A Reader’s Guide to Hobby Lobby

I haven’t had time to read much beyond the basics about today’s Hobby Lobby decision, but here are a few posts I’ve written over the years that should help put the Supreme Court’s decision in theoretical and historical perspective:

1. First, a general primer on neoliberalism, which makes the point—contra many on the left and the right—that at the heart of our contemporary capitalist economy are not individualistic choosers but men and women, in semi-“private” institutions, in thrall and subjugation to their superiors. It’s the Feudalism, Stupid!

2. Second, two posts on free-market types and birth control, how even the most libertarian-ish free-wheeler seeks to control women’s bodies: Love For Sale: Birth Control from Marx to Mises and Probing Tyler Cowen: When Libertarians Get Medieval on Your Vagina.

3. Last, a post that brings it all together—the private life of power; fear, American Style; and freedom, oh freedom—in one place: Birth Control McCarthyism.

In the coming days, I hope to have something more on the decision.


  1. IB June 30, 2014 at 2:49 pm | #

    Thank you for this. There is a strong tendency, even on the left, to represent the case as a conflict between important values: e.g. religious freedom and sexual freedom. But to me it looks more like a conflict between bosses and workers. Guess who wins?

  2. Aaron Gross July 1, 2014 at 2:37 am | #

    On the feudalism, stupid: seems to me “feudalism” is getting conflated with “bosses’ rights” here. If you wanted a cute analogy for the Hobby Lobby decision, couldn’t you compare it to a modern, post-feudal development: cuius regio, eius religio? That is, the king of Hobbylobbyland gets to decide the religion of his subjects’ health insurance? Not just his vassals’ – that is, his upper managers – but his subjects’, that is, all of his employees.

    And assuming that feudalism here refers to lords and vassals and stuff, and not to capitalism during feudal times, then don’t a lot of the bosses’ powers under neoliberalism seem anti-feudalist? For instance, the power to terminate an employment contract at their pleasure, or the power to dip their grubby fingers into the public fisc?

    Or to put it another way, the anti-capitalist reforms corresponding to those examples seem, if you want to give them an -ism, actually more feudalist than socialist or leftist: they leave the hierarchical structure in place, but they try to put legal restraints on the relation between boss and employee, making the contract less voluntary and more status. That seems “feudal” to me.

    Not to cheerlead for feudalism, but under manorial law in some places, the lord of the manor could be charged with an offense, and all residents except slaves (but including serfs) could vote on the jury; sometimes the jury ruled against the lord. And if “feudal” here means “during feudal times,” well, municipal law could protect serfs who left the estate in violation of manorial law, once they arrived in the city. I’m not saying it was a workers’ paradise or anything, only that “feudalism” also means the limitation, by law, of bosses’ rights.

    I’ve read a total of like one or two books on this subject, so I understand that I don’t know what I’m talking about here, and I’d appreciate corrections from anyone who actually knows this stuff.

  3. Tibor Knutsen July 1, 2014 at 9:44 am | #

    No ebook of TRM?

  4. T. Oppermann July 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm | #

    This issue would be inconceivable in a country with socialized medicine.

    That raises a couple of points, I think: (a) conservatives in Australia and the UK object to the dole and unions, quite openly to maintain the threat of the sack. That aspect of social policy is clearly seen as part of the maintenance of private power, the elevation of the role of employer to one of benefactor, etc… But the position that the employer should be responsible for the employee’s health care would be utterly extreme here. Actually, I think it would be borderline incomprehensible to most people, at least judging by the widespread inability amongst my friends to even understand the US health system, and confusion about this decision. Here, I think there is the peculiarity about US Labor history, in which unions made some very stupid choices, perhaps related to the establishment and maintenance of their own forms of criminalized/coopted circuits of private power.

    (b) I find the reaction that people have to this – ie. to freak out about religion – really interesting. It is as if they believed that it would literally be easier to deconvert millions of people than it would be to establish the sort of social medicine system that pretty much every other developed nation has. It’s hard to see how that is not a misdirection of effort.

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