The Nation: Gov't-Mandated Lunch Breaks are Somehow Libertarians' Fault

Liberals inadvertently criticize liberal workplace intervention


Rick Perlstein at The Nation has an odd, confounding story ostensibly about how a libertarian University of Chicago student's experiences with reality turned him into a liberal, the opposite of the conventional wisdom that the "real world" pushes people to the right as they grow older.

So apparently this young man, Alex Beinstein, described himself as a libertarian in college, but when they reconnected later, he had rechristened himself as a liberal. Here are a couple of paragraphs that show some real confusion, either on Perlstein's part or Beinstein's part (or more likely, both):

In my first post on this blog, I spoke of the right's "curious fallacy, a crushing intellectual failure. They'll act like only governments have the power to deprive citizens of freedom." Libertarian kids at the University of Chicago think so, too: "It was all about 'People have jobs, and that's that, and anything that gets in the way between employer and employee is unhealthy for the system.'"

What happened next? He got a job.

He sold books books at Borders in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It "did kind of a 180 on me. Just in terms of the rigidity of a corporate structure! You know: they tell you you have to take your lunch break at 1:00. But at 12:58 a customer starts speaking to you. And if you speak to them until 1:02 the bosses at Borders would start yelling at you to take your break at one, and then if you got an extra minute to 1:31 it throws off the whole schedule but if you volunteer to go two minutes early they fear they might be fined!"

Call it the irrationality of the market.

My own reaction was to furrow my brow and tilt my head to the side while I was reading, concluding with an actual out-loud giggle when I was done.

Which of these fellows doesn't realize that these restrictive lunch break policies are a direct result of government intervention over business policy? Did the word "fine" not tip anybody off? Who would be fining them?

Behold, Massachusetts' mandatory meal break law. These laws are a result of progressives getting directly between the relationship between the employer and employee. Perlstein should be praising this "corporate structure," not using it as some sort of misguided attack on libertarians. The government was protecting young Beinstein from potential abuse by his employer!

Their combined inability to grasp this relationship becomes more absurd a couple of paragraphs down when they lament the lack of paid sick leave.

Those paragraphs stuck with me because one of the many experiences that pushed me further and further toward libertarianism from the left was essentially the experience of being the boss of an office of Beinsteins and having to harangue them about lunch breaks. California has very strict meal break laws as well, and compliance could be a nightmare in a newsroom where folks are coming and going. I once had a situation where I had to formally reprimand an editor for repeated violations of these stupid regulations, and it was embarrassing for both of us. But it had to be documented because the state could come in and accuse us of refusing to let the employee take his government-mandated meal breaks and fine us.

There's more to Perlstein's criticism that's worth a read, if only to brush up on libertarian debate skills. Infrastructure issues are brought up (without any analysis of spending patterns or questioning of where the money that everyone says they want to go for infrastructure actually goes). Beinstein not incorrectly questions whether poor people in decrepit neighborhoods actually have much freedom, but has clearly done no research into the municipal regulatory system that makes it next to impossible for private citizens to fix their own problems anyway.

(Hat tip to Julian Sanchez via Twitter)