During the course of this paper I will be attempting to prove that the modern day capitalist bourgeois-proletariat contract is just as coercive as the “forced taxation” that modern day Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists complain about. I aim to prove that the “agree to this or die” mentality inherent in any profit driven labor contract is no more “just” than the tax man coming to your door telling you to hand over your money. If one works within the framework of the non-aggression principle* and the moral philosophy of Stefan Molyneux in Universally Preferable Behavior then one ought to reject the capitalist bourgeois-proletariat contract as being “unjust” and “another form of coercion”. At this point it must be noted that I do not intend to prove that coercion is either a moral or immoral thing, I merely am attempting to prove that bourgeois-proletariat contract is coercive and therefore is immoral under the framework laid out by modern Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists. The issue of an apriori ethical framework shall be in a later post, this one is building off existing frameworks.
I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence. -Eugene V. Debs
In this part of the paper I shall lay out some basic definitions and ideas that will be used to advance the argument. First off, the bourgeois and the proletariat are two dialectically opposing social classes; the former being the class of capital (namely, the means of production), the latter being the class of labor (namely, workers within the means of production). According to Marx it is the proletariat who who create value for an object (but that is getting into the labor theory of value which, as well, is a topic for another post).
The bourgeois-proletariat contract, as I would define it, would be the “mutual agreement” upon which labor gives up part of his or her freedom to work for capital. The contract is a, technically, voluntary agreement that the forces of labor sign into whereby they work to produce wealth for the forces of capital who in turn give them some of that wealth in the form of a wage.
The coercion that the Libertarians and the Anarcho-Capitalists speak of in the context of taxation is the threat of violence, namely imprisonment, if one chooses to not pay his or her taxes. The fact that must be mentioned here is that this form of coercion is, technically, voluntary as well yet it is still considered a form of coercion.
The framework laid out by Libertarians and Anarcho-Capitalists states that the initiation of force by a party, if not in self defense, is a violation of either Lockean property rights or a person’s right to life or liberty. There are a whole slew of reasons why this is, supposedly, an apriori moral deal breaker but for the purpose of this post I shall assume that they are valid and shall work within this framework. The framework laid out by Molyneux in Universally Preferable Behavior is in much the same vain but it deals with the acquisition of knowledge and the search for truth. Again, I shall not attempt to validate or disprove the thesis laid out by Molyneux and others, I shall just work within it. With that being said, let’s talk.
Why is taxation immoral? According Libertarians and members of the Austrian School, taxation is immoral because it is a direct initiation of the threat of force. What happens in the context of governmental taxation is that a law is set that says that you must pay a form of tax (save for government approved exemption) else “men with guns” will come to your house and put you in jail. This, as is argued, is a form of coercion because the threat of violence is invoked to achieve an aim, namely, to acquire money.
The crux of this argument lies in claim that the threat of force alone is enough to constitute coercion. This same argument applies to someone robbing you. They are threatening you and while you have a choice to say no that is not a wise move. Now here is where we get into an issue and that is of choice. Taxation, much like succumbing to the robber, is a choice. You do not have to comply with the aggressor however it is said that instances such as these are a false choice. With taxation you have multiple options, you can pay your taxes, you can say no, or you can leave the country (with the robber it is functionally the same). This is important because it highlights that while there is technically a choice, the threat of force, be it overt and in your face as is the case with the robber or be it subtle and far off like taxation laws, nullifies any form of choice that one actually has and thus constitutes a form of coercion.
So here we reach the question of the bourgeois-proletariat contract. This contract, as mentioned in section 1, serves to “unite” the forces of labor and capital under the auspices of bolstering each individual’s economic standing. This contract is presented as a choice to the worker, a choice which the presenter knows full well the consequences of. The forces of capital, owning the ability to provide for the worker, can thus make the terms of the contract and set a wage for which the worker shall receive and this wage can, and as is the case most of the time in the context of big capital, be very low. The bourgeois owner knows that in order for the worker to survive they must make a certain amount of money and thus the worker will do most anything to achieve this amount. The worker also knows full well the consequences of not making this amount of money, death. Thus the worker is given a choice, to accept the contract or die. Now before I move on there may be numerous issues raised here that I shall address.
First off, one could say “well, the worker does have a choice, they don’t need to work for anyone”. The issue with this is that if one buys the premise that even the subtle threat of force, as in the case of taxation, is enough to nullify a technical choice than one must also extend that logic into this area. The owner knows full well that if the worker does not work for him/he s/he shall die and the worker realizes this as well and is willing to sell themselves to the lowest bidder for work. And thus, this is a subtle form of coercion similar to that of taxation.
Following that one could say “well, the owner isn’t directly threatening the worker”. While this is technically true, society has instilled upon the worker the notion that he cannot be self sufficient on his own and thus needs the owner. This fact is known by both the worker as well as the owner and thus allows the owner to set a low enough price to still exploit the worker but keep it high enough so the worker has a false sense of hope. The owner is consciously trying to subvert the worker’s efforts to advance in life and thus perpetuates the notion of “join or die”. Any economic system in which an individual owns the means of production is subject to this subtle form of coercion and subversion.
Following that one could say “well, the worker could just go to another company”. The issue with that is that it is the same everywhere. All companies that aim to make a profit will do this and thus cause a subtle form of economic coercion upon the individual. This argument also is in the same camp as an individual moving to another country to avoid taxation (or having Swiss bank accounts if you’re Romney) as shall be seen in a second.
But it is not just that, this subtle form of economic coercion forms a type of wage slavery. Wage slavery is defined as “…a situation where a person’s livelihood depends on wages, especially in a total and immediate way…” and the bourgeois-proletariat contract constitutes a form of wage slavery because the worker is convinced that that survive they need the measly income provided by the owner of capital and they will do anything to achieve it.
If one buys the Libertarian/Anarcho-Capitalist argument that the threat, either overt or subtle, is a form of coercion and nullifies any technical “choice” than one must also apply this same analysis to nature of wage slavery in modern capitalist society. The bourgeois-proletariat contract is no less coercive than the threat of imprisonment for lack of a proper tax form. The bourgeois-proletariat contract relies on the notion of subtle economic coercion to achieve one’s goals for increased profits and thus, under the framework of the non-aggression principle and the notion of universally preferable behavior, must be rejected.
*The non-aggression principle (or NAP) is basically a moral philosophy saying that the initiation of force against another person’s life, liberty or property is an inherently immoral action. Under the NAP the act of collecting taxes is akin to robbery as it is an initiation (or threat of initiation) of force upon a party for material gain.
1: “Quotes About Capitalism.” (207 Quotes). N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2012 <http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/capitalism>.
2: “Google Dictionary Search .” Google. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Sept. 2012. <https://www.google.com/search?q=define+wage+slavery&sugexp=chrome,mod=5&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#hl=en&safe=off&q=wage+slavery&tbs=dfn:1&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=PsBeULvaOobQtAav04DoBw&ved=0CB8QkQ4&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=f3803001d38086d7&biw=1920&bih=973>