Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wage Slavery

I hoped I'd been adequately clear in my previous post on the subject, where I tried to avoid using this language because it pisses some people off and makes them stop listening, but apparently while using that language I wasn't clear enough. So I'll drop the euphemism and stop phrasing around the bush.

In the experience of most libertarians, the people who have used the term "wage slavery" have inevitably used them to rationalize a belief in state necessity or the abolition of money or something dumb like that, and thus unfairly dismissed the whole idea. I think there's a valuable lesson to be learned in the socialist viewpoint.

The common libertarian rebuttal is that working for a wage is a choice, making it voluntary, and precluding it from being slavery, and this is a mostly valid rebuttal, if a bit shallow, applying the "I don't see a gun, I don't see a bureaucrat, that means it's voluntary" way of thinking. The common socialist line that "you don't have a choice whether or not to work" also has some validity, although it is phrased amazingly poorly for digestion by a libertarian mind, especially in this context where the libertarian is looking for anything to pick apart.

The fact of the matter is that the market at present, is not free, and the market conditions are unfairly favorable to employers of wage labor, creating a condition of the employers having more control over the workers than they would fairly have, a condition which might be aptly called "wage slavery", and this is a condition libertarians ought to be opposed to.

The price of refined sugar in the United States is four times the world sugar price. Do you have to buy sugar? Are you forced to buy sugar at gunpoint? Technically no, but it's such a widely-used substance that this price increase is going to work it's way into your budget, directly or not. Do libertarians say that it's wrong to prevent the government from regulating sugar in this way, or do they proclaim that "buying sugar is voluntary, so there's nothing wrong with the sugar market"? No, they don't. However, apply the same conditions to the labor market and the crime seems to vanish in an opaque cloud of invisible hands.

It may be a fairer comparison to refer to income taxes. In this case, the libertarian is forced to observe that valid portion of the socialist line "you don't have a choice whether or not to work", in order to declare the taxation to not be truly voluntary despite choosing to pay taxes in favor of making the guns show themselves. This limited choice, however, as libertarians will note, does nothing to change the involuntary nature of the government's receipt of their money. "Wage slavery" is extremely similar to income taxation, although much less direct, and rather than the government getting the excess money, it is the employer that gets it. To the degree that one's hypothetical free-market wages have been reduced to one's real wages, it may aptly be said that the employee or taxpayer is being robbed.

When I say I am opposed to "wage slavery", I am not saying that I am opposed to work, or that I am opposed to money, or that working for a living is slavery, or that earning or paying a wage is a criminal act, I don't believe any of those things. I'm saying that I'm opposed to theft, no matter how direct or indirect this theft may be, no matter how "politically correct" to libertarians my observations may be.

"Wage slavery" is slavery. When blacks were owned as slaves, they were often paid a wage in the form of food and housing, and sometimes given money to spend in the market. This did not make them any less slaves. Their hands worked the fields, and their masters took the product of this labor, according to Lockean and Rothbardian property theory, the property of the slave. Slavery is persistent, continuous, ongoing theft. And that's something that can be observed in the present-day market, if you know to look for it.

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