This is the online-first publication in Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs of an article on the labor theory of property showing the superficiality of the inequality-debate framing in terms of distribution (i.e., how much is distributed by a firm to labor versus capital) in favor of a framing in terms of what is now called “predistribution”–in this case the question of who is to be the firm in the first place, Capital or Labor.
This paper, written for a classical liberal audience, goes into the fault line running down the middle of the doctrine: does classical liberalism imply democracy? The libertarian wing, represented concretely today in the startup or charter cities initiatives, only requires consent (and exit) so the consent could be to a non-democratic pact of subjection. The democratic form of classical liberalism is represented by the mature James M. Buchanan who held that a liberal social order required people to be principals in their organizations who could only delegate but not alienate their rights of self-governance. That distinction is traced back to the Reformation inalienability of conscience that descends through the Enlightenment to modern times in the abolitionist and democratic movements.
To answer the “best case” voluntary-contractarian arguments for slavery and autocracy, the democratic and antislavery movements forged arguments not simply in favor of consent but arguments that voluntary contracts to legally alienate aspects of personhood were invalid “even with consent”—which made the underlying rights inherently inalienable. Once understood, those arguments have the perhaps “unintended consequence” of ruling out today’s self-rental contract, the employer-employee contract.