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A modest proposal for the new millennium

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					                                       SOCIAL POLICY
                                         BOOKS


     A modest proposal for the
         new millennium
                                          RODNEY ALLEN AND
                                             IAN HUNT
                                          Centre for Applied Philosophy,
The problems                                    Flinders University
                                                                             on the bottom of the pile — the
                                                                             unemployed underclass — is tanta-

T    he new millennium confronts
     prosperous nations with two
apparently intractable problems. One is persistent-
                                                                             mount to social exclusion.
                                                                                   At the other end of the social
                                                          spectrum, the top ten per cent of our societies has
ly high unemployment, with the number of long term        opted out of threadbare public structures into a world
unemployed also at high levels. This threatens to cre-    of largely private provision — private schools, private
ate an underclass locked into welfare dependency,         health care, private security, and so on. They are
educational underachievement, despair and alien-          retreating from responsibility for the poor and dis-
ation. The second problem is that many of those who       advantaged, calling ever more stridently for lower
work suffer marginal and insecure employment.             taxes and less social welfare provision. The super-rich,
Increasing numbers of workers in Western nations          like the corporations they partly manage and own,
are engaged in low-paid casual or part-time or tem-       tend to lead multinational lives, moving themselves
porary contract work, or are beset by economic inse-      and their money from nation to nation as they wish,
curity. For many, this has meant that planning for the    shedding assets and workers in one country and
future is out of the question. Relentless restructur-     investing in another whenever this seems advanta-
ings and ruthless downsizings in both private and         geous. Meanwhile the majority of taxpayers in
public sectors are driving more and more people into      advanced capitalist nations have been seduced by
unemployment or marginal employment. For exam-            free-market ideology into accepting policies of
ple, the British economic commentator Will Hutton         privatising public resources and cutting back public
has described Britain as a 30/30/40 society. Only 40%     expenditure, especially on social welfare. These
of adults have permanent full-time employment; 30%        policies have only further pushed the underclass
work on a casual or part-time basis without any eco-      toward social exclusion.
nomic security; and 30% are economically inactive               Are things about to get better, at least in some
and dependent. The same trends are evident in the         countries, following the election of labour and
other advanced economies. (See Hutton, W. The State       social democratic governments in Britain, France and
we’re in. London, 1995) While Western economies are       Germany? Will the emergence of ‘compassionate con-
growing quite strongly as the century draws to a close,   servatism’ in Britain, Australia and elsewhere also
those workers who are not yet unemployed are either       make a difference? With both the social democratic
actually insecure and relatively impoverished, or jus-    ‘third way’ and ‘compassionate’ conservatism, it
tifiably anxious.                                         seems that the same policies of marketisation, free
    This is part of wider trend to increased economic     trade, privatisation and welfare cutbacks will be pur-
inequality. The wealthy of advanced capitalist            sued. What both offer is the prospect of some kind
societies are getting seriously richer while the real     of social inclusion to counter the effects of these
incomes of the majority of working people are stag-       policies. But, in practice, will they offer anything more
nant or falling. In affluent but widely unequal           than smoke and mirrors? We have a proposal that
societies, substantial numbers find themselves with-      might make a modest but real contribution to a solu-
out sufficient resources for a decent life within the     tion for the new millennium to problems of un-
prevailing social conditions. The condition of those      employment, insecurity and social exclusion.


                                    AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51                                   PAGE 3
The Proposal                                              servants and personal assistants, and as extra labour
                                                          for use in their various business interests. Even the
Our proposal is that we reintroduce chattel slavery —
                                                          moderately well-off should be able to afford one or
but this time on an optional basis — for all those
                                                          two.
facing the prospect of social exclusion. We should
                                                             Slavery would not always be cheaper than
change the law to allow individuals the choice of
                                                          employment of independent contractors, but it
contracting into a term of slavery — even lifelong
                                                          would provide another alternative to waged employ-
slavery — as chattels of wealthy owners capable of        ment, alongside and supplementing exploitation of
providing them with secure sustenance in return for       contract labour. One currently fashionable way of
unpaid labour at the behest of their masters.             avoiding the high cost of employment in the fashion
    It is not envisaged that voluntary slavery would      trade, for example, is to contract with a seamstress
replace the familiar employment of wage labour by         to sew shirts at home, paying a pittance for each shirt
capitalists; it would, rather, be an addition to it, an   sewn. Limitations on working hours, sick pay, occu-
option for those who fear for good reason that they       pational health and safety standards and all the other
will not be able to find secure paid employment. This     costs of usual employment can be side-stepped, with
new institution of slavery would be regulated so as       contractors forced to work eighteen or more hours
to impose obligations of adequate slave maintenance       a day. Slavery would not replace this practice, but
on the owners. Slaves would have some basic rights        complement it where a long-term, reliable supply of
— rights to food, lodging and medical care for them-      labour for any purpose that a master might desire,
selves and any dependents. Of course, slave-owners        would be useful to have. Manifestly, then, a new
would receive child support payments that enslaved        institution of voluntary slavery would be capable of
parents would have received, and could receive a sub-     soaking up the permanently unemployed and under-
sidy for including their slaves in a comprehensive        employed into useful service to the rich and well-off.
private health insurance policy. Slave-owners who            Many accept that the pressures of globalisation and
were still unable to meet their obligations would be      technological change mean that governments cannot
able to sell their slaves in regulated slave markets to   provide employment where the private sector has
other reputable owners. Slave markets would be the        failed to. But though there may not be enough real
mechanism guaranteeing slaves lifelong security, even     jobs to go round, there is nevertheless a virtually
if their owners become insolvent. Of course, after the    unlimited amount of work that those of us who are
initial free choice the new slavery would still be        relatively well-off would like to have done if only it
similar in crucial respects to older forms of the         could be done for virtually nothing. Cleaning.
institution. Runaway slaves would be lawbreakers          Cooking. Gardening. Serving. Fetching. Carrying.
who could be hunted down and returned to their            Slaves would be ideally suited to these forms of
owners. Recalcitrant slaves could be summarily            servile labour. Slavery would open up a whole new
punished by their owners.                                 dimension of useful service work for those now
                                                          suffering the enforced idleness of unemployment.
The Benefits                                              One of the curses of unemployment is the sense of
The primary benefit of the reintroduction of slavery      uselessness, of not being socially needed, that
would be to solve, very largely, the problems of long-    attends it. Voluntary slaves, on the other hand, would
term unemployment and socially-excluded under-            have a far greater sense of self-worth than welfare
classes. At a stroke the cost of absorbing the            dependents, since they would be valued pieces of per-
unemployed into useful work would be cut to the           sonal property performing useful and helpful tasks.
bare minimum. At the moment one of the main               In slave states before the US Civil War, masters load-
barriers to full-employment is the high cost to           ing ships employed Irish free labourers in the holds,
employers of wage labour — costs that include paid        where they were in danger of injury, and used slaves
holidays, sick leave, superannuation contributions,       on the wharves, because slave owners would not risk
the expense of meeting occupational health and safety     injury to their valuable slaves. Slaves have thus been
standards, and much more besides. Employers have          treated as more valuable than free-labourers in the
moaned for years that they would employ more              past, and will be more valued again.
people if only the cost of doing so were not so high.        Voluntary slavery would not in many instances be
Slaves would obviously be much cheaper than waged         radically dissimilar to the sort of life endured by
workers. They would be less expensive to maintain         housewives during the first half of the twentieth
than dependent teenagers (for they would not need         century, before the upsurge of feminism. Some house-
to be expensively educated) or a dependent spouse.        wives then complained that they too would have
So the super-rich could afford quite a few slaves, as     liked ‘wives’ of their own, if only it were possible.

  PAGE 4                            AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51
Voluntary slavery could revive the housewife in a          societies grow more unequal, as the poor are con-
more politically correct, non-sexist form. Since men       stantly provoked by the contrasting conspicuous con-
and women alike could own slaves, rich women too           sumption of the rich. Lurking behind rising crime
could have male ‘wives’ (that is, domestic and sex-        rates is the even worse threat of social revolution. A
ual slaves). What was once only a feminist fantasy         system of voluntary slavery, however, would help
could become a reality. Men who preferred sexual           safeguard wealth and property from both crime and
slaves to partners with minds and resources of their       revolution. It would turn a goodly proportion of the
own could purchase a slave rather than treat their         underclass itself into property, thereby placing many
spouses as such. Men and women would be equal              of the poor under the direct control of wealthy slave-
under the slave system: they would be equally able         owners, who would be armed with powers of sum-
to own slaves; and equally entitled to opt for slavery.    mary punishment. It would provide a private
   Voluntary slavery would also diminish demands           alternative to developing a massive state prison sys-
on our public                                                                                   tem like that in
welfare systems,                                                                                the US, which
which are being                                                                                 functions as a sys-
wound back                                                                                      tem of state slav-
under pressures                                                                                 e r y. N o t t h a t
to cut expendi-                                                                                 powers of sum-
tures and lower                                                                                 mary punish-
taxes. Just as                                                                                  ment would be
many countries                                                                                  needed as much
seek to partially                                                                               as police and
privatise support                                                                               prisons are now,
for the elderly                                                                                 for the new
through superan-                                                                                slaves, enjoying
nuation schemes,                                                                                material security
so support for the                                                                              for the first time
unemployed and                                                                                  in their lives,
indigent could be                                                                               would be less
partly privatised                                                                               liable as well as
through slavery.                                                                                less able to com-
Slaves would be securely maintained by the rich in         mit crimes. We should also remember that crime
return for unpaid service. By lessening the welfare        threatens the less well-off even more than the very
drain on the public purse, slavery would help our          wealthy, as they are less able to protect their pos-
economies become leaner and meaner. This would             sessions. Voluntary slavery would make everyone
generate a virtuous circle, whereby slavery produces       more secure, including both slaves and the free poor.
more rich people, who could in turn support more              The unemployed poor now face social exclusion.
slaves.                                                    Many could rejoin the social mainstream by opting
   As indicated earlier, the super-rich in our societies   for slavery. Slaves to the very rich might well enjoy
are withdrawing from public obligation. The rein-          a sumptuous lifestyle beyond the imagination of those
troduction of slavery, however, could re-ignite a sense    now trapped at the bottom of our liberal capitalist
of noblesse oblige among the rich, inspiring personal      societies. Unfortunately the institution of slavery at
support for the poor by way of slave-ownership. Here       this point in history has a bad image, largely
the principle of mutual obligation would be satisfied      because at the time of abolition the dominant form
and be seen to be satisfied: slaves would labour at        was the brutal plantation slavery of the Americas and
the whim of their masters (or mistresses); and masters     the Caribbean. In ancient Greece and Rome, however,
(or mistresses) would provide for their slaves.            slavery was not always oppressive and brutalising.
Indeed the new slave system could be seen as a sort        Slaves to rich and powerful men often themselves had
of privatised extension of the work-for-the-dole           a great deal of derivative wealth and power; some
schemes currently fashionable in Australia and             even had slaves of their own. Under slavery in the
parts of America.                                          new millennium, many slaves would also share in
   Another benefit of slavery would be increased secu-     the lifestyles and amenities of the rich and famous.
rity for wealth. Members of under-classes quite often      They would eat exotic fare, sail about on luxury
and naturally resort to crime, especially crimes against   yachts, fly around in private jets, and share expen-
property. Crime and vandalism worsen as our                sive vacations and recreations. Some would be treated

                                     AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51                                   PAGE 5
as valued members of wealthy extended families.             slavery does not deny autonomy to would-be slaves
Others might come to exercise considerable degrees          but rather respects and enlarges their freedom.
of delegated power. For the most part the new slaves            Of course, following the initial choice, slaves would
would participate more fully, if indirectly, in our con-    be entirely unfree. While they would have some rights
sumer society than would the free poor.                     to adequate maintenance they would have no rights
   The younger unemployed might opt for a period            at all to self-determination. Slave contracts would be
of slavery only, during which their masters could           enforceable. Since slaves would be property they
exploit their youth. Those who are thrown on the            would be just as fully under the de jure control of their
unemployed scrap heap in their late middle age could        owners as, say, a working animal on a farm currently
opt for life-long slavery and the security that would       is. This is the crucial consideration that has swayed
bring. The old might not be as hardy or desirable as        most of those who have actually thought about the
the young, but they would bring the benefits of their       possibility of voluntary slavery to rule it out of con-
experience, and additional benefits to both the slave-      tention. How can a choice of total future unfreedom
owner and society that would accrue from their status       possibly be a legitimate freedom? How could it be
as property. Since slave-owners would own the bod-          justifiable for a society committed to the value of indi-
ies of their slaves for life at and beyond the point of     vidual liberty to condone, enable and enforce such
death they would be able to sell on the body parts          contracts?
for use in transplant surgery and medical experi-               That champion of individual liberty, John Stuart
mentation. A shortage of transplant organs would no         Mill, was certainly persuaded that voluntary slavery
longer be a problem. Owners would even be able to           agreements shouldn’t be allowed because the slaves
lease the bodies of slaves for medical experimenta-         would be abdicating their future freedom completely.
tion while they were still alive (subject to broad safety   In Mill’s own words:
conditions established by industry regulators).               The reason for not interfering, unless for the sake of
Advances in medical knowledge would conse-                    others, with a person’s voluntary acts is considera-
quently accelerate. Slave-owners could also own the           tion for his liberty. … But by selling himself for a slave
DNA of their slaves, so that they could patent and            he abdicates his liberty; he forgoes any future use
make available on the market any advantageous                 of it beyond that single act. … The principle of free-
genetic sequences they were discovered to possess             dom cannot require that he should be free not to be
(such as those that provide protection from serious           free.
diseases).                                                                                        J. S. Mill, On Liberty.
   In summary, the reintroduction of slavery would
                                                               This argument runs counter to Mill’s own insis-
have far-reaching benefits. It would benefit everyone
                                                            tence that, over matters that directly affect only him-
— slaves, slave-owners, and other free citizens. It
                                                            self or herself, an individual’s sovereignty is absolute.
would not be a return to barbarism, as many might
                                                            The burden of his anti-slavery argument is that people
unreflectively think, but rather a higher stage in the
                                                            shouldn’t be allowed to do anything counterpro-
development of liberal values and liberal societies.
                                                            ductive to maximising of their future freedom. Fol-
Voluntary slavery would actually enhance individual
                                                            lowing this principle, however, leads straight to
liberty by widening the range of freedom of choice
                                                            conclusions that Mill himself would never have
to include the options of both slavery and slave-
                                                            endorsed. For one thing, since death precludes any
ownership.
                                                            future exercise of freedom, voluntary euthanasia and
Refutation of Objections                                    suicide would have to be regarded as impermissible.
                                                            Smoking, drinking, eating junk foods and indulging
1. Slavery is immoral because it denies freedom             in risky sports all threaten to undercut future free-
to the slaves.                                              dom, so that under a regime of freedom maximisation
Sure, earlier forms of slavery were wrong for precisely     all these choices would have to be disallowed. The
this reason. Slavery was forced labour. Slaves were         impetus of Mill’s argument doesn’t stop at the single
initially captured and coerced into slavery, and were       case of slavery agreements; it carries us on towards
retained in servitude by force and violence. Under          compulsory diets, health police and other authori-
the present proposal, however, the initial choice to        tarian paternalistic excesses that are a long way from
become a slave is a free choice by an autonomous            respect for personal freedom and autonomy.
agent in a liberal society. A system of voluntary slav-        Thoroughgoing liberalism, on the other hand, per-
ery would actually provide people with a new oppor-         mits people to make self-damaging decisions so long
tunity and hence a new freedom that they presently          as others are not directly and significantly harmed
do not have. So, in relation to life choices, voluntary     (as Mill himself agreed, about cases other than

  PAGE 6                             AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51
voluntary slavery). So even if we agree, for the sake        secure, so that potential slaves and slave-owners
of argument, that freely entering into slavery would         would usually be occupants of highly unequal socio-
necessarily damage the slave’s interests overall, we         economic positions. They would be agreements by
still would not thereby be compelled to accept, from         the poor to accept a ‘lesser evil’ from the rich. How-
a strong liberal perspective, that such acts should be       ever it doesn’t follow from the fact that slavery agree-
impermissible. But in any case (as we’ve seen and will       ments would be less than ideally voluntary that they
expand on later) there are good reasons to suppose           cannot be sufficiently voluntary to warrant respect as
that voluntary enslavement may be for some people            morally and legally binding commitments. It cannot
the best choice in terms of their overall interests, given   be the case that any decision falling short of perfect
their available alternatives.                                voluntariness must be made under duress — any
   The crucial point, however, is this: if individual        more than anything falling short of the perfectly
freedom is a basic right, and if personal autonomy           circular must be non-circular. Political arrange-
is an intrinsic good for                                                                     ments that are not per-
human beings, then                                                                           fectly democratic may
people must be allowed                                                                       nevertheless warrant
the scope to make life-                                                                      acceptance as democra-
changing, risk-taking,                                                                       tically legitimate. So,
freedom-restricting, life-                                                                   too, individual choices
damaging and even life-                                                                      that are some degrees
ruining decisions. This                                                                      short of perfect volun-
is part of what it means                                                                     tariness may still be
to be a free and                                                                             voluntary enough to be
autonomous agent. To                                                                         accepted              as
interfere in an individ-                                                                     autonomous commit-
ual’s choice to become a                                                                     ments.
slave, therefore, would                                                                         In the real social
be to treat him in a                                                                         world, hardly any of the
manner inconsistent                                                                          agreements and bar-
with respect for him as                                                                      gains we accept as vol-
an autonomous agent.                                                                         untary are made
So the institution of voluntary slavery would not deny       between parties in perfectly equal socio-economic
overall freedom to the slaves; on the contrary, it would     positions. This is especially true, despite the efforts
respect their personal autonomy as expressed in their        of unions, of agreements between wage-workers and
initial choices.                                             large corporate employers. A decision to enter slav-
                                                             ery need be no different in kind, at least on the score
2. Since, under this proposal, slaves would mainly
                                                             of unequal powers, from a decision to accept low-paid
be recruited from the underclass, slavery contracts
                                                             low-grade employment (or for that matter, to join the
would not be agreements between free and
                                                             army). These latter choices may well be to a degree
equal partners. Many poor people would be
                                                             forced on our indigent agent by his social and eco-
more-or-less forced by their impoverished
                                                             nomic circumstances, yet according to the prevailing
circumstances into slavery. Most decisions to enter
                                                             liberal ethos they would still be regarded as free choic-
slavery would fall so far short of ideal or full
                                                             es that carry all the moral implications of voluntari-
voluntariness as to be, essentially, nonvoluntary.
                                                             ness. So why shouldn’t the choice of slavery equally
They would be compelled by imposed social
                                                             be regarded as voluntary?
conditions, hence unfree and unfair.
                                                                Again in the real world quite a few women in mar-
   True, a perfectly voluntary agreement is one              ginal circumstances resort to prostitution as a way
between parties who are equally in possession of the         of obtaining some material security. Most of us would-
relevant facts, who have equally unclouded judge-            n’t pretend that the initial situation of these women
ment, and who are equal in freedom, power and sta-           is a good or reasonable one, or that the prostitution
tus. Slavery agreements fall short of this ideal. They       option is so intrinsically attractive that they would
would not be agreements between parties initially            have chosen it in better circumstances. Even so, those
equal in resources and power. The slave option would         liberals who favour the legalisation of prostitution
appeal mostly to the poor and marginalised mem-              under present conditions must also believe that most
bers of our societies, and slave-ownership would only        of the choices women make to pursue this career
be possible for the economically comfortable and             option are sufficiently voluntary to be socially legit-

                                      AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51                                    PAGE 7
imated and respected. They must regard prostitution        do exist amongst us. And the right sorts of circum-
as an option that should be freely available to those      stances for slavery – impoverishment and margin-
women (and men too) who are trying, according to           alisation – are enveloping more and more people. So,
their own lights, to do the best they can in a bad sit-    yes, it can reasonably be predicted that if slavery were
uation. Why shouldn’t the slavery option be similarly      to be made available as an option in our advanced
regarded?                                                  but polarised capitalist societies, it would be eager-
   Of course social marginalisation and exclusion are      ly taken up by quite large numbers of people, none
social evils. Ideally nobody should suffer them. We        of whom need be acting irrationally.
must remember, though, that it is we ourselves, the           In fact, conditions are becoming more and more
democratic majority in the liberal capitalist nations,     favourable for voluntary slavery. Management and
who have determined that our societies should              free-market gurus lecture workers on the need to
primarily pursue the values of economic liberalism         adapt to constant change, to be ready to change their
and the free market. We have decided to trade away         job many times during the course of their working
egalitarian justice for the opportunity, however ten-      lives, to seek out creative business opportunities for
uous, of becoming rich. The emphasis we have given         themselves, and to re-train and re-educate themselves
to economic liberties and market competition means         continuously. However quite large numbers of
that quite large numbers of the poor and marginalised      people are quite unsuited to this sort of quasi-
will keep haunting us for the foreseeable future.          entrepreneurial lifestyle. They cannot cope with con-
Shouldn’t we, then, offer them the greatest possible       stant unsettling change, and are frightened by the
range of opportunities to make, according to their         expanded freedom to take responsibility for them-
own choices, informed by their own characters and          selves. In the past many of these gentler souls were
viewpoints, the best they can of their difficult cir-      sheltered in relatively unproductive but secure
cumstances? Slavery may not be an ideal option for         employment with governments and in protected
anyone, but it may still be a reasonable option for        industries. However, now that these niches are rapid-
those locked into miserable and insecure situations.       ly disappearing, the people who once occupied them
So voluntary slavery could be one element in a range       would mostly be destined for failure and destitution
of free opportunities that suit the structure and func-    unless, of course, the option of slavery is made avail-
tioning of our market societies.                           able. For them the choice of slavery would make a
                                                           great deal of sense.
3. Voluntary slavery wouldn’t work, no-one
                                                              Karl Marx once said that the future contains only
would opt for it, because no-one in their right
                                                           two possibilities — socialism or barbarism. If he was
mind would surrender entirely something as basic
                                                           right, then we have chosen free-market barbarism as
and important as individual freedom. It couldn’t
                                                           the fundamental structure of our societies. Within this
possibly be a rational choice for anyone. And of
                                                           structure we can only realistically hope as a society
course anyone not in full possession of their
                                                           to do the best for people that suffer dehumanised con-
faculties cannot be held to have autonomously
                                                           ditions. A policy of re-instituting slavery would be
chosen slavery.
                                                           one way of making the best we can out of bad (for
   Humanity, we know, encompasses a huge variety
                                                           some) circumstances.
of actual human beings, each with her or his own
unique set of characteristics, capacities and inclina-     4. Slave-owners would have unlimited power
tions. Each person is also both influenced and con-        over their slaves. Such enormous power would
strained by a particular life history and a specific set   inevitably lead to abuse. Slaves would suffer
of social circumstances. Within this enormous vari-        cruelty and maltreatment, and have no recourse
ety we can find not only people who thrive on the          or protection against abuse.
continual free exercise of their powers but also people       Slavery has sometimes been defined, in moral
who are uncomfortable with, even terrified by, the         terms, as a relation in which slaves have no rights at
demands and exigencies of a fully self-determining         all while their owners enjoy the right to do whatever
life.                                                      they like to their slaves. Within that structure slaves
   Aristotle once said that some people are natural        would be mere instruments, having no more moral
slaves. He was, evidence suggests, quite right. The        or legal status than your television set or electric
existence today of submissive housewives, uxorious         frying pan. Under the present proposal, however, this
husbands, volunteer military personnel, religious cult     would not be the case. Slaves would have rights
members, and people all too willing to be pushed           against their owners, rights to adequate and secure
around by those with wealth and power, testifies to        maintenance, which would be legally enforceable.
his wisdom. So the right sort of people to be slaves       Within this structure, slaves should be just as well

  PAGE 8                             AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51
protected from abuse by their owners as, say, very           eral humanist socialisation of the new slave-owners.
young children are currently protected by the state          Far from slavery corrupting the slave-owners, the
from abuse by their parents. The new slaves, it is           overarching liberal setting for the new form of
envisaged, would have a legal status somewhere               slavery would influence the owners to be, if anything,
between that of domestic animals and very young              excessively considerate to their slaves.
children, and very akin to that of prisoners of the state.
                                                                                        ∗∗∗
    However, if we in the general community came to
regard sole reliance on the state for the protection of          So there it is, then, the proposal of voluntary
slaves’ rights as somewhat inad-                                                     enslavement as a way of uplift-
equate, we could set up non-gov-                                                     ing the underclass and providing
ernment          humanitarian                                                        opportunities for those on the
organisations to monitor and              ❛Slavery would work                        border of social exclusion. His-
reinforce the performance of this                                                    tory, we know, never repeats
task. In Australia, for instance, in        and so would the                         itself. We can’t re-create the past,
addition to such worthy organi-                                                      nor should we try to, but we
sations as the Royal Society for                 slaves❜                             would be unwise not to try to
the Prevention of Cruelty to Chil-                                                   adapt the good features of old
dren and the Royal Society for the                                                   institutions to new situations
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,                                                    and problems while at the same
we could found the Royal Society for the Prevention          time transforming their bad features. This is precisely
of Cruelty to Slaves. What more could slaves ask for         what the proposal of voluntary slavery does.
(if they are allowed to ask for anything)?                       Those who labour in policy think-tanks have often
                                                             been told to ‘think the unthinkable’ in attempting to
5. Slavery would morally corrupt the slave-
                                                             devise solutions to current social problems. Slavery
owners. They would not be able to confine the
                                                             certainly counts as unthinkable at the moment, but
attitudes appropriate to owned objects just to
                                                             it has been ruled out of contention by moral theorists
their slaves. They would develop a tendency to
                                                             and philosophers on the rather simplistic ground that
treat other free citizens as objects too, rather than
                                                             it is, in principle, a bad thing. So is killing. However,
as autonomous subjects worthy of equal respect.
                                                             just as most of us believe that we can have just wars,
   Under the present proposal, slavery would                 so too we could have justified enslavement, if there
involve only a fairly small sector in the mainly cap-        is no better alternative on offer.
italist economies of generally liberal democratic soci-          The scale of welfare dependency and the unafford-
eties. Most people would not be either slaves or             ability of state welfare are major difficulties currently
slave-owners. The numbers of slaves, though sub-             facing our liberal capitalist societies. The welfare state
stantial, would probably not exceed those of present-        is not working; it cannot provide sufficient welfare
day welfare recipients. So the social relationships of       and, furthermore, as most mainstream analysts
the slave-owners would be mostly with other free             now believe, it has morally pernicious effects on the
citizens. Their basic social experience would be of          poor. Leaving people hanging around in idleness at
a market economy, democratic political institutions          taxpayers’ expense is now seen as a sort of cruelty
and a liberal legal framework. So there is no reason         masquerading as beneficence. The institution of vol-
to expect them to be morally any worse than mem-             untary slavery would be a huge help in stemming
bers of the middle and upper classes are today.              the tide of taxpayer-funded welfare payments, and
Indeed we could reasonably expect the new                    would provide work for those now mired in self-
Master/Slave relationships to be more humanised              destructive idleness. Slavery would work; and so
than brutalised, because of the overwhelmingly lib-          would the slaves.




                                      AUSTRALIAN RATIONALIST • Number 51                                      PAGE 9

				
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Description: A modest proposal for the new millennium