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Batting about voluntary slavery

Some of my comments on a thread on facebook:

[update: see KOL004 | Interview with Walter Block on Voluntary Slavery and Inalienability; Slavery, Inalienability, Economics, and Ethics; Slavery, Inalienability, Economics, and Ethics]


Making moves! In design phase for a math product and hat idea. Found my manufactures! Discussing details. Also working on a paper involving the defense of voluntary slavery.

Stephan Kinsella

?David Gordon,Jeremiah Dyke

Thomas L. Knapp

I agree with David Gordon I disagree with pro-voluntary slavery libertarians, like Walter Block (Thomas L. Knapp is another, though he pettifogs on the use of the term “voluntary slavery).

Jeremiah Dyke: “I too think it’s insane not to have the ability to contract any percentage of your labor for any duration of time.”

this is not an argument. Abilities don’t come from opinions. Let’s be clear: to justify voluntary slavery means you have to justify the use of force by a would-be “master” against a would-be “slave” , if the slave tries to run away or changes his mind or disobeys an order. The libertarian thinks use of violence against another person’s body is unjustified aggression, unless it is (a) consented to, or (b) in response to aggression.

But the slave has not committed aggression, so (b) is not a possible justification. Some alienabilists disingenuously argue that it IS “aggression” since the master owns the slave’s body, so it’s trespass (aggression) for the slave to use the master’s property (the slave’s body) in ways the owner (master) does not consent to. This argument is disingenuous because it is question-begging: it presupposes the legitimacy of body-alienability, in order to prove it. So this does not fly. I will say that I get very tired of people who engage in question-begging in arguments. They do this all the time in IP — where they label an act of copying “stealing” in order to show that what was “stolen” must have been ownable property. Horrible reasoning. I hope you don’t engage in this kind of dishonest trick.

As for (a): clearly the slave who tries to run away does NOT consent to the force the master wants to apply to him. The only way the alienabilist can get around this is to say that the PREVIOUS consent the slave gave (say, a week before) is still somehow applicable, i.e. that the slave cannot change his mind. Why not? because … well … because … well … because the slavery contract was binding! So we see, yet again, the sneaky and dishonest resort to question-begging: slavery contracts are binding because they are binding. Neat trick, that!

The reason people can change their minds is that it does not commit aggression. And the reason a previous statement of intent is relevant is simply that it provides evidence of what the current consent is. It’s a standing order, but one that can be overridden with better, more recent, evidence. If a girl tells her boyfriend he may kiss her now, and any time he feels like it in the future, then when tomorrow comes he is reasonable in assuming that she is still actually consenting NOW to another kiss, even if she says nothing, because she set up that presumption earlier. Her previous statement was not a binding contract, but just a way of establishing a standing presumption about what her ongoing consent IS. But if he goes to kiss her and she says NO, then we know that the previous statement about what her future consent WOULD be, was a bad prediction and has been undermined by the better, present/current evidence she is giving.

It is no different in all the voluntary slavery situations.

” The problem is that many libertarians like Rothbard, Stephan Kinsella, David Gordon and Barnett, believe that such a condition is either an impossibility or shouldn’t be allowed,”

I think a careful reading of Rothbard shows that his view does not rest on “impossibility” (as I used to think). Instead, I think Rothbard was not talking about the case of commission of crime, but only the narrow context of a would-be voluntary slave who has not committed aggression. Rothbard notes that it is impossible for the slave to get rid of his will, and “therefore” the promise to be a slave is not binding, i.e. his body is not alienable. I think what Rothbard was getting at is this: in the normal, default situation, each person IS a self-owner BECAUSE he has a will: i.e., a direct control over his body. This direct control is the natural position, and gives the person a better claim to his body than anyone else. That is WHY he is a self-owner. Hoppe later makes this argument explicitly: the reason we are self-owners is that each person has a unique and direct connection to his body: his direct control over it–or, as Rothbard says, his will. Now Rothbard is implicitly recognizing that the slave who promises to be slave still has his will, as he did not literally alienate it. Therefore, he still has the best link to his body, and thus he is still its owner. Now it is true that iti s possible for someone to alienate their rights to their body, despite still having a will: by committing aggression. When you commit aggression you overcome the default presumption that you have the best right to control your body; now your victim has a better right to your body, despite your having the direct link to and direct control over it. But the point is the would voluntary slave never did commit aggression, so for him, he is able to change his mind.

In short, a promise about what you will consent to in the future is just a prediction. IT may be right or may be wrong.

” and from the literature I’ve read on the topic thus far the argument for voluntary slavery hasn’t been argued very well.”

I agree with you, and the reason is the same reason IP has not been argued very well: it’s impossible to justify.

Why libertarians would be so desperate to justify the ability to become someone’s slave is beyond me. Is this really our most pressing issue??

8 minutes ago ·

Stephan Kinsella

Jeremiah Dyke: “Dr Gordon, would you argue the opposite? Would you make the claim that someone may contract the lim x–>infinity of their labor but may not simply contract all of it?”This line of argument is confused because of an over-reliance on vague metaphor. We have to stop thinking of contract as binding promise or obligations. We have to think of it, as Evers and Rothbard argue, as transfers of title to owned resources. And we have to recognize that these owned resources are only scarce, physical goods–not “labor.” You do not own your labor. You own your body. That gives you the right to perform actions (labor), but you do not own your actions. If I perform an action that you like, and pay me for, you do not own my action. You do not even “receive” my action. You simply prefer that I engage in it, for a variety of reasons.

In other words a labor contract may be viewed as an exchange only economically, but not legally. Economically, the employer gives up title to money, in “exchange” for you performing some action. But legally, it’s not an exchange at all, it’s just a one-way transfer of title: a conditional transfer of future title to future money, conditioned on the occurrence of a certain event happening (namely: that the “employee” does a certain action). The performance of the action triggers the transfer of money from the employer, but the action is not literally “sold” because the employee did not “own” his labor, and the employer does not own it after it is performed. We have to stop thinking sloppily and overusing metaphors.



{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Antonio Lorusso October 25, 2011, 2:10 pm

    Prostitutes have been using this argument to dispel (not too successfully to date) the social stigma involved with how what they do is perceived by others aka “selling their bodies”. It’s a good argument, but they are, unfortunately up against a cultural wall that sits on top of the one everybody else has to climb on this issue.

  • Crosbie Fitch October 29, 2011, 2:48 pm

    We don’t actually exchange our labour, we exchange property contingent upon our labour.

    However, because copyright and/or patent have already annulled our liberty (to copy a work, or to utilise a registered design), people have become used to the idea they can exchange that liberty in contract, and so see little problem in extending the exchange of liberty to copy into the exchange of liberty to perform any arbitrary act.

    Continued employment being contractually conditioned on non-disclosure also seduces people into believing a contract can alienate a person from their freedom of speech. This is compounded by copyright’s precedent.

    I often find that people who are ready to consider copyright’s time may be up, still believe contract can come to the rescue.

    The sooner copyright and patent are abolished the sooner people can be disabused of the notion that liberty is something that can be subject to contract.

  • Anon March 28, 2012, 12:49 am

    I agree. The idea that any libertarian can actually advocate slavery and remain ideologically consistent is the height of absurdity…

  • Jake January 15, 2013, 2:03 pm

    I disagree. I don’t claim the will is alienable, but the body is. A master has little interest in owning a will (which is impossible after all). He wants to own the body and its labor. If a “slave” wishes to leave, he can do so, but he will forfeit any performance bond he has put up (which can include body parts, if he so chooses).

    In such a way, a poor man can gain access to huge sums of money in exchange for a promise to work collateralized with his (very valuable) body parts. It is a win-win or else the men/women would never have agreed to the deal.

    Some discussion on the topic.

  • p johnson March 16, 2013, 11:51 pm

    Would not the USA military be a slave situation since they cannot arbitrarily change their mind any walk away without punishment ?

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