Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

"Slavery" in a capitalist society?

Rate this topic


Kjetil
 Share

Recommended Posts

I'm involved in a discussion about slavery in which one of the participants writes:

"

In most cases, people became slaves because they sold themselves voluntarily. They were deep in debt and couldn´t pay back their loans. Taking out a loan and offering themselves as security was a treaty between consenting adults, considered perfectly normal. So - I´m asking if such treaties should be enforced in your ideal world."

Should it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is historically a most dubious assertion, but that's a separate question.

One objection I see to this suggestion is that an agreement giving up your rights altogether could never be sufficiently specific to constitute an enforceable contract. Another is that personal rights aren't the sort of object that could plausibly figure in commerce that way that material goods and property rights (such as copyrights) do.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... slavery...
What do you mean when you think of a government enforcing "voluntary slavery"? For instance, consider some other -- very routine -- type of contract. Suppose I pay someone $100 to mend my car and he does not. No court will force that person to actually, mend my car. At most, they will ask him to pay for it to be mended. Depending on the circumstances, I might just be able to get my $100 back. So, when one asks if a court will enforce a "voluntary slavery" one is really asking this: if someone agrees to be another person's slave and then refuses, would a capitalist court make the would-be slave compensate the other party? No more, no less.

A second point about context. Yes, it is true that there was a time when people would take a loan and then virtually indenture themselves for life. However, under today's law they could simply declare bankruptcy.

I'm not saying a capitalist court would enforce a slavery contract. However, putting the above two things together, imagine what would happen if they did. Some desperately poor guy "sells" himself into slavery, then he changes his mind. The court says he owes compensation. He pays what he can, and then declares bankruptcy.

I realize this does not answer the question, but I hope the context-setting helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think softwareNerd hit the nail on the head. If I can enter into a contract which will require me to work for one year for $50,000, why not one that says I have to work for 50,000 years for one dollar? I should be able to make a contract like that if I want to, but that doesn't mean that if I default on my responsibilities, the government's response will be to put me in chains and attach me to the house of the other party for the term of my life.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No.

You can only have your rights taken away from you for commiting a crime. You always have rights. If you are on someone else property they can't tell you not to leave under most circumstances, even if you were contracted not to. There is no such thing as debt-slavery under capitalism.

The government also can not force someone to make good on a contract. At most the government can force you to make you repay for damages. However defaulting on a contract that says you will work for someone for 50,000 years for one dollar can only incure a dolalr in damages.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A person can never voluntarily agree to turn themselves into property without any rights. Slavery doesn't just mean that you work for a person, it means that they OWN you. They can kill you, sell your organs on eBay, mutilate you, whatever they want, and it has no more significance than if they did the same to a piece of wood. This is not a proper human relationship and not one that can be created contractually.

It is verbal sloppiness to refer to contractual terms such as "I will work eight hours a day five days a week for X company in Y position for ten years" as "slavery", even if the terms are much worse than that. This is a rather specific obligation. It does not reduce the person who agrees to it to the status of a piece of wood.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A person can never voluntarily agree to turn themselves into property without any rights. Slavery doesn't just mean that you work for a person, it means that they OWN you. They can kill you, sell your organs on eBay, mutilate you, whatever they want, and it has no more significance than if they did the same to a piece of wood. This is not a proper human relationship and not one that can be created contractually.

How does one figure out which human relationships are proper and can therefore be the subject of a contract? What if it's just killing you (as in assisted suicide)? Should I be able to pay a doctor to end my life?

How about just mutilation, and how do you figure out whether or not something qualifies as mutilation? Are tattoos mutilation? How about if there's no ink on the needle? Why should I be able to get one of those in a contract, but not the other?

Should a person be allowed to just sell his organs on ebay?

And if I can do any of those things separately, why can't I combine them? What if I want a tribal shaman to give me a ritual tattoo before helping me end my life because I believe it will help me in some kind of afterlife (and to sell my organs on ebay afterwards to help pay for his service)?

This is a rather specific obligation. It does not reduce the person who agrees to it to the status of a piece of wood.

So is specificity the issue? If I can clearly outline what I mean by being treated like a piece of wood (having nails driven into me to attach me to other things, being set on fire for warmth), does it become okay to contractually obligate myself to those things?

It seems to make more sense to say that I can create a contract in which I obligate myself to ridiculous things, but that I can also refuse to do the things I agreed to do (including allowing the other guy to make good on his obligations), and that the penalty can only be monetary and must represent actual damage to the other person (like the cost of the ink he had to buy to give me the tattoo). Otherwise, how do you figure out where to objectively draw the line?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Contracts are contracts if they are enforceable. "Voluntary slavery" is not enforceable. If you're talking about agreeing to do work, that's one thing, but it would mean having another person be property. That is by nature a violation of rights, thus no government could rightfully enforce that. A supposed "contract" would be null and void in such a context. What could the government do? That isn't to say all non-enforceable agreements are immoral or improper, only that if things fall through and one party falls back on the agreement, the contract can't and won't even be considered.

With voluntary slavery, the government would stop the slave owner forcibly, because the slave owner is violating rights by denying the slave any chance for acting in their own interest. You may argue that the "slave" agreed, so no force is being initiated... except, there is no right to life even being respected by the slave owner. That's what is meant in this context by "not a proper human relationship".

With assisted suicide, the government would not go out and force the doctor to kill you, nor would the government go out and kill you because that makes up for the doctor's refusal. Simply put, the government wouldn't do anything beyond getting your money back if the doctor chickened out last minute. So, there is some enforceability there. This may be a borderline case, given that death is involved. I'm sure there is some existing precedent for how to deal with tattoos or other body-altering acts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm having some trouble even understanding some of the responses, so please bear with me. Maybe it would be easier for you guys to respond if I narrow my thoughts down some:

How does one figure out whether a contract violates the rights of one of the parties and is therefore invalid? The best idea I can come up with is that it represents a violation of the rights of one of the parties if that party is forced to abide by the specific terms of the contract instead of just being monetarily penalized for backing out. Is that incorrect?

[Edited for clarity]

Edited by bkildahl
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm having some trouble even understanding some of the responses, so please bear with me. Maybe it would be easier for you guys to respond if I narrow my thoughts down some:

How does one figure out whether a contract violates the rights of one of the parties and is therefore invalid? The best idea I can come up with is that it represents a violation of the rights of one of the parties if that party is forced to abide by the specific terms of the contract instead of just being monetarily penalized for backing out. Is that incorrect?

[Edited for clarity]

The only valid way to enforce contracts is to force people to pay damages for opting out of a contract. The government does not have the right to force people to go through with contracts.

A good example of people being force to keep their contracts is mariage in the catholic world. People were not allowed to end their marriages no matter what the conditions, even if both of them no longer wanted to be a part of it any more. Indentured servants are another example I believe.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A good example of people being force to keep their contracts is mariage in the catholic world. People were not allowed to end their marriages no matter what the conditions, even if both of them no longer wanted to be a part of it any more. Indentured servants are another example I believe.

That is an interesting way to discuss enforcing contracts. Can you specify what time period you mean? The workings of marriage are historically diverse.

In some of medieval times, men could end a marriage for any reason (women were totally disregarded). Other times, one's family had complete say in marriage, and parents could prevent divorce as they saw fit. The government/church wasn't really going around forcing people to stay in marriage because it's impossible to enforce that unless you live in totalitarianism - which the medieval period wasn't. All that really did occur with enforcing marriage and divorce is transfer of wealth, women (whose wisher were, again, often disregarded), or property. What would even be accomplished to force people into the same house because that happened to be an agreement in the contract? Enforceability must be considered, as any entity will be unable to function if it can't keep its rules in place efficiently. Going further than that, contracts need to be about protecting rights rather than absolutely protecting the sanctity of an agreement, as we'd want any rules to be about the flourishing of the society we live in.

Edited by Eiuol
Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is an interesting way to discuss enforcing contracts. Can you specify what time period you mean? The workings of marriage are historically diverse.

In some of medieval times, men could end a marriage for any reason (women were totally disregarded). Other times, one's family had complete say in marriage, and parents could prevent divorce as they saw fit. The government/church wasn't really going around forcing people to stay in marriage because it's impossible to enforce that unless you live in totalitarianism - which the medieval period wasn't. All that really did occur with enforcing marriage and divorce is transfer of wealth, women (whose wisher were, again, often disregarded), or property. What would even be accomplished to force people into the same house because that happened to be an agreement in the contract? Enforceability must be considered, as any entity will be unable to function if it can't keep its rules in place efficiently. Going further than that, contracts need to be about protecting rights rather than absolutely protecting the sanctity of an agreement, as we'd want any rules to be about the flourishing of the society we live in.

Thats a good point. I just got the impression marriage was much harder to get out of than it is today. I guess I should stop watching trashy costume dramas like Borgia and the Tudors, where the pope will do everything in his power to keep certain people married. For instane excommunicating a king is a lot like branding someone an outlaw. However I don't know if that can be contract enforcement, more like treatise enforcement and politics.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...