Did you even wonder what “inalienable rights” was about in the Declaration of Independence? ”WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...” Here is a history of those rights and a segue into what the “gig economy” really is. This is powerful. It comes from a piece in The Straddler by David Ellerman, entitled “Against the Renting of Persons”.
Introductory excerpt: “David Ellerman, philosopher, mathematician, economist, and political theorist, is highly critical of the intellectual underpinnings of the current employment system, which he says institutionalize “the renting of persons” on dubious philosophical grounds. Describing his position as “neo-abolitionist,” he notes that modern liberal thought simplistically locates chattel’s slavery illegitimacy in its being a coercive institution. According to Ellerman, this wholly ignores a long and neglected tradition of liberal thought that viewed voluntary slavery as legitimate. This more sophisticated defense of slavery is itself illegitimate, but its tenets survive today and underlie the renting of persons in our own employment system. While working at Wal-Mart or Starbucks is a categorically different experience than chattel slavery, Ellerman’s efforts to recover the tradition of inalienable rights, which informed the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence as well as the abolitionists of the nineteenth century, seek to provide an analysis of the institutions of modern employment, which he claims structurally maintain an essential denial of human agency.”
So it may be a useful exercise to read Ellerman’s piece and apply what he says about human agency to one’s own job or to employment in general today. Do you work in a ‘gig” job like Uber with a take-it-or-leave-it contract making you a rental? Or do you work for a corporation where you are salaried but voting for those who are in top management is reserved for the shareholders, leaving you with questionable agency? In either case, did you alienate your rights in order to work? Or have you delegated them to your employer? It makes a difference as you will see in Ellerman’s writing.