Freedom is Slavery

I cannot believe we are seeing such nonsense in this day and age. The right is now reaching deep into the 19th century for inspiration.

Solving the Economic Crisis through a Free Market in Labor

(Chicago) Labor will not be entirely free until it can be bought and sold, says a cutting edge new report from the Freedom Institute, a right-leaning think tank.  The return of slavery is an inevitable part of an “ownership society”, not to mention a fresh economic idea to kick-start a depressed economy.

“Abolishing slavery was the first step towards the welfare state and big government,” said Milton Freedman, the Institute’s Executive Director.  “We need a return to good ol’ family values, back when people could be free to buy and sell labor as they pleased, without some overpaid bureaucrat getting in their way.”

The report, Freedom is Slavery, notes that current labor markets are inherently incomplete.  They cannot fulfill their task of efficient allocation of resources because firms are limited in their ability to purchase labor.  This poses immeasurable economic costs in terms of wasted human resources.

In addition to accelerated economic growth, the report predicts a number of other benefits.  Slavery would virtually wipe out rapidly rising unemployment through market forces.  Because supply creates its own demand, the market would determine how much people are truly worth.

Secondary benefits would come from population health improvements and an end to homelessness.  Masters always have a strong incentive to take good care of their slaves, by housing them, feeding them well and keeping them in good physical shape to be able to perform at peak productivity levels.

The report’s findings will be controversial, acknowledges Freedman.  As a first step, the report recommends a transitionary move to debt peonage, a system whereby workers are tied to owners because of accumulated debt. Outright ownership would follow soon after.

The transition stage makes a great deal of sense given the huge accumulated debt loads of today’s households, and the fallout of a collapse in housing and stock values.

“This could be a Nixon-goes-to-China moment for the Obama administration,” adds Freedman.  “Economic freedom is much more important to a vibrant economy – just look at countries like China that have the highest growth rates.  You don’t see them whining about political freedom.”


To download a copy of the report, click here.


  • Uncle Milty died a few years back so this report is old.

    I also like how the right wants “market” reform for labour but doesn’t mention how central banks force a surplus of labour to keep the price of labour artificially low. Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor = fascism.

  • Fernando Margueirat

    It has to be a little more subtle for people to fall for it. This one was too outrageous :).

  • I read the download and I must agree this is bold and controversial.

    I wrote an undergrad paper on slavery in Rome, and there were in fact three benefits; 1) Yes, slaves were healthier and got better health care, much the same way domesticated animals which are owned are normally in better health than feral or wild animals; 2) All slaves were given substantial education and training, as the owner could recoup their investment as long as the slave remained healthy (see #1). Also note that because modern society bans slavery, the quit threat creates a disincentive for employers to train their employers (i.e. competitors could pick off newly-trained employees). And 3) Over a century or two, sources of slaves all dried up, a bunch of slaves became healthy, educated, and moderately well-off, and wages as a whole started to rise because of a labour shortage.

    There is a side benefit for economists who are developing human capital models, as the fresh data will allow them to more clearly reconcile education costs, the price of the labour asset (i.e. slave), and the marginal return on education.

  • It would be funnier if some people didn’t actually seriously consider it. The idea was discussed in my undergrad labour econ class at SFU, particularly as it refers to who should bear the costs of education and training: the employer or the employee.

    To an extent, it’s implemented in the military – they pay for your schooling in exchange for a certain number of years that you guarantee to work for them.

  • Good comparison. I once read that during the first Gulf War in the early 90’s, soldiers were less likely to die than civilians in the US who were the same age, sex and ethnicity. I think that when they’re not on the battlefield, armed forces are really uptight about safety.

  • I remember reading on some socialist newspaper or website that some plantation owners in the South welcomed the end of slavery because it meant they where no longer morally obligated to make sure their slaves where taken care of.

  • Quite possibly. Also, I bet that members of the armed forces are much fitter and healthier than the general population of civilians of the same age, sex and ethnicity. By which I mean to say that it’s a selection issue rather than a case of the “slaves” being taken care of better than they would have been able to take care of themselves.

  • Darwin wrote:

    “I remember reading on some socialist newspaper or website that some plantation owners in the South welcomed the end of slavery because it meant they were no longer morally obligated to make sure their slaves were taken care of.”

    Slavery does not morally or legally oblige the Atlantic Slave owner to care of his/her slave; no more than ownership of a car today morally obliges the owner to take care of it.

    All private property does is give the owner the right to exclude others from the use of it and in the case of Atlantic slaves that meant owners could even exclude the slave from the enjoyment of their own labour and as the case often was their life.

    This is, by the way, a rather repugnant conversation.

  • May I suggest the following classic article by J. Philmore

    The Libertarian Case for Slavery

    Yes, it is a spoof — but real right-wing “libertarians” do support voluntary slavery. People like Robert Nozick and Walter Block. For a summary see:

    F.2.2 Do Libertarian-capitalists support slavery?

    So just when you think you have reached a position which parodies the free market right beyond reasonable doubt, you discover some of them actually been advocating it for years…

    No wonder anarchists call them propertarians!

  • Well, yes, you were posting on April 2nd, so it’s not funny any more.

  • Well you see I do not want to be a bore. And in fact I did not find the original post repugnant. But, I would if only to put a fine, if not provocative, point on the matter suggest that we would not talk about slave labour in the Death Camps in such a loose way. But somehow when it comes to chattel slavery there are no such inhibitions.

    I would, further, suggest, and please do correct me if I am wrong, that the reason one even raises the spectre of slavery is because we think we (intuitively) know what that amounts to; i.e., none other than the full rational instrumentalization of a human being to the point where the human being ceases to be human and is rather just an object of indiscriminate desire. It is, I would suggest, the reason why many of us do not like the term “human capital” even if we recognize with Marx (and perhaps Weber on his left days) that capitalism is always pushing in the direction of the full instrumental rationalization of labour. That is, the attempt to reduce the worker to his or her “natural” place in the ledger of capitalist accounting is ultimately an attempt to reduce the human to a chunk of capital.

    The conversation is then repugnant not because of what it understands as absurd but rather what it makes trivial and thereby what it vitiates in its own attempted critical provocation. If we start from the social relations which typify different forms of labour from chattel slavery, to peonage, through to indentured servitude and then terminate with wage labour we can develop an account of the different forms of domination which are evaluated precisely by the degree of humanity which is afforded to the subordinate classes.

    Capitalism on this score is an improvement on peonage, slavery, debt bondage, etc but it still falls short in terms of granting the full recognition of the status of human to its subordinate classes. To do so would entail a sacrifice of the right to dominate. And at the end of the day this is what the rule of capital is about: the right of those with capital (or as the case may be these days those with the capacity to get their capital from the state) to dominate those who do not have capital (or as the case may be those who do not have access to the state to get capital).

    Oh shit what a bore am I.

  • Travis,

    You hit on the center of existence for a majority on the planet, that many not within the subordinate classes still see quite clearly, but those below, are culturally insulated from, (at least as best can be done).

    This drives home a central point with this current economic crisis. Did you see the recent cover of the Economist, “Get the Rich”.

    The fear is still quite prevalent. If teh system can’t deliver the goods to some notion of a valid trade-off, i.e. subordination for consumer fetishism, then maybe the boundaries between the current organized anarchy and chaos become a lot more defined.

    Maybe the subordinates will suddenly get a taste for the rich. It is a fascinating time, but one I hope we can deliver a new set of goods.

    On the subject of slavery, my two cents- if you are subordinate to the system and have an income that is at or below the living wage, then you are not much better off than that of a slave, relatively speaking.

    We have had progression in one sense (mass production and a small adjustment in the elevation of the distribution curve, but digression in another sense, i.e. risks pervade the consumption, and the negative externalities of the mass production.

    What is progress?

    Depends on who is measuring it and who is writing the report.

    What is a human being, and what is a worker- which comes back to my question- what is work and who is doing it.

    In my view the change and elevation to these grand heights of the great washed, are relative.

    1/3 of the world still does not have enough to eat and with this seemingly infinite labour supply in the face of an increasingly productive and portable mass production system, we have a great paradox. Increasing potential, given the tech, but decreasing ability to deliver, due to the need to minimize costs and maximize profits.

    Will more than a handful of humanity ever get to be human, or is the subordination to work, slavery, peonage, export processing zone factory worker, office clerk- being human.


  • I’m astonished that my April Fool’s article generated this much discussion! So thanks for the insights.

    I agree with Travis that we should not be glib about slavery. It is not something that was abolished long ago. Far too many people are slaves worldwide today, although technically some form of debt peonage for the most part, but effectively the same. And in my head I think not of black men on plantations but Asian and Eastern European women who have been lured into prostitution.

    I was just trying to poke fun at the right’s arguments on the efficiency of markets, and that a logical extension of that is for ownership of people. That principle is embedded in slavery and is totally consistent with capitalism.

    I felt I had to do so in a less than subtle way (as per good April Fool’s jokes) so that no one took me the wrong way. But I am glad that I got Paul!

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