The false dichotomy between labor and will.

Given that workers are paid to obey, you really have to wonder which planet Murray Rothbard was on when he argued that a person’s “labour service is alienable, but his will is not” and that he “cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body.” He contrasts private property and self-ownership by arguing that “[a]ll physical property owned by a person is alienable… I can give away or sell to another person my shoes, my house, my car, my money, etc. But there are certain vital things which, in natural fact and in the nature of man, are inalienable… [his] will and control over his own person are inalienable.” [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 40, p. 135 and pp. 134-5] Yet “labour services” are unlike the private possessions Rothbard lists as being alienable. As we argued in section B.1 a person’s “labour services” and “will” cannot be divided — if you sell your labour services, you also have to give control of your body and mind to another person. If a worker does not obey the commands of her employer, she is fired. That Rothbard denied this indicates a total lack of common-sense. Perhaps Rothbard would have argued that as the worker can quit at any time she does not really alienate their will (this seems to be his case against slave contracts — see section F.2.2). But this ignores the fact that between the signing and breaking of the contract and during work hours (and perhaps outside work hours, if the boss has mandatory drug testing or will fire workers who attend union or anarchist meetings or those who have an “unnatural” sexuality and so on) the worker does alienate his will and body. In the words of Rudolf Rocker, “under the realities of the capitalist economic form… there can… be no talk of a ‘right over one’s own person,’ for that ends when one is compelled to submit to the economic dictation of another if he does not want to starve.

One thought on “The false dichotomy between labor and will.

  1. travis March 27, 2015 at 09:51 Reply

    Rothbard published The Ethics of Liberty in 1982 while the MKUltra Project was exposed in 1977. “[his] will and control over his own person are inalienable.” – yup :))

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