Book Review: Rethinking Autocracy at Work

33 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2018 Last revised: 19 Feb 2018

Date Written: February 10, 2018


This essay reviews Elizabeth Anderson’s book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It), based on her 2015 Tanner Lectures. It explores Anderson’s overarching theme of employer domination from several perspectives: the rise and decline and animating logic of union organizing and collective bargaining as a response to employer domination; the proliferation and limits of employment laws and doctrines that aim to restrain employer domination; and the theory – both economic and philosophical – behind the gospel of employment at will that provides the legal underpinnings of employer domination. The essay concludes by reflecting on the implications of “fissured work” – firms’ outsourcing of work to supplier firms and individual “independent contractors,” including through software platforms – for the problem of employer domination. That trend is undermining the value and centrality of workplace-based rights and voice – long the focus of workers’ advocates and organizations, and generations of labor law scholars, as well as Anderson – while underscoring the problems of economic inequality and insecurity and the need for sectoral and societal solutions.

Suggested Citation

Estlund, Cynthia L., Book Review: Rethinking Autocracy at Work (February 10, 2018). 131 Harvard Law Review 795 (2018), NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-08, Available at SSRN:

Cynthia L. Estlund (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

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United States
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