Dogma Premise # 28
Government is manifestation of slavery; business is a manifestation of freedom.
Like its cousin, Dogma Premise #26, which claims that “Government is Theft,” Dogma Premise #28 attacks the nature of government itself claiming that “Government is Slavery.”
The suggestion that Government is a form of slavery or forced labor is based on the idea that because government can levy mandatory taxes, and people must work to earn the money to pay the taxes, citizens are in effect working for the government, involuntarily.
This characterization of government as slavery is advocated each year in the US via a mock celebration called “Tax Freedom Day,” which purports to commemorate the day each year when Americans have collectively paid enough taxes to fund government operations for an entire year.
One problem with this characterization is the fact that taxation is no different from any other mandatory law passed by popular consensus. Citizens are no more oppressed by taxes than they are by laws against drunk driving or laws requiring that drinking water not be contaminated. They are democratically enacted rules that can be repealed by popular consensus.
Another serious misconception implicit in the characterization of taxation as slavery is to think of taxes as exploitive, rather than commercial. A slave is forced to work for another, and deprived of his freedom or the fruits of his labor. However, taxation is a mutual economic exchange, not one-sided exploitation. In exchange for paying taxes, the citizen gets the benefit of not only his own payment, but also of everyone else’s payment. For example, no individual’s tax payment is sufficient to build a bridge, but the taxes paid collectively by everyone are sufficient, so each person gets the benefit of an entire bridge but only has to pay for a fraction of a bridge. In this respect, taxes are an extremely favorable kind of exchange, quite the opposite of slavery.
Another difficulty with the taxes-as-slavery paradigm is that it misconceptualizes government as some hostile alien -- a hostile opponent. In fact, for the same reason that one cannot be a slave to oneself, one cannot be a slave to one’s own government. All labor in support of the common good results in fruits that the laborer partly owns, as a citizen.
The situation with a private business is very different, and quite the opposite of freedom. A person employed by a private enterprise, such as a corporation, is paid a wage, but does not retain any ownership in the fruits of his or her labor. Nor does a private laborer benefit equally from the efforts of each of his colleagues, but instead those fruits are entirely assigned to the corporation’s owners, except for the wage paid to the worker. In other words, the employee of a private corporation works for another, and that other retains the fruits of the employee’s labor, leaving the employee enough for sustenance (food and housing) but often not much more. That is one half of the slave’s economic situation, alienation from the fruits of his or her labor.
The other half of the slave’s condition is duress or coercion. It is true that some employees have marketable skills and economic means to move freely from job to job, to spend a certain time with no job at all, and to try self-employment. Employment for this person may be somewhat voluntary.
However, some employees have significant financial obligations or personal circumstances that would make it difficult or costly to switch jobs. These employees may live in fear of losing their position, and are inclined to take whatever working conditions are assigned, at whatever wage is available. For these employees, the condition of private employment is very much akin to slavery, since they work under significant duress, and the fruits of their labor are retained by another. The term “wage slave” was created to describe this situation.
The conditions of public and private employment vary significantly from person to person and from employer to employer. However, to declare that either private or public employment is necessarily essentially akin to slavery is false. If either form of employment were to be considered as generally more like slavery or more like freedom, it would be private employment that tends toward coercive alienation of labor, and government employment that provides a more autonomy and empowerment.
From the viewpoint of the Capitalist, private enterprise may well seem like the epitome of freedom -- the commander of capital may choose not to work at all, or to retain the fruits of his own labor, and even harvest the fruits of others’ labor. But for many or most workers, private enterprise more closely resembles slave conditions.