Category Archives: justice

Book recommendations about democracy & the workplace

Elizabeth Anderson’s new book, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk about It), was even more of an eye-opener for me than her last one (The Imperative of Integration). In her latest book, Anderson defends answers two main questions: (a) “why do we talk as if workers are free at work, and that the only threats to individual liberty come from the state? (xx)” and (b) how could we talk differently about the ways that employers constrain workers, potentially helping restructure workplaces to better serve the interests of workers?

In answering those questions, Anderson critiques the ideology that undergirds the dictatorial control that many employers exert over their employees, both on and off the job. In doing so, she carefully analyzes the historical context in which that ideology arose and explains why that ideology (which appeared to be rational prior to the Industrial Revolution) cannot be defended in the world as we now know it.  The book also includes critical comments from two historians, a philosopher, and an economist, as well as Anderson’s responses to them, which I found very useful.

While reading it, I couldn’t help but think back on Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, another excellent book about how workers could have more say in their working conditions, and the many benefits that could be gained from structuring workplaces as democracies. I particularly appreciated the clarity with which Wolff explains distinctions between various kinds of capitalisms and socialisms, which are easy to mix up (and often are mixed up).

While you are at it, or if you want something on the lighter side that engages with similar ideas, why not try The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki?

Book recommendation: Minimizing Marriage

Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law, by Elizabeth Brake, is a thoughtful, respectful investigation of the moral and legal status of marriage as it actually exists and as it could exist in a more ideal society.

Brake argues forcefully that current marriage practices privilege amatonormative relationships (those between monogamous sexual pairs) in ways that unjustly discriminate against other caring relationships (like friendships and relationships between people who live together without sexual/romantic intimacy) and thus that we ought to extend marriage rights to a wider range of voluntary relationships between consenting, caring adults.

I couldn’t agree more. I wish I had written this book, but thankfully Brake already has, and has done so more skillfully than I ever could. Now I just hope that more and more people read it.

Women’s March on Washington

I’m thrilled to say that on January 21st, I’ll be joining what will likely be hundreds of thousands of others for the Women’s March on Washington. There is something amazing about the experience of publicly and collectively expressing what you value most deeply; I always look forward to opportunities to do that.

But on this occasion, I’m especially thankful that I’ll be meeting up with personal friends of mine who will be coming from various places across the country. While we are different in terms of gender, race, age, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, political commitments, professions, and in all sorts of other ways, we all share a commitment to transforming our communities into ones in which the rights, dignity, and safety of all are protected and respected.

I hope you’ll join us in spirit, if not physically at one of the sister marches nearest you.

Elections: Not Just For Presidents

As someone who has moved around quite a bit in the last few years, it can be hard to keep up with local and statewide elections, which don’t always get the kind of media attention that national elections do. That is one reason why I love Vote Smart!

As they say on their website, “Vote Smart’s mission is to provide freefactualunbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” My favorite tool on their website is Vote Easy, which asks you a few questions about your values and priorities and then lets you know which candidates in your area are the closest match to you. Because even if you already know who you want to vote for in the presidential election (I sure do), you may not know who is the best fit with your views on a statewide level, and those elections matter just as much.

Vote Smart is a truly nonpartisan organization that doesn’t accept money from any organization that supports or opposes any candidate or issue. 90% of the people who work for Vote Smart are volunteers committed to helping the rest of us access candidates’ voting records, interest group ratings, public statements, campaign finances and more information that helps exercise our right to vote in an informed way. Thanks for the good work you do, Vote Smart!

Summer reading

The transition from summer to fall is a really pleasant time of year for me – I’m back in the swing of my schedule at school, the weather is mellowing out, and I get a break from living out of a suitcase (not to complain about my travels to Chicago, Greece, Portland, and Boulder, which were all lovely). The thing I miss most about summer is all the time I get to spend reading; it was even more packed with good books than usual this year: Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Mycophilia, The Pale King, My Year of Meats, The People of the Book, Negroland: A Memoir, The Bone Clocks, and The Better Angels of Our Nature, just to name a few from my list that would be worth checking out.

But one book that deserves special mention is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, which was easily one of the best books I’ve read in years. Desmond sheds a penetrating light on the massive increases in American residential evictions during the past few decades, and, crucially, on the devastating, long-lasting impact evictions have on people across a broad spectrum of demographic differences. After embedding with families on both sides of the renter / landlord divide over a period of years, Desmond vividly recounts their personal narratives, carefully analyzes and clearly present massive amounts of relevant data, and even makes some recommendations for policy changes that seem our best bets for addressing the housing crisis we must all face together. I’m not alone in being blown out of the water by this book, and I can’t overstate how strongly I recommend it to, well, everyone.

Northwestern University Society for the Theory of Ethics and Politics (NUSTEP)

I want to express my appreciation to the organizers of NUSTEP for inviting me to serve as commentator at this year’s conference; I had a really good time. The highlight for me was Nomy Arpaly’s talk about “good old-fashioned benevolence,” which was an excellent model of how to make precise and rigorous argument using well-crafted examples but without using any jargon, while expressing a great sense of humor, all at the same time!

Of course, some nice walks along Lake Michigan and good local food were also very welcome. Regarding food in Evanston, Found Kitchen deserves a special mention – the many dishes I tried were all delicious, the space had a great atmosphere, and the people involved enact a worthy social mission of hiring and training people coming out of homelessness.

Vote Smart

Being able to vote is something I see as an amazing opportunity and a serious responsibility. But when you’ve moved around a fair bit in the last few years, as I have, that makes it harder to stay informed about state and local politics, since you kind of have to start over every time you move.

Thank goodness for Project Vote Smart! Their mission “is to provide freefactualunbiased information on candidates and elected officials to ALL Americans.” I’ve come to rely on their easy-to-use tools and the huge amount of non-partisan information they provide to insure that I vote for the candidates that best reflect my values.

So during this election season, I encourage everyone to spend some time on their website (and maybe to make a donation to support their work, if you can)!

Recommended: Online Poverty Simulation

A while back, I wrote about attending a poverty simulation on Ball State Campus that was organized by Teamwork for Quality Living. As I said then, it was a really worthwhile experience!

I just went through a similar poverty simulation online that is worth mentioning to those of you who don’t have access to one in person. It is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure website that you can click through to see what it is like to try to live for a month in poverty, and along the way it gives you lots of information about poverty in America and the choices faced by people living in poverty. (It is also very attractive in terms of design.)

If you don’t have first-hand experience with poverty (or maybe even if you do), I encourage you to check out the simulation at

Poverty Simulation

A couple of days ago, I participated in a Poverty Simulation on the Ball State Campus that was hosted by TEAMwork for Quality Living. What an amazing experience! I cannot recommend it highly enough.

When you arrive at the poverty simulation, you’ll be assigned a new identity for about the next 2 hours, and you’ll work together with the members of your family to try to meet all the challenges that come your way throughout the (simulated) month. All the families have to figure out how to arrange for transportation, buy food, and pay bills; depending on your specifics, you may have to deal with issues at work, health problems, legal trouble, and people in the community who *ahem* are not very kind.

No matter what your situation is in real life, I think this is an excellent way to learn about what other people go through, and to foster empathy for a wide range of folks. The post-simulation reflective discussion can be a real eye-opener!

Poverty simulations are offered regularly (TQL has done 80+ over the years), so check out their website to sign up for the next one!

Eliminating Poverty in Muncie

On Thursday, I went to my first meeting of Teamwork for Quality Living, a group of folks in Muncie who have been working together to empower people in poverty toward self-sufficiency since the late 1990s. Teamwork uses a collaborative model to bring about positive changes in the community, and the Circles Campaign has been shown to be quite effective by various empirical studies.

I met a wonderful, demographically diverse group of people, learned a lot about the Muncie community, and shared a tasty dinner with the group! Now I am looking forward to next week’s meeting and the upcoming poverty simulation that I’m going to participate in. My challenge, moving forward, is to start figuring out the best ways for me to contribute to Teamwork’s mission.