Monday, January 23, 2012

American patents, Chinese slavery

Yesterday, I made the argument that copyright is slavery, yet I admitted that it is only a tiny bit of slavery. Today, B. Psycho inadvertently reminds me that I should not have made any such concession; Intellectual Property plays a central role in a system that comes quite close to total slavery -- the devil's bargain between American tech companies and the Chinese state.

The gist of this accusation is Chinese workers allow themselves to be worked like slaves only because various restrictions on commerce (such as Apple's patents) prevent them from making a living any other way. These laws undermine the traditional method by which a free man would earn a living -- by working under an established and experienced mentor, and eventually setting up his own enterprise using the skills he learned on the job and the reputation that he developed. However, in the modern world, this form of upward mobility is prohibited by the law (both here and in China), creating permanent classes of employers and employees -- masters and slaves. In the Apple/China situation, patents prevent the workers from being independent, but other legal arrangements can produce a similar effect. The most glaring in my mind are the "non-compete" clauses found in many employment contracts; it's too bad that most progressives are satisfied to reform slavery without eradicating it.


Lorraine said...

The most glaring in my mind are the "non-compete" clauses found in many employment contracts...

Yup. That and non-disclosure agreements. This is the kind of shit that gives "contractarianism" a bad name. "Freedom from contract" seems more appealing to me.

Ricketson said...

Yeah, I lean towards endorsing the ideal of "instantaneous liberty"--meaning that liberty is ours at every instant; there is nothing (not even contracts) that can justify forcible obligations.

I figure that there are some exceptions, but basically, this is what I understand by the statement that liberty is an inalienable right.