Wage Slavery: The Short Version

Reconciling free market libertarianism and libertarian socialism should never be a matter of ignoring differences. Instead, such reconciliation ought to be understood as building a synthesis. Intelligent argument is an essential part of that process. What’s not productive is straying outside logical discourse, and that happens on both sides.

Let’s take the bitterly-disputed concept of wage slavery as an example of where an opportunity for synthesis can be shown.

We can distinguish between wage labor and wage slavery.

The state acts to involuntarily transfer wealth from the productive class to a political class elite, thereby monopolizing/cartelizing capital. Additionally, the state forcibly cuts off opportunities for economic self-sufficiency. The result is that people are forcibly denied any alternative but to sell labor artificially cheaply in a buyer’s market, where the buyers are a political class plutocracy gorged on stolen loot and enjoying economic influence they are not rightly due.

Unfortunately, in the debates among anarchists, we’ve got two sides exhibiting roughly equal degrees of obstinant closed-mindedness…

1) Those who rightly oppose wage slavery and wrongly blame exchange.
2) Those who rightly defend exchange and wrongly fail to recognize wage slavery.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.


12 thoughts on “Wage Slavery: The Short Version

      1. Hitch, do you want details of how the state involuntarily transfers wealth or do you want details of how the state forcibly cuts off alternatives other than wage labor? It would be easier to just teach you the basics of Austrian economics so you could spot them yourself — because it does so in so *many* ways. All I did was point out that the result of these is that people are forcibly denied any alternative but to sell labor artificially cheaply in a buyer’s market, where the buyers are a political class plutocracy.


  1. Stephan, I have a hard time believing that you dont understand what Brad means by wage slavery. It seems to me you are being overly obtuse. You clearly understand how statist intervention skews the market in a way that leads to beneficial results for certain groups at the expense of other groups. These same interventions lead to a limiting of choices for people, then would have otherwise arisen in free market. By wage slavery, IMO, Brad is pointing out, in the existing milieu of interventions, peoples choices are extremely limited so that they are forced into working for a wage at a corporation of some kind.


  2. Self employment opportunities are curtailed. If someone wants to up and start a hair salon out of their house, they can, but only under the threat of force hanging over their head that stems from the regulatory regime. Yes, people have a choice, but it is the same choice that god gives you, i.e. you are free to believe in him or not, but if you don’t you will burn in hell for eternity. Or like the store owner who is being robbed, he has a choice of whether or not to pay the robber, but what is at stake clearly skews the choice in a certain direction. I don’t think the term wage slavery is referring to working for a wage in general, just working for a wage in the current regulatory regime.


  3. I don't mean to speak for Brad but I think his definition is right in the text: a situation where "people are forcibly denied any alternative but to sell labor artificially cheaply in a buyer’s market, where the buyers are a political class plutocracy." That is the most common way of using the term, I think.

    There is also another way that I've discussed before: a situation where people are treated, through the wage relation, as a thing without responsibility for its actions, i.e. a legal non-person in some regard (though not necessarily every regard, which is why I don't think it's sufficient to point to some ways that they are treated as a legal person, e.g. by pointing out that they can voluntarily disassociate without fear of reprisal). The burden, I think, is on the capitalist (in the ideological sense, not the purely descriptive sense of someone who owns capital) to explain, other than by duration, why renting someone by the hour is substantively different from buying someone for a lifetime, even when it's voluntary, if both happen to require that the worker give up something they have no right to give up, i.e. some aspect of their legal standing as a person.


  4. Wage negotiations, like any other negotiations, will depend on the relative power of the parties. When capital has all the power, wages will be depressed. When labor has all the power, capital will be depressed. Either leads to severe economic fluctuations, and a call for gov't to fix them.


  5. If we are going to avoid "straying outside of logical discourse" then necessarily we must abandon the label "wage slavery." X=-X is not within logical discourse.


  6. As one example, we might take Rothbard's example of land engrossment as a policy that increases the marginal returns on land at the expense of labor. Generally anything that makes land and capital (the means of production) artificially scarce or expensive, or increases the capital outlays required for production, amounts to the exaction of a tribute for undertaking independent production. The effect is to reduce the number of people competing for labor versus the number of people competing for jobs.
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