The concept of wage slavery is about as intellectually dishonest idea as you can come across. It states that in a free market, workers are forced to sell or rent themselves into wage slavery under threat of starvation. As Noam Chomsky puts it, “People should not be forced to rent themselves in order to survive.”
Often associated with the quasi-religious Kantian concept of autonomy, the force of the concept comes from its emotive imagery. Slavery certainly doesn’t conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings. The “threat of starvation” would make it appear as if the individual is being held against his will and suffering horribly, in contrast with the comfortable reality of many wage earners.
The first question we ought to raise is, aren’t we all slaves to our natural need for food? Does socialism remove our biological nutritional needs? Of course not. Until we can train monkeys to feed us in our sleep, we will all be slaves to our biological needs.
This criticism should allow us to isolate the intention of the claim of wage slavery. The socialist is in this case claiming that freedom is not in fact freedom and wage slave has no choice in whether or not he is exploited by the capitalist.
The charge of exploitation in this case relies on the thoroughly debunked labor theory of value (LTV). We will not rehash that here. But we will deal with the charge that the worker has no choice but to allow an exploitive capitalist to act as middle man and siphon off the worker’s earnings.
This isolation of the argument is further bolstered the response of the claimant of wage slavery to the invocation of the freedom to walk off the job. The defender of the theory of wage slavery will claim that, “even if you reject one boss or twenty bosses, you still have to work for some other boss under threat of starvation.”
If such a case did exist, then yes, that person would indeed be in a state of wage slavery. But that condition does not exist in free markets.
When I first returned to America from Japan in 1990, I worked several wage based jobs. So was I a wage slave? No. In order to substantiate the claim that I was a wage slave, I would need to prove that I had no other alternatives. I primarily used the wage based employment opportunities in order to acquire skills.
When I really needed money, I decided to earn some and went directly to the consumers. For instance, I bought a pressure-washer, distributed fliers and started a house washing business. At roughly $100 a house, and ten houses (mostly mobile homes) a day, I earned over a $1,000 a day and was booked solid for several months.
But I wasn’t about to spend my life pressure washing houses. The beauty of wage based employment is that it is paid education. Some people spend tens of thousands of dollars to acquire a university degree so that they can earn $50,000 a year. I was in essence paid to get my education in construction. And after three years of compensated learning, I started my own business and immediately found myself making $100,000 a year. At no point was I in a state that could be characterized as wage slavery.
There is no limit to the number of products or services that the individual can offer directly to the consumer. As such, the false dichotomy of “wage slave or starvation” is patently false. You are free to sell your labor. You are free to not sell your labor and subsist on only that which you have produced. The choice is yours.