Using some data sets from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, I managed to figure out that a slave would make $3.77 per hour in 2011 dollars if he weren’t a slave. That makes $3.77 per hour the “slave wage”. The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour; meaning that wages have YET to rise to double that of slave wages since the end of the Civil War.
The idea of wage slavery is a little different. Political Economist Henry George in 1879 said that wage slavery is where instead of a person owning you for labor, you rent yourself to the owner of production. Pretty Marxist, if you ask me. Wage slavery can be defined as a person’s livelihood being dependent on wages, especially when that dependence is total and immediate.
Increasingly, people’s income is dependent on hours worked, as in a part-time/low wage environment as we have now. Time (in the form of hours) is neither a product nor a commodity in a Capitalist system, except in economic rents – a rentier system. Both Marxian and Keynesian Economists define rent seeking as people seeking to gain excess returns above normal levels in a competitive market.
If you don’t know what “capital rent” is, or a rentier, it’s basically where people obtain income in lieu of wealth creation. Marx despised capital rents, as well as Keynes who looked forward to the “euthanasia of rents”. Adam Smith called Capital rents the ultimate form of “unproductive labor”. Max Weber said that rentiers were people who were not visibly engaged in labor. Examples are insurance companies, capital gains (a.k.a. Wall Street), landlords, and temporary employment agencies.
So is labor, under a wage slave system seeking to gain excess returns beyond the norm in a competitive labor market? To answer this, we have to know that Rents are created when there is a scarcity (of anything). Jobs are pretty scarce. So labor looking for hours against a wage constraint (low/minimum wage) is indeed seeking excess returns against the normal $7.25/30 hours. By working more hours (or seeking to), labor has a chance to increase their income against wage constraints above the norm. In seeking to rent their time for a fixed wage, labor has become a rentier class that has been despised by the theorists. To be fair to the theorists however, none of them factored in the concept of bargaining for time in labor.
Speaking of Weber, he was off target – by a lot. He stated that low wage labor worked in low wage jobs because they were low skilled. The charts of the day show that college educated people face the highest unemployment rates in history of college education, while they are increasingly taking low wage jobs. If I’m college educated and thought of competing for hours in rent seeking labor, then I’m sure other graduates who are unemployed thought of it. It leaves this question: is the “Education” variable in the Socioeconomic equation moot?