Neo-Abolitionism: The Case Against the Employer-Employee System

The controversial institution in the economic system throughout most of the world is not the market or private property but the employer-employee relationship. In the technical terms of Economics, the employer is renting the employees. The abolition of slavery abolished any voluntary contractual form of buying labor “by the lifetime” in addition to involuntary slavery. In its place, we have system of voluntarily renting people by the hour, day, week, or any specified time period. A critique of voluntary forms of slavery and autocracy was developed in the abolitionist and democratic movements. When recovered and formulated in modern terms, this neo-abolitionist critique of the human rental system proceeds along three lines that converge to the same conclusion: 1) the theory of inalienable rights that descends from the Reformation notion of inalienability of conscience (violated by the renting of persons), 2) democratic theory based on the distinction between social contracts of alienation (pactum subjectionis) and contracts of delegation (the employer is not the delegate of the employees), and 3) the development of the modern natural rights or labor theory of property that people should appropriate the (positive and negative) fruits of their labor (appropriated by the employer in the employment relation).

Project leader(s):
  • David Ellerman (University of California at Riverside)

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