral Principles to monitor their employees for temperance and upstanding family values, under the rubric that fast city living and modern society were undermining community standards and prevented traditional social policing.
    It also helped that the ownership class was very white, male, and christian while the employees were darker, immigrant, mixed sex, and possibly Jewish or Catholic.

    Women who went to restaurants unescorted were fired out of hand. Men who drank in their homes lost their jobs. Failure to attend church weekly (whatever the denomination) were blackballed. And a hint of extramarital sex…you get the picture.

    It was so commonplace that no one commented on it, and now we live in such a different world that such a degree of employer pervasiveness in our personal lives seems impossible to MOST of us.

  • I’ve been rereading John Darwin’s After Tamerlane: A Global History of Empire Since 1405 lately.  It’s a massive and magnificent volume that attempts a survey of the entire world’s geopolitical and economic systems for the past 600 years.

    The passage I got to yesterday was about the primarily British world system from the 1880s through the dawn of WWI and it hit on economics and culture.  On the economic side there was a stated belief that free markets and free trade would solve all the world’s problems and be a benign fix that would give all the people of the world a place in the economic system.

    Then a section called “Culture Wars” contained this fascinating bit:

    The Europeans assumed that their sudden rise to such a dominant position among continents and cultures arose from their discovery of perpetual progress.  They alone had broken the cycle of growth and decay to which all other civilizations were subject.  They alone had discovered the secret to the wealth of nations.  They had achieved an unequalled technological mastery.  They had broken through the old barriers of superstition and myth to found their intellectual life on the rigorous collation of empirical knowledge.  It was widely assumed that they had reaped this reward by the careful observance of four cardinal rules.  The first was to encourage the free exchange of ideas and check the power of those (like priesthoods) who might try to restrain it.  The second was to secure the right to individual property (and thus the motive for improvement) against ordinary crime or the predation of despots.  The third was to construct a form of social order that would maintain moral, and especially sexual, discipline among those on whose labour material progress depended.  The right treatment of women in their ‘separate sphere’ became the acid test of a developed society.  The last was the promotion of physical vigour and courage, the ‘manly’ qualities to which Europeans abroad were inclined to attribute their military prowess and political dominance.

    I realized that the United States has pretty much been exactly duplicating the attitudes of Europe from a century before.  Darwin didn’t talk about it specifically in the bit I quoted, but but he very much does bring up European exploitation of non-European subjects and discusses European cultural arrogance at much length.

    The company store mentality espoused by Christianity Today fits in perfectly with that.  There’s a business class that thinks that free trade will solve everything specifically because free trade allows them to make money hand over fist and exploit their workers.  They then keep their workers in a company store and tell them what they are and are not allowed to do because it works to their own benefit.  It doesn’t matter that the rules are incoherent and/or at complete odds with what the rules were last week.  All they care about is having the rules so that they can maintain control and reap the rewards of “free trade.”

    It worries me more than a little bit.  I doubt we’ll end up having another World War 1, since the geopolitical reality of a unipolar, superpower based world is far different from the interconnected and relatively balanced diplomacy of Europe in the lead up to WWI.  I would not, however, be surprised to see something akin to a Communist Revolution starting as a backlash against the moneyed class and the church.

  • AnonaMiss

    I disagree.

    Employer-provided health insurance is already a form of scrip, not a wage. An employee can’t choose to spend their health insurance on a new car, for example. They can’t even choose to sell their coverage to someone else for cash, whereas with scrip or non-money compensation (e.g. stock options) they can theoretically do so if they can find a buyer. With health insurance, the company is already dictating what the employee can spend that part of their compensation on, so I have a hard time taking seriously the argument that slightly tightening the restriction is a moral tipping point.

    If it’s wrong for a company to exert any control over how employees spend their compensation, then the proper response isn’t to demand that they slightly relax their grip on our genitalia, it’s a complete rejection of employer-provided healthcare & retirement benefits in favor of purely-currency compensation.

    In my view, trying to get out of paying for birth control is wrong because it’s sex discrimination (refusing to cover treatment for the many female-only maladies that are treated with birth control pills, or demanding company access to women’s medical files before some treatments while men get to keep their medical records private); and because allowing ACA exemptions on religious grounds is effectively a tax subsidy which can be claimed only by members of religious groups recognized by the federal government as holding certain (anti-health care) beliefs, which violates the establishment clause and is a perverse incentive to boot.But if the ACA weren’t law, and absent discrimination between employees on the basis of race sex religion gender identity etc., I don’t see anything wrong with an employer setting restrictions on how employees’ healthcare benefit may be used, any more than I see anything morally wrong with an employer dictating that a certain amount of employees’ compensation must go towards their retirement (pension funds are the best example here, since 401ks can technically be tapped before retirement at a penalty). Again, it’s essential that the employee have at least a living wage in currency to avoid the company store situation; the part that the company can ethically put conditions on begins after that point. If Wal-Mart started giving out 1 gift card a month to employees on top of its currency compensation  – well since it’s Wal-Mart, it would still be wrong because Wal-Mart doesn’t pay a living wage. But if someplace like The Home Depot added a gift card on top 0f reasonable currency compensation, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that.

  • Guest

    The law now is that employers have to require contraception. I happen to support that, but it’s not really relevant. What is relevant is that I also support the fundamental right of every American (including the owners of Hobby Lobby) to not be an employer. I exercise that right every day, and I am not required to buy contraception for anyone (I’d be happy to, but again – not the point).

    You can have all the freedoms you want, but if you’re going to involve other people and their lives and livelihoods, it’s reasonable for society to ask you to do so responsibly. FWIW, I also support the right of the church (all churches) to not run businesses like hospitals.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Hell, my company’s code of conduct includes rather vague language about how we are the company’s representatives on and off the job and should comport ourselves accordingly. 

    Activities of which we should be especially wary include but are not limited to: political events*, volunteer work**, and fraternal organizations***. Obviously, lawbreaking, even (especially) civil disobedience, is right out.

    A woman I worked with was told flat out by our supervisor that her participation in roller derby called into question her professionalism, even though she never wore company paraphernalia to or presented herself as a representative of the company at derby events or shirked work for derby. She had made the simple mistake of talking about her hobby to colleagues and the supervisor decided that no, sir, she did not like it.

    Day-to-day, I do not personally experience any direct coercion or oppression, but I know that there is ample room for a tyrannical supervisor to root out/manufacture cause to fire me should they decide I’m worth the effort.

    *Even though many of the partners are openly involved with the GOP
    **Unless its with a preapproved organization, usually one on which board a partner serves
    ***The usual exceptions apply to organizations to which a member belongs

  • AnonaMiss

    Please forgive the giant last paragraph; it was 3 paragraphs before Disqus decided to hate me again.

  • MaryKaye

    When I was a young teen I had a job dogsitting for someone who worked on the oil projects on Alaska’s North Shore.  From his description, those were company towns–they did pay in dollars, not scrip, but you couldn’t spend the money except at the company store, and you were there for longish stints with a stiff penalty for leaving early.  I don’t doubt that they recouped quite a large percentage of the high wages they paid.  In particular I bet their prices for alcohol were extremely high.

    So this model will reappear wherever it’s possible for employers to isolate their employees.

  • EllieMurasaki

    If it’s wrong for a company to exert any control over how employees
    spend their compensation, then the proper response isn’t to demand that
    they slightly relax their grip on our genitalia, it’s a complete
    rejection of employer-provided healthcare & retirement benefits in
    favor of purely-currency compensation.

    I would be down with that. After universal health care (that covers contraception and abortion and whatever else employers don’t want their health insurance dollars paying for) is put in place, of course, as doing it the other way around would leave many people shit outta luck.

  • AnonaMiss

    Oh yeah, I’m definitely down with the idea that required pure currency compensation would be preferable to the way we do things now, complete with the collectivization of retirement & health care through self-government rather than through the whims of employers.

    My point was just that there’s plenty of things we’re OK with employers dictating about our compensation, so treating a slight tightening of what they allow as a huge moral tipping point, when the compensation is already narrowly earmarked for healthcare, isn’t appropriate.

  • Buck_Eschaton

    All CT gives their employees is blips on a computer screen, electronic IOUs.  I think they’re falling into the anti-Christian trap of believing that money has some kind of substance, or some kind of actual existence.

  • Barry_D

     “My point was just that there’s plenty of things we’re OK with employers
    dictating about our compensation, so treating a slight tightening of
    what they allow as a huge moral tipping point, when the compensation is already narrowly earmarked for healthcare, isn’t appropriate.”

    No, because (as has been pointed out), allowing employers to play games within categories at will opens up a can of sh*t-worms.

  • This is a very good demonstration of why religious liberty arguments against the ‘birth control mandate’ are hogwash, based on a worldview which sees most people as direlect fools who need their social betters to guide them by the hand in the name of freedom.   

  • AnonymousSam

    But here’s the thing: The company isn’t the one buying this scrip. In theory, it’s the workers spending a small part of their paycheck which the company bundles together to purchase insurance on their behalf. All the company has done is enable their employees to buy in bulk, as it were — you can always negotiate more efficient prices if you buy a lot of something all at once, rather than trying to buy in individual units.

    Think of it this way: Four teenagers each have a $5 and want to order a pizza which costs $20, but the pizza parlor requires you to pay with debit or credit if you’re ordering online. The teens pool their money together and give it to their parents, who will order the pizza on their behalf.

    Now imagine that the parents decide to insist that the teens, although buying this with their own money, are required to order a vegetarian pizza instead. Why? Because the parents are vegetarians. The teens aren’t and the parents claim they don’t care what the teens eat any other day of the week and don’t plan on eating any of this pizza themselves either, but in this context alone, they argue that they don’t want to be contributing to the slaughter of helpless animals. So veggie pizza or no dinner at all.

  • so much so that we would no longer even have language to name or to describe the payments employers make to their employees


    How does the right wing in this country get away with claiming they’re patriotic when they want to undo every good thing this country stands for? We abolished aristocracy: they want it back.

    There’s a difference between rewarding employees in company goods and encouraging them to buy said goods, and forbidding employees from using their pay for anything the company does not want them to buy. I got a “free” XBOX360 when I worked at Gamestop because our store did so well one holiday season. Employees get discounts at the stores they work at all the time, and that’s a sensible perk that helps both the employees and the store. But if Gamestop had instead told me I was not allowed to shop at Target for games, that would have been morally and legally wrong. If Gamestop had told me I weren’t allowed to spend my pay on birth control pills or sex toys or lingerie or erotica or whatever — well, they’d never do that, as while they’re a pretty crappy company to work for overall, they are not actually batshit insane.

  • Jessica_R

    Frankly I don’t think Christianity Today goes far enough, they need to start arguing that upon death CEO’s have the right to have workers buried alive with them to serve them in the afterlife. Otherwise I’m going to suspect they’re secretly socialist, like that filthy hippie who was always talking about sharing in those boring books in the Bible that don’t have any genocide or seven headed dragons in them.

  • MaryKaye

    I was having one of those frustrating non-conversations with a dentist (you know, when they put both hands in your mouth and then ask a complicated chatty question) and he happened to tell me that his mother wore increasingly tight clothing to conceal her pregnancy until month 8, because she was a flight attendant and would have been fired if her employers had realized she was pregnant.  She was married; apparently that didn’t matter.

    He couldn’t have been more than 40-45, so this is not the distant past.

    If people discover that they can get a say in your private life, some will try to do so, almost without  bounds.  I had to fight in a church committee once to keep us from passing a resolution that no member of the church group would use a hot tub.  All that was actually needed was “We don’t sponsor hot-tub events” (as the church had had issues with them in the past)  but one person was bound and determined to push the more general form.

  • Jessica_R

    That’s what really horrifies me, it’s 2013 and we’re living in the worst of the gilded age/feudalism. Because Ford and the Robber Barons of old could be utter bastards but they at least made token attempts to provide for their workers, and went on to build hospitals, universities, and infrastructure. And in feudalism there’s at least the pretense of Noblese Oblige where the Lord was expected to ensure his peasants had fields to plow and food to eat. 

    Now we’re in the age of “human resources”, walking meat that’s to be chewed up and spit out when it’s no longer useful. This isn’t Free Market Capitalism  it’s Plutocracy. More over it’s Mitt Romney style Plutocracy, sons who have inherited their father’s store and feel not a single molecule of responsibility for the public good. Romney honestly being surprised and disgusted that people felt they were entitled to food is the endgame of this kind of system. 

  • See also, if a married couple both can get insurance through work, they might get both types of coverage or only the one they judge the best deal.  

    Example: When I was laid off from my full time gig 2 years ago, we did COBRA.  When hubby got a temp gig, we could get similar coverage through his agency at a lower price to us than COBRA or my agency, so we switched.  I got converted to full time at an employer that offered better coverage at a lower price, so we switched again. 

  • Buck_Eschaton

    That’s why the Trillion Dollar coin scares the crap out of them. They think all the money is theirs. They think it all belongs to them. That money has substance. Money in the USA is created out of thin air. They want to own us. They want us to sacrifice our children for our corporate careers for the blips on computer screens they provide us. They want us to worship at the CEO’s feet believing that money comes from them. It doesn’t, money is created by the government and given to the CEOs by the government. We don’t have the CEO’s money, the CEO’s have our money that was created by “we the people”.

  • This is really thought-provoking. I’m going to post a link on my blog. :)

  • Wingedwyrm

    Bare in mind that companies that offer health-coverage as a part of a benefits package do so not as a seperate payment in addition to wages, but in the stead of a portion of wages.

    It goes like this, the employee opts into the health coverage and, therefore, a portion of the money that becomes the employee’s never reaches the employee’s hands, instead being diverted directly into a purchased health-coverage.

    The benefit of this to the employee is that, by merging with a bulk-buyer of health-coverage, they pay less than otherwise.  But, the healthcoverage is paid for with employee wages.

  • Isabel C.

    I remember a holiday discussion a few years ago where my dad was talking about a teacher of his, and “…she left that year, since she had a kid.” Not just took maternity leave: left. Because once you had a kid, you couldn’t be a teacher.
    I also remember being very confused by Cherry Ames books, and why she couldn’t marry her love interest *and* be a nurse, because…apparently even that was a thing, back then. Employing married women encouraged them to take attention away from their home, or something.

  • Donalbain

    It isn’t just religious groups. As long as healthcare in America is tied to employment, you will have the company town system. 

  • veejayem

    oxymoron: (noun) an epigrammatic effect, by which contradictory terms are used in conjunction, example: Christianity Today.

  • Andrea

    Um, no, that’s bullshit. I do not opt into my employer-offered health coverage (because I’m covered on my spouse’s coverage), but my actual cash compensation package is not increased as a result. It is NOT in the stead of a portion of wages; by not opting into their coverage I forfeit those benefits AND the money my employer would have used to pay for them. I don’t think this is uncommon; my experience at my previous employer was identical.

  • LL

    Just remember, it’s bad when government (esp. the hated federal government) does it, but it’s OK when corporations (and their religious lackeys) do  it. The former is evil, one world government-type stuff, the latter is job creators (AKA our betters) fulfilling their duty to the rest of us stupid, sinful, lazy, shiftless masses. It’s not wrong to tell people how to spend the money they earn, as long as the person doing the telling is Jesusy enough. 

  • arcseconds

     Well, it depends on what you think the USA stands for, of course.   There’s a book around somewhere (can’t remember what it’s called, can’t find it with 5 minutes of googling) that argues that the (I’m going to put it this way) USA has always been about plutocracy: the focus has always been on freedom rather than fairness, and freedom has generally been interpreted to mean freedom from Government control, but freedom to do whatever you will with your workers and your money and your property.  That pretty much amounts to freedom for the rich.

    Now, of course, there’s another side to this: there’s a long history of Americans fighting for a richer notion of freedom, which starts to look more like fairness.   And sometimes they’ve been successful.  But the former notion of freedom has prevailed to a large extent in the USA — to a greater extent than it has in comparable countries, who never really entirely bought into that notion of freedom in the first place.

    So the right can call themselves patriots because they’re supporting freedom of the first kind.   In as much as countries stand for anything, the USA has stood for that (a lot of people believe it, it’s very common discourse, historically that view has won out to a great extent, the law has generally been written and interpreted to support this notion, &c. &c.).  And they think it’s a good thing.  So they’re supporting a good thing the USA has traditionally stood for, in their eyes.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Thanks how it works for me too. While my employer pays a portion of my coworkers’ health insurance (and deducts the difference from their paychecks), I do not receive the portion my employer would have paid to the insurance company as a cash bonus.

  • LL

    Also, I’m shocked to learn that Tennessee Ernie Ford was a communist …

  • Magic_Cracker

    Well, he was born Kamchatka Vladimir Stalin.

  • P J Evans

     It shows up, or should, as a deduction on your pay stub. It may never reach your hands, but neither do the other deductions.

  • AnonaMiss

    Please don’t mistake me for someone who agrees with CT. I disagree with Fred’s reasoning, not his position. I think it’s absolutely unlawful and unethical discrimination to try to buy less benefits for your female employees, and I think it’s absolutely unlawful and unethical (though sadly not illegal) for the federal government to waive the penalty tax for some organizations because of religion.

    But to examine whether it’s wrong in principle, let’s pretend that the ACA never passed, and so there’s no tax implications; and let’s choose a procedure that hits all people equally, so there’s no discrimination. Strep throat, let’s say strep throat. Acme Corporation is against covering strep throat, and let’s further say it’s for some asinine and patently untrue reason, like they think only people who watch Disney get strep.

    Let’s say that Acme is willing to pay $20/hr to hire Wile E. Coyote. Because of the various group bonuses, tax benefits, etc., they can get health benefits for Mr. Coyote at half the price that he would have to pay to self-insure. So they make him an offer of $15/hr plus benefits equivalent to what he could buy for $10/hr, but which explicitly don’t cover strep throat. Let’s further say that Acme didn’t misrepresent the offer at all, and Wile is under no illusions that his job will cover treatment for strep. He’d prefer to have strep coverage, of course, but his individual rate would be terrible given how often he falls off cliffs.

    Obviously this is a much better situation than many people have in real life, but I think it points to where the actual problem is, which is that many companies will overrepresent the value of their benefits (e.g. paying Mr Coyote $15/hr, giving him $6/hr worth of benefits, and pocketing the $2/hr they save) – and/or pay less than a living wage to begin with. But the wage withholding is happening there, at the point where the employee is being stiffed on actual pay. Not at the point where strings are attached to the benefits.

  • LL

    So McCarthy was right, they really were everywhere. Even in the Grand Ole Opry.

  • histrogeek

     Like I mention, serfdom would in many ways be an improvement on what they are recommended. Serfs had guaranteed employment, Sundays and holidays off, and usually some arbitrary privileges (the medieval equivalent of getting an XBOX at Christmas, except you get one every year). The plutocrats would freak if they were required to keep workers on cradle to grave.

  • Buck_Eschaton

    They really do think that money is real. How quaint. They think that money is somehow like a piece of real property on which you could put one of those convenant things that disallow gambling or something into perpetuity.  Land exists, money only exists as blips on a computer screen, or as images in our collective heads. I mean seriously, they probably think there’s some finite amount of money, and that the Fed Gov works exactly like a household. I mean seriously it sheds a very negative light on their theological writings if they can be so clueless about the nature of money.
    Do they think they’ve created those dollar bills in your pockets, or the blips on the computer screens?

  • Magic_Cracker

    Didn’t you know that Dollywood is a reeducation camp?

  • Jenny Islander

    But you can also order things from catalogs (or online these days) and have them delivered to you at your North Slope address.  The company flies you from the nearest major airport to your work site for free.  The housing is free, housekeeping is free, Internet and cable are free, and IIRC the food is free.  It’s a tough job and turnover tends to be high, so the company wants to keep the workers happy.

    I think Wal-Mart is pretty close to the company town setup, with the added twist that they push a lot of the cost of keeping workers alive on to the government aid system, pay their employees  just barely enough money to buy a few things at the cheapest place left in town, which is Wal-Mart.

  • Jenny Islander

    *happy so as not to lose the cost of training them.

  • Wingedwyrm

    It was the situation every time I had health coverage through an employer.

  • AnonymousSam

    Given the risks involved in pregnancy and the danger of creating a precedent for allowing one’s morality to dictate what someone else can do which may very well put their life in danger, I would dispense with conscientiousness arguments entirely and simply put forward a hypothetical situation which won’t be hypothetical for much longer: Say we agree that Hobby Lobby has the right to prevent its employees from getting health insurance which also covers birth control. Fine.

    What do we do when Hobby Lobby then decides that it doesn’t approve of vaccinations, blood transfusions, HIV medication — or worse, any medicine that isn’t just plain “rub-it-with-a-magic-root-and-pray-to-IHVH” mysticism? What if they object to divorce, and threaten to fire anyone who doesn’t report being happily married at least once a week? What if they object to enabling same-sex marriage and threaten to fire anyone who doesn’t report feelings of overwhelming homophobia at least once a week?

    At some point, not only is it a gross violation of privacy for which they should have no justification whatsoever for making (bugger their conscience, truly), but they’re also endangering people with these beliefs. Where do we draw the line?

    (The gliberatarian/overprivileged response to this is “Just get a different job. You don’t have to work for Hobby Lobby.” Now if only it were so easy to choose which employers hire you! That’s not far removed from condemning those suckers who didn’t choose to be born to rich parents.)

    I’m not willing to pretend that pregnancy isn’t dangerous, both physiologically and because of the stigma against pregnant women (and women in general) — see: how often pregnant women get laid off, the ridiculously miserly maternity leave in the United States, etc. In addition, birth control medication also has uses outside of contraception which can lessen or prevent pain and other complications of the body. If Hobby Lobby has a moral objection to preventing pain, what stops them from having an objection to aspirin?

    So for me, the line is right here. Hobby Lobby has no right to endanger the lives of others or force them to live in worse conditions. The moment we cross that line, we start giving power to employers that they SHOULD NEVER HAVE.

  •  I don’t have any issue* if a business wants to offer non-comprehensive health coverage — if, instead of offering “health care” they offer “HEalth Kare(tm)” as one of the benefits they give their employees even though they’re not legally required to.

    What’s Just Not On is if they want to give their employees HEalth Kare(tm) and pretend that they’re giving them actual health care. If you want to give out something that isn’t health care, that’s just ducky, but you should have to pay the fine associated with not giving your employees health care, andyou should be required to disclose that you’re not offering “health care” but “HEalth Kare(tm)”. Otherwise, the thing you are doing is “claiming to give your employees health care when you are really giving them no such thing,” or as it is more briefly known, “committing fraud”.

    (* Well okay, I’d have an issue in that it’s a total dick move and I would not want to work for such a company. Unless they paid me a lot of money.  Like, enough to afford proper healthcare. But I would not consider it a legal issue.)

  • AnonaMiss

    Sam, you’re arguing against a straw me.

    You don’t need to convince me that the companies seeking this exemption are assholes. You don’t need to convince me that pregnancy is a dangerous condition that women should have the right to avert at any cost: I have a screaming panic phobia of childbirth, to the point that when I even hear that someone has recently had a baby I get queasy, even as I’m glad that they’re happy. You don’t need to convince me that hormonal birth control has uses other than contraception, because I have used it for menstrual regulation before, and will likely have to again; in fact, I explicitly acknowledged it earlier as a reason why trying to get out of covering birth control is sex discrimination.

    I have given two big reasons why I believe no company should be allowed to dodge the ACA tax penalty should they choose not to cover hormonal contraceptives, one of which was the aforementioned “It’s sex discrimination” and the other of which is that it’s effectively a tax subsidy for having certain, specific religious beliefs.

    I am not your enemy. I just point out problems for a living. And I wouldn’t let this particular argument for requiring hormonal birth control coverage hit production.

  • AnonymousSam

    Not intentionally, though I certainly apologize for reiterating old arguments you’ve already seen or expressed. My short-term memory is awful and I tend not to put much stock into Internet names, so with reliable frequency, I wind up treating people as if they were new to the argument every time I meet them or whether they’ve already been around the block a few times. While it might be insulting on various levels, at least it helps keep everyone on the same page as far as information and whatnot goes.

    But still, as a whole, I think it summarizes down to the neat argument that it’s dangerous to let any precedents be shaped which have the potential to cause harm to someone else.

    I might be more accepting of the script/gift card/pension argument if the wages really were reasonable, but if they were, then we wouldn’t be arguing about health insurance because it’d be something everybody could afford and having to buy birth control pills on the side would be a first world problem, like having to drive a whole extra block to get a macchiato from the only place in town that uses 2% milk instead of skim, and ugh the parking spaces near the front are always full.

    Then it might be forgivable, but I’d still have to disagree and say it’s wrong for an employer to dictate terms by which an employee can spend their wages under any circumstances, as it still creates the possibility of wage slavedom — a lot of farmers for produce companies get trapped in this cycle, forced to buy new equipment through their employers so often that they don’t actually make much money for themselves. The company gets to brag about how much it pays their local farmers while actually requiring that a huge part of their paycheck be returned to the company to pay off the farmer’s debt, which they had no choice in incurring.

    Given that this is the country where people used the 13th amendment to argue (successfully) that business shouldn’t be regulated by the government, creating any kind of exploitable precedent is just something I have to watch very closely.