Freedom from the Boss

Let us take another look at that ideal of self-ownership that libertarians love so well. When we submit to government, we give over some of our self-ownership rights in return for defense, rule of law, and other government services.

We also give up some of our self-ownership rights when we get a job.

Slavery by the Hour

When we get a job that pays by the hour, we are in essence selling our time, selling ourselves into periods of servitude. While on the time clock we take orders and do work for our supervisors.

Of course, a wage earner is in a much better bargaining position than the slave. Beatings are illegal. And even if they were legal, few employees in a developed country would stick around at a factory that administered beatings. In general, underpayment and abuse is kept in check by the threat of a walkout. (But they are not eliminated!)

It's all a matter of degree.

Degrees of Servitude

To the far left, we have an ideal financial situation: so much wealth stored up that any work is purely voluntary. Just to the right is self-sufficiency, working purely for yourself. Then, we have the independent business owner, who has no boss other than the customers. Then independent contractor, employee…and on to slave.

This is a continuum of how much you are under orders, not a continuum of material prosperity. A white collar corporate wage slave may well have more money, less work, and more job security than the self-employed shopkeeper. The self-sufficient homesteader has to work extremely hard for a subsistence living.

Economies of scale exist for many industries other than government, and people voluntarily subject themselves to the order of others, in order to take advantages of such economies.

Still, though such choices may be voluntary, we do often give up freedom. Wage slavery is a meaningful term…

But, but, but!

By now, the libertarians and conservatives in the audience are up in arms. You may be wanting to shout how the choice to be employed is truly voluntary, vs. the choice to be taxed. You might cite the principle of revealed preference. Or you might be jumping forward to failed examples of socialism or modern liberalism.

Please place these thoughts aside for the moment. Remember our general definition of freedom: about having choices, about not being subject to the orders of others. Not being subject to the orders of the secret policeman is but one aspect of freedom. Free money is also freedom.

The purpose of this chapter is to get you to understand and sympathize with the underlying values that lead many freedom lovers to become leftists, why many who insist on some parts of the Bill of Rights are nonetheless content with stiff regulations on big corporations and high taxes on the rich.

Wealth differences are power relationships. For those with valuable skills or significant savings, these power relationships are tiny compared to the might of the state. For those on the assembly lines, this is often not the case. This is why so many libertarians are computer programmers by trade. Programmers have a history of being in short supply, and often have more knowledge of their tasks than their supervisors. They thus have strong individual bargaining power with their employer – no need for Wagner Act leverage.

Further Reading

Hollywood writers, on the other hand, get it. Hollywood has produced plenty of works portraying unrestrained corporate power as nightmarish dystopias. I suggest watching some of them in order to understand the mindset, to fully grok why so many free spirits call for more government. (Elsewhere on this site you can find many liberty-compatible ways to increase freedom from the boss .)

All of these movies and shows portray a dark future in which corporate power is out of control. Such movies are the Left's answer to 1984.

Of course, literature is full of tyranny of the boss stories. Jack London and Charles Dickens come to mind.

As for the work that really got my attention, it's The Abolition of Work by Bob Black. His premise is outrageous and completely unrealistic. But turn it down a few notches...