Very interesting! Roman slavery being formally contractual makes a lot of sense considering how legalistic the Romans were. Of course they abused this tremendously by being ridiculously easily provoked or finding other phony excuses to go to war and then enslaving everyone who resisted them, the real purpose just being plunder and enslavement for profit. But still, they made sure their actions were at least formally justified, even towards outgroups.
I totally disagree with democratic government being delegative as opposed to monarchical alienation. If someone votes against the government or does not vote because they consider the system illegitimate then how have they delegated the power of life and death, conscription, taxation and so on to the government officials?
And what’s the difference between delegation and voluntary alienation? They look like the same thing to me. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand the thing about transferring moral responsibility. Signing an employment contract doesn’t absolve anyone from moral responsibility and pretending that it does is indeed silly but why is that an argument against employment contracts? Don’t sign contracts that give you conflicting obligations. That goes for all contracts, not just employment contracts.
In principle there is no difference between renting and buying people and it makes little sense to outlaw one but not the other but it makes more sense to stop outlawing voluntary slavery contracts than to start outlawing employment contracts. Employment is not my favorite form of cooperation either as an employee or employer but people are different and if some prefer that then who am I to stop them?
thanks daniel (@dbernt). great ‘catch’ with the roman society.
i can guess the answer to your ‘delegation’ question. one, they have ‘delegated’ power simply by being a subject (citizen) of a government, with all that entails. to complicate matters:
a delegator, but not alienator, can withdraw power from his/her representative. in any case, this is the bedrock of the democratic theory of power.
as for ‘absolving moral responsibility’, that’s precisely ellerman’s contention. no absolution is possible but contracts pretend that this is possible. check out his workplace scenario.
this goes deeper into western(-based) law, in which an institution is treated as a person or is equal to a person (human being), a source of many jokes in political comedies such as veep.
your last argument has been made in the wiki page.
"Some advocates of right-libertarianism, among them philosopher Robert Nozick, address this inconsistency in modern societies arguing that a consistently libertarian society would allow and regard as valid consensual/non-coercive enslavement contracts, rejecting the notion of inalienable rights:
The comparable question about an individual is whether a free system will allow him to sell himself into slavery. I believe that it would."
"Others like Murray Rothbard allow for the possibility of debt slavery, asserting that a lifetime labour contract can be broken so long as the slave pays appropriate damages:
[I]f A has agreed to work for life for B in exchange for 10,000 grams of gold, he will have to return the proportionate amount of property if he terminates the arrangement and ceases to work."
Interesting thread! I’m not fully familiar with the philosophy and political theory behind wage slavery, but I certainly agree that a most wage/salary workers don’t have a lot of a freedom with respect to what they do. It’s interesting to note that the wikipedia article doesn’t mention much about cultural factors that currently encourage people to get into wage slavery, like easy-debt and lifestyle inflation.
I’ve always tried to keep some savings and a low cost of living so that I’m not under too much pressure to a meet a specific income requirement, and I like the flexibility this brings. But I have friends in Australia who’s cost of living quickly exceeded there income after they started working, and there is strong social pressure to just keep working more to continue the situation. I think the situation is similar in the US, but don’t know about elsewhere in the world.
This also reminded me of a report into US truck drivers I saw a few years ago, and they do seem to have really terrible working contracts (link is to a highlights summary):
thanks gavin. checking out that link led to the unnessariat (found in the comments of the boing boung article) and the last psychiatrist (found in the comment to the unnecessariat article). so, time well spent.