One of the common left anarchist critiques of market anarchism, especially anarcho-capitalism, is the existence of “wage slavery”. Generally the concept is understood as such: Within contemporary capitalism, sometimes referred to as crony capitalism or state capitalism, there exists a compulsion to work for a wage. This compulsion is not a typical form of coercion. There is rarely a cruel master with a whip beating you if you don’t choose to work. Instead this compulsion is an institutional compulsion. Workers are forced into wage labor because the property norms and laws of capitalist society would lead them to starve to death if they do not take on a job.The concern socialists seem to have is that wage slavery would continue to exist in a market anarchist society due to how it’s property relations are similar to that of crony capitalism.
The “Nature is Oppression” Strawman
Now before I address the validity of this position, I want to touch on a common straw man. Many libertarians on the rights will falsely critique this argument by suggesting leftist simply want everything for free without having to put any labor in. They imagine that if property and laws can coerce people into labor then clearly nature itself must be oppressive for forcing us to labor to eat. This is not a fair critique. Leftists are well aware that there is a need to do some sort of labor in order to not starve to death. Leftists have no problem with living off the land or putting in labor as a community to gather resources. Instead the concern lays in the lack of choices. The view is that wage labor or starve are pretty much the only option available in capitalist society is an artificial limit to the choices of a worker. Also, it’s easy to see how natural forces are in a completely different category than man made limitations.
Abolish The State, Free The Laborer
Though I don’t personally subscribe to the wage slavery theory, there is some value to what the leftists are saying here. It is true that the state has monopolized land ownership. 60 percent of land in Alaska is federally owned. The federal government owns about 28 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. “Owns” of course in a strictly legal sense, not in a legitimate property claim sense. It’s reasonable to suggest that this ownership of land has limited the options available to those who might want to homestead and live independently. Furthermore, regulations serve as barriers to those who might want to escape wage labor. Starting a small business is a red tape hell hole. The license and taxes required create a market where there is an artificially low amount of entrepreneurs and business owners.
It seems clear to me that market anarchism would address all these concerns. By abolishing the state we abolish federal land and the regulatory mazes. The available options for those who don’t want to work for a wage would increase drastically. The barriers to entry for starting a worker owned business or being self employed would largely disappear.
Would The Rich Buy Up All The Land?
Now the committed left anarchist might stop me here, and suggest that the rich and powerful may still find a way to privately monopolize all of the land. In a world where everything can be owned the rich may have some incentive to buy it all up. In theory this could create a sort of private feudal society. To those who believe this I simply ask, “How?”. Even in contemporary capitalist society where businesses have the power of the state at their hands, they have been unable to monopolize vast areas of land. Walmart does not currently own your apartment complex. Consider also that absent of state power and police that acquiring all of the land would be even more difficult. With publicly funded law the capitalist can push off his cost of protecting his property to society at large. He can leach off of the taxpayer. Absent of state power the capitalist must cover all of his costs. In a free market society the incentives is to only purchase land that is going to be put at use.
Now assume that maybe that there is something inherently problematic with the wage labor aspect of wage slavery. Perhaps the extraction of “surplus value” is a legitimate problem. Maybe in an ideal society wage labor would be extremely rare.
To give the leftist as much slack as possible in their argument I will even address this claim.
Would Wage Labor Still Exist In Market Anarchism?
First of all we have to consider the values of a libertarian a culture. Obviously free markets and free societies would have huge of variety of belief systems and ideas. However markets seem to incentivize some universal values. A increased value in self ownership and individualism seem common in all market orders. This sense of self ownership would lead more people in the market to look for opportunities outside of having a boss or working for a wage so that they keep more of the value they create.
The leftist should also consider the reasons for that assumption that wage labor would still exist. I believe a big part of this is that they see successful businesses in the current market who are dependent on the wage labor model. This assumption seems to have a bit of status quo bias to it. It’s true that most large businesses do rely on wage labor to a degree. However this is only drawing conclusions from a broken model. We can’t really 100% predict if the practice would carry on in a free society as they incentives, laws and institutions that have built it up would be gone. I think it’s preferably reasonable to assume that under different base structures lead to different results.
It’s a particular interest of mine to address socialist claims against market anarchism. I believe here I’ve covered all my bases but if you feel I’ve missed something key then shoot me an email. I’d love to chat.