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How to Legally Own Another Person [pdf] (dropboxusercontent.com)
244 points by micaeloliveira on Oct 27, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments



This is incomplete, but very, very good economic analysis. In the end his points are simple:

0. Employees are willing to trade "freedom" for job stability and increased average returns. Contracters will more easily defect for sporadic higher paying opportunities, which makes them less reliable.

1. Employers can overpay employees while ensuring that they know that they are overpaid, to 'domesticate' their employees and improve reliability of outcomes.

2. Decades ago, employers could also promise long-term job security to achieve similar effects, however rapidly changing markets mean their future existence (and ability to grant stability) is in question.

3. Instead, employees have fixated on cross-company careers, optimizing for general employability , which means that they must still conform to the requirements of a domesticated employeeship.

4. However, when employees have significant, direct, measurable profit impact skill, and can make or break the company, they can not be owned.

He also does an economic analysis of cursing, while explaining that maximizing employability tends to strip away the parts of people that can make them great.


Two interesting things: 1) this predicts difficulty in controlling contractors and getting them to stick to schedules. It explains why taxis suck, homejoy struggled, and showcases that uber circumvented the entire issue of driver reliability by only doing on-demand rides. It also predicts that scheduled contractors will attempt to steal clients from the scheduling company (direct measurable profit impacting skill - you can't own them). Perhaps the on-demand service strategy that works requires either the use of employees or zero-scheduling/real-time request resolution.

2) As an employee, you must figure out how to measure your profit impact and consistently represent that metric as fact - socialize the idea that you have profit impact. You also want to figure out exactly how what you do and how you do it can increase or decrease profits: being the person who's able to both represent a meaningful metric and show how you've affected that metric, and how that metric should have affected the bottom line will make you the most valuable. If what you do does not impact profitability, then do something else.


One way to view Uber is as a redundant array of inexpensive drivers. Since the individual contractors are fully fungible and numerous, one will usually be available to take on any new request. It is an anomaly of the Uber model that the barriers are incredibly low, the service is provided very quickly and that a significant number of drivers are willing to idle waiting for a ride. This is reflected in the relative low pay.

Even then, I bet Uber has retention or reliability problems with drivers.


2) Is very tricky to do for creative professions. Wouldn't it mean something like asking every client who uses the feature you worked on to give you a quote on how useful the part you did was to them? I'd like to hear what others think about how to effectively measure and market your contribution to management.


I think he does not do a good job of analyzing the value proposition of "freedom" in this context. Freedom definitely is a value by itself, but he just posits and accepts that being a contractor gives you more freedom than being an employee.

There are definitely counter examples, for example the cleaning personnel in many hotels is working on a contract basis. The more general observation is that being a contractor only gives you freedom if you have relative market power over your employer/contract giver.

The same applies as a regular employee, but less so: there is value in retaining a skilled labor force, and employers are more reluctant to give that value up by firing people, as compared to contractors. (Also, many legislations restrict hire and fire of employees, but that might be a different topic.)

Given a very acute risk of not finding any other contracts, contractors might find themselves having to live up to demands of your employer, ultimately ending up being less free than an employee in a comparable market.


Working hourly at a fairly high rate changed my outlook on work.

It's motivating to get up and think I am going to work to get paid vs. not burning a vacation / sick day. At the same token taking a day off for a few hundred $ really makes you feel 'important'. Where taking vacation from a pool feels like something the company gives you vs. something you earn.


I've been both an employee and a contractor for various companies.

I found that being a contractor is usually easier, the work hours are shorter, the pay is MUCH better and 'job' security is actually higher (which really surprised me - I've never been fired from a contract job).

From a company's point of view; contractors are not good value. Sure, it's better to hire independent contractors than to outsource everything to an outside company, but a contractor is nowhere near as productive as a full-time employee.

The kinds of companies which hire contractors instead of full-time staff are often interesting companies...


As an employer, you don't need to fire contractors. You just let their contract expire and do not hire them again. Very clean, no pain, no conflict, and the contractor many times walks out the door not even realizing you would have fired their ass under different circumstances.


>> but a contractor is nowhere near as productive as a full-time employee

I disagree, also speaking as someone who's seen a mix of runs as a contractor, consultant and staff employee. It's the individual who is very productive or not, not the role they are filling.


Yes that's true. Contractors are often more skilled than non-contractors (they've often older and had a wider range of experiences).

But contractors, like entrepreneurs, are self-serving individuals. If your company has a large codebase and you depend too much on contractors, they may create a 'clan' inside your company and they will have leverage over management. I've seen this happen in large companies, never in a startup though.

I agree though that it's not because they're contractors. It's more because they're greedy.


Yes, I've worked on a few sites where the employees were let go before the contractors.


"The best slave is someone you overpay and who know it, terrified of losing his status."

As I sit here entering my 12th hour of work for the day, this sounds remarkably legit.


On the other hand, you're commenting on HN instead of actually working :)


For many here HN is a symptom of overwork. Personally, I am not on HN when I have time to do meaningful work (as opposed to $dayjob).


Except it conflates a voluntary relationship for a forced one.

Slavery is being taxed at 100% of you output.


>Slavery is being taxed at 100% of you output.

Well, you get free housing and food so you have to deduce that. Especially when in some cases, slaves did better in that than poor free citizens.

In fact in ancient Greece and Rome there were slaves managers of other slaves, teachers, running businesses on behalf of their owners etc, and even allowed money.

The main issue is they couldn't leave -- though they even got that in some cases, e.g. if they fought bravely at some battle (e.g. Arginusae), or after some decades of service at the benevolence of their master.

Personally I don't consider totally voluntary any decision based on the need to feed a family. Nobody "volunteers" to work at McDonalds or tons of other "non-creative" jobs. They just get to choose between that and Burger King, Walmarts or something like that. But they must go to work, if not forced by fear of violence, then forced by fear of hunger and homelessness.

So between slavery and this, I'd say there are degrees, not absolute differences.


> Slavery is being taxed at 100% of you output.

That may or may not be the case.

That's certainly not how slavery worked in classical antiquity, for the most part. It's not even how it always worked in the US South in the 19th century (e.g. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/maai/emancipation/te... has examples of slaves buying their own freedom, which is clearly impossible if you're being taxed at 100% of your output).

As far as I can tell, as slavery has become less and less "socially accepted" it has also become more brutal, because only the brutes (and typically criminals, as it becomes illegal) engage in slaveowning. And people's mental image of "slavery" nowadays (at least in the US) is a conflation of what happens now with some of the worst cases of 19th century slavery in the US. It's only broadly similar to various social institutions in different societies over the last 3000 years that are all called "slavery" and involve people with varying restrictions on their freedom.


It's not really voluntary if it's that or you and your family going hungry, without heat in winter, or even home. It's still slavery, but you are "free" to chose your master, and some of us are lucky to be bound by comfortable chains of gold and velvet called "software industry".

(In a way, it's recursive slavery - masters are often bound to someone else.)


Redefining 'slavery' to include all forms of "I must expend some effort to put food in my mouth" (a condition that affects all animals) makes the word 'slavery' meaningless.


Redefining 'voluntary' to include the situation where you must do X or die makes the word 'voluntary' meaningless. And in fact I'm inclined to agree with you -- here slavery is not appropriate, but nor is voluntary, choices are forced or not forced on a continuum and much more complicated than both the black and white "wage labor = slavery" or "Libertarian" ideologies would have you believe.


While it's necessary for me to work, the fact that I work for my current employer is my own choice, so in that sense it's voluntary. Slavery does not offer that choice, no matter how badly the employer treats you.


We are more than animals. And at this stage in our development, it's no longer necessary to spend more than half of waking hours on it. Just because it has always been like that before doesn't mean it should continue. Social inertia is holding us back here, unfortunately.


You've just moved the goalposts, from 'having to work' to 'having to work more than half your waking hours'. Plenty of people don't work more than half their waking hours, including plenty of us poor chained slaves in this software shtick.


It's not me who's moving the goalpost. What I described applies to vast majority of population, and includes vast majority of software developers. You can't point at minority that has it better and therefore say there's no issue.


> What I described applies to vast majority of population

Patent nonsense from the outset - the total workforce is basically half the population (in the US, it's currently at 160M out of 310M total pop). Even if every single member of the workforce was working your supposed grind (which it clearly isn't), it's not "vast majority of the population" territory.

Even if you just limit it to the working population, where are you pulling these "vast majority" numbers from? From the same "silent majority" that supports a given person's unpopular political opinions?


the things you own end up owning you


Did you read the article? He has a particular definition of slave.


Sure, he's redefining the term "slave", but it's a loaded term he's using for illustrative purposes.


Agreed. In a world where many people have been and continue to be in genuine slavery, that choice of word rankled me.


No, it's > 0%. Do you think 99% isn't slavery?


What about being taxed 40%?

I recently severely pissed off a correspondent (who'd written Yet Another Article on the evils of capitalism) by equating compulsory taxation with slavery.


I don't get your point. Has there ever been an example of a succesful tax-less capitalist economy? Or are you saying that at some tax level below 40% capitalism shifts from slavery to non-slavery?


>Has there ever been an example of a succesful tax-less capitalist economy?

I think the GP means income tax since the conversation is about being a slave === being 100% income taxed. And yes, there had been an example of a successful income tax-less capitalist economy. The United States of America for most of the time pre 1913.


Maybe in terms of the income tax that we know today, but if you did any importing or exporting you paid a heck of a lot of taxes via tariffs. If you ever get a chance to read up on the pre-Civil War period you'll find that the south was responsible for about 87% of total Federal revenue and almost entirely due to tariffs.

It's an interesting subject.


Why don't we go back to that system?


That's an excellent question ... my experience over several years helping campaign for a party that wanted to eliminate progressive taxation was that:

* people are terrified of fundamental changes to systems that provide their 'benefits', even if the existing system involves literal slavery

* people get really, really angry when you mention the 'slavery' thing; they don't seem to like really thinking about how the sausage is made, so to speak

* slavery is easy when quality of life is so good; it's easy to get bent out of shape when 40% of your income is being taken when your income is diddley-squat; when you're living like a 1700s king already, meh

* socialists have entirely and completely conflated the concept of a just society with compulsory taxation and state welfarism that it is almost impossible to get people to even acknowledge that the two can be considered separately

* self-described capitalists are often only capitalists when it suits them, otherwise they are often happy to suckle from the State tit to a far more egregious extent than any 'welfare queen' ever did

I don't do politics any more.


One could wonder whether USA1913 was stable in the long term. It probably operated on unlimited resources for some part (land, at least). It's the limited resources which require us nowadays to care for unemployed people, because we've built the system without including their food/shelter. For example Australia is, to this day, the new America (23% taxes at $80k), but it's also only 20M people and exploiting still-abundant mines.



No, I'm saying that I think that a compulsory tax of 1% of your income means that you're 1% enslaved.


If you're arguing for some radical libertarian theoretical economy with 0% taxes then you're not really arguing for anything that would normally be called capitalism. In a way you're being an anticapitalist yourself.


0% compulsory taxation. Why does everyone assume that it has to be compulsory?


Voluntary taxation is not a thing. That's called a donation.


No, not at all, because a donation generally doesn't get you something in return (say, citizenship or the right to vote).

Imagine a country run entirely on a voluntary poll tax. You literally pay in order to vote. The last time I ran the numbers (along with the now-defunct Libertarianz party), it'd cost around $2.5k per working person to run core Govt. services in New Zealand on that basis, assuming 100% buy-in.

That's not a donation, exactly, but it's not compulsory taxation either.


Government by the wealthy for the wealthy, as Lincoln didn't say. Might want to look at the history of poll taxes and especially property qualifications.


Wealthy? $2.5k isn't exactly a lot, if you consider that that was the entire tax burden we were planning for. As in, $2.5k tax in total, for everything.

Sure, poll taxes and similar have been used to exclude all but the wealthy from Government. Many types of legal structure can be misused: gun control laws to disarm black people in the face of the KKK, union laws to prevent non-white people from getting decent jobs, etc. etc.

But it's not a given.

Edited to add: and especially when you consider that the so-called 'sin taxes' that particularly burden the poor would be eliminated under that scheme.


Sure, if you want to ignore the part about not having freedom of choice.


Last I checked the consequence of not paying compulsory taxation was jail (if you didn't resist physically as well) or death (if you did).


But you have a choice of whether to work and what to do for that work don't you? Can we say the same for slaves?


No, not really.

The requirement to work is a given, at least for the foreseeable future. Humans need wealth to live: food, water, shelter, clothing. We need wealth even more to thrive: books, schools, factories.

None of this comes for free. In a state of nature, to refuse to work is to commit suicide, at a rate proportional to the hostility of your environment.

There are a lot of variables to adjust. You could work less, and enjoy more free time and a commensurately lower standard of living (still fantastically high by historical standards).

Or you could live off others. That's not always an ethical fault: consider invalids, or children, or the very elderly. So long as the people providing for you have a choice in the matter, that's fine from an ethical perspective.

Or - and this is where the ethical fault comes in - you could force others to provide your material needs for you. For example, welfare parasites and professional politicians (but I repeat myself).

So, no. There is no choice about working.


I don't think that's entirely true. There are been plenty of counter-culture examples of people mostly opting out of that system. It's hard, but really it's hard relative to the system they are opting out of, which is why we have the system in the first place. Ultimately, nobody is keeping anyone here, so people have the option to emigrate to a location with less oversight and taxes. This may be hard, but it's possible. I think this is a bug distinction between "real" slavery, and how people equate taxation as slavery. There is implicit acceptance of the system by staying within the region where the system is the prevailing way of doing business.


Wow, you value a persons life so little that you would let them die if they didn't work. If a person killed you to feed themselves or their family, I would consider them more ethical, because at least they had a reason to kill you. You would let them starve over almost nothing.


"Wow, you value a persons life so little that you would let them die if they didn't work."

How the actual fuck did you read that into what I wrote?

... deep breath ...

What I meant was, and perhaps I was unclear, is that material goods are a requirement for life, and a good many of them if you want to thrive rather than just 'not die'.

Those goods have to be produced, by someone. Work has to be done. This is not negotiable. It is a fact of living in this universe.

If that work isn't done by you, then it has to be done by someone. You can't just "opt out" of work, all you can do is either a) do it yourself, b) let someone else do it for you, c) force someone else to do it for you.

Right now, my children are in state (b). There are many adults in that state too - they are dependant upon the work of others. In many case that's through no fault of their own, either, and I think that it's entirely just that a civilised society look after such people.


This is how the fuck I read that into what you wrote, and I quote: "In a state of nature, to refuse to work is to commit suicide, at a rate proportional to the hostility of your environment." ... "So, no. There is no choice about working."

It seems pretty clear to me where I got it from. You are definitely fine with letting people live in misery at the best. It's pretty simple, there is no "actual what the fuck" about it.

Funny that you comment on nature, when civilization has made a lot of the horrible things that have to be dealt with in nature a lot less relevant. In nature animals are violent to each other, and will kill each other even of their own species. By your logic you must support killing each other, otherwise your argument about nature would be totally hypocritical.

The more civilized a place the more people can do their own thing without worry of harm or their needs being met. What you wrote below has nothing to do with a basic income. A basic income will make people less afraid of moving employers for example, making parasites that employ people in hideous conditions lose power. Threats from those psychopaths will have a lot less punch. That is a massive gain.

A basic income does not look like it will not alter how much people work. As an example, the MINCOME project showed that the only new mothers and teenagers worked substantially less in an actual experiment with a form of basic income, the people who work will still work. I will not repeat other sources here, any reader can look it up if they want.


While I don't agree with duncan_bayne's view, what you've done (previously to this comment) is taken the most uncharitable possible interpretation of his words, and then written a baiting, reactionary reply to him. Any time you want to write "Wow, you value a persons life so little that you would let them die if they didn't work." you should probably stop and consider a more tactful approach that consists mostly of asking whether you are interpreting what they are saying correctly.


I think (s)he is actually a troll, and quite a skilled one.


"In a state of nature, to refuse to work is to commit suicide, at a rate proportional to the hostility of your environment."

What part of living in a modern industrial / post-industrial society is "in a state of nature"?

I give up.


A key part of slavery involves restriction of movement. You're generally free to emigrate wherever you feel like. Or stay where you are and join a commune. You'll be self-sufficient and not paying tax. It's not slavery if you can escape it by merely choosing to do something else.


I think we need to start looking at it like at a spectrum. Yes, current employment situation is not a literal owner-and-chains slavery and in principle you can always join a commune. But for upwards of 90% of population this is not a viable option they can realistically take. There are problems, and just because they're not literally slavery doesn't mean they ain't close.


It does mean they aren't even close. If your situation doesn't meet the criteria of slavery, then you aren't a slave. You may not be completely free, but you aren't a slave.

You don't seem to be fully understanding of what slavery is. There is also a legal category. Slaves have no rights, they could not avail themselves of protections against abuse. Also there is a ownership / fungibility aspect, you can buy slaves on a market. This is what separates serfdom from slavery.

The basic idea of slavery is that an entire country, state and nation, participates in psychological and legal domination of subject people. If that's not happening, then what you're looking at isn't slavery. Human trafficking isn't slavery, the main difference is that it's a group of people that are surreptitiously creating a regime where people can be traded and not an entire country. One may call human trafficking "modern slavery", and people being trafficked as "slaves", because it is, after all, an abhorrent practice.

But slavery doesn't exist in the world any more and to say otherwise demeans the numerous armed conflicts humans have fought all over the world to end real slavery. People are not permitted any more to openly treat humans as cattle and expect the law to respect their 'property'. Not even North Korea could get away with instituting slavery, though one could speculate on whether slavery would be better for the people in their gulags now.

You can look at a particular criteria on a spectrum and draw a line. But we have better words to describe what happens when you remove criteria. There is a rich lexicon of terms we can employ to describe removing freedoms from people. Slavery becomes serfdom when you remove fungibility. When you remove state-participation, it's called human trafficking. When all it is is one person forcing another person to keep working, it's called forced labor.

The modern employment social contract is in no way, shape or form anything like actual slavery, to call it such is to misrepresent both employment and slavery.


Then I see another problem - people using the word "slavery" to describe various periods in history when what they mean is the "American-style black on cotton plantations type of slavery". Slaves in history had various amounts of rights and, particularly in Ancient Egypt, Israel and Rome, there were much closer to employees than many think today. The American version of slavery seems to be more of a historical aberration.


I think we focus too much on those rights and less on the overall big picture. US slavery was bad, but Caribbean slavery was much, much worse, what made it worse was the conditions the people labored under.

Personally, if I were in a minor outlying area of the Roman empire, I perhaps would have preferred to become a Roman slave rather than be free out in the boondocks. I've read that a Roman conquest would always start with a call for anyone in the opposing army who wanted to be part of the empire to defect now and become a Roman slave, that was supposedly a better fate than losing in battle. In Rome I could, by hook or by crook, earn my freedom and perhaps even become emperor.

If I were in Africa, and I had a choice, I would perhaps choose to become a slave on James Madison's plantation rather than stay in Africa. You should read the book written about one of his slaves, he was truly extraordinary.

What made US slavery so bad wasn't so much the slavery but the racism. Roman slaves looked just like their masters. But when US slaves earned their freedom through manumission or simply buying themselves off their masters, a somewhat common practice in the run-up to the Civil War, they had to be careful or fall prey to slavers capturing them and re-enslaving them.

If it weren't for the racism, you could make a credible argument that enslavement in the US was, on the whole, better for the people involved, going by the standard of, if you had all the relevant information, would you prefer to stay home or go to the US as a slave.

Of course, American intellectuals made this argument at the time as a justification for slavery. The practice of indentured labor where people willingly sold themselves into bondage to escape their homeland lends some credence to this, but in my opinion the racism blacks experienced and still experience places it solidly in 'wrong' territory.


My Grandmother grew up in the West Indies, and had a particularly horrible expression to describe the disappointed feeling at the end of school holidays: freepaper burn.

In her grandparents time, that was the term for the more than disappointed feeling freed slaves had when slavers seized their 'free papers', burned them, and then enslaved them once more.

It's not that far in our past.


> Slaves have no rights

That depends on the exact historical milieu. For example, slaves in Athens at various times had the right to freedom of religion, right to claim asylum at an altar, right to not have their owner kill them out of hand (or more precisely if the owner did this, he was brought to trial, at least in theory), etc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_ancient_Greece has some selected details.

Totally agreed with your last sentence, though. ;)


"The modern employment social contract is in no way, shape or form anything like actual slavery, to call it such is to misrepresent both employment and slavery."

I'm in complete agreement with you, until you introduce compulsory taxation. That is morally equivalent to slavery: your time is being literally taken from you by others, for their own reasons.

Sure, it might also buy you healthcare and so forth, but the same argument could be made in defense of historical slavery too.


> your time is being literally taken from you by others, for their own reasons.

That is not slavery, it's not even close to slavery. And it is not your time being taken away from you, it's your money. One can figure out how to earn money less onerously, then taxation becomes less onerous.

Arguments that modern institutions are basically slavery cannot simply boil down to "the lives of poor people suck". That's always been true, your argument is so general it's meaningless.

States have always survived on institutionalized violence towards its citizens. The question is not of whether, but of what kind. There is no way around violence, we can only try to get by with less of it.

Taxation is much, much, much less onerous these days than slavery was. In fact, Taxation, in the agrarian empires of antiquity, was one step removed from slavery. Ancient peoples had to be coerced to produce an agricultural surplus.

It was basically like the mob. Produce as much as you can and give us 95% of it and we'll protect you from other bands of marauding barbarians. You wanted the people you gave that surplus to to be well-organized and powerful, because that had knock-on benefits.

It was better than slavery because your masters only showed up during harvest. They didn't take your kids and trade them away for a profit. They didn't kill you if you couldn't make quota, otherwise who would work the farm.

Slowly things like social contracts and human rights evolved. Taxation became less onerous.


"And it is not your time being taken away from you, it's your money."

Do you not see the connection between those things, especially in the case of income tax? And especially in the case of progressive taxation, which punishes people in proportion to their productive virtue?


You're not understanding these things in their proper historical context. We have to have a state, the state has to get funded somehow. The question is how. Progressive taxation is the product of tens of thousands of years of civic development, a process that started with gangs of armed men raiding your farm taking whatever the hell they wanted.

Yes there is a connection between time and money. But they are not the same. A person can, throughout their life, learn how to trade less of their time for more money. That makes taxation far less of a burden than slavery. The two are not equatable in the slightest.

And progressive taxation does not tax innovation and growth as much as you might think it does. In the United States, it is often thought that getting "bumped into another tax bracket" has you paying a larger percentage of your income as taxes in very non-smooth way. But it is smooth, you only pay a greater percentage of money you make in excess of the 'dividing line'.

This year, the cutoff between 15% and 25% is $37,450. If you make $37,451, then you do not pay 25% of $37,451. You pay an amount somewhat less than 15% of $37,450, (to account for the lower tax brackets) plus 25% of one dollar. You keep less of your earned income, but there is never a disincentive to keep improving and growing.

Compared to alternative ways of funding the state, progressive income tax regimes have proven their worth in many countries. The US is the most economically powerful nation on Earth, so if a progressive taxation regime is bad, it must not be that bad.


"A person can, throughout their life, learn how to trade less of their time for more money. That makes taxation far less of a burden than slavery."

I keep reading this as "there's this field of cotton you need to pick; if you get done early, have some time off."

I'll grant you that progressive taxation in the context of an objective tax law is significantly better than roving bands of armed thugs.

But that's not a very high bar; surely we can do better from a moral perspective?


> I keep reading this as "there's this field of cotton you need to pick; if you get done early, have some time off."

You shouldn't. It's more like, "Here's a field of cotton you could pick, if you want to, we'll give you these pieces of paper with which you can buy whatever you want. Don't want to pick cotton but still want money? Here's a cotton-picking machine you could learn how to use, we'll pay you twice as much if you can figure it out.

Your moral argument seems to boil down to "give me what I want for free or I'm going to call you an enslaving bastard."


Ah, right. I'm in total agreement with you.

What I was referring to was the arrangement between the worker and the State, when compulsory taxation is involved.


OK, you don't seem to understand the primary role of the state, which is protecting you from other states.

Before states, you had endless raiding. Each farmer didn't have the resources to maintain an army to protect him. You can crowdsource that protection, but then you have a standing army, which is a necessary evil in a violent world.

Without a state and an army, some other state's army is going to move in and conquer you, therefore, there's no getting around the need for a state and the necessity of funding it. Being conquered is no fun.

States are still every bit as necessary now as they were before, aggression from other states is still a thing. And you can't fund a state with voluntary taxation, you won't raise enough money. Therefore it's compulsory. Your moral argument still boils down to "give me what I want for free." You may not think you want a state, but all that means is that you're blind to what would happen in its absence.


You're completely misreading my position.

1) It's good to have a State. 2) The primary purpose of a State is not protection from other States, it's to protect the rights of its citizens, i.e. to uphold the law. 3) This may take the form of protecting its citizens against each other (Police, Courts, etc.) or against foreign threats (Defense). All are legitimate.

I think the only disagreement we have is over whether voluntary taxation would be sufficient.

Do you really believe that, say in the case of New Zealand, the majority of working adults wouldn't be willing to stump up $2,500k / annum - this, in the absence of any other taxation - to pay for the State and all the benefits it brings?


The difference being that you get something back for that. Also, that you're free to leave at any time.


How is that different from employment "slavery"?


Slaves got food and housing back.

And one is only "free" in the "they won't shoot you for it" sense, not in the "you won't suffer adverse effects" sense.


Well, taxation as slavery is rhetoric with a long, strong, tradition going back to pre-Revolutionary days. But if you think the sort of person who writes about how "capitalism is evil" is going to have the background to meaningfully process and respond to that language, that's another matter entirely...


Since the topic has also been making the rounds on HN, this was, as I recall, one of the issues raised with Gravity Payments and their $70K base salary.


Tell it to a twelve year old kid working a mine in Burundi, I'm sure he'll sympathise.


He said the "best" slave, which I understood to mean the most eager and hardworking, without even knowing he's a slave. Not the most oppressed slave. Of course my sympathies lie with the child in Burundi, and I don't pity myself. My comment was mostly tongue in cheek - mostly.


The existence of a worse scenario for others does not make your scenario any better. There are many systems built to fuck people, and there is no shame in addressing the one that directly afflicts you.


Maybe not, but maybe one should be more circumspect about using a word like "slave", which has a very literal meaning, and which applies to actual slaves, who are still an actual thing, and not even slightly to you.

If you want to complain about the fact that you've chosen to work long hours for a six figure salary (I know, it can be frustrating sometimes!) then go right ahead, but pick different words.


I hate arguments over syntax but 'slavery' is a more nuanced thing than you are representing. ( e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wage_slavery )

Substantially: You are downplaying a big part of "Slavery." The most important factor in a successful fight for freedom is the fact that you are fighting for your own freedom. There is no reason to have guilt over principally addressing your own.


Not everyone agrees, but I often feel like I'm reading genius when I read Taleb.

I especially like his insight about those really comfortable not putting on pretensions or airs. Go to Bucks in Woodside some time.

The really good VCs are really good genuine people.



Also interesting, is the title of the book "Skin in the Game"?


I think so, but I can't find it, so I'm guessing it hasn't been released yet.

Those seem to be excerpts released by the author.


In the bottom left of each page it says "This is a preliminary draft." I'm looking forward to this book when it does come out though!


Very thought provoking. It seems like a good argument in favour of entrepreneurship and risk taking.

But I'm not sure that I agree with Taleb's glorification of Front Office banking roles in sales & trading. Like any sufficiently highly paid corporate employee, traders are compensated mainly through company shares which vest over a long period of time. These days a trader's bonus can even be clawed back, many years after being awarded. Rumour is that Wall St traders are often caught up in a culture of excess where bosses pressure them to spend/live extravagantly and become completely dependent on annual cash bonuses. For all the supposed risk taking tolerance bravado, traders are merely risking the firm's capital and not their own. In some ways it is similar to the expat role - just as some executives are chosen to be expats, some bank employees are chosen as traders and given enormous amounts of the firm's capital to bet with. No one can say what to look for in hiring a good trader, there is no consistent basis for selection, there are no academic or professional credentials for traders, the bank executives can choose to shutdown a particular trading desk on a whim, the worst fear of a trader is to lose this coveted position, and most people do not last very long as traders as their luck runs out eventually at the poker table. If an expat executive is like a diplomat fearfully being assigned from one foreign posting to the next, then I think a trader is like a gambler-slave sent to gamble with his master's money in the casino and he is in constant fear of the dire consequences that await if and when he loses too great a sum or fails to win large sums frequently. Trading jobs are usually a better deal for the employee than most comparable jobs, but it is still an employee job and it attracts exactly the kind of people who go to business school and actively seek low risk careers and dependence on a paycheque written by a prestigious employer.


A saw one wall street Forum where young traders where advised not to wear expensive watches as their was a strict hierarchy.

Apparently wearing cufflinks was also a no no - which made me smile as the on or 2 days a year I wear a suit I ways wear shirts with cufflinks.


get the person an H1B visa and you legally own him. Indentured servitude at its best.


An employer of an employee on a sponsored H1B visa is unable to keep that employee from finding new employment at another employer who is willing to file an H1B petition. There isn't any way for the current employer to find out the employee has applied elsewhere. If the employee already holds an H1B, then the new employer is not limited by the yearly H1B cap [1].

I am by no means an expert on legal or immigration matters, so you'll have to do your own research. Also, since you refer to an H1B but did not explicitly state the country, I'm assuming you're referring to the US where Skilled Immigration for Work visas are typically called H1Bs. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Cheers

[1] <http://www.immihelp.com/visas/h1b/h1-visa-transfer-faq.html> -- looking for a better source that's not commercial, happy for pointers.


You're right and H1B transfers are easy and would only scare off an inexperienced employer. I moved jobs twice on a H1B without incident, even though one of my employers tried to make it an issue. I'd suggest the generally precarious immigration status of visa holders in the US contributes to this myth.


The problem isn't with finding new job, it's with time. There is no grace period for H1b. If you are laid off without any advance notice, you have to pack up your stuff and leave the country immediately. Not to mention, you have no time to sell off your car or any other property, unless you have friends who can do that after you leave. So unless you are proactively looking to change company, you are always under constant fear. Source: http://www.uscis.gov/tools/ombudsman-liaison/practical-immig... See Q2


My understanding is that changing jobs can be detrimental to your application for a permanent green card in some cases.[1] Sometimes that is bad enough to keep you where you are.

[1]https://www.quora.com/If-an-employer-has-applied-for-a-green...


Yes it is. Changing jobs will reset the greencard process ( which is 8 years for Indian & Chinese citizens ). So H1B jobs cannot be changed easily. Cannot ask for raise because the employee's destiny is in employer's hand. H1B's spouse ( H4 ) cannot work even though they are well qualified. ( I feel restricting spouses to work is something similar like in Saudi where women can't drive )

I am in H1B. I cannot change my employer because my greencard has been filed recently. I have to wait for 8 years to get permanent residency. Every three years I have to renew my petition. I will be 40 when I get my greencard. I am going to get married now , my spouse resigned her job in India at Oracle and is going to sit at home watching TV & cooking in US, because she is not authorized to work with H4 visa. She is a Master's degree holder in Finance and fluent in English & French. Now she has to spent all her productive years in a rented apartment.

I140 work authorization is a ray of light. USCIS is like a chameleon , changing rules all the time , putting many skilled workers under anxiety and stress all their life.

So me & fiance is planning to apply for PR in Canada as soon as we get married through the express entry system and get out of this mess soon.


Oh please, you cannot seriously compare Saudi Arabia to the US? H1B cannot change jobs easily? I've changed 4 jobs without any issue. And what issue could arise possibly? There is no restriction in terms of changing jobs on H1B. I don't want to make this personal but if you are so concerned about your fiance sitting at home idle wasting her productive years, why wouldn't you consider going back to India? The rules have been the same before you got hitched, you knew perfectly well that it is unlikely that she would work in the US (unless she gets an H1 on her own) And I don't understand this fascination of getting a green card; what does that give you? You can still lose your job and be paid unemployment checks which wouldn't cover your rent/mortgage. Full disclosure: The whole discussion on H1 crippling careers etc is just BS. If you have the talent and more importantly persistence you can achieve your career goals. I always remind people, the rules have been laid out by USCIS, it is what it is. You can either sit on your backsides complaining of how unjust they are or get an I140 and keep extending your H1B and continue towards your career goals. But people tend to be risk averse.


> So me & fiance is planning to apply for PR in Canada as soon as we get married

Speaking as a Canadian who's worked in the US you'll make less money out of two incomes in Canada than you will working by yourself at an H1B in the US.


I'm sorry, but she doesn't have to spend her productive years cooking and watching TV. She can perfectly write, read, blog, or stay in India at her oracle job, among a myriad of alternatives.

I'm not defending the H1B system, which sucks, but you always can find a better way.


Not everyone likes to write,read or blog ,people are different, nor can she stay in India. I don't think you understand how marriage works in Indian culture. How does it feel for you to get married and then stay away from your partner. I don't how it works in this part of the world. But it won't work for me.


I see many (most?) people block themselves into false dichotomies, in this case: "Either I can work as whatever I was trained at or I must stay at home". There are more options, always.

I was not presuming to know what will work for you, just mentioning there are lots of alternatives. Many require courage and effort, but still, they are there.

Don't forget that if the Canada plan doesn't work.


In my case , it not only needs courage and effort. The USCIS restricts me from working on anything else than the occupational field for which I got my work visa on. I am not whining or anything, this country has given me a lot of good things. In fact the pros outweighs the cons. I am just pissed off with the fact that my spouse can't work , just because she is married to an H1B worker. As an individual , its not her mistake that she married an H1B worker. She is not even allowed to have a SSN ! An alien who do not have SSN cannot open a bank account among many other restrictions.


She can't legally work, that sucks.

She can do many things that are not classified as work, though. And that's the important thing, she can still make/do/think/learn and might even go as far as unofficially trading with people for that (talk to a lawyer first - the trading part might not be such a good idea, but the first part sure is.)

Anyway, just pointing it out for the third time to try to get the point across, I find it a hard thing to do: You very frequently have more choices than those you think you have, and in the cases when you really don't it's because you've chosen a path that's led where you are, so you either get creative or get stuck.


L1B would be a better example :-)


Did you really try to be on any of the sides of such a relationship? Otherwise I'm afraid you can be surprised.


That was (mostly) true twenty years ago, but not any more.


I really enjoyed reading this. If I wanted to pick up one of his books, any recommendations out there for where to start?


Black Swan is still his best in my mind, but the Bed of Procrustes can be a nice entree; aphorisms were the original tweets, and can be consumed as such. Then I'd jump into Fooled By Randomness, and finally Antifragile (which is the weakest of them...truthfully I think the entire book could have been a chapter in Black Swan, but I'm glad he wrote it all down anyway).


I've read them all, and I agree completely with your judgement of them.


Really appreciate the recommendations, thanks!


All of his books have been worthwhile in some way. "Fooled by Randomness" is a great place to start. Its effect of exposing the lack of objectivity in many commonly-accepted beliefs that rely heavily on perceived cause and effect can add maturity and humility to your own worldview.

Ironically, my only complaint might be that Taleb seems to get a little more self-congratulating by anecdotally revealing the lifestyle he is able to enjoy as you progress through his series of books. Perhaps this is more of a style device to broaden the books' appeal.

Whatever the case, the perspective you can gain from his writing is worth the time.


"Ironically, my only complaint might be that Taleb seems to get a little more self-congratulating by anecdotally revealing the lifestyle he is able to enjoy as you progress through his series of books."

You get already a hint of it in the small excerpt linked, IMHO.


Great incite, thank you!


The one you really want to read, Taleb won't let you - the actual returns from his funds.


It is interesting to note that a few hundred years ago, people didn't make that big of a difference between chattel slavery and wage slavery (labor). Both were university acknowledge to be great evils, and it was as dehumanizing to rent a person than it was to own a person.

Somehow we've all accepted wage slavery as alright. Good even! If someone doesn't have a job we deride him as a lazy ass for not wanting to sell his labor to a capitalist. A solution: universal basic income. Give everyone fuck you money. Then you'll have a free society.


Where will this basic income money come from? Forced taxation, aka extortion, aka partial slavery. That's not a free society, just a different master.


Increasing income increases freedom. But you get diminishing returns the more you increase income of a person. Here 500e/month is effectively "yeah, I can choose what I do with my life". 5000e/month is still not enough for "yeah, I fly whenever I want and where ever I want."

Also monetary freedom is only one subset of freedom. Being able to pick where and how much you work are valuable too. If we assume that due to taxation we play monetary zero sum game, giving more people choice on what they work increases total freedom.


Taxation is not partial slavery because the money is not yours to begin with. What you "earn" is partly due to your efforts, and partly due to you utilizing the infrastructure and institutions built by everyone else. So a part of your "earnings" is society's. That part is called taxes: what you owe to those who enable you to earn.

We can also put taxes on corporations instead of people. Corporations are not humans, and therefore cannot be made slaves.


Do you realize that in this framework "wage slavery" doesn't exist too?

What you "earn" is partly due to your efforts, and partly due to you utilizing the infrastructure of your employer. So a part of your "earnings" is employer's.


Sure. What is meant by "slavery" in this context is not appropriation of a portion of labor value. It is being forced to sell your labor on the market in the first place - a process that necessarily sets up exploitative conditions for those with little market power.


I don't think it's a useful slavery definition because the thing forcing you to work is nature.

You are being forced to brush teeth by the same entity, that forces you to work, so in this context even teeth brushing becomes "teeth brushing slavery".


>Taxation is not partial slavery because the money is not yours to begin with

Ah, we have found the key contention. An interesting thought is to consider a world of fully mobile people - who will move and who will stay in a country with universal basic income and high taxes?


There are alternatives to high taxes. We could have a Georgism-inspired economic system in which the land and natural resources are publicly owned and leased from the state, but what you create is yours alone. That way, there are no "high taxes" on what you create. The universal basic income is financed wholly by the wealth from leasing everyone's land and natural resources (which is much more justifiable because land is always appropriated - never created).


> An interesting thought is to consider a world of fully mobile people - who will move and who will stay in a country with universal basic income and high taxes?

The only way you get a world full of "fully mobile people" with no barriers to relocation is if the world is one sovereignty rather than several, in which case if there is a country with UBI and high taxes, its the only one.

But lots of people -- including rich ones -- who do have the practical choice to leave or stay (though they aren't fully mobile as borders and immigration policies do erect some costs and barriers to relocation) do stay in countries with relative high, progressive taxes and strong social safety nets today. I don't see why incorporate UBI into those social safety nets would change that.

Apparently, civilization -- as opposed to the law of the jungle -- is attractive to people, even many rich people. Who knew?


The 'taxation' straw man is the first thing folks think of, when encountering BI for the first time. There are alternatives. Like printing the money, which is nowhere near the issue you might think it is. The 1% own 99% of it, the rest have 1%; e.g. doubling what the rest of us have devalues it by 1%, leaving us all with plenty of wealth while eroding the fraction owned by the 1%. Its not a bad option in the current economic situation.


Monetization is a huge deal, because once you start monetizing spending as regular policy, you undermine both confidence in the currency and confidence in the government debt; one of the whole reasons that governments have made monetary policy separate from fiscal policy through central banking is precisely to preserve that trust.

While UBI itself can be managed so as not result in runaway inflation (and, unless you deliberately build a positive feedback loop into the level setting, should be self-limiting to avoid that in the long term, though the wrong initial setting could have high short-term inflation), monetizing the UBI, like monetizing government debt, is a great way to produce high average inflation, destroy government creditworthiness, and increase volatility in the currency.

If you want to redistribute downward, taxing the wealthy directly is a lot more sensible than monetizing spending. And, in any case, none of the people that are opposed to taxing the rich are going to support monetization, and plenty of people that do support taxing the rich are going to oppose monetization, so it doesn't even make sense as a way of getting around the political difficulties of tax-supported UBI.


Yea, but who's going to fix the sewer lines when they break? Not me, I gots my basic income.


The guy who gets basic income x 3?


> Give everyone fuck you money.

Um, if everyone has that much money, then it's not really a dramatic amount of money is it?

Having enough universal basic income to live on meagerly is one thing, but it's mathematically impossible to give everyone enough for everyone to be rich.


Depends entirely upon the industrial output, vs the population. Imagine a world where robots worked tirelessly to make everybody stuff for a penny.

Remember, money is imaginary points we use to keep score. It has nothing to do with what 'rich' really means.


By fuck you money I mean enough that they have food, rent, healthcare etc guaranteed - so they can say fuck you if someone wants to exploit them. This will be roughly the amount of a PhD stipend - like $30,000 a year.


That's not at all how most people use that term.


I define "fuck you money" as having sufficient income that you don't need to work any particular job to pay all your expenses, or even be careful about not burning bridges. If you have "fuck you money", when you get the memo about the new TPS report cover sheets for the 5th time, you can literally say, "Fuck you: I quit," and walk away.

The exact amount required depends largely upon your expenses and lifestyle. If you are fine with living in a van down by the river, it might be only $100k. If you like things like showers and flush toilets, you may need $1M. Think of it like a suspended early retirement. If you are working, it is because you want to, not because you need to.


$30,000 a year is owning ~$800,000 right now, free and clear.

I have always considered this 'fuck you' money, but Googleing it seems not.

I find that a little sad.

If everyone else had it though it's no longer 'fuck you' money. People don't work this way.


After a particular age, there is nothing more frightening than change.


To some people, there is nothing more frightening than _lack_ of change. And age has nothing to do with it.


"Indentured servant" has too many syllables. Peon might be a better term, because its meaning leans towards economic rather than legal subordination.


I'm trying to find this book, but coming up short.

Can somebody tell me the name of the book?


This is a draft of book yet to be published. In the meantime Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan are worth the read.


Its good food for thought.


Perhaps there should be some equivalent of Godwin's law for this sort of comparison. Golden handcuffs aren't meaningfully comparable to actual slavery. If you think it is you're out of touch with history.

The pilot contractor doesn't seem like a great example, either. Contractors usually have to think about their reputations. I don't know the industry, but it seems unlikely that there's a huge shortage of pilots, given how poorly beginning pilots are paid.


There is a huge shortage of pilots...who are willing to work for the starvation wages the regional carriers offer.

By the time "Bob" in the story had the status and seniority number to be captaining a trans-oceanic route for a major, he'd be making well into six figures a year working 11-15 days a month. He'd have enough to lose that the Saudi prince would need to pay him his salary until age 65 (mandatory retirement for part 121 airline flying) to make his choice to walk away a rational one.


I can't tell if this is parody, some kind of "sovereign citizen"-esque bullshit, or a bit of both


That's probably because you didn't read past the 3-4 first paragraphs where the brief description of a (historical) "sovereign citizen" religious sect ends.

The rest of the text (and I would say even that part) is totally unambiguous, and offers nothing to be mistaken for "parody" of any kind.


I read through the whole chapter and I didn't see anything sovereign citizen-esque in there. It's an analysis of the modern employer-employee relationship.


I agree, just read the first 5 or so comments on this thread and it is almost as if no one even read this post which by the way was an invigorating read. Great argument of contractors vs employee from an employer and economist stance.

In summary what I got from it is that if you really want your staff to "be there" for you then an employee is the way to go. If you want to save money and have talent, go the contractor route.


This is written by Taleb, he is an interesting fellow and I find his thoughts valuable. Recently he made +$1B in a single day with his hedge fund by evaluating risk vs reward with unconventional methods.


Nah. Volume shows there wasn't enough transactions to net a Billion, but his firm made a ton. Mark-to-market for a few hours showed +$1B though.


if profits seem too good to be true, they probably are.” http://allaboutalpha.com/blog/2015/09/07/billion-dollar-clai...

Taleb also publicly disaffiliated himself from the trades. The whole thing is either the hedge fund Trying to capitalize on the PR... Or lazy sensational wsj journalism.

Or both. Read PG on PR firms http://www.paulgraham.com/submarine.html


You only see volume on listed transactions, not on contractual derivatives.


This must be your first time reading Taleb.




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