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.”

  • Lorehead

    Eh, they’re fully aware that money is created by the government by fiat.  There’s a wing of the party, Ron Paul’s, that has a problem with that, and wants money to be gold, but it’s still the minority even within the movement.

    The platinum coin is a problem for them, secondarily, because paying the bills by printing money really is a dangerous precedent that could lead to hyperinflation if we get used to it, but primarily because they want to make President Obama give in to their demands in exchange for another temporary extension to the debt limit, and that would be a way to get out of the negotiation without giving anything up.

    It goes without saying that no patriot would act the way the House Republicans are acting.

  • Lorehead

    I think one reason the Romney campaign never figured out how to respond to the Bain ads was that, to do so, they would have needed to understand what those were about.  Sure, Romney laid off a loyal, middle-class employee when he bought out the company, ending his career and thus forcing him to take a menial job and watch helplessly as his wife got sick and died because he couldn’t afford to save her.  But only some kind of mooching Socialist would think Mitt Romney had any kind of responsibility to him or his family.  Why did everyone seem to think he’d done anything to be ashamed of?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Damn shame about the whole Hobby Lobby thing.  Their beads are pretty cute.  Yo, Hobby Lobby, I’m an atheist who uses birth control (note: not “abortificants”) and I used to shop at your store.  No longer.

    As for the company towns, well…at least there’d be more booze and porn for the rest of us.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    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.

    Not true. My “employer-provided” health insurance is paid for entirely out of premiums taken out of my wages. If I had an alternate source of coverage, such as from a spouse’s employer, or Medicare if I were old enough, or the VA if I were a veteran, I could quite legally tell my employer to drop me and let me have the money – my take-home pay would increase and I could spend it on whatever I desired. About a third of the company’s American employees get their insurance elsewhere.

    Now, I certainly get a better deal than I would on the individual market (especially since I have a major chronic illness!) But the only cost to my employer is the administrative cost of choosing what plans to offer.

    This is pretty typical in modern corporate America (at least, every job I ever interviewed for indicated this was how health insurance benefits would be handled).

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    “Pretense” is too strong a word — there were certainly abusive lords and systematic shortcomings, but the robber barons and the fiefs all knew that if the peasants starved at a faster-than-acceptable rate for a longer-than-acceptable time, they were either going to face a labor shortage or fire’n'pitchforks.

    In this regard, the robber barons and fiefs demonstrated markedly superior foresight than today’s plutocrats.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Almost everyone misunderstands how inflation works, assuming that “inflation happens when you print more money”.  That’s not exactly true.

    Inflation is actually what happens when you have more money in circulation than it would take to buy all the goods and services in the economy.   If you don’t have enough money in circulation to buy all the goods and services in the economy, then printing more money doesn’t cause inflation.

    And the problem with have with the economy right now isn’t that we don’t have enough goods and services: it’s that no one is buying those goods and services because they don’t have enough money. The whole problem with the economy right now is that all the money got sucked up and is sitting under CEOs.

  • Buck Eschaton

    I’m not against fiat currency, it’s much better than going back to the gold standard.  As one of my favorite commenters on another blog says the gold standard is fascist.  Gold is no different from paper or blips on a computer screen.  I understand money to just be a lubricant for social relations, an agreement (an enforced agreement) between people, debtor/creditor relations. 

  • Kit

     And it’s not just the prices and discount that keep WalMart employees unable to justify shopping elsewhere. It’s transportation expenses. I lived with a WalMart employee and his partner for a couple years when we couldn’t afford a car, then couldn’t afford a reliable car, and almost all of our groceries came from his work. Who could pay for the luxury of bus tickets or gas to go somewhere more expensive? He certainly felt cut off from the economy! Of course, it’s still nothing like paying him with a gift certificate, or removing his freedom to purchase contraceptives. Hahaha, he bought a lot of prophylactics right there, as I recall. But hey, Hobby Lobby cares a lot less about that.

    And always remember: the government aid WalMart forces its employees onto in turn pays WalMart to keep doing it, jumping right back out of their pockets for basic necessities.

  • Lliira

    Regarding your strep throat metaphor: And let’s say we can all fly to Mars on the backs of pegasi.

    That is not the situation we are talking about. That is nothing like the situation we have now and has nothing to do with it. Strep throat is not sex-linked as far as I know. It has nothing to do with sex or misogyny or modern Christianity as it is (mal)practiced in the current United States or with anything else in Christianity Today’s ludicrous article. Try to divorce this argument from misogyny, and you ignore what’s actually going on and end up on, basically, a different planet.

    I do not understand what you are trying to argue anyway. That we need universal health care, not linked to employment? Yes. I think the vast majority of people here, and Fred, agree on that. What that has to do with the price of pills in Alabama, I have no idea. We have to deal with the world we actually live in at this moment and the problems we actually face at this moment.

  • Lliira

    LOTS of holidays off. We work more now than our serf ancestors did — well, men do. Women had to fix the feasts and clean up after them and look after the children and…

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Gold is no different from paper or blips on a computer screen.

     Not exactly. In the event that you find that your economy has generated new goods and services such that the total amount of money is no longer adequate to buy all of them, you can print more.

    With gold, you have to go locate some of the world’s finite gold supply and take it away from whoever has it already.

  • ohiolibrarian

     … AND work in the fields during harvest and take in laundry or work in the buttery or spin wool/flax or some other regular job in addition to taking care of their own family/home/garden.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Or declare that an ounce of gold can buy more goods-and-services today than an ounce of gold could buy yesterday.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The usual way that was done in the past was by devaluing gold, instead of having to go find more. Something like this was done in the Great Depression, when gold was repriced in stages from $36 an ounce to $42 an ounce.

  • Lorehead

    Well, by definition, the amount of money in circulation at any given moment is enough to buy all the goods and services that are for sale.  It’s a macroeconomic identity that the money supply, times the velocity at which it circulates, is equal to GDP.

    It really was a surprise to opponents of qualitative easing when it didn’t cause inflation, although Paul Krugman had predicted it based on his theory that we were in a liquidity trap and that money would all be hoarded.  Some people seem to think that it’s an explanation to say that inflation didn’t happen only because the velocity of money went down, but really, that’s just a different way to say exactly the same thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    It occurs to me, since your values do not match Hobby Lobby’s stated principles, you should be allowed to go in and take back all of the money you ever spent at their store. 

  • Chris

    Would you guys be opposed if the government required Hobby Lobby to provide AR-15 assault rifles, like they are requiring them to provide abortifacients? After all this would just be another form of payment for their hard earned labor under the author’s reasoning. Would you stand on the side of big corporations that tried to fight a gov’t mandate requiring employers of 50 or more full time employees to provide AR-15′s to their employees?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=667708632 Kenneth Raymond

    Oooh, oooh, look! A drive-by biology fail in its natural habitat: the comment section of a blog that has directly refuted its nonsense already! And combined with a logic fail, at that! Now if only I had a camera with me.

    Seriously, does anyone want to take a turn at engaging this one? I’ve got other things I want to do tonight. I’d recommend against it, if only to keep the next page or three from turning into nothing but a spiral of arguments joining the circular reasoning in chasing its own tail, on the off-chance this isn’t a drive-by.

  • EllieMurasaki

    (1) Nobody is requiring anybody to provide abortifacients.

    (2) Supposing they were being required to provide abortifacients, provided the abortifacients were being used only to terminate pregnancies that the pregnant person in question cannot or does not want to continue, that requirement would be a good thing.

    (3) Half of all zygotes die on their own anyway. If you’re actually opposed to letting zygotes die, you’d insist on mandatory contraceptive use for anyone not actively trying to conceive, because even if contraceptive use killed zygotes, there’d be many fewer dead zygotes per hundred sexually active contraceptive-using women per year than per hundred sexually active not-contraceptive-using women per year.

    (4) And/or you’d be working on figuring out how to save those zygotes from whatever genetic flaws they have that make them incapable of surviving.
    (5) And/or you’d be working on requiring everyone with a uterus to undergo regular checks to see whether they need to face criminal charges for killing their precious widdle zygotes. Because if you’re objecting to abortion on the grounds that it’s murder (which you must be since you’re bringing in assault rifles as a comparison, and which is the only halfway reasonable grounds on which to object to abortion anyway, as all other possible grounds you could be objecting on rely on you not trusting people-with-uteruses who have sex with people-with-penises, which is obviously not the case because that’d be not a good-faith argument and also appallingly sexist), then you must want the same penalty to apply to someone who kills a zygote as to someone who kills a toddler, and if you’re objecting to contraception on the grounds that it’s abortion which is murder, then ditto.

    (6) In any event, requiring employers to provide health insurance that covers reproductive health for people with uteruses does not mandate that employees make use of that coverage, and it does correct an imbalance in that nobody has ever argued that they shouldn’t have to provide health insurance that covers reproductive health for men. Or even that they shouldn’t have to provide health insurance that covers Viagra.

    (7) What purpose would it serve to give assault rifles to people? Who could avoid massive risks to life, physical health, emotional health, and financial health by having access to an assault rifle? How would it save taxpayer money to increase assault rifle access? How would it keep people out of poverty?

    (8) People who provide abortion are not actually the Newtown shooter. People who get abortions even less so. Because abortion is not actually murder.

  • reynard61

    Here’s what I posted in the CT article’s comments:

    “Hobby Lobby: The First Martyr Under Obamacare?”

    Sorry, no. Hobby Lobby is a *BUSINESS*. Hobby Lobby is a *CORPORATION*. (Notwithstanding the SCOTUS definition.) Until Hobby Lobby is somehow shot through with a quiver of arrows (to use CT’s imagery) or is somehow hung from an upside-down cross or somehow broken on a wheel, Hobby Lobby *cannot* make any legitimate claim to anything even *approaching* martyrdom. The owners of Hobby Lobby can stew in their delusions of righteous “persecution” all they want, but; unless they restructure and re-register as either a non-profit charity or an actual church (I’d *LOVE* to see ‘em try!); they are still answerable to U.S. corporate law — including the relevant portions of the ACA. (a.k.a “Obamacare”.) If their refusal to follow the law results, as Ms. Prior seems to think it would, in the “death” of the company; well, the Free Market seems to abhor a vacuum and no doubt some other corporation(s) with fewer qualms about obeying the law will step in and offer over-priced sweatshop-made craft materials and knicks-knacks. (And no-one worth their copy of “Atlas Shrugged” is going to argue with the Wisdom of The Free Market, are they?)

    So, no. Hobby Lobby is not a “martyr”. They don’t have my sympathy no matter how noisily they drag out their fainting couch and clutch their pearls and whine about how they’re being “persecuted”. Hobby Lobby is a business that must obey the law or face the consequences of not doing so. If they go bankrupt because of the fines that they have to pay, tough. They may think that they’re God’s Precious Little Snowflake, but; eventually; the Seasons change and snowflakes melt. If Hobby Lobby can’t take the legal heat, then it’ll melt too — as it deserves to.

  • JustMe

    I think I agree with some people that the company town analogy is a bad one.  Hobby Lobby’s not saying that their employees can’t buy health care that covers contraceptives with their wages.  Its saying that they don’t want to offer contraceptive coverage in the health care plan that they provide.  There’s nothing to stop the employee from buying their own contraceptive covering health care.    I’m not saying that they’re right to do so.  Only that it’s not really a good analogy.

  • Daughter

    Interesting, because I could see the NRA pressuring the gov’t to do something like that. I mean, they’re trying to pressure schools, which are a major publicly funded employer, to do that now.

    But you’re missing a key idea here: no employee, under the ACA mandate, actually has to obtain and/or use birth control. The equivalent would be an employer having, via gov’t mandate, to make a variety of types of safety equipment available to their employees to use outside of work (e.g., alarm systems, triple bolt locks, vouchers to buy a dog or take self-defense lessons), and one of those options happens to be a gun. The employee wouldn’t have to avail themselves of the gun, but it’s available if they want it.

    Now, I  coulen’t see this happening unless we were living in some sort of dystopian fictional future where roaming gangs of bandits rule the streets and the gov’t has decided that this is the best way to allow people to protect themselves. But I wouldn’t find it unconstitutional, because individuals are being given the choice how they want to protect themselves, not their employer.

    Perhaps a pacifist employer would object to having to provide guns, given that the other options, while providing some form of self-defense, are much less likely to result in the death of an assailant. But if a death occurs, it would still be the employee’s fault, the employee’s responsibility, not the employer’s.

    And btw? Birth control =/= abortifacients.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    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.

    I had a very similar job that I took after college, working at Game Crazy for fifteen months for minimum wage.  My only consolation when I worked there was “At least I’m not working at Game Stop.”

  • Turcano

     You don’t need a camera; that’s what the Print Screen button is for.

  • AnonaMiss

     Lliira, I am pointing out flaws in this particular argument that Fred presents in his post, not arguing that companies should be allowed to not provide hormonal birth control. I am fully aware of the misogynist implications of it being birth control specifically that so many companies are trying to not-cover, I think it’s shameful, and I’d already brought it up on this comment thread at the time of the strep post.

    But the post we are replying to didn’t say “CT is being misogynist” (“Dog bites man!”), it said “attaching strings to compensation is wage theft.” That’s the entire premise of the post. So I constructed a scenario in which strings attached was the only issue, in order to argue that attaching strings to compensation isn’t (inherently) wage theft.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’ve actually never had an employer that provided health insurance (still under 26 though so thank FSM for the young people extension), but there seems to be a sharp divide in the comment thread between people who have never had a job that will pay currency instead of a benefit, and people who have never had a job that wouldn’t.

  • Steve

    What
    a strange claim patheos is making. I’ve read the Christianity Today
    article and it’s the old argument about
    providing contraceptives on the company health scheme. Nothing to do
    with the company town. Looks to me like patheos is making anti-Christian
    propaganda. I think someone should look up the ninth commandment about not bearing false witness.

  • Beroli

    …Right, anti-Christian. Because Fred Clark isn’t a Christian. And, “…the old argument about providing contraceptives on the company health scheme [is] nothing to do with the company town” is an established fact, rather than a belief of yours that Fred Clark is making a case against in the post you appear to have only read enough of to say “what a strange claim.”

  • Beroli

     

    But the post we are replying to didn’t say “CT is being misogynist”
    (“Dog bites man!”), it said “attaching strings to compensation is wage
    theft.” That’s the entire premise of the post. So I constructed a
    scenario in which strings attached was the only issue, in order to argue that attaching strings to compensation isn’t (inherently) wage theft.

    I think for the example to fit perfectly, Acme would need to be claiming a religious exemption from providing for strep throat when the government ordered it to do so. At which point, Acme is in the wrong.

  • Beroli

     

    I think I agree with some people that the company town analogy is a bad
    one.  Hobby Lobby’s not saying that their employees can’t buy health
    care that covers contraceptives with their wages.  Its saying that they
    don’t want to offer contraceptive coverage in the health care plan that
    they provide.  There’s nothing to stop the employee from buying their
    own contraceptive covering health care.

    I have a baseless suspicious, which I cannot support in any way but am going to have the bad taste to air here anyway, that Hobby Lobby has exerted and will continue to exert whatever political influence it has to maintain the system whereby most people who have health insurance get it through their employer and single-payer is not available in the USA.

  • SisterCoyote

     This is actually the best metaphor for this whole mess that I’ve seen so far. Mind if I steal it?

  • AnonaMiss

    Oh totally. I meant to indicate (and thought I had indicated, must have lost it in editing) that the Acme example happened in a world in which the ACA hadn’t been passed. The idea was to completely isolate the “attaching strings to compensation” and see if it struck me as unjust by itself.

    There are plenty of reasons why employers trying to get out of paying for health insurance is wrong. Sex discrimination, separation of church and state, obvious attempts of fraud on the part of the employers (“Our CEO is a Christian, therefore we have the right to not have to pay our employees minimum wage!”).

    My only point was that attaching strings to compensation==wage theft, is not one of them.

    Fred’s argument: x -> y; x, therefore y

    My argument: x -/> y

    How the comment thread read my argument: (x -/> y) -> ~y

    The conclusion I was actually driving for: z -> y; z, therefore y; x is immaterial.

  • Beroli

     I don’t think Fred’s argument hinges on “attaching strings to compensation is inherently wrong,” though. Nor do I think his argument can be understood at all in the absence of the Affordable Care Act (at that point, you’re addressing a hypothetical argument Fred didn’t make, which would seem to amount to “the only thing an employer has a right to pay employees in is cash”). Hobby Lobby is claiming a religious exemption from following part of the law. In the USA before the Affordable Care Act, no one questioned a company’s legal right to put whatever wacky riders and exemptions they could get their employees to swallow in the health insurance it offered (if it offered any); so?

  • AnonaMiss

    Maybe I gravely misunderstand this post, but I don’t see any other way to read the following:

    …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.

    How is this not an argument against any kind of payment to workers that isn’t currency?

    I don’t think Fred actually believes this, I think he just hasn’t thought through the consequences of his argument.

  • Beroli

    How is this not an argument against any kind of payment to workers that isn’t currency?

    …Even in your example, the insurance Acme buys for Wile E. Coyote then belongs to Wile E. Coyote. If Acme buys a year-long insurance policy for Wile E. Coyote, and then the insurance company says, “We’re going to add strep coverage to our 261B insurance policy, no other changes!” Acme has no right to scream, “NO NO NO! Our employees must not be covered for strep!” That only makes sense of the insurance policy still belongs to Acme.

    This is a rather goofy analogy because it’s built on a rather goofy analogy. If you want to argue the case further, please come up with an analogy that doesn’t presume the nonexistence of the Affordable Care Act, because having to talk as though the law that is central to this whole issue doesn’t exist is frustrating.

  • AnonaMiss

    Edited to add: It also makes your argument self-refuting. “Acme could have done this before the passage of the specific law Hobby Lobby is resisting…of course, they couldn’t do it now!”

    My argument isn’t about whether or not it’s legal for Hobby Lobby to do this. I am arguing against a premise of Fred’s argument in this post. Just because I think his argument in this post doesn’t follow doesn’t mean that I disagree with his position on the ludicrous idea that corporations should receive tax breaks because their top management holds certain religious beliefs.
    My argument is that the HL/CT argument is wrong for completely different reasons than the ones Fred outlines in this post. The reasons it is wrong have to do with sex discrimination and the establishment clause on the legal front, and on the moral front, sex discrimination, lying to themselves and others, and intentionally ignoring the harm they cause to others. This blog post is not about any of that. Instead, Fred makes the claim that it is inherently wrong for a portion of employee compensation to come with strings attached.

    Bringing up company towns and making a big deal of employer-provided health insurance telling employees how they can and cannot spend their benefits is ridiculous. The very essence of employer-provided health insurance is the employer telling employees how they can and cannot spend a portion of their benefits. In some cases – though other posters on the thread have said that they can receive increased currency compensation if they opt out of health insurance, my family’s experience and the experience of others on the thread is the opposite – this portion of benefits must be used for insurance, or you don’t get it at all.

    In the case of matching 401k contributions, the whole point is that if you don’t spend part of your salary in the way the employer wants you to, you receive less for your work. Are matching 401k contribution plans immoral, then? Is not giving the full match limit in cash upfront withholding wages from the employee?

    If you feel a need to place me in a larger scheme of things of the Epic Battle between Progressives and Regressives, you can think of me as quality control: stopping the progressives from bringing up a shitty argument when it comes time to argue with the regressives.

  • Michele Cox

    Just a quick note — because I think people are talking about two different things as though they’re the same — most-but-not-all employer-based health insurance is paid for in part by the employer, and in part by the employee.  If the employee opts out of the insurance in question, they are not charged the portion of the cost of their health-care coverage that they would otherwise have been charged; however, they do not receive an increase in wages equivalent to the amount the employer would have covered.

  • AnonymousSam

    If you deem it apt enough, then by all means.

  • Lunch Meat

    I kind of see both sides of this argument–I don’t think that if Hobby Lobby received an exemption, that would be one step further on the road to company towns, but I can see how it’s paternalistic and controlling in the same way. Employers have a choice what benefits to purchase for their employees as far as it affects them–for instance, they want their employees to be productive and healthy, they want high morale, and they don’t want to spend too much. So if insurance covering birth control was a higher level than insurance not covering birth control, then I could see employers refusing to do it. For instance, I don’t think employers should have to offer insurance covering luxury procedures like elective plastic surgery, and I don’t think they should have to offer insurance covering designer frames for glasses. But it is different when there’s no cost or qualitative difference between the two.

    I think an apt analogy would be paying for a dinner out at a restaurant, but demanding that everyone eat the same dish (again, when adding choices doesn’t increase the cost). Or paying for a health club membership, but telling them what exercises they can and can’t do and what classes they can and can’t take. Or giving them a day off, but saying they can only use it to go to church. Telling employees what they can purchase in a certain category is paternalistic and controlling in a way that simply giving them access to that category is not. Not only that, but it benefits those that live the same lifestyle as the employer in a way that giving choices does not.

  • P J Evans

     Most employers know better than to put strings on their paychecks. When that money goes to the employee, it’s no longer the employer’s money, and they have no say about how it’s spent. This is how it normally works.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    you can think of me as quality control: stopping the progressives from bringing up a shitty argument

    Speaking as someone who is frequently frustrated by my allies making shitty arguments in favor of positions I endorse, I have nevertheless slowly come to the conclusion that my time is more productively (and less counterproductively) spent by making good arguments in favor of those positions rather than making good arguments opposing the shitty arguments in favor of those positions.

    That said, arguing with my allies over how well-constructed their arguments are is a lot safer, and sometimes more fun. It just doesn’t often seem to help anything, and sometimes seems to do harm.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Employers have a choice what benefits to purchase for their employees as far as it affects them–for instance, they want their employees to be productive and healthy, they want high morale, and they don’t want to spend too much. So if insurance covering birth control was a higher level than insurance not covering birth control, then I could see employers refusing to do it.

    But covering contraception is not more expensive than not covering contraception. Not to my knowledge, anyway, and also it shouldn’t be: abortions are more expensive than contraception, complications of abortions are more expensive than contraception and I’m pretty sure those have to be covered even when abortions themselves don’t (and the fact that abortions aren’t necessarily covered is a symptom of how fucked we are), prenatal care and childbirth and the various and sundry forms of postnatal care are much more expensive than contraception.

    And I can’t imagine that someone having regular maybe-baby sex and worried about pregnancy will have higher morale than someone having regular maybe-baby sex while on contraception and thus unconcerned about pregnancy.

  • AnonaMiss

    Whenever employers provide health insurance, the employers are determining how that part of their employees’ compensation may or may not be spent. They have choices of different plans which will leave different ‘blind spots’ in coverage. Even post-ACA this is the case, because not all procedures are mandated to have coverage.

    It’s true, after the purchase of insurance they have no say about what’s covered… until the insurance comes up for renewal.

    You can say that not covering birth control is sex discrimination, and I’ll agree with you. You can say that not covering birth control is a problem because it’s a necessary treatment for many serious health problems, and I and the woman from Luke 8:43-48 will agree with you.

    But if you say that the problem is the employer determining how you may or may not use your health insurance, that’s just silly – because as long as the employer purchases your health insurance and has multiple options to choose from, they are going to determine to some extent what your health insurance does and does not cover. As long as your employer provides any benefits, or any compensation that isn’t currency, they’re choosing how you may or may not use your compensation.

    Which is a slippery slope to serfdom and company scrip, apparently.

  • P J Evans

     My employer gave us a choice of insurance companies, and not choosing is also a choice. They don’t hassle people about which one, if any, is chosen. They do make sure you know how much it will cost. If anything is being denied, it’s by the insurance companies, which is a-whole-nother problem.

    I don’t understand why you seem to have problems understanding that the typical employer DOESN’T control what you do with you paycheck, and that compensation is compensation, no matter what form it takes.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    Would you guys be opposed if the government required Hobby Lobby to
    provide AR-15 assault rifles, like they are requiring them to provide
    abortifacients? After all this would just be another form of payment for
    their hard earned labor under the author’s reasoning. Would you stand
    on the side of big corporations that tried to fight a gov’t mandate
    requiring employers of 50 or more full time employees to provide AR-15′s
    to their employees?

    Well, I am fairly sure that guns have been scientifically proven to actually kill people, while emergency contraceptives have been scientifically proven to not be abortifacients under any conditions.

    So there’s that.

    (Seriously, contraceptives are not abortifacients. If your argument involves claiming thatthey are, you automatically lose for being a fucking liar.  Use an argument that does not require something which is flat-out demonstrably false as one of its base assumptions.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Incidentally, one thing that y’all should be aware of is an aspect of right-wing sophistry among economists who were trying to handwave away wage stagnation since 1973:

    They examined so-called “total compensation”: wages plus benefits.

    What they claimed was that inflation-adjusted total compensation kept going up after 1973, so the fact that people were taking home less actual physical dollars in their wallet wasn’t a problem, because access to health insurance, pensions and 401(k) matching retirement funds substituted for the lack of dollars, since it was money they would have gotten anyway.

    In theory.

    In practice, even this wasn’t really true because of:

    1. The aforementioned lack of total freedom of choice regarding employer-provided health insurance coverage through group policy plans. So while you might have health insurance, the question of how much value you actually got for the money you didn’t get paid depended on choices that were not based on your preferred economic reality.

    2. The decline, overall, of the percentage of workers who even would get a pension after they retired, as well as the highly variable circumstances of workers getting company matched 401(k) payments (see, for example, every dotcom that went belly up after 1999).

    The “total compensation” handwave has kind of died away as now, economists who want to back up the Republican standpoint are basically abandoning any kind of rationalization except “Uh, we think rich people need to be coddled and soothed into putting more money into companies they run.”

    But JSYK folks.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If you feel a need to place me in a larger scheme of things of the Epic Battle between Progressives and Regressives, you can think of me as quality control: stopping the progressives from bringing up a shitty argument when it comes time to argue with the regressives.

    That’s not a popular role. FWIW, I thought you made an interesting point.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Would you guys be opposed if the government required Hobby Lobby to provide AR-15 assault rifles, like they are requiring them to provide abortifacients? After all this would just be another form of payment for their hard earned labor under the author’s reasoning. Would you stand on the side of big corporations that tried to fight a gov’t mandate requiring employers of 50 or more full time employees to provide AR-15′s to their employees?

    Yes, I’d oppose it… because that’s a stupid idea.  If for some reason it was prudent to require every corporation to provide assault rifles, then I’d support it.  (It’d make more sense to just *give the people their rifles*, but there you go…)

    I think I agree with some people that the company town analogy is a bad one.  Hobby Lobby’s not saying that their employees can’t buy health care that covers contraceptives with their wages.  Its saying that they don’t want to offer contraceptive coverage in the health care plan that they provide.  There’s nothing to stop the employee from buying their own contraceptive covering health care.    I’m not saying that they’re right to do so.  Only that it’s not really a good analogy.

    Yes, but the health insurance they offer is *paid for with money withheld from the worker’s wages*.  They’re aribtrarily restricting what services the employee can get with that money.

  • AnonaMiss

     

    I don’t understand why you seem to have problems understanding that the
    typical employer DOESN’T control what you do with you paycheck, and that
    compensation is compensation, no matter what form it takes.

    I think the disconnect is in the word “typical”. If your employer provides multiple insurance company possibilities that’s great for you, but if you want to claim that’s typical, that’s a whole nother kettle of fish. I’m willing to accept that I may be wrong about what’s typical wrt them giving you your share of the insurance in currency if you opt out – though clearly it’s a custom, not a law, since we’ve had multiple attestations in this very thread that opting out of company insurance doesn’t mean you get currency back from it.

    However, I think it’s a stretch for you to claim that it’s typical for an employer to offer multiple insurance companies to choose from, because since the whole point of employer-based insurance is that they benefit from bulk rates, your employer is either so large that they can get the best rates without needing to consolidate all its employees under one plan, or they are intentionally shouldering additional cost and/or providing less value per compensation-dollar spent because they believe in the principle of giving their employees a choice.

    Which is all well and good, but there is no way it’s typical.

  • The_L1985

    1.  I can think of no good reason for anybody to use assault rifles as a form of currency.  Not only are they worthless without ammunition, but they literally have no use whatsoever beyond “kill lots of people, very quickly.”  At least knives have actually practical, non-killing-people uses; are more easily concealed; and can’t be used to create havoc on nearly as large a scale (which is why they have actually been used as currency in many cultures before coins were invented).

    2.  Hobby Lobby is not being forced to buy all its female employees birth control pills or Plan B.  It is forced to buy its female employees INSURANCE.  The insurance policy in question happens to cover birth control pills and Plan B as two of literally THOUSANDS of medications* and surgical treatments, but Hobby Lobby itself is not in any way directly involved in whether the insurance policy covers birth control pills, any more than it can make the insurance policy stop covering insulin injections, Viagra, anti-depressants, or colonoscopies.

    Hobby Lobby is basically suing over the fact that it has to provide insurance, because–surprise!–they’re not allowed to tell insurance companies what to do.  Nor should they be.  If you think it makes sense for a Christian-owned company to tell insurance companies what to do, then clearly you believe that a company owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses can forbid all its employees from receiving any blood transfusions if they’re in a car accident, because that is literally the exact same argument that Hobby Lobby is trying to make.

    One would think that a Christian woman who is against artificial birth control and doesn’t wish to go against her conscience would simply not use artificial birth control, but apparently that’s too easy or something.

    3.  During a woman’s fertile period, her egg is in the Fallopian tubes, slowly traveling downward.  Meanwhile, after sex, a man’s sperm is in the vaginal canal, working its way up.  It takes several days, sometimes as long as a week, for the sperm to make it up there.  (Remember, they’re microscopic.  Watch an ant crawling around, and bear in mind we’re talking about something 1000x smaller, with what amounts to having 5 fewer legs.)

    Plan B works by killing the sperm before they can get to the egg.  Conception == fertilization of the egg.  They are the same thing, and occur at the same moment in time.  If the sperm don’t reach the egg, you don’t get a baby.  This is also the primary reason why abstinence works.  If nothing is conceived, then there is nothing to abort, by definition.  Therefore, Plan B is not an abortifacient.

    Birth control pills work by preventing new eggs from being released at all.  Without an egg to fertilize, sperm pretty much have nothing to do inside a woman’s body, and once they get there, they essentially wander around, lost, and eventually die.  “But how do you know you aren’t ovulating during the first month?”  Because when a woman is first prescribed birth control pills, she is told to start taking them on the first day of her menstrual period, when an unfertilized egg is being flushed out of the body.  If she continues taking one pill every single day, as directed, she can’t produce any eggs.  No egg == no conception == nothing to abort, by definition.  Therefore, birth control pills aren’t abortifacients either.

    The only emergency contraceptive I know of that also is used as an abortifacient is RU-486.  This is not the same pill as Plan B, but is a different substance.  It is sold in the U.S. under the trade name Mifeprex, and is only available directly from the physician (i.e., you can’t get it at the pharmacy at all).  It’s also used to treat endometriosis, some severe forms of depression, several cancers, and glaucoma.

    4. Barcode scanners have been in common use since the 1970′s, everywhere except Hobby Lobby.  Hobby Lobby refuses to use them, and the only reason I’ve ever heard that makes any sense at all is that the company associates UPCs with the Mark of the Beast.  I don’t believe that any company that associates 40-year-old tech with the End of Days (which still has not happened yet) has any business setting industry standards on what insurance companies are and are not allowed to cover, because that is literally an insane idea.  You’d think after a full generation has passed and barcodes haven’t caused plagues and Wormwood, they’d have gotten with the 20th century on this.

    * Did you know that some of the women who take birth control pills aren’t even sexually active at all?  That’s because despite the name, birth control pills, like most medications, have more than one possible use.  Look up endometriosis and how it’s treated.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X