Are Consumers Just Voluntary Slaves?

How Capitalism Exploits Us (And What We Can Do About It)
How Capitalism Exploits Us (And What We Can Do About It)

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Do you ever wonder about the purpose of life? Why are we all here and what are we doing with our lives? We live in an unprecedented time full of amazing opportunities on the one hand and terrible catastrophes on the other. But for the typical person working a 9-to-5 job (or more likely a 12 hour shift these days), it is likely that neither of these possibilities even registers on their mind. So many people are simply concerned with the business of surviving: finding a job, paying the mortgage, raising their children, and finding what little time there is left to de-stress from it all. Despite all of the labor-saving devices that were supposed to usher in an Age of Leisure, people seem to be working harder today than ever before.

Do You Find Yourself Working Harder And Harder Just To Get By?

The World Has Never Been More Productive, Yet We Keep Working Harder And Harder

Economist Richard Wolff points to the decoupling of productivity gains from income gains that began in the late 1970s and has accelerated ever since. The world has never been more productive, yet the average worker is getting poorer as most of the income gains in the economy flow directly to the top. It is obvious that something is seriously wrong on a systemic level, which beg the questions: Why are the majority of people on the planet focused on getting a job and – when or if they do – then find themselves working longer hours to receive less and less reward? If the average person isn’t really benefiting from their hard work, who is?

On the most basic economic level, there are two distinct classes of people – a select few have the ability to live truly free lives with absolute sovereignty over their time while most other people must trade their labor or time – which can also be called their life – for the means to survive. Isn’t your labor nothing more than your life’s energy? Isn’t it the same life from which you hope to fulfill your dreams, raise your family, and explore the fantastic experience of being alive? When we trade our life, what we get in return ought to be worth something.

Have You Ever Had This Feeling That Something Is Just Not Quite Right With Modern Society?

Are We Modern Day Slaves?

There is another name for a person who doesn’t have sovereignty over his own time. We call them slaves. Up until just a few centuries ago, the elite were actually allowed to legally own other people. For example, in ancient Rome it was estimated that 35 to 40 percent of the population were slaves. Today, involuntary slavery has, for the most part, been legally abolished, but life on earth may actually be worse for the vast majority of the working class: they are subject to voluntary slavery.

In a recent post on the Sustainable Man Facebook page, I asked the following question:

What is the difference between the following two scenarios?

  1. Being in a situation where you’ve been kicked off the land that sustained your family for generations and the only options for providing any sustenance is by taking a job making iPhones at 10 cents an hour; or
  2. Slavery

One of the top responses was: “Slaves have an investment by their owners and are generally provided with at least minimal care, housing and food. In general, they are slightly better off.” Indeed, this is true. Today, workers are generally interchangeable. If they get sick or injured, they can be immediately let go, replaced, and forgotten. If that means that they can no longer pay the mortgage on their home loan, the banks will repossess their home and sell it to the replacement worker, leaving the former in a situation where they must beg for resources to keep them alive.

When Students Graduate Owing Tens Of Thousands Of Dollars, What Career Choice Do They Really Have?

So Are We Really Free?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a famous German writer, once said “none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” Even though most people today believe they are free, is this really true? You are certainly not free to “trespass” on land owned by others or free to take food produced on privately owned land. In some cities, you aren’t even free to sleep on the street. The entire world is now fully owned. The truth is that people are free only insofar as they have money to buy a limited amount of freedom on an ongoing basis. Without money and without the ability to provide for themselves in nature, people don’t have any other choice but to submit their labor in exchange for the “market” wage. We have to trade in our time (and our life) in order to survive.

This brings us back to the first question posed in this article. What is all of this for? Is the purpose of our lives simply to submit to working at a job that helps fulfill the goals of the elite while our wages deteriorate? What about our desires for our own life? What do each of us have to give to the world? Sadly, many people still do not have a realistic ability to entertain this question.

Lest I be accused of being a spoiled “hippie” that doesn’t want to “get a job”, let me say that I don’t believe that there is a human being alive that is not interested in performing work that is meaningful to them. The reason why most people hate their jobs is because the jobs generally don’t represent their true desires for what they wish to create in the world. People really don’t want to spend the majority of their waking hours selling chemical dispersants or mining coal or taking orders at McDonalds. Those select few people that derive their income by extracting an income from society are not the ones who must submit to such dispiriting work. Shouldn’t the purpose of our economy be to make it possible for every human being to be truly free to find and discover their true calling?

Whether it is reforming our tax system, reducing inequality while combating climate change, developing alternative interest-free currencies and exchanges, creating local and sustainable economies, joining the emerging sharing and gift economies, or just bringing more kindness, compassion, and awareness to our everyday lives, we must begin to challenge the outdated and seriously flawed economic, cultural and social systems that make it literally impossible for us to share the earth. We owe it not only to ourselves, but also to our children and our children’s children to leave behind a world that is stronger, safer, more sustainable, and more beautiful than we found it.

Could The Solution To Our Economic Woes Lie In Creating A Global Gift Economy?​

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


The Old Story