Wage Slavery

Someone close to me kept referring to “having a job” as “slavery” and it started to bother me. And it bothered me because I had never heard someone give a rebuttal to this argument that wasn’t at least 100 pages. So here goes.

Humans require things to live. Things like food, shelter, clothes, etc.

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Blistering sax solos…

You could, if you are a burly and intelligent man, make all of those things for yourself. You could grow crops, farm animals, shear sheep for wool, make a log cabin, keep up on repairs, and on and on.

For many people, that would take up the vast majority of your time. You probably wouldn’t have time to do any of the things you want to do.

The solution that people came up with to this problem is called “division of labor“.

Essentially, you find the thing you are best at that is most in demand by other people. Then you spend a certain amount of time per day doing that thing, usually less time than you would doing all the other things. All of the other people do the same thing. You then trade the time you spend doing what you’re good at, for the other people doing what they’re good at. Since you only have to do one thing, you can do it faster and better than you would be able to if it was one of a hundred things you had to do. Since everyone is doing that, everything gets made faster and better than it would be otherwise.

Your eight hours of skilled labor (your job) is worth twelve to fourteen hours of unskilled labor (you doing everything yourself). That leaves you with an extra four to six hours a day to do whatever you want.

Now, this is not for everyone. There are people who would be much happier taking the first option and doing everything yourself. If that person is you, then go and do that. Here is some free land you can have. A large number of the skills you would need to survive can be found here and here. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with that.

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Nothing at all…

For the people who don’t find doing everything yourself all that appealing, then division of labor is your only option. At least until robots take over all the jobs. Or ultra-advanced, emulated humans. Or there’s a UBI and everything is magically done for us.

None of this is meant to imply that the current system is ideal, or even good. All I am saying here is that a job is not slavery. It’s just trading your time for other people’s time.



Reading list for those wanting to know more:

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith will get you most of the information you could possibly want on this topic.

Capital by Karl Marx is in many ways a rebuttal to Smith, but I felt Marx missed some key points.

And Human Action by Ludwig von Mises, which rebuts Marx’s rebuttal.

Just about every economics book you can find will devote at least some time to division of labor. I’m not going to list all of them.

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