Exploitation and Freedom


Matt Zwolinski

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Karl Marx argued that capitalist economies are necessarily exploitative. Nineteenth-century classical liberal political economists agreed that exploitation was rampant, but blamed government grants of privilege rather than capitalism. This chapter argues that while both schools of thought produced genuine insights into exploitation in markets and politics, neither developed a tenable account of what exploitation actually is. Understanding exploitation in terms of the more basic concept of fairness allows us to appreciate when wage labor and government transfers are exploitative, and when they are not. The chapter concludes by arguing that exploitation is probably a permanent feature of a free society because the moral costs of attempting to eliminate it will often prove unacceptable. In particular, it might be impossible to ensure that a government invested with the power to stamp out one form of exploitation does not become a tool for an even more troubling form of exploitation itself.