This is an educational site that makes principled arguments against the rental of human beings.
The abolition of human rentals may not appear to have much urgency. Certainly compared to the active denial of necessities like clean water, food, shelter, and health care to large segments of the world’s population in an era where the technological capacity to provide the basic means of survival is clearly available. Or worse, the continued violence and oppression of the weak by those with power. In a system where the primary function of most employment and consumption is to funnel wealth to the top and reinforce an unjust system, any resistance faces a tremendous strategic disadvantage. The abolition of human rentals and restructuring of the employment system is an essential component of any sustainable long term solution, and possibly even a prerequisite.
However, we will not make those arguments here. We will make only the principled argument that inalienable rights invalidate human rentals, regardless of the circumstances. By analogy, slavery is not invalid because it is a cruel and inhumane system. Inalienable rights invalidate slavery even if slaves are treated well. People today cannot willfully sell themselves into slavery, even without coercion. Legally and socially slavery is unacceptable even with the consent of the slave.
The standard defense in the justification of slavery was that house slaves happily accepted their status and had relatively good living conditions. Certainly when contrasted to their field slave counterparts. Why deny someone a position they voluntarily accept? Inalienable rights perhaps.
The contemporary argument is no different in substance. If employees are well compensated and happily employed what could possibly be wrong with that? But the same inalienable rights are violated with the rental of humans as in the slavery case. It is the theory of inalienable rights that invalidates the human rental contract, not the circumstances of the individual.
The next major step in the evolution of social thought will be the recognition that the contract for human rentals bears no more legitimacy than that of human sales. The key points are summarized below:
- Personal responsibility is inalienable. For example, being hired to commit a crime cannot absolve a person of guilt, because responsibility for a person’s actions are intrinsically non-transferable. The inalienability of responsibility is also true in the positive case of productive labor.
- The standard employment contract seeks to transfer responsibility for profits and losses from the employees to the owners of the business, pretending that the workers are not responsible for their actions.
- Since workers are actually responsible for appropriating any profit or loss, they should have governing control of their business. This leads to democratic management by the members of a business.
- In order to bring employment into alignment with peoples inalienable rights, worker owned democratically managed business or worker cooperatives are needed.
David Ellerman has a Bachelors in Philosophy from M.I.T. (’65), Masters in Philosophy of Science (’67) and Economics (’68), and Doctorate in Mathematics (’71) all from Boston University. He is responsible for the bulk of intellectual work duplicated on this website. Formerly an economic advisor at the World Bank, he is currently a visiting scholar at U.C. Riverside. Anyone with a deeper interest in these ideas should read his work in full.
Mike Leung has a Bachelors in Engineering Physics from U.C. Berkeley, and Doctorate in Physics from Princeton University. He is the lead organizer of the proposed “Worker Cooperative Federal Credit Union” which will finance worker cooperatives. He is also the founder of Abolish Human Rentals.org. His working papers on the Worker Coop Capital Structure and Worker Coop Startups.
Philippe D. Grosjean has provided the French translation.
Tomas Salcedo has provided the Spanish translation.