Our recent article on “self-employment and basic income” did receive some attention on the web. It even reached Reddit, however, the comments on that platform show that “self-employment” is a strange concept these days.
To quote one comment:
I don’t understand this, really. People shouldn’t cooperate? How would things work if everyone was self employed and why is it so desirable?
Clearly this person is unfamiliar with the concept of self-employment. First of all, self-employment does not mean that people should not cooperate with each other. Self-employed persons can cooperate in partnerships or worker cooperatives, as was mentioned in our text.
The difference between such cooperation and traditional employment is that the latter is a hierarchical relation between the employer and the employee. On the other hand partnerships and cooperatives are horizontal relations between equals.
Within a partnership or cooperative work is done on the base of mutual agreements between the people involved.
His last question illustrates how much our present world is fixed on traditional employment relations. However, it has been only since the industrial revolution that employer-employee relations are the norm.
In the 19th century self-employment was a main topic in the worker movement. Self-employment, in particular in the form of worker cooperatives, was seen as the reasonable alternative for the exploitative employer-employee relation.
It would be wrong to think that exploitation of employees is something from the past. In fact even in the western world, exploitation still prevails. Many employees struggle to survive on low wages while their managers and shareholders make millions.
Self-employment is also more in line with republican and democratic values. The employer-employee relation is in fact a left over from the age of slavery. One person tells another what to do and how. An employee is, like as slave, to obey his employer and to do as is told.
Save from that we believe that such a relation is a denigrating insult to human dignity, it would also undermine democratic-republican society. A democracy can only survive if citizens are used to think for themselves and take matters into their own hands.
However, traditional employment is exactly the opposite of this and stimulates a mentality of servility. And this will permeate to other aspects of life, including the realm of politics. It is an illusion to think that employer-employee relations only affect the economy.