A new study revisits the age-old critique of capitalism, labor and wages. It backs the idea that human labor is rented by capitalists and that “human rentiership” is no different from slavery based on the system of wages. The solution that is proposed by a key expert is workplace democracy. The Jacobin Magazine had this opinion:
The idea that in the most basic sense we own ourselves is a very powerful one. Dystopian novels are filled with horror stories about people being harvested for organs or transformed into breeding machines, treated as a mere means for other people’s ends. From this ideal, the claim that we don’t just own ourselves but whatever we produce is a logical next step, invoked by everyone from Lockean libertarians to Marxists.
And yet our current economic system rests on the expectation that most people do not get to keep what they make with their labor. If I work at McDonalds, the company effectively “rents” me as an automaton to produce everything from Big Macs to McFlurries, which are then sold to make the company a profit. In return, I receive an hourly wage based on the original contract I signed to allow myself to be rented.
Socialists of all stripes object to this dynamic, though the reasons and solutions vary widely. For some, the indignity of being paid a few bucks an hour while higher-ups receive a bounty inherently devalues low-level employees. For others, the issue is more one of exploitation. Since labor is what creates the product, workers and not bosses should be getting the biggest slice of the pie. And finally, there are those who frame the issue in terms of coercion. They point out that the ostensibly free market actually requires billions of people to sign up for jobs they would rather not do, because the alternative is starvation. The lion’s share of many people’s life is spent servicing the ruling classes under duress.