Efficiency and Domination in the Socialist Republic: A Reply to O’Shea

DOI10.1177/0090591720903392
Date01 October 2020
Published date01 October 2020
AuthorHarrison Frye
Subject MatterCritical Exchange
/tmp/tmp-17559onNSOkc4o/input 903392PTXXXX10.1177/0090591720903392Political TheoryFrye
research-article2020
Critical Exchange
Political Theory
2020, Vol. 48(5) 573 –580
Efficiency and
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
Domination in the
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591720903392
DOI: 10.1177/0090591720903392
journals.sagepub.com/home/ptx
Socialist Republic:
A Reply to O’Shea
Harrison Frye1
Abstract
In a recent essay in this journal, Tom O’Shea defends socialist republicanism,
marrying the value of freedom as nondomination to public ownership of
the means of production. In this reply, I argue that the efficiency costs that
often attach to public ownership may undercut the ability of the socialist
republic to combat domination by public agents. I provide two reasons in
support of this claim. First, the economic gains provided by efficiency can
insulate individuals from the discretionary power of other agents. Put briefly,
the more wealth you have, the less the discretionary power threatens your
basic interests. Second, the efficiency costs of public ownership also make it
more difficult to hold accountable the managers of economic organizations.
This shortcoming of O’Shea’s argument reveals a point hitherto neglected in
the republican literature—caring about nondomination implies caring about
efficiency.
Keywords
domination, freedom, republicanism, socialism, work
1School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Harrison Frye, School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, 180 Baldwin
Hall, Athens, GA 30602-1492, USA.
Email: hpfrye@uga.edu

574
Political Theory 48(5)
I
In a recent essay in this journal, Tom O’Shea defends socialist republicanism,
marrying the value of freedom as nondomination to public ownership of the
means of production.1 The basic idea is that the modern economy subjects
citizens to unacceptable levels of arbitrary power. According to O’Shea, the
best solution to domination in the economy is through public ownership of
the means of production.
Along the way, O’Shea rejects more moderate solutions, such as Elizabeth
Anderson’s push for worker participation in corporate governance.2 However,
O’Shea fails to consider why Anderson does not go all the way to total public
ownership or even workplace democracy. Roughly, Anderson claims that
these other forms of ownership will tend to be relatively inefficient. The
natural question to ask is: why should efficiency matter to the socialist
republican?
In this reply, I will argue that the efficiency costs that often attach to public
ownership may undercut the ability of the socialist republic to combat domi-
nation by public agents. I provide two reasons in support of this claim. First,
the economic gains provided by efficiency can insulate individuals from the
discretionary power of other agents. Put briefly, the more wealth you have,
the less the discretionary power threatens your basic interests. Second, the
efficiency costs of public ownership can make it more difficult to hold
accountable the managers of economic organizations. This shortcoming of
O’Shea’s argument reveals a point hitherto neglected in the republican litera-
ture—caring about nondomination implies caring about efficiency.3
To be clear, my claim is not that efficiency is sufficient for nondomination;
distribution is relevant as well. Nor is my claim that public ownership is nec-
essarily
inefficient. My claim is only that inefficiencies in the management of
production can set back the cause of nondomination and that any republican
approach to the economy ought to have answers to these concerns. Prior to
defending this claim, it is first important to understand O’Shea’s argument for
socialist republicanism.
II
As O’Shea notes in his treatment of the history of radical republican thought,
the idea that the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT