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