Original document

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Capitalism, Consent, and Wage Slavery

It is impossible to consent to capitalism.

Don't get me wrong; I am not saying that people should not be allowed to consent to capitalism. I am saying that it is impossible to consent to it, whether they want to or not, just as it is impossible to consent to the State. Before I begin, I will define capitalism as a system in which all factors of production (land, capital, and labor) are privately owned.

Now, consider a rape. The rapist physically forces the victim to have sex with him. This is the typically-conceived vision of rape. However, it is not the only one.

Suppose the rapist holds a gun to the victim's head and tells her he will kill her unless she has sex with him. He is giving her a choice; she does not actually have to have sex with him. She could choose to die instead. However, this is not a reasonable alternative. There is no consent because any decision she makes is made under duress; thus, this is still rape.

Next, suppose the rapist kidnaps another person and tells the victim that she has a choice. Either she can murder the other victim, or she can have sex with the rapist. Again, the choice is not a reasonable choice; it is one in which the only alternative to being a victim is to victimize another. Thus, there is no consent; this is still rape.

Now suppose the rapist locks her in a room and tells her she can either have sex with him or starve to death. The alternative is not a reasonable one; there is no consent; this is still rape.

Finally, suppose the victim has multiple kidnappers. They give her a choice; either she can have sex with one of them (she chooses which one) or she can starve to death. The fact that she is allowed to choose her rapist clearly does not amount to consent; it is merely a choice between a number of situations that are all still fundamentally involuntary. Since there is no consent, this is still rape.

So, what is required for consent to a certain course of action to exist? Based on these examples, there seem to be two main requirements. First, there must be no actual physical coercion involved; second, there must be a set of reasonable alternatives to this course of action (i.e., alternatives that do not deprive the person making the choice of life or liberty, that do not violate the person's personal morality, and that are fundamentally different from the first course of action). Without either of these two conditions, there can be no consent.

Now, consider slavery.

A man grabs another man and forces him to work. If he tries to escape, he will be hunted down and shot. This is the classic example of slavery; however, if slavery is defined as any appropriation of an individual's labor without said individual's consent, it is certainly not the only example.

Say the slave-owner locks the slave in a room and tells him to work. If he does not work, he will starve to death. The fact that there is a choice is irrelevant, since the choice is an unreasonable one. There is no consent; this is still slavery.

Next, say the slave-owner owns all the land in the entire world. He does not actually threaten to kill or even physically harm the slave should he fail to work. However, if the slave goes off and tries to use some of the land to grow food for himself, the slave-owner comes and takes the food away, doling out just enough of it to keep the slave alive. The slave's labor is still being appropriated without his consent; this is still slavery.

Finally, say all the land in the entire world is owned by a bunch of different slave-owners. The slave is allowed to wander the Earth as he sees fit; however, since all the land is already owned, he cannot use it to produce anything. Any crops he grows and any chairs he makes are all seized by whoever claims to own the parcel of land he used to make his product. Thus, he has a choice: continue working for the various slave-owners of the world, flitting from parcel of land to parcel of land, from owner to owner, or lay down and die. He has no reasonable alternatives. He cannot consent to this situation, for any decision he makes is made under duress. He is a slave. Specifically, he is a wage slave.

Does this system sound familiar? It should. It's called capitalism.

For every bit of land on this planet, there is someone who claims to own it. Whether this "someone" is an individual or the State is irrelevant--property owned by the State is still, except in rhetoric, privately owned, since the State is simply the largest capitalist. Thus, the worker is forced--not necessarily in the since of physical force, but rather in the sense that he has no reasonable alternatives--to work for one of these landowners or become a landowner himself. He has the choice, in other words, to be enslaved or to enslave.

This is not really a choice at all.

Capitalism is not something to which one can consent, because it is pervasive; even in the so-called "communist" countries, all land is owned by the State and is therefore privately owned. For capitalism to become consensual, private land ownership would have to be abolished, so that land "ownership" would become contingent on use of the land. If this happened, the worker would have a reasonable alternative to working for others: working for himself. He would be able to grow his own food, to mine his own gold, to build his own chairs, without ever having to worry about satisfying some landowner's greed. He would be free.

If that happened, though, "capitalism" would no longer be capitalism.

It would be anarchism.


Db0 said...

Very nicely put. I liked your example of rape and I think I'll use it in the future.

Anonymous said...

This is a well written article. I of course, agree. you would have to be blind and completely numb to not feel or see the state we are in. My comment is just how sad it is that in order to put things in perspective for people.
You have to spell it out. really this whole piece can be said in only the last two paragraphs. The point should be just as clear at that.

Anonymous said...

Well done, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I don't really follow the last jump there.... it would be anarchism... but then it would devolve into warlordism, feudalism, then capitalism again.

Anonymous said...

> then it would devolve into warlordism, feudalism, then capitalism again.

That's only because you don't actually understand what anarchists are calling for.

After all, if anarchy means no laws and regulations, why wouldn't there be more random murders and rapes?

It would depend on your definition of anarchy. If you define it as a free-for-all, where everybody (or almost everybody) only cares about themselves, and nobody tries to protect the freedom of others, then that's a completely different situation than a society where everybody (or almost everybody) believes in protecting each other's freedoms.

The second scenario is what most anarchists mean when they are trying to spread the ideas of anarchism.

Any organization can become corrupt, whether it's a union, a corporation, or a government. Even if you didn't have organizations, you could still have individuals running around behaving like mafia or a member of an unaccountable army.

When you say a person is sovereign or an organization is sovereign, you also have to consider how other sovereign individuals / organizations will react when this one attempts to harm others.

If we assume an anarchist society is populated mostly by anarchists and that anarchists agree that they will protect eachother from hierarchy and coercion, then I don't think society has to worry about a few random rogue individuals that don't agree with freedom for everyone.

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