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Wage Slavery: Or Do Jobs Take Away Our Freedom?

in Blog, Economics, Learning, Philosophy

Hello again to all of my learning people out there! Yes, it has been quite a long while since my last post, and for that, I am dreadfully sorry. However, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been a pretty busy bee. If you want to know what has been taking up a lot of my (minute amount of) free time, you can read a little bit about it in January’s wealth report, or you can check out my writing website! It’s been a great first two months of the year, and I plan on carrying my momentum into the rest of the year as I learn and develop new ways to save money, in addition to learning new ways to make money, both of which should help pretty substantially on my way to financial freedom.

Today though, I am going to depart from the previous posts on this site and talk about a topic that is more philosophical, and – I believe – many people would find controversial. It relates to my interest in, and love for, economics. So, I would like to begin with a disclaimer to you all. I am not a professional economist. I profess to being an amateur in economics. Although I hold a bachelor’s degree in the field, I still have (a lot) to learn and research everything I am interested in because the field is just so diverse, and that brings me to the topic of this post, wage slavery. No, it is not a pretty name, and it definitely holds strong connotations harking back to the days of ignorant slave owners. However, as you can probably guess, that connection was made on purpose. Thinking about this topic was one of a myriad of things, which made me realize I wanted to reach financial freedom as soon as humanly possible, but before I delve into that, how about a little history?

Wage Slavery? Never Heard of It.

Wage slavery is defined as: “a situation where a person’s livelihood depends on wages or a salary, especially when the dependence is total and immediate.”

There is definitely a reason why you have never heard of wage slavery, and that is because the term was first coined back in the day – 1763 to be exact – by Simon Linguet, a French journalist (if you haven’t realized by now, I love Wikipedia). Here are his exact words regarding the comparison between chattel slavery (what we typically think of) and wage slavery:

The slave was precious to his master because of the money he had cost him . . . They were worth at least as much as they could be sold for in the market . . . It is the impossibility of living by any other means that compels our farm labourers to till the soil whose fruits they will not eat and our masons to construct buildings in which they will not live . . . It is want that compels them to go down on their knees to the rich man in order to get from him permission to enrich him . . . what effective gain [has] the suppression of slavery brought [him ?] He is free, you say. Ah! That is his misfortune . . . These men . . . [have] the most terrible, the most imperious of masters, that is, need. . . . They must therefore find someone to hire them, or die of hunger. Is that to be free?

-Simon Linguet

I think that is some powerful stuff, and if I could see ol’ Simon today, I’d shake that man’s hand because he helped put me on the path I am currently walking.

handcuffs-964522_1280Even Frederick Douglass, former slave turned abolitionist and statesman, got in on the wage slave train. According to various sources, he originally reviled the idea, taking offense to it, but after holding wage jobs himself, came to the conclusion that the two really weren’t much different. It’s a scary thought that a former chattel slave decided there wasn’t much difference between that form of slavery and his “new” one.

However, the term fell out of vogue around the beginning of the 1900s due to greater negative connotation. It was the “Gilded Age” after all, and people like the Rockefellers and Andrew Carnegie were revered for their rags to riches story. They started somewhere, so everyone else had to as well. Thus, the American Dream was born, but that is a topic for another time. Also, and probably the stronger factor at play, was the strength and influence of capital (business and land owners) lorded over politics and labor (probably, you, and me). Does that sound familiar?

The idea never really died though, and is still discussed by various economists and fields of economics, such as participatory economics.

Am I Saying Jobs Are Bad?

Oh, I would never go so far as to say that. I think everyone should have a job. Having a sense of purpose, duty, and direction is an essential part of life. Where I have acquired a distaste, is for how jobs are essential for life. For the majority of human history, we were free to do as we pleased, for example, hunter-gatherer cultures today average 12-19 hours of work a week, mirroring what our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably worked. Today, in the US, we average 47 hours of work per week. Hunter-gatherer peoples all have/had jobs as well, but they take a lot less time, leaving them much more time for leisure – to socialize and enjoy life, while many of us working today are miserable in our toil. Am I being dramatic? I concede that I may be to some degree. Obviously we have much more in other ways than those peoples do, like state-of-the-art medical care, vehicles, the ability to travel to far-off places, and more. So, we have a trade-off. Deciding which lifestyle is better than the other is a subjective thing. I would say both have their pluses, but we have yet to find a healthy balance between the two.

Ever feel buried by the monotony of paperwork?

Ever feel buried by the monotony of paperwork?

The Takeaway?

Now, I’m not saying, “BURN THEM WITH FIRE!” about capitalism and corporations, or that they are terrible monstrous creations that we have lost control of. These systems have done miraculous things ranging from creating vehicles to move us hundreds or thousands of miles, to the medications which save millions of lives daily. I’m saying when you get home from work tomorrow, take a little time to think and get some perspective about your day-to-day life and what is truly important.

Are you eager and excited to go to work every day because you love your job? I’d wager a generous sum betting a minimum of 51% of people aren’t. Even if you do enjoy your job, do you enjoy having to work from 8 to 5, 5 days a week (if you’re lucky)? 46.7 million people in the US, have to work to acquire enough money just to survive. That is nearly 15% of our total population. Without a job, all of those people would lose at least one of their basic needs for survival, be that shelter, food, etc. This is the fundamental definition of wage slavery.

Before you say, “But Don, That Learning Guy, that can’t happen to me. I have a $20k emergency fund, only $30k in debt (mortgage, loans, etc.), and I make $80k a year. What you’re saying just doesn’t apply to me,” I just implore you to take 10 minutes out of your day and perform a little thought experiment. What if you didn’t have a job tomorrow, regardless of your financial situation? Would you be able to meet all of your debts and your basic needs? If you could, for how long would you truly be able to keep up with them? If you can keep up with them for 6 months (like most emergency fund recommendations), what would happen if you couldn’t find a job for a year or more, as in during a depression?

If you took a survey of the US, the majority answer would be, “I couldn’t.” No matter how prepared you are, unless you are financially independent and free, in our current society and with our current economic model, a job equals life at some point or another (or at least a livable life). So, again, I ask you, how free are you really? I have always like thinking about this. Some people could be considered “free-er” or closer to freedom than others. Those who are financial independent are the freest of us all, and that is why I hope to get there someday! You could think about it this way, people who are financially independent no longer have to rent their time and skills to survive. They own their own time. What do you think of this concept? Do you think it is fair? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Bonus: A video of Noam Chomsky on the topic of Wage Slavery. We “rent” our time. Is it really better than just outright selling ourselves?

-That Learning Guy




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