I just had a quite shocking thought: Unregulated wage slavery might actually be worse than conventional slavery! What is unregulated wage slavery? The total dependence of the worker from employees who don’t have to follow any regulations on wages, working hours or working conditions. Do we have unregulated wage slavery now? Perhaps in some countries. I’m not sure about that, but we had pretty unregulated wage slavery at the beginning of the Industrialization.
Now why would unregulated wage slavery (UWS) be even worse than conventional slavery? Because of the tragedy of the commons! In UWS the worker is basically a part of a commons: The large pool of workers. Employees only pay a modest fee (the wage) for using a worker. If these workers are easily replaceable, because they don’t really do qualified work, then they are a mere resource that is to be used, according to capitalist logic. Workers can be used up until their health is ruined at which point they are fired and replaced with a new worker from the commons pool of workers. Employees don’t have to pay for the damage they have inflicted on their own workers. They externalize that cost to the workers they have just fired, which is of course extremely unfair and damages society at large.
Historically, UWS has been stopped, because the hard working conditions that workers had to endure have made them unfit to be good soldiers. Regulations on work have mainly been introduced to increase the military strength of nations.
Now, why would conventional slavery be any better than UWS? Well, in conventional slavery, “employees” don’t only have to pay a fee for the use of the worker (they do have to pay for living expenses of the slave, or otherwise they will lose that slave very quickly), but also pay the price of the worker. So, conventional slave holders should have an incentive to treat their slaves better than wage slaves, because otherwise they would have to pay the cost of a replacement slave. Interestingly, there is some evidence that certain conventional slaves have been treated better than wage slaves. Conventional slavery avoids a tragedy of the commons problem that is present in UWS!
What to make of this observation? Perhaps it’s important to get to the sombre realization that the abolition of slavery itself hasn’t directly caused real progress in the sense of improved well-being. It was a kind of social change that just allowed capitalism to exploit workers even better than if slavery had still been the norm!
Capitalism only had to make real concessions when its natural dynamics had already caused damage to the defence potential of nation states which then had to intervene to protect their own survival! And of course, capitalism couldn’t just object to that without disappearing, because the structures of capitalism depend on the nation state for their own operation!
All of this paints a pretty dark picture of “social progress” during the (first) Industrialization. And about what may still happen in some parts of the world.