Oswald Clark, Review:

Tyranny Inc.
by Sohrab Ahmari (Forum Books, $37.99, 252 pages)

There is much material to support the promising subtitle of Sohrab Ahmari’s new book, Tyranny Inc: How Private Power Crushed American Liberty and What to Do About It but Ahmari focuses completely on aspect of supposedly tyrannical companies: their treatment of employees. Readers who know Ahmari as a critic of drag time story hour and other cultural maladies will be disappointed that he does not spread his net broader in analyzing the “political economy of dystopia” that workers face in the modern American economy.

Admittedly, this is ground for important study and freedom-advocating conservatives might consider broadening their own net when it comes to coercive or restrictive employment practices. Ahmari cites a Brookings Institute report about the “onslaught of intrusive workplace surveillance practices” including using keylogger software on business computers, deploying video surveillance cameras and monitoring worker attentiveness. It is all a bit dystopian. Attempts by workers to pushback are often futile and frequently punished.

While it is certainly creepy, it is far from clear that conservative readers of Ahmari are going to be persuaded that private arbitration contracts and bankruptcy protection laws are quite the evil the author is convinced they are. Tying the hot-button politics of corporate elites to their economic practices might have brought more than a few conservatives along for the anti-business ride in Tyranny Inc.

It is difficult to take issue with Ahmari that private-equity firms have a negative effect on our communities, killing off daily newspapers, mass producing substandard and joyless products for a mass consumer base, and privatizing public goods. But it is more difficult to convince conservatives that this is not just the price of free markets. Yet, it is not clear that Ahmari is speaking to this audience at all, and has another in mind: the Left.

By offering example after example of corporations behaving beastly to their employees, will Ahmari succeed in winning over converts to his socially conservative/fiscally liberal worldview? Maybe. But there is no sign he is willing to challenge this potential new audience to broaden their concerns about corporate overreach by pointing out the ways Diversity, Equity and Inclusion schemes (DEI) limit the freedom of employees by silencing those with contrary opinions and imposing strict identity politics on companies and their customers. Nor does he tackle the imposition of the ESG cult onto corporations, a favourite topic of the World Economic Forum crowd that insists on politically motivated Environmental, Social, and Governance investing for companies. In no way does Ahmari point out the left-wing social politics, most notably the LGBQT ideology promoted by politically fashionable individuals in the C-suite, often at shareholder expense. These vanity alphabet projects – DEI, ESG, LGBQT – are every bit as “tyrannical” as the imbalance of power between employer and employee.

Most bizarrely for a book about the tyranny of corporations, there is no mention of Big Tech censoring users and content providers. Twitter does not appear at all in its pages and Tyranny Inc.’s only mention of Google and Facebook is of their “monopolistic” and “anti-competitive” behaviour.

Ahmari pines for the post-World War II economic consensus which allowed for a certain level of social democracy, even in the U.S., in which unionized workers had some semblance of economic power and the state provided a suitable safety net. Ahmari calls the watered-down U.S. version of social democracy “socially managed capitalism” and views it as vastly superior to today’s status quo.

Tyranny Inc. is well-researched and well-written, which makes it an even greater shame that its author did not address more fully the ways that corporations endanger liberty beyond the mistreatment of workers. Readers expecting a full diagnosis of corporate power crushing liberty will be disappointed.