Capitalism, Exploitation, and Degradation

Dr. Nicholas Partyka I Labor Issues I Analysis I October 8th, 2015

In what follows we will focus on the moral idea of exploitation and whether it can be found within capitalist employment relationships. We will also examine what, if any, problem it poses to political democracy. I will argue that capitalist employment relationships do constitute morally bad exploitation, and that they do pose a problem for democracy. This problem is that exploitation, as we will come to see later, is bad because it fails to show due respect for one of the parties to a transaction, and democracy is deeply committed to mutual respect between citizens. Thus, we'll see, on one prominent account of moral exploitation, that democracy is inconsistent with exploitation because of the value it attaches to persons. Exploitation by one party to a transaction denies this value to the other party, where the second party has an equal moral value, as well as political status, as the first. A democratic society cannot countenance such transactions and relationships if it is to retain its democratic character.

Our main question here will be, Is there morally bad exploitation in capitalist employment relationships? To begin I will examine Ruth Sample's excellent account of moral exploitation, and contrasting it at points with the earlier view of Alan Wertheimer.[1] The subtitle of Sample's book offers us an interesting way to approach the explication of her view, and so I will in turn address the questions, What is exploitation, and Why is it wrong? Briefly, Sample's view is that exploitation involves taking advantage for private gain of vulnerability in another, or ignoring their needs in the transaction. This kind of behavior is morally wrong, as Sample suggests, because it fails to show respect for the exploited party.

Following this, I will examine whether the situation of workers in the capitalist labour-market meets the conditions for exploitation provided by Sample. It will be necessary for me to show that workers are vulnerable to employers, and that employers gain disproportionately by transacting with workers under these pre-conditions. If workers are vulnerable to employers, and employers gains distinctly more by the deal by taking advantage of workers' vulnerability, then this transaction is a case of moral exploitation. After seeing what structural similarities there are between capitalist employment relationships and morally bad exploitation we will review some common defenses of the employment relationship. These will serve to bolster the case for understanding employment relationships as exploitative of the worker.

Lastly, I will discuss how on a very plausible interpretation of Marx we can see this problem of exploitation and degradation as also his. The account of the role of human development in Marx's critique of capitalism, and specifically in the capitalist labour-process, Michael Lebowitz offers provides us a way of seeing this.[2] Both the problem for democracy presented here and Marx's problem of exploitation are united by the centrality of the idea of human development. By taking advantage of vulnerability or need, exploitation stifles opportunities for development, and this fails to show respect. Marx's argument is not tied to the negative effects of exploitation on workers as citizens as mine is here, but both turn on the idea that exploitation is bad because of its consequences for individual flourishing.

The most important take away from this discussion is that whether or not we see the capitalist employment relationship as involving coercion there is certainly morally bad exploitation. It very well may be that capitalist employment relationships may be both coercive and exploitative, but these are independent moral wrongs. It is certainly my view that wage-labor relationships under capitalism do constitute a morally bad form of coercion. However, this will need to be the topic of a separate essay.

I) Exploitation: Non-Standard Price vs. Playing for Advantage

Beginning with Ruth Sample's account of exploitation, which she calls exploitation as degradation, it will be useful to contrast her view with those of Alan Wertheimer and Robert Goodin.[3] The view of exploitation she gives is designed to correct for the failures of these two views. The first point to make, with which all three agree, is that exploitation is, at bottom, about personal gain. It is about acquiring something one values, that is, increasing one's overall utility. Exploitation is then, as Sample neatly summarizes it, "fundamentally a means to an end".[4] Colloquially, exploitation is understood as a kind of unfair taking advantage of a person. Wertheimer cashes out this "taking unfair advantage" as the paying of a non-standard price for something. The standard price for something is, for Wertheimer, determined by the "fair market value" of the good or service.[5] The standard price for some good or service is established by what its price would be in a hypothetical, ideally-competitive market. This is the baseline from which exploitative transactions are judged for Wertheimer. When paying more than this hypothetical price one is exploited, and when paying less one exploits. The important upshot of Wertheimer's view, for Sample, is that his view shows how exploitation can be both mutually advantageous and un-coerced.

The main problem with this view, as Sample points out, is that it does not account for what is bad about exploitation. Wertheimer's view only answers the first of Sample's questions, namely what exploitation is, but "fails to say what is morally bad about paying non-standard prices". [6] Because his view is conventionalist, in that it relies on hypothetical market prices to establish the baseline against which putative cases of exploitative transactions can be measured, it cannot make evaluative judgments about the mechanism from which the conventions arise. Since he lacks any resources beyond the ideally competitive hypothetical market he cannot say why it is good for one to follow and bad not to follow the prescriptions of this hypothetical market mechanism. Part of the justification of this mechanism, for Wertheimer, is that in this hypothetical market, because it is ideally competitive, neither party is able to take advantage of special vulnerabilities in the other party for their own gain.[7] This latter is what makes the hypothetical market price a fair price, but we are still left without compelling reasons to think that it is good to pay this price and bad not to. For Sample, this makes Wertheimer's view too conservative to be adequate to our needs. On Wertheimer's view, exploitative transactions are merely abnormal or atypical, that is they do not conform to standard practices. However, our colloquial understanding of exploitation indicates that exploitation as moral criticism implies more than that a transaction fails to conform with normal practices.[8]

Robert Goodin takes a view of exploitation that sees it as taking advantage of vulnerable others who we have a duty to protect.[9] On this account the duty not to exploit falls under the larger duty to protect the vulnerable. [10] When we exploit on Goodin's view we fail to play by the appropriate rules for the circumstance of transacting with someone vulnerable to us. We fail to play by the appropriate rules by "playing for advantage when it is inappropriate to do so". [11] When a person is vulnerable to another, that other is typically in a position to causally affect the welfare of the first. Vulnerability for Goodin is a matter of one's needs, and another's ability to produce consequences that determine the fulfillment, partial fulfillment, or denial of that need. This position of dependence or vulnerability, on Goodin's view, generates special obligations for those to whom such people are vulnerable.[12] Being in a position to help produce consequences for another that bear on that person's welfare generates moral obligations to that person. Vulnerability itself is the basis of the obligation on the part of the person in a position to causally influence the vulnerable parties' welfare. It is important to note that for Goodin these special obligations differ from imperfect duties in that they are concretely tied to specific persons. With regard to these obligations one does not have the discretion one has with regard to imperfect duties like charity. The main upshots of Goodin's account of exploitation for Sample are the connections between vulnerability and dependence, and between dependence and need.

The problem with Goodin's view, like with Wertheimer's, is that it does not account for what is morally bad about exploitation. Because his view relies on the bad consequences of exploitation for the vulnerable, and because he does not offer an argument that all exploitation is on the whole harmful, he is unable to connect the dots of unfair taking advantage and bad consequences. For this reason, Goodin's account cannot explain what is morally bad about mutually advantageous exploitation. Since his view is consequentialist it becomes counter-intuitive to say that B was exploited by a transaction through which B obtains some benefit. According to Sample, Goodin's account of exploitation and of obligation leads him into the follow dilemma. Either he can explain what is bad about exploitation and forsake the claim that exploitation can be mutually beneficial, or he can continue to claim that exploitation is a violation of norms for transacting with the vulnerable but no longer be able to explain what is bad about exploitation. [13]

The problem with Goodin's view is that, like Wertheimer's, it is too conventionalist. By relying on conventions about what obligations one owes to vulnerable others, Goodin is also cut off from criticizing the conventions themselves as exploitative, or as encouraging of exploitation. [14] Both Goodin's and Wertheimer's accounts of exploitation give us the same counter-intuitive result that the charge of exploitation means only that some action violates normal practices or fails to conform to prevailing standards. Our colloquial understanding of exploitation indicates that, as is plainly obvious, it is possible for the prevailing norms of interaction in a society to promote exploitation, even if such norms are not themselves exploitative.

II) Exploitation as Degradation

Ruth Sample's account, by contrast, is designed to be able to both say what exploitation is, and to do so in a way that illuminates what is morally bad about exploitation. Sample broadly follows Goodin in linking the badness of exploitation to vulnerability and to need, though she ties her account of vulnerability and need to Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach. She also succeeds where Wertheimer does in being able to show that mutually beneficial and un-coerced transactions can be exploitative. Wertheimer lacked the resources to identify the badness of exploitation, and Goodin's consequentialist account of the badness of exploitation, and his vulnerability-based account of the structure of exploitation are inconsistent. Sample's view aims to develop the resources to say what is bad about exploitation, and to give an account of its structure that is consistent with what is bad about it.

The account Sample gives makes clear in its title what she thinks is morally bad about exploitation. The exploitation as degradation model holds that what makes exploitation morally bad is that it fails to show respect for the exploited party. As Sample asserts, "Other human beings possess a value that makes a claim on us. In exploitation we fail to honor this value in our effort to improve our own situation".[15] Critical here is the notion of respect for persons. This is critical because only in virtue of others' possessing value or dignity is one's freedom of action constrained in transactions with this individual. This is of course a Kantian notion, but Sample refrains from taking on the metaphysical baggage of the full Kantian moral theory.[16] Thus, because for Sample just as for Kant, all persons possess equal dignity, the duty not to exploit becomes a practical requirement in all transactions with other human beings. Degradation is bad because it denies to something a value that this thing in fact possesses. Respecting, that is, acting with respect toward, the value possessed by a thing means either treating the thing in certain ways, or refraining from treating it in other ways, depending on the nature of the valuable thing. [17] As Sample states, "Voluntary interaction with another cannot be conducted under whatever terms we choose".[18] What is it then about the structure of exploitative transactions that makes them degrading?

First, as mentioned earlier, exploitative transactions are primarily about the gain of the exploiting party. The goal of the exploiting party in the transaction is the increase in their own level of overall welfare. Exploitative actions are undertaken for one's own gain. Second, as we saw with Goodin, exploitation features prominently the vulnerability or need of one of the transacting parties. This is what Goodin meant by "unusual situations", the case where one transacts with a person vulnerable to them, that is a person one is in a position to causally improve the welfare of. Aside from gain, what defines the structure of exploitation is that one of the parties is dependent on the other due to need. Exploitation occurs when the parties transact on terms that benefit the superior party and fail to show respect for the vulnerable party.[19] On Sample's view, we should understand vulnerability and need as connected to human capabilities and flourishing. Sample agrees with critiques of the resource approach that argue that a similar amount of resources will afford different individuals different levels of opportunity to flourish. [20] For this reason she thinks the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen, and further developed by Martha Nussbaum, provides a better way to assess the degradation involved in failing to respect vulnerable parties. [21] By taking advantage of someone's vulnerability, neglecting our ability to provide for their needs for the achievement of a flourishing life, we fail to show them the respect due to someone possessing the value all human beings possess. Because there is no good reason for one to disregard another's value when transacting with them it is always wrong to exploit them. [22]

In exploiting a vulnerable person we help further undermine their ability to develop their capabilities. [23] Material need restricts one's development of capabilities, and this vulnerability being taken advantage of for another's gain prevents one from using the transaction to increase one's ability to develop one's capabilities, and hopefully lead a flourishing human life.[24] In exploiting, one fails to show respect for others by ignoring their needs for flourishing in a transaction in which that person is vulnerable to one, that is, dependent on one. We degrade persons by denying them a chance to develop capabilities by participation in transactions with us. Sample puts it nicely in stating, "ignoring the needs of others can be just as disrespectful as harming them".[25]

Acting in a way that ignores another's needs in a situation where they are vulnerable to oneself is degrading to that other because we deny this person the value they possess as a human being. Because taking advantage of another's need for one's own gain when one is in a position to causally improve the other's welfare fails to respect the other's value. One acts badly toward another that one exploits because these kinds of interactions inhibits that other's flourishing when one lacks a good reason to neglect this interest of the other party. Given the Kantian style arguments about the value of personhood Sample uses it is not unreasonable to think that we would each have a duty to actively consider other's interests in transacting with them. More than just have no good reason not to consider other's interests, we have a positive duty to consider them built into the equality of respect due to other human being. As all humans are possessed of equal intrinsic value as persons, each individual owes each other individual due consideration in order to show respect for that other's value as a person.

III) Exploitation in the Labour Market

Taking up this account of exploitation understood as degradation of others for gain we can now move on to examine the capitalist employment relationship to determine whether it is, or is not a case of exploitation. The first step here will be to establish that workers are vulnerable, in terms of their capabilities and flourishing, to employers. From another angle this is to show that employers are in a position to causally and positively affect workers' welfare. The second step will be to say how employers take advantage of worker's vulnerability for gain. Bargaining for control over the workplace with vulnerable workers, the employer is able to gain what is needed in order to create private profit from the united labours of those employed by the capitalist. Lastly, I will cover an example of exploitation that Sample discusses so as to explore some interesting potential objections and give replies that put the case of the employment relationship as exploitative into starker relief.

The very nature of a market society forces those who don't own the means of production to seek wages in return for their labour-power. The kinds of communal subsistence production that dominated among European peasants before capitalism, as well as the poor in many places of the world today, are not viable options for denizens of more advanced industrial economies. Cutting the masses of poor people off from these bases of production is exactly what characterizes the processes of urbanization and proletarianization that occurred in western industrialized nations during their industrial revolutions. [26] This means that employers are very much in a direct position to causally influence workers' welfare. This is because, as a class, the bourgeoisie expropriated the peasant class and created a situation in which these former peasants no longer had any choice but to work for wages, that is, to become proletarians.

In addition, capitalist society constrains workers by forcing them in to a position of mutual antagonism among themselves, because they confront an enormous surfeit of labour-power over and above the remunerative positions currently available in the economy. A large part of creating this situation was the increasingly large scale adoption of labor "saving", more correctly labor replacing, machinery; and now, software. This puts strong downward pressure on workers' wage and benefit demands. It is clear that being able to access the means of subsistence is a basic precondition for developing capabilities and flourishing. This means, again, that employers are very much in a position to positively improve the welfare and the prospects for flourishing of workers.

Also contributing to the vulnerability of workers are the highly unequal prior distributions of wealth which characterize capitalist society. In a labor market transaction one of the parties to the potential employment contract is able to hold out longer in a capitalist society; and both know this going into the transaction. This is the idea of "threat advantage" that Wertheimer discusses.[27] In real life there comes a point at which material necessity presses up against the weaker party and forces that party to either die or capitulate. [28] In the capitalist labour market, both employer and worker know which party will be the one that eventually bends. There will come a point at which making a contract will become more imperative for one party. This is the vulnerability of labourers as a class, as well as of individual labourers. Individual workers face starvation, but the threat of starvation also forces the class of labourers to seek wages from employers.

Firms, and hence employers, are able to achieve profitability because they are able to control the workplace and the labour process. Employers obtain this control through the terms of the employment contract. The content of the employment relationship is what is being bargained about in the contracting situation; importantly among these are significant features of the worker's prospective relations-in-production. Employers take advantage the vulnerability of workers in the labour market to make employment contracts that give them control they need to generate private wealth for themselves. [29] When employers take advantage of workers' vulnerability in the labor market to acquire workplace conditions, which they, in turn, utilize to create private wealth for themselves, they exploit workers' vulnerability, and thus, in so doing they degrade workers. That is, they treat workers in ways that one treats objects which lack the moral status of human beings. To act in these kinds of ways toward human beings is thus to deny them that moral status, that dignity, that we commonly think belonging to all humans.

i) Mutually Advantageous Exploitation and the Reserve System in Baseball

Having seen now that the capitalist employment relationship is one of exploitation, we can quite profitably consider some prominent and interesting example of objections that can be made this view. Exploring how Sample's view accounts for these objections will put the claim that employers do exploit workers in employment relationships on firmer footing. We will do this by examining a case that Sample proposes as one of exploitation so we can see how exploitative transactions can be mutually advantageous, voluntary, routine, unintended, and un-felt.

Let us first take notice of one feature of both Sample's and Wertheimer's view of exploitation, namely it is a macro-level phenomenon as well as a micro-level phenomenon.[30] Both agree that exploitation can occur both on the level of individual transactions, as well as on the level of background social conditions; specifically in the distribution of wealth. [31] It is this that is meant by both when they assert that exploitation can be routine or conventional. Both think that exploitation can characterize social conditions and social norms. Patterns of social interactions can be exploitative if they meet the appropriate conditions.

Taking an example from baseball history Sample correctly identified the reserve system as an instance of exploitation. [32] Under the reserve system a club was able to retain a player's services for the following season, forbidding any other league club from employing this player as long as he remained on a league club's reserve list. This was originally an unspoken agreement among club owners to bring stability to playing rosters as well as salary inflation.[33] It was later written into player's contracts, though the exact phrasing changed over time as the system was challenged by players like John M. Ward.

Through this system, though players singed ostensibly season-long contracts with a club, they became in all practical respects bound for life to that club. The club had more or less complete control over the player's career, as they were able to trade or even sell a player to any club without the player's consent, or even their knowledge. This case is interesting because it is an example of exploitation that is mutually advantageous, voluntary, and routine. According to Sample, the exploitation here is a product of unequal bargaining positions. Club owners used players' vulnerability to take advantage of them in the content of the terms of their employment contracts for their own gain.[34] Sample is both clear and direct in this point, "The exploitation involved in the reserve system is not a function of the player's compensation, but a function of the terms on which those salaries we negotiated".[35]

This example also permits us to see how exploitative relationships can be simultaneously not consciously sought by the employer and un-felt by the worker. Because baseball players by the 1880s were making more than the yearly average wages of industrial workers for six to seven month of work it is hard for players to think themselves too badly off.[36] The seemingly voluntary element also adds to the general lack of a feeling of exploitation by baseball players.[37] Compounding this sense among players would also be the firm denial of this charge by club owners. Indeed, many players leveled this very charge against club owners for decades until the reserve system was abolished in 1975 thanks in part to the efforts of Kurt Flood. Since exploitation can be the result of injustice at the level of background social conditions and institutions it is possible for owners to see themselves as merely following prevailing business norms in this culture. This veneer allowed club owners to deny that there was exploitation involved; especially since the players were being paid so well compared to average industrial workers.

The kind of exploitation we found in the reserve system is the same as we see when looking at capitalist employment contracts. The exploitation occurs on the level of background conditions and explains why discrete individuals acquiesce to contract terms they would otherwise refuse. As we saw earlier, inequality in the distribution of wealth prior to contracting and the structure of a market society makes the value of making the contract much higher to the weaker party at a certain time. This vulnerability is then used against the weaker party so that the superior party can acquire benefits they would otherwise not be able to acquire. The answer to our original question then is, yes. We asked whether or not employment relationships were exploitative, and after looking into it, at least on Ruth Sample's account of exploitation, we do see exploitation in employment relationships. Sample herself in fact argues that there is indeed exploitation in certain employment relationships, most notably some of those that are constitutive of processes subsumed under the aegis of "globalization".

Her argument is about one specific aspect of "globalization", namely the outsourcing of employment to low-wage countries. On her view, "hiring workers on terms that do not allow them to meet their basic needs when better terms are eminently possible is exploitative". [38] The case of hiring local workers in low-wage countries is like the case of the reserve system in baseball. The exploitation in both cases occurs in the background conditions under which workers bargain with employers over the terms of employment contracts. The globalization case is also one that is ostensibly mutually beneficial, voluntary, unintended, compensated, un-felt, and routine. In the case of globalization, injustice in background condition distorts the bargaining situation between employer and worker just as in the case of the reserve system. The injustice in the globalization case is the distribution of wealth and power that precede the bargaining between nations over trade, which transfers in turn to the contract situation between local workers and foreign trans-national corporations. Nations are able to engage in strategic bargaining with some nations and extract benefits based on the terms of trade pacts, that is based on terms that very likely could not be had - at least at the same price - from stronger peers. Through the increasing use of trans- and multi-national bodies, courts, and agreements the wealthiest nations on the planet can not unrealistically appear to be arrayed against the poor of the world. This is just as in the case of the reserve system where owners actively colluded to depress salaries and raise profits.

The main difference in the cases is that the baseball players are exploited by individuals with a monopoly position, while the workers in low-wage countries are exploited more by competition with the workers in other nations, that is, by capitalists' use of global labor arbitrage. When businesses take advantage of this vulnerable position for their own gain they exploit workers.[39] This is bad because it treats those workers in a way that is incommensurate with the value possessed by these people as persons, and it leaves them in a position of being unable to meet their needs for flourishing. Even though workers gain by the transaction, often making substantially more than the average worker in their country, they are still exploited in this relationship. Even making this higher relative wage most of these workers come only very slightly closer to being able to flourish. This is only in the sense that they find subsistence needs more readily satisfiable. Making five dollars a day in an economy where most live on two dollars a day is a great increase that certainly is a boon to the worker. But this money is unlikely to help the worker achieve flourishing due to other deficiencies, particularly poor social infrastructure.

Though Sample limits her discussion to the case of foreign companies from the developed world hiring local workers in low-wage countries in the developing world, I think the kind of exploitation that we see in both the reserve system and globalization can be found in employment relationships in all capitalist societies. Looking to work by Michael Lebowitz we can find a very interesting account of exploitation in the Marxist sense that explicitly focuses on human development. In coming to see that the heart of Marx's argument against exploitation and alienation as turning on how it inhibits workers development we can see the similarity to Sample's view about the badness of exploitation. Lebowitz's account of Marx allows us to see that exploitation is not just a feature of employment relationships in foreign countries where impoverished workers bargain with large multi-national companies but also a feature of employment relationships between workers in developed countries and their bargaining with large domestic companies, which may also be multi-nationals.

IV) The Moral Dimension of Marxist Exploitation

Lebowitz's account of Marx runs directly contrary to the one given by Sample. She views exploitation in the Marxist sense as descriptive of the pattern of distribution of the surplus from production characteristic of capitalism or as really about coercion. Coercion is of course morally bad, but it is distinct from exploitation. According to Sample, "exploitation" for Marxists is a technical term for the unequal exchange of labour for wages in the creation of surplus value for employers.[40] In this way exploitation for Marxists is either not a moralized, or thick, concept or again it is cashed out as a species of coercion.[41] For Lebowitz, the real wrong of capitalist exploitation is not just alienation, but moreover what side effects alienation causes. It is the further effects of alienation in inhibiting the human development and flourishing of the alienated that make capitalist employment relationships exploitative. [42] Inhibiting the development of workers capabilities for gain is degrading when better terms are "eminently possible". This is as true in Indonesian as in Indiana, and in Bombay as in Baltimore.

For Lebowitz, Marx's conception of socialism features the idea of human development very prominently, giving it a central place so as to highlight both what capitalism fails to achieve and what the new socialist order aims at.[43] He points out that for Marx talents are socially produced, that is they require the time and energy of many people to cultivate. Human begins produce themselves according to Marx via their patterns of interaction. It is for this reason that Marx identifies human beings as the "original sources of wealth" for human communities. [44] It is humans' ability to take raw materials and turn them into objects with various use-values that allows the community to develop lasting wealth. Lebowitz argues that it is dead labour embodied in tools and other instruments of production, including knowledge and talents, that enables the productivity gains that allow the communities' standard of welfare to rise from accumulated wealth. [45] It is for this reason that Marx cites "the development of human capacities" as the communities' real wealth on Lebowitz's interpretation (emphasis in original).[46] Socialist communities, because they emphasize producing talents as well as goods, produce what Marx calls "rich human beings", which are people possessed of productive talents and abilities and who are using them in attempt to flourish.[47]

Capitalist societies by contrast produce "poor human beings", persons who are as a result of employment less able, or at best no more able to live a flourishing life. Capitalists begin by seizing control of both the final product as well as the labour process. The alienation produced in workers by being estranged from both the product as well as process of their labour is bad because it inhibits flourishing by inhibiting development of capabilities. As we have seen capitalists inhibit development of capabilities by constructing job-complexes in ways that sequester opportunities for development. By seeking to maximize profits first, employers often treat employees in ways that deny most workers' opportunities for development of important capabilities because it is the most cost effective decision for the firm.

Marx's view on Lebowitz's interpretation appears to conform well with the capabilities approach that Sample uses to link the bad consequences and moral badness to the structure of exploitation. In fact, as Sample notes, one of the main differences between Nussbaum and Sen is that the former explicitly acknowledges Marx as an influence.[48] While Lebowitz in his turn invokes Sen's work in explicating his interpretation of Marx's view of capabilities and human development, and how these latter are stymied by capitalist employment relationships. [49] Lebowitz further endorses the idiom that Sample affirms which links vulnerability and need, as well as their correlates dependence and power.[50] Having control of the labour-process, employers are able to effect worker's ability to develop capabilities through not only the rate of wages, but also through the content of job-complexes. For Marx, employer control of the labour-process produces alienation, which in turn produces poor humans, that is humans with few developed capabilities. We can see from the later that Marx makes use of a notion of human capabilities toward the same purpose as Sample. Both use the notion of capabilities to understand human flourishing, and the idea of human flourishing to illuminate the badness of exploitation. Thus, contrary to Sample's assertion "exploitation" in the Marxist sense does indeed have a moralized sense in addition to its technical usage.

It is worthwhile taking note that even where capitalists fail to make a profit they still are guilty of moral wrong. Employers take advantage of workers when they use the worker's need to extract benefits from them in the terms of their employment contract. Wertheimer marks this distinction as one between "acting exploitatively" toward others and actually succeeding at doing so. One may intend to exploit workers but fail to succeed in doing so for a host of reasons.[51] Employers act exploitatively toward workers even when they fail to realize a surplus from the production process they set in motion. The exploitation in this case occurs when employers and workers negotiate over the content of employment contracts. In this situation employers use their threat advantage to obtain control of the labour-process. It is this control that employers use to organize production in ways that enable the creation and realization of surplus value. Making use of workers' vulnerability to obtain control of the labour-process, through the transaction of making an employment contract, employer's act exploitatively towards workers regardless of whether they succeed at organizing the process of production in a way that permits the creation and realization of surplus value.

V) Exploitation and Democracy

To see the problem the existence of moral exploitation poses for democracy it will be necessary to look to the foundations of a democratic regime. As mentioned at the outset, the problem that exploitation poses for democracy lies in the failure to show respect that is evident in acting exploitatively. The kind of pervasive and institutionalized disrespect manifest in capitalist employment relationships undermines the kinds of relationships between citizens that facilitate well-functioning political democratic society. Without a sense of mutual respect, citizens will not engage with each other in ways that contribute to the political requirements of fairness, which contribute to the long-run stability of a democracy; especially one with a diverse citizenry.

A political regime consistent with the vision of justice John Rawls describes in A Theory of Justice allows citizens to hold competing comprehensive conceptions of the good (CCG). This is the fact of reasonable pluralism, of reasonable diversity of CCGs. This diversity finds its source in each individual's two basic moral powers, (a) a sense of justice and (b) a conception of the good. The exercise by free persons of these moral powers results inevitably according to Rawls in a wide variety of different, yet reasonable, answers to the question, What makes for a good life? Rawls claims that commensurate with this vision of a pluralist democracy citizens must advocate for social policy within the bounds of the ideal of public reason. Citizens, in order to preserve their mutual freedom, must agree to carry on their official, and parts of their civil, political discourses without invoking the truth of their particular CCG as a reason for adopting social policy X or policy R. Peter DeMarneffe for one thinks this is the best way to understand the liberal state's neutrality requirement.[52] This ideal of public reason and neutrality ensure that in a liberal regime the process of making policies that will be coercively enforced against all citizens is carried out in a way that evinces the equality of participants and shows respect for each as individuals.

Structured this way political discourse helps to create an "overlapping consensus" on the public conception of justice. By bringing each individual to reflectively endorse the public political conception of justice from within their own CCG the grounds of commitment to the public procedures of justice will be deepened. Because each individual has independent access to the grounds of the legitimacy of the liberal state it will be able to generate a base of support that can be wide-spread, deeply committed, long-lasting, and likely transmittable between generations. This transmittability of the grounds of legitimation from one generation to the next, the continual ability of the overlapping consensus to generate its own support, is what makes Rawls' pluralist regime both stable and just over the long term.[53] Because policies are arrived at by using impartial reasoning and in ways that show equal respect for citizens each individual citizen has reason to affirm the liberal regime on their own terms. Each individual's commitment to public principles of justice regulating public discourse and interaction only serves to deepen the perceived public support that induces a like commitment from others who perceive that their fellows are so committed.

Given this understanding of a democratic regime the problem that pervasive exploitation poses becomes more readily apparent. Thinkers like Amy Gutmann for example argue, "Without mutual respect, members of different groups are likely to discriminate against each other in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways that are inconsistent with liberal principles".[54] A politically democratic regime requires non-discrimination, but in order to achieve this it must instill mutual respect in both citizens and institutions. Social institutions must make manifest to citizens the relations of mutual respect upon which their long-run success is predicated. Unless citizens are widely aware that relations of mutual respect obtain they will continue to withhold respect, thus preventing the virtuous circle of legitimacy from getting started. Lacking in mutual respect and trust in other's intentions, the diverse groups in democratic society will fail to come together in ways that will make acceptance of the terms of the public conception of justice the basis of an overlapping consensus.

In order to publicly evince fair equality of opportunity a democratic regime must work to exclude practices like discrimination in hiring practices. A condition of non-discrimination must characterize hiring practices so that mutual respect can be manifested in them. Without mutual respect, there will very likely be discrimination in hiring practices in a way that evinces dis-respect. As Gutmann argued, if there is no mutual respect, even if people tolerate each other, a liberal government will be unable to effectively enforce the non-discrimination essential to fair equality of opportunity. So, for political democracy, mutual respect is a key value.[55] Without a sense of mutual respect, the virtuous cycle that leads the citizens of a democratic regime to come to see the democratic system as serving their interests and in ways that show them respect, so that they come to have a deepening commitment to the liberal regime. This virtuous process occurring in individual citizens reinforces it in the other citizens with whom they interact.


The notions of exploitation and coercion are helpful in that they provide us guidance on how to structure employment relationships in ways that avoid both. Avoiding both is, of course, a desiderata of a politically democratic regime, as both coercion and exploitation fail to evince respect for the value of others as persons and citizens, which as we saw is a key component of democracy. As Gutmann asserts, "The social stakes for democracy in defending these principles is high. Absent mutual respect, citizens cannot be expected to honor the dmoecratic principle of nondiscrimination. Nor can public officials, who are accountable to citizens and chosen from their ranks, be expected to demonstrate respect toward different ways of life".[56] Honoring non-discrimination and respect as we saw are integral to the process of creating and preserving the bases of the self-generating support for the public political conception of justice that makes a democratic regime stable and just over the long-term.


[1] Sample, Ruth J. Exploitation: What It Is and Why It's Wrong. New York, Rowan and Littlefield Publishers Inc.: 2003. And Wertheimer, Alan. Exploitation. Princeton, Princeton University Press: 1996.

[2] Lebowitz, Michael. The Socialist Alternative : Real Human Development. New York, Monthly Review Press: 2010.

[3] Sample 2003, 56.

[4] Sample 2003, 15.

[5] Wertheimer 1996, 230.

[6] Sample 2003, 55.

[7] Wertheimer 1996, 232.

[8] Sample 2003, 24.

[9] See Goodin, Robert "Exploiting a Situation and Exploiting a Person". Modern Theories of Exploitation. Ed. Andrew Reeve. London, Sage (1987): 166-200. And Protecting the Vulnerable: A Reanalysis of Our Social Responsibilities. Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 1985.

[10] Sample 2003, 28.

[11] Goodin quoted in Sample 2003, 28.

[12] Sample 2003, 36.

[13] Sample 2003, 53.

[14] Ibid

[15] Sample 2003, 57.

[16] Sample 2003, 56.

[17] Sample 2003, 65.

[18] Sample 2003, 74.

[19] Strict equality in division of the fruits of transacting is not a requirement for non-exploitation for Sample. Unequal gains from a transaction do not necessarily imply lack of respect.

[20] Sample 2003, 77.

[21] See Sample 2003, 76-79 for concise explication of the capabilities approach, outlining both the main features of Sen's and Nussbaum's views as well as their main points of contrast.

[22] Sample 2003, 75.

[23] Sample 2003, 167.

[24] Sample is clear that needs can be more broadly construed than as just the material means of subsistence. Our needs for the living of a good life include "conditions of purposeful employment, the prerequisites of psychological well-being, and constraints on interaction necessary for self-respect". 74

[25] Sample 2003, 67.

[26] For discussion of this historically see Arrighi, Giovanni. The Long Twentieth Century. 1994. New York, Verso Press: 2006. For discussion of the political-economic importance of this development for capitalist relations of production see Weeks, John. Capital and Exploitation. Princeton, Princeton University Press: 1981.

[27] Wertheimer 1996, 67.

[28] Or perhaps revolt.

[29] To see the link between employer control and their ability to produce benefits for themselves, i.e. profits, see Stephen Marglin's article in Review of Radical Political Economics. Vol.6 (1974): 60-112.

[30] Sample 2003, 61.

[31] Wertheimer 1996, 220 & 234.

[32] Sample 2003, 89.

[33] For interesting as well as thorough discussion of the reserve system in baseball see Voigt, David Quentin. American Baseball: From the Gentleman's Sport to the Commissioner System.(1966). University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press: 1983. Also see Seymour, Harold. Baseball: The Early Years.(1960). New York, Oxford University Press: 1989.

[34] This ignores the contested issue of the true profitability of early professional baseball. However, despite there being bad times and bad businessmen, baseball was profitable at least for some clubs as early as the 1860s and definitely was so by the 1880s. By the middle of the middle of the next century there could no longer be doubt that there was money to be made in the game, as it was already a preeminent entertainment industry in America at the time. In fact it continues to be so to this day.

[35] Sample 2003, 90.

[36] See Goldstein, Warren. Playing For Keeps. Ithaca, Cornell University Press: 1989.

[37] This would of course hold true for any relevantly similarly placed workers in a capitalist labour market.

[38] Sample 2003, 160.

[39] For a good discussion of how "global labour arbitrage" is used by large multi-national corporations to exploit poor workers in other countries, e.g. in China see Foster, John Bellamy & Robert W. McChesney. "The Global Stagnation and China". Monthly Review. Vol.63 no.9 (2012): 1-29

[40] Sample 2003, 6.

[41] Wertheimer shares this view about the Marxist conception of exploitation and how its badness turns on the wrongness of coercion (1996, 25).

[42] Lebowitz 2010, 122. Lebowitz is not alone in taking this kind of view. Jon Elster for instance takes a view of Marx that emphasizes the role of "self-realization" in living a good life. See Elster, Jon. "Self-Realization in Work and Politics". Social Philosophy and Policy. Vol.3 no.2 (1986): 97-126.

[43] Lebowitz 2010, 21.

[44] Lebowitz 2010, 31

[45] Lebowitz 2010, 34.

[46] Lebowitz 2010, 43.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Sample 2003, 77.

[49] Lebowitz 2010, 47.

[50] Lebowitz 2010, 67.

[51] Wertheimer 1996, 209.

[52] DeMarneffe, Peter. "Liberalism, Neutrality, and Education". Moral and Political Education. Nomos 43. Ed. Stephen Macedo & Yael Tamir. NYU Press; 2002

[53] Costa, Victoria M. Rawls, Citizenship, Education. New York, Routledge: 2011.

[54] Gutmann, Amy. "Civic education and Social Diversity". Ethics. Vol.105 no.3 (1995): 561.

[55] Gutmann makes sure to make clear that a politically liberal regime does not endorse mutual respect as a non-political value. It does not, consistent with its commitment to individual liberty, demand mutual respect be a value for citizens in their non-public comprehensive conception of the good.

[56] Gutmann 1995, 577.