exploitation The two main meanings for this term are 1) using for gain (i.e., without intending any *moral evaluation of the process), and 2) unfairly using for gain (possibly by “taking advantage of someone’s weakness”). The main issue here is whether using *persons within the framework of the *free market, is ever exploitation in the unfair sense; and, if so, whether this is *rights-violating unfairness.

There is no ‘surplus value’ that the employer or ‘capitalist’ ‘extracts’ from the employee or ‘worker’, as *Marxist theory has it. *Marginalist theory explains that the employee tends to be paid his marginal product: exactly what he contributes to the business. Employers and employees use each other to their mutual benefit. In particular, the employer tends to offer the least wage he can to attract the necessary employees, and the employees tend to take the greatest wages they can find. Typically, the employers have a choice of employees and vice versa. Even where the choice of either is severely restricted, by no unlibertarian means, it is hard to see how it can be unfair (let alone rights-violating) for an employer to offer a ‘low’ wage or for an employee to require a ‘high’ one. Both sides freely participate; both sides gain; there is no moral obligation to pay more, or work for less, than we can; and flouting the market rate of pay would disrupt *economic efficiency.

Mutual and voluntary ‘exploitation’ among persons is cooperation, not *oppression. The alternatives are 1) *aggressively to impose a *privilege for one of the parties, or 2) aggressively to prohibit such cooperation. The *state, by contrast, necessitates *proactively imposed exploitation of its *subjects and this is both immoral and *criminal.

See also *competition and cooperation; *factors of production; *sweatshops; *unions.

A Dictionary of Libertarianism