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Is working slavery?

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JonnyD Posted: Mon, Mar 14 2011 9:47 AM

Im new to austrian econ and just got this comment (the quote below) in a debate with a socialist. Voluntary = slavery? lol. Can you give me your juicy info or links to books/podcasts learn more?

"Apologetic economists... say:... [the worker's] labour-power, then, represents his capital in commodity-form, which yields him a continuous revenue. Labour-power is indeed his property (ever self-renewing, reproductive), not his capital. It is the only commodity which he can and must sell continually in order to live, and which acts as capital (variable) only in the hands of the buyer, the capitalist. The fact that a man is continually compelled to sell his labour-power, i.e., himself, to another man proves, according to those economists, that he is a capitalist, because he constantly has “commodities” (himself) for sale. In that sense a slave is also a capitalist, although he is sold by another once and for all as a commodity; for it is in the nature of this commodity, a labouring slave, that its buyer does not only make it work anew every day, but also provides it with the means of subsistence that enable it to work ever anew."- Marx, Capital Vol. 2, Chapter 20 section 10

 

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Nielsio replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 10:02 AM

Wage Slavery

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Ah yes, the concept of wage slavery - because a worker does not own the output of his labour, he is a slave to someone else.

I find it rather...rhetorical, to be honest. Hundreds of millions of supposed wage slaves in the western industrial world have seen standards of living much much higher than their ancestors in agrarian days did, and under this slavery, they own a television set, an automobile, regular fuel supply and electrciity, water supply, high protein diets from supermarket food, two bedroom apartments, and clothes to adjust to seasons. And that's only the necessities.

This counter-argument does not work however, because many point out that slaves have also been put under good working conditions and given improved standards of living - such as the swimmers in Louisiana swamps who were well paid, well protected, and well fed. But that only proves that even mere force and slavery can not assure productive labour and requires the capitalist to bend according to his labour's demands.

One of the most interesting arguments of socialist thinkers is that slavery can be voluntary, because contracts can stipulate that a man shall not change jobs or change place of residence while employed under a person for a long period of time, without incurring penalties. They hope to trap their opponents by saying, "If you agree to voluntary slavery, you are mad. If you do not agree to volunary slavery, you must come to the logical conclusion that even an ordinary worker provided with house and medical care benefits by his employer can be a slave."

Socialism has only to do with advancing socialism, and nothing to do with improving worker's condition of living. Labour Parties were content with workplace safety laws and compensations, and did not need to own the produce of their labour; they were frequently condemned by Revolutionary Socialist Parties. Why should workers take ownership of industry, when the capitalists have enriched them enough as it is? The socialist argument seems to conclude that a poorer worker with ownership over labour is ideal.

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Chyd3nius replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 10:08 AM

If it's voluntary, then it isn't. Most leftist don't care about that and their thinking goes something like this: Poor working conditions -> slavery. If this isn't twisted enough, they change the description of "poor" and stuff continuosly so it seems that most of us are living under "wage slavery". Repulsive.

-- --- English I not so well sorry I will. I'm not native speaker.
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Student replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 10:08 AM

where does everyone keep meeting these marxists? 

in all my years on earth i have only met 2 true marxists (back when I was an undergrad chilling with greens). 

maybe its because im in north america? i hear there are way more marxists in europe and south america.  

Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine - Elvis Presley

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I am self-employed, so I am a self-owner.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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Actually Student, here is how it is.

In Huffington Post, there are plenty of commenters in the comments section who never read General Theory, but call themselves Keynesians.

The same way, there are plenty of people who have read Marx marginally or not at all, but call themselves Marxists.

So a true Marxist is indeed a rare catch. Soi-disant Marxists are probably a dime a dozen.

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Nielsio replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 10:14 AM

Student:

where does everyone keep meeting these marxists? 

in all my years on earth i have only met 2 true marxists (back when I was an undergrad chilling with greens). 

maybe its because im in america? i hear there are way more marxists in europe and south america.  

 
Deep down, everyone who isn't a libertarian is a Marxist. If they didn't deep down believed in working=slavery, profits=theft, property=theft, etc, then they would be for a totally free society.
 
Marxism (et al) is the theoretical opposite of free markets; that's why it's important to deal with it.
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Sieben replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 10:17 AM

Hmm, borrowing from the low content thread:

There is an average of $70,000 worth of capital behind each worker (machines, stores and stuff). Let's assume a generous rate of return at 10%/year, which means each job produces $7,000 for each worker. But the average wage is something like $45,000/year. So for every job the evil slaveowning capitalists create, 6x as much wealth gets created for the lower class.

Of course marxists will respond that its "exploitation" because investment isn't really "working". Point out that this is a red herring and declare victory.

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Karl Marx was an opponent of countercyclical procedures.

Karl Marx was an opponent of government intervention, and said in a letter to Engels that it is "crack brained intervention by authorities that aggravates an existing crisis."

How is this the opposite of free markets? Marx had much more in common with classical economics and free marketers than, well, many brands of modern day economics. Brad deLong even jokingly called free marketers "right wing Marxists", because of what they had in common with Marxists.

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Nielsio:
Deep down, everyone who isn't a libertarian is a Marxist. If they didn't deep down believed in working=slavery, profits=theft, property=theft, etc, then they would be for a totally free society.
I don't think that's really the case.  In fact, I think most people believe that working isn't slavery, property/profits aren't theft...  I think most people are so terrified of non-descript boogymen to the point they're willing to steal from everyone they know in order to provide themselves with some sense of security, no matter how hollow it truly is.

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Nielsio replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 11:09 AM

ladyphoenix:

Nielsio:
Deep down, everyone who isn't a libertarian is a Marxist. If they didn't deep down believed in working=slavery, profits=theft, property=theft, etc, then they would be for a totally free society.
I don't think that's really the case.  In fact, I think most people believe that working isn't slavery, property/profits aren't theft...  I think most people are so terrified of non-descript boogymen to the point they're willing to steal from everyone they know in order to provide themselves with some sense of security, no matter how hollow it truly is.

 
Think of what those boogeymen are, and you'll find that it all comes back to rich people exploiting poor people (poor people are poor because rich people are rich)
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Nielsio:
Think of what those boogeymen are, and you'll find that it all comes back to rich people exploiting poor people (poor people are poor because rich people are rich)
Ah, so you're suggesting that all exploitation, period, is Marxist...  I wouldn't have made that leap necessarily... But I suppose I could see it from that perspective.

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Nassim Taleb, of whom I am otherwise incredibly fond, claims that employment = slavery. It really dissapoints you when those to whom you look up make such incredible mistakes.

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filc replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 1:25 PM

liberty student:
I am self-employed, so I am a self-owner.

So when you whip yourself for not being productive enough is it called flagellation?

JK :)

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JonnyD replied on Mon, Mar 14 2011 1:47 PM

Thanks for the replies they've been helpful. I havent yet replied but here is my train of thought on it. Slavery requires coercion, coercion requires violence. If you can't grow your own food it is true that you are forced to work for food in order to survive but is it force as in coercion or force like gravity - if you jump in the air you are forced to the ground, if you are crossing a road and a car is speeding down it you are forced to keep walking. The choice is either work or die. Although you can beg for your food. There is no one actually doing the forcing. So if this is force then what is taking someones food? Not force? Is my argument on the right track or is there a more efficient one?

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I use George Reismans analysis. If it takes men with guns to keep you at your desk: you are a slave. If it would take men with guns to keep you from it: you are not

Where there is no property there is no justice; a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid

Fools! not to see that what they madly desire would be a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring

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filc:

liberty student:
I am self-employed, so I am a self-owner.

So when you whip yourself for not being productive enough is it called flagellation?

JK :)

Whew, I am happy someone got my joke.  Serious crowd around here.

"When you're young you worry about people stealing your ideas, when you're old you worry that they won't." - David Friedman
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JonnyD replied on Thu, Mar 17 2011 6:09 PM

 

Thanks to this forum I got to put together this response. Here it is for anyone who would need it in future:
 
 
 
"Apologetic economists... say:... [the worker's] labour-power, then, represents his capital in commodity-form, which yields him a continuous revenue. Labour-power is indeed his property (ever self-renewing, reproductive), not his capital. It is the only commodity which he can and must sell continually in order to live, and which acts as capital (variable) only in the hands of the buyer, the capitalist. The fact that a man is continually compelled to sell his labour-power, i.e., himself, to another man proves, according to those economists, that he is a capitalist, because he constantly has “commodities” (himself) for sale. In that sense a slave is also a capitalist, although he is sold by another once and for all as a commodity; for it is in the nature of this commodity, a labouring slave, that its buyer does not only make it work anew every day, but also provides it with the means of subsistence that enable it to work ever anew."
 
 
Whaaat? You're quoting a big supporter in monopolies... government and a central bank.
 
Here again, you're conflating voluntary interactions with slavery. Slavery requires coercion, coercion requires violence. If you consent to work for someone else then it is not slavery. For the job to be slavery it takes violence to keep you at the job. If it takes men with guns to keep you at your desk: you are a slave. If it would take men with guns to keep you from it: you are not. You have a choice by negotiating your employment. For the worker the power comes in the form of his/her ability to refuse.
 
So the communist objection concerns the hierarchy established when people claim ownership (through the fruits of their labour) of capital. Workers find themselves compelled to work for these individuals. If they do not labour for them they find themselves not able to produce enough resources on their own and thus starve to death. They have no choice but to accept the terms of conditions of those possessing the means of production. The capitalists would say the worker gave consent but the communists would argue that that is the same as a robber holding a gun to your head and you consented because you are compelled by his gun. You are compelled to work for the capitalist so you don't starve.
 
Sounds like a convincing argument at first but socialism doesnt solve it. Just like you are compelled by the capitalist you are compelled to join the workers democracy. You still cant work for yourself. The factories. machinery, and tools belong to the collective so you must submit yourself to the will of the majority in order to work and live. You are compelled to work for the majority so you don't starve.
 
It just places the means of production into the hands of the majority of workers instead of the capitalists. It may seem preferable at first but you must recognise that a democratic organisation is no less hierachical than any other hierachy. If two men choose to rape a woman is the situation non-exploitative and non-hierarchical merely because the rapists are in greater number than the victim? Of course not. If a worker is not content with the behaviour of the workers democracry her plight is exactly the same as with the capitalist. She must work with them or starve. She is compelled.
 
From my understanding labour power is the workers work capacity or ability to do work and that under capitalism it is sold as a commodity and that the exchange between capital and labour arises surplus value which is exploited by the capitalists. Based on the Labour Theory of Value. Which goes something like this: (*run dmc music*)
If i produce goods that are worth 10 dollars and i am paid 5 dollars for them then the entire profit of the capitalist comes from the 5 dollars differentiation between what the goods sold for am producing and what i myself am paid. So LTV says that the entire value of pruducing the widget sells for 10 dollars the only value thats there is the labour that creates it because the person will say well without that labour there's no widget and therefore the entire value of the widget comes from the physical labour of the person who has created it and therefore anytime a worker gets paid less than the value its exploitation and that the capitalist skims off the profit by taking the 5 dollars when they are selling something for 10 dollars and only paying the worker 5 dollars.
 
There is a grain of truth in all insofar as where mercantalism is involved, in otherwords, where the capitalist has paid the government thugs to keep other capitalists from entering the market. Where that is occuring then there absolutely is exploitation of the worker and the exploitation of the consumer because the worker is underpaid - because there is a monopoly on the jobs - because there are arent other people competing for those workers because of the state sanctioned monopoly. The consumer is also fleeced because the prices are higher because the monopoly has been kept in bay through the power of the state. Because there has always been a government there is always exploitation of the workers and the consumers. He's right but he was wrong about it being innate to the market. He was wrong completely about the solution. He partly indentified the problem but the solution is more freedom. The solution is not a complete totalitarian dictatorship where those in the state own everything as if that wont lead to exploitation lmao.
 
So what is a capitalist then? A capitalist is simply a worker who has saved up the product of their labour. A capitalist laboured in the past and saved their consumable resources in the hopes of achieving greater benefit from her resources later in life than she would have if she consumed them immediately. Thus capitalists are workers who laboured in the past and planned for the future.
 
Lets say a capitalist has created a machine through her labour and wishes to hire an employee to work the machine. The capitalist says i will allow you to use the product of my labour to increase your productivity. We will split the revenue acquired from the product of my labour and your labour between us. The portion of revenue that goes to the worker is called the wage. The portion of the revenue that goes to the capitalist is called the return on investment. The money that the capitalist receiving is not a result of the workers labour. They are benefitting from the product of their own labour engaged in the past - the creation of the machine, The capitalist is receiving the benefits of her labour and the worker is receiving the benefits of his labour. If either are unsatisfied with the agreement they are both welcome to end the agreement. If the capitalist cuts pay and uses violence to keep the worker working this is exploitation. If the worker uses violence to procur the machine from the capitalist this is also exploitation. It is exploitation of the capitalists labour in the past.
 
Lets say there are 2 people on a desert island. Every day they spend their time catching a fish to feed themselves for the day. One night before going to sleep one of them wonders there must be more to life than catch-eat-sleep so thinks up a way to catch a fish as easily and quickly as possible so as to have time to spend his energy on other things. He thinks of an idea to make a net out of matarials on the island. So the next day he gathers the materials to build a net. The net is his capital. He's taking a risk to go hungry in the hope to consume more later. He builds a net and the next day he catches 3 fish in 10 minutes work stunning his friend on the island. His friend is envious of all his free time so asks to borrow the net to catch more fish to give him time to spend making a net for himself without the sacrifice of going hungry. Since he sacrificed his time and went hungry to built the net he loans it out to him under one condition that he gets 1 fish back. So person A who built the net is allowing person B to increase his productivity. Person B catches 3 fish and gives 1 to Person A. Person B who earns 2 fish is his wages and Person A who earns 1 fish is his return on investment.
There is a whole video on this called How An Economy Grows and Why It Doesnthttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFxvy9XyUtg
 
Are we compelled by nature? Yes, most of us are not able to provide everything we need on our own. We must work with others. Sometimes they are assholes but these assholes saved up their labour in the past. The solution is not a violent revolution or democracies. The solution is competition. When all the workers democracies and capitalists have to compete with each other for workers workers are free to choose who they interact with. The more competition there is the more respect those who control the means of production must have to pay their workers in order to prevent them from leaving. How do we get more competition? Anarchism. Rejecting the initiation of force and not using violence to stop others from competing.
 
Ok so even if we accept that the capitalists property is the result of their labour and that the employment between the capitalist and worker is voluntary are they still exploiting the workers labour by not paying them a share of the profits? No, they are only entitled to what they have agreed to. On the other hand workers do in a way receive a share of profits. The difference is the "profits" are paid to them in advance in the form of regurlarly monthy installments called wages. They are paid before the final product has matured and rendered the business fruit. In accepting payments in this fashion your installments are paid in the now rather then in lump sum later. Your cuts are paid to you before the business had made a profit.
 
If the worker wants to share in the interest(profits) that the capitalist recieves he would have to postpone his regularly scheduled payments untill the point of maturity. And obviously he would need permission from the capitalist(Which many are willing to accept) before making such an arrangement. It is likely that in this agreement the worker would be asked to share in some of the risk. Of course at this point the worker stops being a worker and is acting the roll of capitalist, even if he is still on assembly line giving hard labor.
 
In reality it usually doesn't work this way. Workers prefer to recieve regularly scheduled wages in order to cover their montly expenses. It is true however that many companies offer stock options to their employees. In addition many "workers" on their own play the roll of capitalist by investing and saving outside of their regular employment. So the mechanics to deal with these concerns have long since been provided on the market. It's up to the worker whether he chooses to participate or not.
 
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JonnyD:
...

The vast majority of humans can survive on their own given a piece of land to work with.  It is in an effort to improve the quality of our life above that of a cave man that we work with/for other people.

If you want to argue that the land is all "owned" so I can't go out and hunt/fish/farm then you are arguing against government, not against business owners.

If the average human can survive without working for someone else but you instead choose to work for someone else because you prefer that over the alternative then it's not slavery.

Also, the initiation of aggression plays a large role here.  If I am told to work at gunpoint another party is initiating aggression against me.  When it comes to working for a business, no one is acting aggressively toward me to to make me work.  They may be willing to passively let me die, but they are not actively attacking/threatening me.

An analogy to this is someone choosing not to help you if you are hanging onto a cliff edge by your fingers versus someone pushing you off the cliff edge.  It can be argued that allowing you to die by way of not helping save you is morally wrong but it is not murder.

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It seems you guys forget that most slavery throughout history was debt based, not explicitly coercive.

In States a fresh law is looked upon as a remedy for evil. Instead of themselves altering what is bad, people begin by demanding a law to alter it. ... In short, a law everywhere and for everything!

~Peter Kropotkin

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Laotzu del Zinn:

It seems you guys forget that most slavery throughout history was debt based, not explicitly coercive.

I will admit my history knowledge is very minimal so I'll take your word for it.  If that is the case that people were forced to work because of a debt they incurred then this isn't slavery, this is indentured servitude or contract work, both of which are not problematic in my opinion.

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