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Could We Democratize?
David Ellerman has advanced a fascinating argument—elites won't like Ellerman's argument, but good luck finding anything wrong with it, since it's a really strong and powerful and robust argument.
“Let me emphasize that Noam Chomsky said that the 2021 book is ‘a major contribution to envisioning, and creating, a truly free and just world’—that’s extremely high praise.”
“We have to give law to the real association, and to withdraw meaningless privilege from the imaginary one.”
“Does Ellerman’s vision sound weird? Just imagine how weird it sounded in the past when people made other arguments against other dominant institutions like slavery or coverture—it always sounds weird before it happens and then the old system becomes the weird system.”
“Let’s all make Ellerman a household name on the left—this argument needs oxygen.”
David Ellerman has presented a fascinating argument regarding the employment contract—you can read Ellerman’s 2021 book for free:
Ellerman’s 2021 book is really one of the most important books that I’ve ever seen—the book lays out a way to change our society in a radical way, but the book is as solid as granite, so it’s not like those flimsy and dubious and precarious arguments that make you roll your eyes.
Noam Chomsky offered this blurb for Neo-Abolitionism when I contacted him:
Deeply grounded and scrupulously argued, Ellerman’s Neo-Abolitionism is a major contribution to envisioning, and creating, a truly free and just world.
Let me emphasize that Noam Chomsky said that the 2021 book is “a major contribution to envisioning, and creating, a truly free and just world”—that’s extremely high praise.
Ellerman’s fascinating 2021 book has three crucial properties:
(1) it’s big—it’s massively consequential for society
(2) it’s solid—it’s not at all flimsy or dubious or precarious
(3) it’s hidden—it’s completely undiscussed in the media and completely unknown to everyone
Here are some notes that I took on Ellerman’s 2021 book:
we abolished slavery and replaced it with our current voluntary system of “renting, hiring, employing, or leasing workers”
we abolished—as part of abolishing slavery—“voluntary contractual forms of lifetime servitude”
there’s an idea that we could additionally abolish the “employer–employee contract in favor of each firm being a workplace democracy”
there are three foundations for why we might want to go forward with this additional abolition
firstly, there’s the “old inalienable rights argument”—this argument is “based on de facto inalienability of responsibility and decision-making”
secondly, there’s the “old labor or natural rights theory of private property”—this theory doesn’t allow for the employer to legally appropriate the “positive and negative fruits of the employees working in a firm”
thirdly, there are “democratic arguments against the subjection contract” and you can apply these same arguments to the firm—according to these arguments, it’s not OK to alienate self-governance rights, so you need in your workplace a delegation contract instead of a subjection contract
So there are three foundations on which you can base the call to abolish the employment contract:
(A) inalienable rights
(B) the labor—or natural rights—theory of private property
(C) self-governance rights
There are two crucial clarifications to make:
(D) Ellerman’s vision has nothing to do with harming the economy or damaging the economy or tanking the economy—it obviously sounds very spooky to say that you want to “abolish the employment contract”, but it’s not remotely spooky if you’re actually familiar with what Ellerman’s argument is all about
(E) Ellerman’s vision has nothing to do with infringing on the freedom to make whatever contract you please with someone—the issue is which contracts the state should recognize
Regarding (E), there’s a quirky thought experiment where Bob and Jim come up with a contract in which Jim—in exchange for money—agrees to be Bob’s dog. No police officers should prevent Bob and Jim from making this weird and silly and bizarre contract between themselves, but Bob and Jim also shouldn’t demand that the state somehow has to recognize the weird and silly and bizarre contract—it’s not like the law somehow shouldn’t hold Bob guilty of murder if Bob deliberately kills Jim, who the contract says isn’t a human being.
Apparently (E) is a sticking point for a lot of people, so Ellerman finds that frustrating, since he has to constantly explain to people that police officers aren’t going to show up at your house and infringe on your freedom to:
do whatever you please in terms of coming up with weird and silly and bizarre contracts
do whatever you please in terms of signing those contracts with other people who are interested in signing those contracts
And Ellerman explains in Neo-Abolitionism how to defeat his argument—here are my notes:
“defenders of the human rental contract” could try to “find some way that people could voluntarily transform themselves into de facto non-responsible instruments” that the employer could then employ
“This would firstly be of great interest to hired criminals the world over.”
hired criminals would be able to use this valuable newfound argument to become—instead of murderers—“accessories before the fact like the person renting out the gun to someone” known to be “intent on a murder”
the defenders would have to “show that this transformation”—into a de facto non-responsible instrument—is actually what takes place when employees fulfill the human-rental contract
“failing such a demonstration, the defenders must simply ignore the basic point”
defenders will “raise myriads of red-herring arguments”
defenders will “focus on defeating schoolboy-Marxist talking points”—for the defenders, Marxism is an important and useful foil and an important and useful tool and an important and useful distraction
And Ellerman—in Neo-Abolitionism—gives the following fascinating 1944 quote from Eustace Percy:
Here is the most urgent challenge to political invention ever offered to the jurist and the statesman. The human association which in fact produces and distributes wealth, the association of workmen, managers, technicians and directors, is not an association recognised by the law. The association which the law does recognise—the association of shareholders, creditors and directors—is incapable of production and is not expected by the law to perform these functions. We have to give law to the real association, and to withdraw meaningless privilege from the imaginary one.
So if nobody can explain why Ellerman is wrong, then let’s do it—let’s “give law to the real association” and “withdraw meaningless privilege from the imaginary one”.
Does Ellerman’s vision sound weird? Just imagine how weird it sounded in the past when people made other arguments against other dominant institutions like slavery or coverture—it always sounds weird before it happens and then the old system becomes the weird system.
Let’s all make Ellerman a household name on the left—this argument needs oxygen.