On the Renting of Persons: The Neo-Abolitionist Case Against Today’s Peculiar Institution

Liberal thought (in the sense of classical liberalism) is based on the juxtaposition of consent to coercion.  Autocracy and slavery were supposedly based on coercion whereas today’s political democracy and economic “employment system” are based on consent to voluntary contracts.  This paper retrieves an almost forgotten dark side of contractarian thought that based autocracy and slavery on explicit or implicit voluntary contracts.  To answer these “best case” 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. This is a reprint from the new heterodox economics journal, Economic Thought.

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