John Danaher asks, “Does Work Undermine our Freedom?”
As soon as I got as far as the title “Employment as a Limitation on Self-Ownership,” I reflexively thought of Abolish Human Rentals (Support Worker Cooperatives) Personally, I don’t buy the idea of “self ownership” as I consider “self” (myself, yourself or anyself) as being in a category entirely separate from the category of ownable stuff. I think slavery is something that should not be made light of, so for that reason if no other, I prefer “human rentals” over, say, “wage slavery” (an oxymoron) as a description of what employment is and does.
Despite my rejection of the term wage slavery, I consider myself (among other things) an anarcho-syndicalist, so I believe that a workplace that is both worker-controlled and cooperative is an absolute prerequisite for work not undermining our freedom.
The second phrase that grabbed me is Karl Widerquist’s “effective control self ownership.” This idea sort of captures how I think of these things, but is unfortunately a self-ownership-based model. I think more along the lines of the probably similar-but-not-the-same “capability approach” of Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum et al. The approach emphasizes functional capabilities (“substantive freedoms”, such as the ability to live to old age, engage in economic transactions, or participate in political activities). One area where I differ from this is that I crave the freedom not to engage in economic transactions. It should be noted, however, that this attitude is borne out of frustration in my experiences with the market economy, especially the labor market. If gainful employment were a lower-hanging fruit, as it were, perhaps I would be able to see free markets as friends rather than enemies of freedom.
Concerning the two prior categories of anti-work arguments: “intrinsic badness arguments (which claimed that there was something intrinsically bad about work) and opportunity cost arguments (which claimed that even if work was okay, non-work was better)”
Substitute “transaction” for “work” and I would agree with both arguments. My philosophical bent is utilitarian (specifically negative utilitarian) and both the above arguments are basically statements of rank-ordering of preferences. That which is better is preferable to that which is okay, for the exact same reasons that that which is not intrinsically bad is better than that which is. With me, it all boils down to rank ordering of preferences. Employment is what exists at the intersection of acts of work and acts of transaction. Employment is what transforms work from an end in itself to a means to an end. I like how S. Zoutewelle puts it:
Sure we need to survive, but let’s acknowledge the desperation under this drive to take everything we do, are or think and try to get cash for it. It reminds me of a young child who shows her father a drawing. He playfully offers her a dollar for it and 15 minutes later she comes back with 5 more. What got lost there in between the first spontaneous artwork and the 5 subsequent calculated ones?
The bottom line is this: In America today work is both a requirement and a privilege. It is a requirement because the world doesn’t owe you a living, and it is a privilege because the world doesn’t owe you a job. This is a property of every market economy. There is no reason to believe that a “freed market” economy would be any different in this respect. As far as I can see, the non-aggression principle directly implies work being both a requirement and a privilege, and these two things directly imply that survival is a privilege (and not a right). In other words, the non-aggression principle (NAP) implies social darwinism. This is why I think anarcho-capitalists, not left libertarians, are the true guardians and heirs of the non-aggression principle. It’s also why I reject the NAP and why my antistatism of an antilibertarian variety.