Exploitation, Social Justice

Exploitation and Social Justice

A few months ago, the New York Times ran this story about the exploitation of day laborers.  According to the study, day laborers are subjected to a variety of harms – their employers fail to pay them the promised amount, violate worker safety laws, and subject day laborers to dangerous conditions.  Those on the left point to this kind of exploitation as an issue of social justice – one that should be addressed by increased legislation to protect immigrants’ rights.  How should a classical liberal who takes social justice seriously respond?

The normal tendency of classical liberals is to recoil upon hearing the term “exploitation,” especially when its invocation is tied the demand for increased powers for the government.  At least since the time of Marx, talk of “exploitation” has mainly been the domain of the political left, especially in critique of the relationship between capital and labor.

But it would be a rhetorical and philosophical mistake for classical liberals to concede this concept to the left.  Marx was wrong to think that capitalism is inherently exploitative, a mistake grounded in both a theoretical error about the nature of value and various empirical errors about the nature of a market economy.  But this does not mean that there is no such thing as exploitation, nor that exploitation is not a serious moral wrong, nor even that capitalism as it exists today is not very often wrongfully exploitative.

Most philosophers agree that exploitation should be understood as taking advantage of another person in a way that is unfair or degrading, although there is ample disagreement about how precisely those last key terms ought to be characterized.  Typically, exploitation involves a person in a position of power interacting with a person in a position of vulnerability, and using that power differential to benefit himself at the expense of his victim.

The first point I want to make is that there is nothing in the idea of exploitation as such that isincompatible with a classical liberal understanding of political morality.  Indeed, the classical liberal tradition has a rich tradition of concern for reducing exploitation.  Employers who use their social, economic, and political power to deprive workers of promised wages are acting in a way that classical liberals should not hesitate to condemn as wrongfully exploitative.

Classical liberals can and should, however, take pain to distinguish between two forms of exploitation: exploitation that is mutually beneficial, and exploitation that is harmful.  Both involve someone taking unfair advantage of another.  But in one case, both parties come away from the transaction better off than they would have been without it.  In the other, the exploiting party comes away with more, the exploited with less.

An exchange can be mutually beneficial and yet unfair or degrading.  If you are drowning in a lake, and I row by on the only canoe in sight, it is morally wrong of me to make my rescue of you contingent upon your signing over the deed to your house.  Granted, you would be better off taking my deal than passing it up.  But it’s wrong for me to offer it nevertheless.  I should – and I suspect most of you would – perform the rescue for free.

All else being equal, it is a good thing for governments to prohibit harmful exploitation – at least when the unfairness rises to a high enough level that we regard it as a violation of the victim’s rights.  Taking someone’s labor without giving them the money you promised them is such a case.  It is harmful, and seriously so – they come away worse off (sans their labor and their wages), you come away better off.  Laws that prohibit this protect the vulnerable and are a value tool in the promotion of social justice.

Things are not so clear with mutually beneficial exploitation.  And much of the exploitation that concerns us in cases of migrant or sweatshop labor is exploitation of a mutually beneficial sort.  They are cases in which workers voluntarilly and without misinformation choose to enter into an employment relationship even though the working conditions are unsafe, the hours are long, and the pay is low.  They enter into these employment relationships because, for many of them, the likely alternatives are much, much worse.

We can grant that even exploitation of a mutually beneficial sort is a serious moral wrong, but it simply does not necessarily follow from this that it is something that governments ought to prohibit it.   Think of it this way.  If you were the one drowning in the lake, and there was a third party nearby with the power to either allow me to rescue you (at the price of your house) or to disallow it, wouldn’t you want him to allow it?  Perhaps prohibiting exploitative transactions will lead would-be exploiters to offer mutually beneficial deals on fairer terms.  But, as is illustrated in the case of sweatshop labor, there is reason to worry that prohibiting exploitation by, say, mandating safety improvements or a higher minimum wage, will make the package sufficiently unattractive to would-be exploiters that they wind up prefering to make no offer at all. Classical liberals thus have good reason for legally tolerating mutually beneficial exploitation, even if they judge it to be a serious moral wrong.  One does not express a proper concern for the vulnerable by taking away what might be the best alternative they have for improving their lives.

One complication.  I’ve argued that mutually beneficial exploitation is often something legal regimes should tolerate, and this point counts in favor of the classical liberal vision of the state and against the recommendations often made by those on the left.  But whether a transaction counts as “harmful” or “mutually beneficial” depends on what we take as the baseline – a mugger who threatens to shoot you but then offers you the chance to live if you hand over your wallet is proposing a deal that is mutually beneficial relative to the baseline in which he simply shoots you, but harmful relative to the baseline in which you get to keep both your money and your life.

One point that those on the left have often made, and which classical liberals ought to take much more seriously, is that capitalist systems as they actually exist (and not merely as they are envisioned in our utopian dreams) have often rigged the baseline to the detriment of labor and to the advantage of capital.  It will not do to argue that transactions in a free market are always mutually beneficial and therefore non-exploitative.  Sweatshop labor might indeed be a worker’s best option given that the state has worked to forcibly suppress labor unions, has engaged in the massive and illegitimate seizure of land, and has closed off innumerable employment options through protectionist policies.  But the fact that sweatshop labor is mutually beneficial in that sense is compatible with the claim, made from a broader structural perspective, that the worker is being harmed.  In a corporatist world, relationships between capital and labor may often be exploitive, even if it is not so clear that it is the  individual capitalist who bears the primary guilt of exploitation. I will have more to say about exploitation and the state in a later post.


  • M

    1) I believe Robin Hanson has suggested that the state should, effectively, allow the rescuer to sue the rescuee for her house, on grounds that transaction costs are excessively high when people are drowning.

    2) When you say that Marx was wrong about exploitation and value, do you mean to refer to the common affective meanings of the terms or to the claims of Marxian political economy which employ them are incorrect? Saying “both” is fine, of course, but these are claims of very different sorts. The first is moral – you don’t find wage labor degrading and believe capitalists to be valuable (although, of course, Marx does consider capitalists to be valuable in the nontechnical sense.) The second is that the Marxian concepts “exploitation” and “value” don’t denote help us describe reality. The first is germane to the topic at hand, but somewhat trivial – we would find it rather odd if a resident blogger here did not have a positive moral outlook on capitalism – but the term “wrong” implies a claim about something more concrete than Marx’s affective dispostitions.

  • My wife’s family lives in a small town where one of the few remaining major employers is a chicken processing plant staffed mostly by Hispanic immigrants, in a state that prides itself on its “business-friendly” legal climate (e.g., its “right-to-work” law). So this line of discussion is of more than theoretical concern to me.

    As for how a classical liberal might respond, I lack the expertise to say. However to me as a layman it seems to be a case for a state promoting positive liberties, for example helping workers to educate themselves to a point where they could either seek other less onerous jobs or could participate in the political process to try and change the baseline.

  • Perhaps in the same vein of mutually beneficial exploitation, you will discuss why “insider trading” has been made illegal.

  • Say, the sweatshop is ripping off Gucci or Reebok. Since the likely alternative of not permitting such rip-off is no sweatshop and hence no jobs, and in any case, the ripoff does not affect the availability or price of the original brands, isn’t this mutually beneficial exploitation that should be permitted?

  • Josh

    From reading Hernando de Soto’s Mystery of Capital I had the impression that much of American (as opposed to European) land capital was doled out via the Homestead Act, in which you earned your claim on the land by improving it with your labor. Even the landed gentry of the east coast were subject to loss of their land to ‘squatters’ if the squatter could show that they had worked the land.

    It seems to me that the effects of much of those initial land disbursements must be very faded this many generations removed, so that by and large capital is capital without any reliance on autocratic fiat for its distribution.

    If the capitalist/employer is not responsible for the circumstances a job seeker finds himself in, then it can hardly be exploitative to offer him something better. While it would certainly be gracious to offer him something MUCH better (an above-market wage) this might lead to fewer job seekers getting jobs that would improve their wellbeing.

    If the job seeker were ACTUALLY mugged, we would hope that justice (or, if not, charity) would make him whole. But to liken the lot of most job seekers (in this country) to having been mugged is an enormous stretch, and you will have to justify the analogy.

    Perhaps you were only speaking of other countries in which the government has conspired to destroy their livelihood or land in order to force them into low-wage industrial labor. But it would be hard to find someone who would disagree with you in that case. Are you saying this is the nature of the American economy?

  • The Homestead Act was only for land west of the Mississippi River. And it didn’t make all land available, some was already sold off at the time. And some remains in federal hands.

    That doesn’t even touch on the actual implication of the Homestead Act, which some have argued was horribly misused and corrupted by timber, railroad, and other corporate interests.

    I think there are clear examples in Third World countries of the government conspiring to destroy the livelihood of agrarian workers by denying them access to the land and turning ownership over to major agribusiness plantations to focus on crops for export. I’d argue that we saw a similar trend in Britain during enclosure.

  • David Sobel

    You write: “If you were the one drowning in the lake, and there was a third party nearby with the power to either allow me to rescue you (at the price of your house) or to disallow it, wouldn’t you want him to allow it?”

    Certainly if people really only find it worth their while to save me for the price of my house and not a dime less, then it is obvious that we should not want the state to outlaw such a transaction. But the more we are confident that almost all people would be willing to provide such a service for much less, the more tempting it becomes to enforce a maximum price for such emergency services. My own guess is that the drowning person should want the state to bar the sale at above a handsome bonus for exigent circumstances.

    As a minor additional thought, empirical work has shown that sometimes allowing a good to be sold on the market (as in the case of blood) actually decreases supply as those who would have given it out of beneficence now assess the transaction in terms of whether it is of benefit to themselves. It is possible (and I only say possible) that not allowing such emergency services to be sold could increase supply.

  • bill woolsey

    I find the “sweatshop” analysis a bit puzzling.

    I suppose I find the notion that substitence agriculture by an independent farmer, much less hunting and gathering as being the relevant opportuntity cost to be a bit implausible. The relevant opportuntity cost is some other factory job. If the profit from the operation is excessive, then the answer is for more firms to enter and hire workers and produce their products so that the profit is no longer excessive. This process tends to raise real wages due to a higher demand for labor and a larger supply of the product.

    To me, the analysis of the sweatshop implicit in the explotation claim is that the supply and demand for labor are perfectly inelastic. While I don’t favor stealing the hunting and gathering territories of indigenous people or the farms of independent peasants, I just don’t think this is terribly relevant to raising the real incomes of the poor throughout the world.

    Using the example of deed for the house in exchange for the canoe is just very far removed from the real world of income determination.

    P.S. Of course, refusing to pay agreed wages is exploitation. Preventing that is what freedom of contract means.

  • Patrick mears

    The example of sweatshops being a mutually beneficial opportunity which should not be banned bothers me. It appears that in reality, sweatshops are merely a way for wealthy people to make extra profit from the fact that labor is not free to move across borders. If all countries had the same labor laws, all workers would be better off. Perhaps someone could help explain where my thinking is wrong.

    Let’s imagine a market for shoes. There are many companies producing shoes. Some companies (Group A) employ people in the US, with minimum wage and labor safety laws. Others (Group B) employ people at far lower wages in unsafe conditions. Both groups are trying to sell shoes to the same market, and for simplicity, let’s assume that the quality of shoes is equal, and workers are equally efficient.

    What happens? In one extreme, Group B sells their shoes as cheaply as possible, and forces Group A out of business. In the opposite extreme, Group B will sell their shoes for the same price as Group A, and the Group B owners will reap much larger profits. In the long run, the net effect would be to greatly increase the well being of the Group B owners at the expense of one or more of the other groups.

    If government were to intervene, and impose a minimum wage on Group B, what would happen? In the post, it is suggested that the owners might just choose not to have a business at all. But in that case, more workers will be hired by Group A. IF labor could move, the net effect would be to increase the well-being of the Group B workers. Since labor is not free, Group B workers become unemployed and more Group A workers are employed.

    As far as I can tell, the entire issue boils down to labor mobility and the fact that different countries have different labor laws. Because labor is not free to move, an employer can pay extremely low wages in countries without labor laws, and pocket all of the profit. In a country with labor laws, employers are forced to share the profit more evenly with the workers, but the problem is that they cannot compete with employers in other countries. If all countries had the same minimum wage and safe working conditions, then all workers would be better off, but owners would make less profit. Conversely, if no countries had labor laws, owners would become richer, and worker would be worse off. It is a zero sum game.

  • bill woolsey


    I would say your problem is that you don’t understand the economics.

    You are implying that the demand for shoes perfectly inelastic.

    Perhaps you are also assuming the supply of labor is perfectly elastic, or more likely, that labor is universally in surplus.

    Anyway, firms that can obtain labor at lower total expense increase the supply of shoes, and reduce the price of shoes. More shoes are purchased, and the total amount of labor used to produce shoes is increased. This is a higher demand for labor.

    Rather than simply determining where a given quantity of shoes are produced, there is a change in both the price of shoes and the amount produced.

    If I understand your point about workers moving, you again assume that the price of shoes and the quantity of shoes are fixed. That workers in the poor country could move to the rich country and all get jobs producing the shoes are higher wages. But, in truth, the prices of the shoes will be higher, fewer will be produced, and fewer people will be employed in total.

    The solution is to get rid of government regulation of these matters and to let people move.

    Then, people will be hired producing where they have the comparative advantage. There will be full employment in both countries. It is true that the competition of each will reduce wages compared with what they would have been witn no such competition, wage equalization may or may not happen depending on various factors.

    But again, I don’t think your analysis can survive giving up on an assumption of universal unemployment and perfectly inelastic demand for the product.

    Bad economics.

  • Patrick mears


    Thank you. You are certainly correct in accusing me of engaging in “bad economics.”

    I think my real concern has more to do with how wage equalization actually manifests itself. In a totally free global economy, with no trade barriers, how long would it take for wages to equalize and labor to be efficiently distribute? As this process takes place, do there exist bottlenecks or imbalances that could be more rapidly equalized through the aid of planned economic intervention? Could a small minimum wage in poor developing countries accelerate the pace of development, by increasing the consumer power of people in those countries? Or is it necessary for all developing countries to go through a period of abysmal working conditions before they begin to approach the standard of living in developed countries?

  • Thanks for the comments, everyone, and my apologies for the delay in responding. Internet time seems to be like dog years, about 7 internet hours pass for every 1 hour of real time.

    M: Thanks for the reference to Hanson. I guess the transaction costs are probably indeed high, but somehow that seems to me a secondary issue. As to Marx being wrong, I was referring to his technical claims about the labor theory of value as they underlie his account of exploitation. I think even those sympathetic to a quasi-Marxist critique of capitalism should (and have – see the work of Arneson, Roemer, etc.) abandon the specific details of Marx’s exploitation story.

    Frank: I’m sympathetic to the idea that the state can and should be doing something to promote the positive liberties of workers. As it happens, I think one of the most effective ways of doing this (in line with a point that Jason has made here several times) is to respect their negative liberties. Reduce restrictions on immigration, take down barriers to unions as a form of free association, and allow workers to enter the marketplace without one arm tied behind their back. More positive assistance might help too, but let’s start by removing the positive hindrances we’ve set up.

    Arun: Sorry, but I’m not quite sure what you mean in supposing that the sweatshop is ripping off Gucci or Reebok?

    Josh: You might very well be right about the American case. I had in mind cases in developing countries, where most of the debate over the morality of sweatshops has focused.
    Regarding cases where a worker finds himself in a bad situation that was created unjustly, but not by the capitalist: I think we *can* say that the capitalist exploits the worker in such cases. In the drowning case I gave in my post, it doesn’t matter how you got in the lake – my making my rescue of you contingent upon a large fee is wrongfully exploitative because I’m taking unfair advantage of your vulnerability, however that vulnerability came about. But I suspect that in most cases, the exploitation would seem a rather minor wrong compared to the background injustice that placed the laborer in dire straits to begin with. It’s probably true that most libertarians don’t disagree with me that these background injustices are significant, at least when pressed. But I do think it’s too easy for us to slip into the kind of “sweatshops are just part of the free market and therefore there’s nothing wrong with them” kind of rhetoric – in a way similar to the phenomenon Jacob Levy pointed out whereby we harken back to the good old days of the free 19th century, except of course for all that stuff about slavery.

    David: Very good points both, and ones that I’m happy to take on board. Your second point is something I’ve thought about as it pertains to my work on price gouging, but unfortunately it’s tough to gather much in the way of empirical evidence to make any headway in thinking about it. One countervailing point, though: prices provide not just an incentive to bring needed resources to an emergency, they also provide information about what resources are needed and where, information that it would at least sometimes be difficult for non-market mechanisms to obtain and convey. After the Haiti earthquake, for instance, one surprising thing that happened was that the price for cell phone charging services went sky high. I don’t know about you, but if I was thinking about how to help Haitians, that would not have been something that occurred to me. One of the neat things that markets do is provide us with surprising information about what, where, and how much people want something.

    Bill: I certainly agree with you about the issue of how to make progress in fighting poverty, and I think I agree with most of the rest of what you say as well. Except, perhaps, for the aptness of my canoe metaphor! 🙂 Often the alternative to a sweatshop job is something very much like drowning. Wages are determined by the worker’s productivity and his opportunity costs. So if the workers’ opportunity costs are very low, as seems to be the case, this will certainly have a depressing effect upon their wages.

    Bill and Patrick: I enjoyed reading your exchange very much. Is the fact that there exist substitutes for labor another relevant consideration? Some of what humans do could be done by machines. If labor is cheap enough, it makes sense to have it done by workers. But as the price of labor is increased, the marginal benefit of using machinery also increases. So might not a minimum wage, globally imposed, reduce the total demand for labor?

  • From what I’ve seen, as you say, mainstream libertarians recoil from the term “exploitation” and tend to apologize for sweatshops as the “best available alternative.” And those on the mainstream Left tend to frame the issue in terms of whether this ought to be “allowed,” as though it were the normal outcome that would emerge from the “free market” if government didn’t intervene to prohibit it.

    Both approaches IMO are wrong-headed. The question isn’t whether the sweatshop is the “best available alternative,” or whether it should be “allowed,” but the background causes which resulted in such a crappy set of alternatives in the first place.

    Re Bill Woolsey, historically land expropriations and the closing off of opportunities for self-provisioning really have had a major effect on the growth of wage labor markets. There’s the Enclosures on the eve of the Industrial Revolution (which were explicitly motivated by the propertied classes’ complaints regarding how hard it was to get good help at an affordable wage when you weren’t the only game in town), and the British combined policies of land expropriation and head taxes to force Kenyan peasants into the wage market. The hacienda system in Central America (and death squads organized in support of the landed oligarchy), where sweatshops have tended to gravitate, has also been an ongoing issue in recent years.

    Of course there are also a lot of other government interventions that promote the sweatshop model. For example, IP law helps TNCs to retain control of outsourced job shop production, and enables the enormous markup on brand name goods. Structural adjustment programs promoted by IMF blackmail tend to encourage an export-oriented development model.

    But land really is an issue. In China, for example, consider the transformation of village common land into industrial parks by local governing elites in collusion with Western employers.

    Absent land expropriations by landed oligarchs in collusion with Western agribusiness, there’d be a lot more food production for local consumption rather than fodder for McBeef cattle. And absent IP law and other government policies structurally favoring corporate globalization, it would be a lot more feasible for job shops to market knockoff iPhones and Nikes primarily to the local population for a tiny fraction of the price.

  • M

    Matt: I agree that most versions of classical value theory have major flaws. But more importantly for the discussion at hand, there’s no relation between value theory and whether wage labor is morally degrading. What Marxian political economy precludes is wages naturally and on average rising above the level necessary for workers to perform the work they do. But you can believe this is true and that capitalism is not in essence morally exploitative. Indeed this was the rough position of most of the classical economists (whose value theory differs from Marx in important respects, but none that seem to matter here.)

  • jfsmith

    The following essay on exploitation, written from a left-libertarian/dialectically anarchist perspective, may be something to keep in mind here.


  • Josh

    I love that the bloggers on this blog respond to commenters so avidly. It does put the pressure on commenters to be worthy of it. 🙂

    I did not realize you were speaking of sweatshop scenarios specifically. This gem from Krugman 1.0 (before he went doctrinaire) made Scott Sumner’s blog, I think, today, and seems relevant – and I’m curious about your take, if you’ve read it.


  • M: Ah, gotcha. Fair point.

    Jfsmith: great tip – thanks!

    Josh: Thanks, I remember that piece well! One of the first I read on the subject. I think there are a lot of interesting complications to the moral and economic debates over sweatshops. But I think a lot of people make a very basic mistake before ever getting to the level of those complications: they condemn sweatshops when what they really find objectionable is poverty. And sweatshops are a symptom of that poverty, not a cause of it.

  • Masood

    Great post, Matt.

    I recently encountered Hillel Steiner’s understanding of exploitation within a libertarian framework – I’m curious to see if you will do a more philosophical treatment of the topic along those lines:

    I eagerly await more about exploitation and the state.

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  • Saturos

    Why the jargon of “beneficial” and “harmful” exploitation? Why not simply admit that all voluntary informed exchange is good? Putting a gun to someone’s head is a threat, not an offer. Neither being shot or forfeiting your wallet would be consented to – and yet it’s not suggested there’s any way you’d end up in these positions unless someone inflicted them on you – without consent. If coercion is required to get you to the baseline, and then you’re offered an exchange, we have two seperate things – the coercion, which is bad, and the exchange, which is good. Taken together the net result may be bad for you, but that’s a reason to resent the coercion independently, not object to the exchange. If laborers are forcibly robbed and restrained, that is bad on its own. If they are offered employment, that is good. If the combination is bad, that still does not make employment or market exchange bad for those who enter into it, ever. You have a standard libertarian case against policies that hurt people (theft, restraint of trade and association) and you’ve tried to dress it up for the left by suggesting that these evils sully the consequent goods of market exchange. Yes, those exchanges wouldn’t be accepted unless the harm had occured – but a good conditional on a prior bad is still itself a good. And in the counterfactual where harm doesn’t occur, the exchanges can be declined, so the exchange is beneficial (or weakly beneficial) in all possible worlds. I think you’re just confused.

    •  I agree that there’s a sense in which voluntary and informed exchange is good. If a person enters into an exchange knowingly and freely, it must be because he will be better off with the exchange than without it. So the exchange is good for him.

      In my view, however, the fact that a voluntary exchange is good for someone in this sense is not enough to make it morally right to offer that exchange. This was the point of the example of the drowning man in my original post. The rescuer makes the drowning person better off by offering to rescue him at an exploitatively high price. But, morally, he shouldn’t do that. He should rescue the person at a fair price, or at no cost at all.

      Spelling out just what ‘fairness’ in pricing consists of is a notoriously difficult task. But I take it that coming up with examples of clearly unfair prices is relatively easy, and that the example I’ve given presents one. If we have a moral obligation to refrain from charging unfair prices, then a transaction can be mutually beneficial and yet morally wrong – an instance of mutually beneficial exploitation.

      • Catholic social theorists (and I’m not Catholic; atheist, actually, FWIW) ask the question, What is the purpose of employment? Their answer is along the lines of, To provide the worker with sufficient income to support a family in decent accommodation while enabling the factory owner to make a reasonable profit. In other words, it’s a partnership.

        Sweatshop conditions and pay, enabling the owner to get rich as a result, doesn’t really fit that definition.

    • Ashley Johnson

      It’s indirect force. A sweatshops owner isn’t directly threatening death, but if the worker refuses the employment at a clearly exploitative price, the worker will die. He is indirectly pointing a gun at his head to accept the contract. This isn’t rocket science people. Anyone who thinks sweatshop labor is mutually agreed to is an idiot. One is clearly in a position of higher power.

  • TracyW

    Isn’t the matter of paying someone what you promised them (in a contract) a matter of justice? I don’t see any reason to apply the qualifying word “social” in this case.  

    As for the baseline, I consider it this way: Is the purported “victim” likely to think they are better off if their “exploiters” suddenly disappears from the face of the earth (or, for the kind-hearted “victim”, finds themselves living a perfectly comfortable life where they can’t interact with the “victim” at all.  Mugger – very likely yes*. Mafia demanding protection money – very likely yes.  Slave master – very likely yes.  In those cases I can dump the scare quotes around victim and exploiter.  
    Sweatshop employer – very likely no.

    * “Very likely” to cover people heavily into BDSM, or suffering from kung fu fantasies about fighting off muggers or what not. 

    • Ashley Johnson

      these victims would be better off if their employers paid them a fair wage despite their economic status. Nobody forces these employers to exploit these conditions for personal gain. sweatshop apologists are sorry excuses for human beings or seriously misguided…

  • TracyW

    Some more thoughts:
    Firstly, in the case of rescue, as I understand it (and IANAL so take this for what it’s worth), generally the law allows recovery of reasonable costs occurred in rescuing someone. These may not be much if you’re a rower on a lake, but could be quite considerable in the case of a ship which expends considerable time and fuel rescuing people from a boat at sea. And these are even more in the case of a hospital say rescuing someone from a deadly illness.  Few people expect doctors to work for free, the debate is over the extent to which taxpayers should pay for things (or perhaps costs should be shared amongst those paying for medical insurance, or what not).  
    And whether this is a repeated game or not matters. It’s one thing to compel someone to rescue someone in trouble a few times in their life. It’s another thing to compel someone to rescue other people on a daily basis for the rest of their lives, even if they get paid for it. Few people think that doctors  should be banned from taking holidays, or retiring, or switching to a career as an artist. 

    Secondly, the oddity with left-wing thinking is that they take an argument like the state has “forcibly suppressed labour unions, engaged in massive and illegitimate seizure of land, and has closed off innumerable employment options through protectionist policies”, and somehow jump to the conclusion that the best response to all this is to take away more of workers’ options.  That strikes most libertarians, and most free-marketers as cruel, and it’s the sort of thing that gives “social justice” a bad name. 

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