Slaves, Serfs and Taxpayers


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October 31, 2006

"The essence of all slavery consists in taking the produce of another's labor by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he must get to live." ~ Leo Tolstoy

Slaves, serfs and taxpayers all refer to conditions of bondage. These conditions all restrict the use of your person and labor. The pre-historic slave's person was controlled so that his labor could be exploited. Today the modern taxpayer's labor is controlled in order to exploit his person. That's progress to some, but it is not freedom.

The obvious physical differences between iron chains and psychological conditioning tend to obfuscate the degree of control. These evolving forms of bondage appear on the surface to have led to increased personal freedoms. But they have come at the real cost of diminished economic freedom. Chattel, land and political forms of slavery reflect the increasing sophistication of forced labor institutions. Charles Adams does an excellent job (as always) examining the history of slavery here.

Society must accept the practice of involuntary servitude into its norms and/or laws for it to endure in whatever form. The effectiveness of various employment arrangements influences the self-interested to choose the most advantageous form from what is available. Society thus tends to develop rules of cooperation between people, including those with different time preferences that work well enough. Until they don't. Then they are changed, altered, or abolished. Leaders with the most power and influence over collective action will seek to incorporate their gains. The masses typically become resigned to their perceived lot in life.

Desperate conditions foster anger, fear and violence leading to hungry slaves attacking gluttonous masters. Elites recognize this historical fact and seek ways to maintain their economic power over the masses. When the number of slaves reaches a point significantly greater than the number of elites, then the fear of the masters leads to greater use of force and fear to keep the masses in line. This leads to decreasing efficiency for each slave and for the overall economic system based on slave labor. The existing slave-labor system then declines until it falls apart and a more subtle form of slavery takes its place. Therefore, the more free a slave believes that they are, the more productive is the slave-labor system he participates in.

The moral standing of economic servitude seems to depend on what side of the relationship one stands. Relationships based on force require some form of tether. Men can be trained to obey verbal commands that do not require physical restraint devices. Tradition, faith and law must work together for an injustice like slavery to prevail for long periods of time. Chattel, land and political slavery have all lasted many millennia. The justification of these conditions has come from clergy, political leaders and even the slaves themselves.

Though the evolution from slavery to serfdom to tax-paying appears to have led to increased personal freedoms, the reality is the chains have just gotten longer and lighter. Many do not even notice them. Efficiency dictates that more subtle means of coercion be used to appropriate labor in an increasingly complex division of labor.

Masters observed long ago the difficulty of labor under the heavy burden of manacles and chains. A happy slave who accepts his "place" is far more productive than the disgruntled slave who does the least possible amount of labor. The political slave has generally bought into the story that since they get to choose their overseers (masters and monarchs are not chosen), then they are truly free. The percentage of happy slaves to total slaves today is higher than it has ever been in history. This can change very quickly.

Democracy is today equated with freedom. If you think that choosing those who control a major portion of your labor and make laws as to what you may and may not do with your own person and property is really freedom, then consider how democracy would affect the status of the older forms of bondage. If you were a slave on a Roman estate or an Old South plantation and you got to choose who was given the power to control the fruits of your labor and tell you what to do and what not to do, would you be any less a slave? What if you were a serf on a French or German lord's manor and you got to choose who was given the power to control the fruits of your labor and tell you what to do and what not to do, would you be any less a serf? Is being a taxpayer really that much better of a deal?

Slaves generally got to keep about one-half of what they produced in order to survive. Serfs got a little bit better deal as the lord took only about one-third of their labor and they survived on the other two-thirds. Today taxpayers have a sliding scale somewhere between the traditional limits of slaves and serfs. The master and the lord justified their taking with the line that they provided protection from other masters and lords as well as providing dispute resolution services, housing, roads, water wells and other infrastructure. Some slaves and serfs even told their fellow slaves and serfs that this was a good deal and they were lucky that their master or lord was so much better than the others.

If you think that you are truly free and own the fruits of your labor, then try not paying income taxes. If you think that you own and have full control over your person, then fire up a joint, even on your own property, in full view of an official overseer and see if you are imprisoned. If you think that you own your land, then try building something on it without permission from your masters. If you believe that you are free because you get to vote on who gets the power to decide these things for you, then you're setting the bar pretty low on what you consider freedom. Do you really think that this is as good as it gets?

Seek freedom from the existing slave labor system by finding ways to exchange your labor and property in ways that minimize your taxes. Free your mind from the shackles of the corporate-state and do something on Election Day other than supporting the system that enslaves you. If you must vote, then vote with your feet and move to areas that have lower taxes and fewer laws restricting the use of your property.

Ignorance may very well be bliss, but it is the enemy of liberty. Some may prefer to be a happy slave than to see the truth and seek freedom, but joy requires conditions of peace to grow. It is my hope that society may evolve the next economic system beyond political forms of bondage without desperate convulsions of violence. For this to come about, the number of people who recognize what freedom is and yearn for liberty must increase significantly. Thanks to the Internet and sites like this, I believe it could happen. The growing desperation of the elite increasing controls over it shows that they do, too.

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Mark Davis's picture
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Mark Davis is a husband, father and real estate analyst/investor enjoying the freedoms we still have in Longwood, Florida.