The Nanny Corporation

Nanny and the Professor

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While the “nanny state” is commonly presented as a bugbear, there is typically little talk of the nanny corporation. Like the nanny state, the nanny corporation acts to control people “for their own good.” Interestingly, this is a rather old idea: Henry Ford docked his workers’ pay if they smoked, drank or visited hookers.

While all companies impose a certain degree of tyranny at work (think about all the rules for decoration, dress, behavior and so on that go beyond mere professionalism), the nanny corporation purports to have the right to control people outside of work.

For example, Scotts Miracle-Gro does random urine tests for nicotine. Those who fail are fired. As such, the company demands that workers not smoke-even on their own time. As another example, Clarian Health fines employees $10 per check for being fat and $5 each time they exceed the allowed levels for glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol on regular tests. These are, of course, the sort of impositions that folks who loath the nanny state rail against.

It might be argued that since employees are free to leave a job, these “nannyisms” are a matter of free choice and thus are not truly impositions. After all, a person who wants to smoke can simply elect to not work for Scotts Miracle Grow. In the case of the state, people have far less choice. While they can leave the country, this is something  rather more difficult than merely seeking a different job.

That said, it could be argued that the nanny state is, at least in the case of democracies, also a matter of choice. People vote for or against the nannyisms and are obligated, as per John Locke;s arguments,  to accept the results of these votes (with some notable exceptions that would justify rebellion and resistance). As such, the nanny state would be little worse than the nanny corporation and if choice justifies the nannying, then the state nannyisms wold be just as justified as those of corporations.

It might also be argued that the corporations are merely acting in the way they are supposed to act: to maximize profits. While this nannying might be seen as for the workers’ own good, these impositions actually aim at the bottom line. Healthy employees are more productive, have fewer sick days and cost the company less in health care. As such, nannying is a way to enhance profits or, at least, lower costs.

Of course, proponents of the nanny state can avail themselves of the same sort of argument. Citizens who take poor care of themselves and engage in risky behavior are a greater burden on the public than people who take care of themselves and elect to follow healthy behavior patterns. As such, the same sort of financial and productivity argument can be given. After all, what is good for Miracle Grow is thus good for the nation.

Naturally enough, some people (such as myself) find the public and private nannying to be rather undesirable. After all, as Mill effectively argued, as long as I am a competent adult and not harming others, then I should not be forced to act as others think I should act. Even if it is, in fact, for my own good.

Of course, the argument that the individual is being imposed upon for the general good (or corporate profits) does have some bite. An unhealthy employee who is unhealthy through his/her own choices and actions is unfairly harming the company with lowered productivity, more missed days, and often greater costs. As such, the company would seem to have the right to impose to avoid said harms and fire workers who refused. Likewise, the state has the right to impose on citizens in order to avoid the harms that would accrue from their poor choices regarding health and behavior.

People should, however, have the chance to opt out. As noted above, people who wish to engage in behavior that goes against company policy can find another job. If they prefer to behave in harmful ways, then they cannot expect the company to bear the cost of this behavior. In the case of citizens, they should also have the option to opt out. This can be done by leaving or, less extremely, by forfeiting their claims to state support. So, for example, a person could elect to smoke and forgo buying health insurance. However on that day when she finds she has lung cancer, she cannot expect the state (that is, the rest of us) to pick up the tab for her. She had her choice and, as they say, choices have consequences. While it might be argued that such people would still be owed care and support, the failure would not be on the part of the state. Rather, the person could see who failed them by looking in the mirror. Naturally,  citizens can also seek to change the laws so that they can behave in unhealthy ways and yet still have others bear some of the costs for them.

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  1. If “they” have no relation from which to tyrannize, in what way does that tyranny accomplish a significant or lasting consciousness value?

    To nanny: to attend to a child presumably. So you’re writing of a particular attending to the employee by the Corporation?

  2. If A’s tax dollars pay for B’s “externalities,” A has unlimited sanction to judge, denounce, condemn, shame and mock B.

  3. Governments are supposed to watch for the public good, although obviously, they don’t always do that, while corporations seek higher profits.

    Thus, the so-called nanny state (called the welfare state by those who are in favor of it, such as myself) has the goal of bettering the life of its citizens, while corporations do not have as a goal bettering the life of their employees, although they may better their lives in order to promote a more efficient work force or incidentally/accidentally.

  4. It’s easily said that one can simply change jobs or counties, but quite another to actually do so. Corporations (or those who serve in the upper echelons of them) know that there are far more workers than jobs and use that fact to do as they please in pursuit of increased profits. There will come a time when the workers will rebel against such intrusions on their liberty and (as happened in the early to mid- twentieth century) the pendulum will swing once again toward a more balanced boss/worker relationship.

    Or am I just indulging in wishful thinking?

  5. “a person could elect to smoke.. However on that day when she finds she has lung cancer, she cannot expect the state (that is, the rest of us) to pick up the tab for her”

    I can’t speak for the US but in the UK, there is a prima facie case to be made for the claim that, given that taxation on tobacco products generates some £10bn a year and smoking related diseases cost the National Health Service just under £4bn, that it is the smokers who pick up the tab for the rest of us.

  6. Hi !
    Thank you for the article and all your site, I really like it and had a nice time reading everything :)
    If you want you can check my site too ( to discuss about philosophy.

  7. It seems the Corporation or the employer is a Nanny in that its involvement with the employee’s POSSIBLE behavior or performance is intellectually going before the employee and speaking coarsely to issues which may or may not be pertinent to the whole state of affairs of the job position – in this way ‘fathering’ the employee and setting conceptual strictures for him. Apparently these issues are present for the Corporation or its supervisory representatives and in this way, why does the job have an intellectual presence for the Corporation of possible wrong and not in a complete intellectualization of the actual performance of the job and its relation as Labor based POSITION?

    The relation between Corporation and employee -.

  8. Lemme add some sposed fact to the question. Spose there is an employment agreement between Nanny Corp (Nanco) and the individual whereby the individual agrees to submit to unusual, even cruel, inspection and testing at Nanco’s whim.

    If the individual has agreed to such inspections and tests, is Nanco free and clear of any ethical complaints? Fugget ‘legal complaints’. The question is about ethics. Can the Nanco Board of Directors feel good about themselves even if Nanco is cruel to their employees in an agreed way?

    Spose Nanco’s behavior as per the employment agreement causes its employees to suffer mental illness. Can Nanco shield itself ethically by claiming ‘The employees knew what the job entails when they joined Nanco’.

    Police work, I strongly suspect, makes most cops mentally ill. Has anyone else noticed that a long-time cops trusts nobody except another cop?

  9. “As another example, Clarian Health fines employees $10 per check for being fat and $5 each time they exceed the allowed levels for glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol on regular tests.”

    There are few problems here. (1) The connection between these measurements and “good health” is fuzzy at best. For instance, perfectly fit athletes can have a BMI which causes them to be “overweight”, even though the “extra weight” is all muscle. The problem here is that the measures have poor predictive power and will, therefore, punish people for something that is not actually a problem.

    (2) Many of these things are determined more by genetics than lifestyle. Someone can be perfectly fit but still have high blood pressure because of their genetic makeup. The problem here is that people will be punished for something over which they actually have no control.

    (3) As you (Mike) articulate so well, the ethical and philosophical basis for making me do something for my own good is dodgy at best. When my actions have no influence on my ability to do my job, then I see no basis at all for my employer to intrude into my life.

  10. I can see no justification in testing people’s bodily functions to ascertain their suitability for work. If such practices become widespread a culture of distrust will develop. Adults who are infantilised in this way and assumed to be untrustworthy will rebel by seeking to cheat the system.
    A company may choose to operate this way but if the government becomes too oppresive we will be living in a heavily policed state. The science behind many of their directives is dubious. If Science is not the motivator then it must be morality or politically driven.
    Of course hard science is not always the best solution. It could be used to force people into an area where free will is compromised.
    Until the motivations of these organisations is brought into the open these practices will always be seen as controlling and sinister. Relationships will suffer and fear will dominate.

  11. Dennis Sceviour

    I am impressed. You have captured an essence of the problem!

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