Freedom and employment

Anarchopac who is an anarchist/socialist thinks that wage labour is incompatible with freedom. His argument is that workers must work to earn a living. And even if a worker wants to start his own business he must work for a wage to save up money to start the business and so has to work for a wage. Since he has no choice but to work for a wage he isn’t free since he has no alternative. I don’t think it does much good to argue about whether this or that action is compatible with freedom because it frames the debate in a misleading way. If you go along with discussing the issue in this way you’re going to end up talking about the definition of freedom.

Such discussions tend to go nowhere because of a general philosophical problem: discussing definitions is a bad idea. If somebody wants to argue about the definition of a word the best thing to do is just to concede the definition and move on to discussing a substantive issue. A word is just a label for an idea. If you disagree with me about an idea then we need to discuss the idea, not the label. For more criticisms of discussing definitions see Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies Volume 2, Chapter 11, Section II. Specifically when we want to discuss a pattern of behaviour, such as wage labour, we should discuss what problem it solves, whether the pattern is problematic. If it is problematic is there some variant that would be better? Or is the pattern in question so bad it should be abolished, like slavery?

Some people who work for a wage dislike their job and wish they didn’t have to do it. But a person can dislike doing something because he has bad ideas, so this doesn’t tell us much. Nor does disagreement tell us which party to the disagreement, if either, is correct.  So if an employer and employee disagree about what the employee should do we can’t say which of them is right without knowing more.

Socialists say that the way to solve this problem is for the employers to give up their property rights in the plant they own to the workers. The workers are better suited to run the plant because they actually use the machines and know how they perform in practise. Bu there is a problem with this argument. Why did the employer own the machines in the first place?

The employer had an idea about some good or service. He thought that people would want that good or service and he thought about the best way to provide it. He then got the money to buy the plant, the premises in which to install it and so on. And he makes decisions about how to use the plant for as long he owns it. If not enough people buy his product or service then his business will fail. He pays the employees money in advance of knowing whether their labour will make him a profit or not. Doing anything novel entails risk. The employer takes that risk and the employees don’t. If the employees genuinely have a better idea about what risk should be taken then they could try to raise the money to buy the employer out.

Some socialists might say there isn’t really that much risk. You can just produce stuff that people know they want. This idea is problematic: it presupposes that people know the best way of making stuff and just have to tell other people to go do it. But figuring out how to do stuff well is hard. It requires trial and the correction of error. This is equally true of producing new technology and continuing to produce stuff that was produced before under changing conditions. The way the market does this is that if the good is being supplied badly enough by the lights of the people who might buy it the people supplying it won’t make a profit and will have to stop.

Somebody has to take the risky decisions and those people should get the profit or take the hit. If they don’t then they will not be able to make decisions about whether to continue making a product or service or not. That is, they will not be able to decide whether they prefer to make the product under current conditions or not, nor will they have any guidance on whether other ways of making it might work.

What the socialists propose amounts to saying that nobody should want to make the tradeoff of getting money now and taking a lot less risk rather than taking a large risk and getting money later. But what about the worker who needs the money right now and has no choice but to make that tradeoff? If he has no idea how to produce goods and services better then there is no reason for anybody to give him stuff when he doesn’t know how to use it. If he does have a great idea then he should want to put in the time and effort needed to persuade other people to give him money to try it, or he should save the required money. To say anything else entails that people should give him stuff when they don’t think it’s a good idea. It requires people to act irrationally: that is, to ignore criticisms of their actions.

But the worker might be unhappy I hear you cry. If somebody can’t convince other people to give him stuff or money to try some great idea he should be interested in working out why they aren’t convinced. So he has an opportunity to learn. If he doesn’t have good ideas for a business but wants to have good ideas about that then he should be interested in learning about how to have such ideas. And if he wants neither of those things, that’s fine but he shouldn’t want people to give him stuff when he doesn’t know how to use it and has no intention of learning. And when I say it’s fine not to want those things I really mean it. Some people want to do philosophy or poetry or draw or whatever and don’t want to run a business. All I’m saying is that if that’s what you want to do and you’re not willing to persuade other people to sponsor you to do it you shouldn’t expect to get stuff for doing it.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

8 Responses to Freedom and employment

  1. Peter says:

    “Since he has no choice but to work for a wage he isn’t free since he has no alternative. ”

    The anarcho-capitalist says that the state is coersive, because this one have no choice to say no, no other alternative. So this is misleading, so therefore we can not use that argument against the institution called the state, correct?

    • I argued that anarchopac was wrong about that particular claim. A worker can start his own business if he can get the money to do so and he has a good idea. He can also choose to work for a different employer. So while it is necessary for him to do something that other people will pay him for to avoid starving to death, it is not the case that there is a single monopolistic institution for which he has to work.

      Now, what’s wrong with the government is that people have to pay the particular group who happens to be in power even if they think there is a better alternative. You do have to pay somebody to settle disputes involving force and fraud and stuff like that. It is not necessary to have a monopolistic institution that plays that role.

      • Peter says:

        I see. I believe that this confused me ” I don’t think it does much good to argue about whether this or that action is compatible with freedom because it frames the debate in a misleading way.” For that seems to be the basis of the debate for many anarcho-capitalists. That they don’t have a choice. However, what you are saying now is that there is a choice and Anarchopac is simply wrong and not misleading?

        “And even if a worker wants to start his own business he must work for a wage to save up money to start the business and so has to work for a wage. ”
        “A worker can start his own business if he can get the money to do so and he has a good idea.”
        Hmm, I would say that is the point Anarchopac is trying to make, that no matter what, the worker, the non-owner, would have to work for someone else. The worker would have no choice in the end, but to work for someone else, not only himself (or her, lets not forget to be political correct 😀 ). So it ends up being close to slavery, robbery, because there is no valid choice? Either you work for someone else or you die, either you give something that is yours or you die? Is that so different from how the statesystem works?

        There are almost 200 states across the world, so there is alternatives, so it is misleading for the Ancap to take this position and make arguments from that?
        Even if there was only one employer, one owner of the land, would that change anything for the anarcho-capitalistic view of that it is fair and right for it to be like that?

        • “Hmm, I would say that is the point Anarchopac is trying to make, that no matter what, the worker, the non-owner, would have to work for someone else… So it ends up being close to slavery, robbery, because there is no valid choice? Either you work for someone else or you die, either you give something that is yours or you die? ”

          What’s going on is that other people are not your slaves. They don’t have to give you stuff if, in their judgement, it is a bad idea. You are not being forced to do anything. There is no specific set of actions that you are required to perform. There are people who make money by staying home all day and playing computer games. Other people work 90 hours per week at a bank or some other business. And you don’t have to deal with anyone. If you want to go to some uninhabited place and never deal with another person then go for it.

          “Is that so different from how the statesystem works? There are almost 200 states across the world, so there is alternatives, so it is misleading for the Ancap to take this position and make arguments from that?”

          Yes. The state does require you to do specific things, such as fork over some of your money for protection services you may not want, such as protection from other people taking chemicals the government disapproves of. Ad for there being 200 states that doesn’t change the fact that there is an attempt to impose a geographical monopoly on levying taxes in each state.

          “Even if there was only one employer, one owner of the land, would that change anything for the anarcho-capitalistic view of that it is fair and right for it to be like that?”

          That would not happen since different people have different preferences.

    • Peter says:

      We are moving a bit away from the subject I addressed (is anarchopac being misleading? and if yes, is ancaps also being it then?), but I’ll play along, since I started this 🙂 and after all it is a natural way to go with the questions asked.

      “They don’t have to give you stuff if, in their judgement, it is a bad idea.”
      They are not asked to give anything, they are asked not to prevent you from using your body.

      “There is no specific set of actions that you are required to perform.”
      Yes there is, the owner (A) asks the non-owner (B) to use B’s body to service A, so A will not use violence against B, when B tries to use what A persives as what only A may rule over.

      ” If you want to go to some uninhabited place and never deal with another person then go for it.”
      Doesn’t that sound very much like: “you can always move.”? Well, could the sentens not also be: If you want to go to some non-state controlled place and never deal with a state, then go for it.?

      “The state does require you to do specific things, such as fork over some of your money for protection services you may not want, such as protection from other people taking chemicals the government disapproves of.”
      Could this not read, in the anarcho-capitalist world (ACW):
      A does require B to do specific things, such as giving over some of B’s money, for rent, even if B never asked A to build anything or do any other service, for B. A can also impose geografical rules, that says B may not use specific items in specific ways, like playing really loud music or telling B’s opinion to other people about A. If B do, B can be punished. ??

      “Ad for there being 200 states that doesn’t change the fact that there is an attempt to impose a geographical monopoly on levying taxes in each state.”
      Can A in the geografical area, tell B to pay taxes to A, if B wants to live there? Does A have to change A’s rules, if B is born in that geographical area?
      However, it still don’t really answer the question:
      – ” There are almost 200 states across the world, so there is alternatives, so it is misleading for the Ancap to take this position and make arguments from that?”

      Which was given as respons to this:

      – “So while it is necessary for him to do something that other people will pay him for to avoid starving to death, it is not the case that there is a single monopolistic institution for which he has to work.”

      Who or what has the right to control a geografical area and make laws/rules, which people on that geografical area, have to follow, in the ACW? Would that be monopolistic?

      “That would not happen since different people have different preferences.”
      Is that really a valid answer to the question? Isn’t it like saying:
      “Is there life on other planets?”
      “Nah, that would never happen, because life is so compleks.”
      ??

      • Peter says:

        sry “you can always move.” was ment to say “you can always leave.” but I guess it is the same thing in this situation 🙂

      • >>They don’t have to give you stuff if, in their judgement, it is a bad idea.
        >
        > They are not asked to give anything, they are asked not to prevent you from using your body.

        Yes you are. The capitalist arranges for a factory to be built, for machines to be put in it and that sort of thing. You are asking to use all that stuff for a purpose with which he doesn’t agree. Your position is like saying “when you ask me not to use my crowbar to break into your car, and then drive around buying groceries you are preventing me from using my body.” No. I’m preventing you from using my car for a purpose I don’t agree with. You can whatever you want with your body.

        >> There is no specific set of actions that you are required to perform.”
        >
        > Yes there is, the owner (A) asks the non-owner (B) to use B’s body to service A, so A will not use violence against B, when B tries to use what A persives as what only A may rule over.

        B is not required to use his body in A’s service. Contracts do not compel specific performance. What the contract does say is “if you don’t do this stuff, I won’t pay you.”

        > A does require B to do specific things, such as giving over some of B’s money, for rent, even if B never asked A to build anything or do any other service, for B.

        A doesn’t have to pay rent to anyone unless he signs a contract saying he will pay rent.

        > Who or what has the right to control a geografical area and make laws/rules, which people on that geografical area, have to follow, in the ACW? Would that be monopolistic?

        In ancap, the rules that you have to follow are in a contract you sign with a protection agency. The protection agency does not have a geographical monopoly. If you want to stay where you are and sign up with a different agency you can do that.

        >>> “Even if there was only one employer, one owner of the land, would that change anything for the anarcho-capitalistic view of that it is fair and right for it to be like that?”
        >>
        >> That would not happen since different people have different preferences.
        >
        > Is that really a valid answer to the question? Isn’t it like saying:
        > “Is there life on other planets?”
        > “Nah, that would never happen, because life is so compleks.”

        So what you are asking is “if any given piece of property has only one owner isn’t that like the state ruling a particular piece of territory?” No, it’s not like that. If you can persuade the owner of a piece of property to give it to you, perhaps in exchange for money or whatever, then you can do what you want with it. There is no mechanism in place for you to say to the existing government: “I don’t want to hold to the particular rules you prescribe. There is another organisation that advocates a different set of rules. I’ll pay them to provide the services I want rather than the ones you want to impose on me. And I’ll pay you to let me out of my agreement with you.”

  2. Julia says:

    “And you don’t have to deal with anyone. If you want to go to some uninhabited place and never deal with another person then go for it.”

    Is that truly an option, even for a lot of people at once? Would it let them meet their physical needs (including healthcare) and let them communicate with people they do want to communicate with? Thanks in advance if you can tell me more about alternatives to working for other people.

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