Whose opportunities ? (Colloque, oct. 2009, National Library of Portugal)

Inequalities in labour market and self-ownership

mardi 27 octobre 2009, par Fabien Tarrit

Thèmes : Inégalités

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The concept of self-ownership states that human beings master their own body and the products that stem from the use of their body, namely from their labour. It has traditionally been used in defence of capitalism, on the name of freedom. This paper proposes to advocate the claim that self-ownership does not necessarily imply a justification of inequalities of condition and a vindication of capitalism. On the basis of the controversy between G.A. Cohen and Robert Nozick, we suggest to separate the concept of self-ownership from its unequal conclusions. We propose the claim that it can be used as a tool for criticizing capitalism, with a focus on the distinction between real freedom and formal freedom. The egalitarians despise Nozick’s theory because of its unconvincing premises, and they reject the concept of self-ownership because of the inequalities of condition to which it leads. Cohen claims that it should be taken seriously. He proposes the assumption that Nozick diverts Locke’s egalitarian message, which object was to associate self-ownership and equality. He proposes that the claim that the capitalists rob the workers a part of the product of their labour rests on the thesis of self-ownership. This argument, taken as a neo-Lockean one, may constitute an alternative to the unequal ownership of the external world. Proletarians, who only hold their labour force, are not able to control their lives to such a degree that it can be possible to evoke freedom. Therefore, in order for everyone to enjoy a reasonable degree of freedom, the content of self-ownership must be limited. For Marx, the proletariat is forced to work longer than necessary for producing the value of its labour force ; therefore it is forced to surplus labour, which is appropriated by the capitalist class in terms of surplus value. Exploitation results from the lack of access to the productive resources, and then from the obligation for the workers to sell their labour power to the capitalists. Then the injustice of capitalism, in particular on labour market, is based on the initial inequality in the distribution of external resources, and the elimination of exploitation does not require the denial of the self-ownership thesis.

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par Fabien Tarrit

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