Ending Wage Slavery

Workers Cooperatives

Less than two hundred years ago, only a minute percentage of the workforce were employees, with the vast majority of free working people being self-employed farmers, artisans, and merchants. Today, 92 percent of the American workforce works as an employee. This transformation from ‘freedom’ to ‘wage slavery’ did not happen without a struggle.  As Sam Dolgoff writes in Revolutionary Tendencies in American Labor, resistance to the wage system took the form of protective and mutual-aid organizations of all kinds:

“schools, summer camps for children and adults, homes for the aged, health and cultural centers, insurance plans, technical education, housing, credit associations etc. All these and many other essential services were provided by people themselves, long before the government monopolized social services wasting untold billions on a top-heavy bureaucratic parasitical apparatus”.

Moreover, unions and cooperatives strove not only to raise their members’ income and improve working conditions, but also to take their members out of ‘wage slavery’ entirely. For most of the 19th century the greatest labor associations promoted and organized worker cooperatives as a way to cross the boundary of class between employee and self-employed.

The cooperative movement in the United States peaked in the 1880’s and at its core was a chain of approximately 200 industrial cooperatives organized by the Knights of Labor. Almost a million members strong, the Knights were the largest labor organization in the world. According to John Curl, in his book For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements and Communalism in America :

“The Knights planned that these cooperatives would grow and spread across America, eventually exerting democratic control over the entire economic system, until they transformed the country into what they came to call a Cooperative Commonwealth. Wage slavery would be abolished and the American promises of equality, freedom and democracy made a living reality.”

With such a broad grassroots labor movement and the goal of social transformation, the threat of organized labor to entrenched interests became insupportable. Under pressure from big business, federal troops successfully put down two massive strikes in 1877 and 1894, with violence occurring on both sides. By the turn of the 20th century the leadership of the labor movement had passed to the much more radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies). Socialist in their ideology the IWW opposed America’s entry into World War I and so became a prime target of the Department of Justice, which raided their offices in September 1917, sending 101 of their leaders to prison for up to 20 years and effectively destroying the IWW in the process.

By the 1930’s big government and big business had learned the lesson that an uncontrolled labor movement was “unpredictable, politically dangerous and bad for commerce”. It was in this context that Roosevelt’s New Deal gave birth to the modern labor union stripped of its core of volunteerism. In a voluntary union, individual members voluntarily assign their negotiation rights to a union representative but they also remain free to leave and negotiate for themselves. In modern unions some members may join freely but they cannot later negotiate for themselves if they disagree with the union. Other members may be required to join as a condition of working in a specific industry or at a unionized company. The Wagner Act of 1935 also turned union bureaucrats into enforcers of contracts against their own rank-and-file and brought into being the “no strike” clause, the notion that your rights are limited by the needs of the state.

The volunteer and solidaritarian spirit that inspired the network of cooperatives and mutual aid organizations that flourished in the late 19th and 20th centuries is an essential ingredient of a free society as it is one of the primary ways by which workers can take control of their own lives without depending on bosses or bureaucrats. While big government shows no signs of reversing decades of legislation privileging big business and big unions, there are nevertheless indications that new forms of work organization are emerging that parallel the spirit of worker cooperatives in a former era. Networked organizations, crowd-sourced credit and the implosion of capital outlays required for physical production are increasingly empowering workers to walk away and essentially take the firm with them in all but name.


“The labor movement means just this: It is the last noble protest of the American people against the power of incorporated wealth.”  Wendell Phillips

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About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill


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44 Comments on “Ending Wage Slavery”

  1. aurorawatcherak Says:

    I agree with the cooperative movement, to a certain extent. In the US it was mostly a movement of farmers and small businesses cooperating to market goods. Later, some consumers created cooperative groceries and utilities. And credit unions were originally designed to allow small depositors which the commercial banks did not want. All of those were good and useful economic developments that were wholly volunteer in nature.

    Unfortunately, the cooperative movement was “co-opted” (which I think might be the origin of that word) by the Progressive movement in the late 19th century. The Grange system was the origin of the administrative state here in the US. It turned voluntary farmer cooperatives into radicalized socialist units.

    I disagree with you that the cooperative movement was an attempt to avoid “wage slavery”. Wage-laborers have been a part of the American economy since the first indentured servant paid off his indenture and started working for wages instead. It was one of the features Alexis d’Toqueville admired in New England in the 1830s. In fact, he said that was the main reason why the northern states were prospering while the southern states were filled with indolence. Men working for wages were motivated by their own self-interest to either make better wages or to save their wages to become merchants, artisans or farmers. Men working as slaves had no wages and no control over their future, so why work hard? Toqueville predicted a slave uprising if the system continued. He didn’t predict a wage-slave uprising. Of course, he didn’t foresee what the Industrial Revolution would wrought and he didn’t know about Karl Marx yet.

    The idea of wage “slavery” is a Marxian notion. He didn’t much like working for a living himself (which I guess is why he had Engels supporting him) and so he justified his indolence by casting negative aspersions on those who did work for a living. If you worked for someone else, you were a slave (in his opinion). Of course, what else does a young person without land or skills have to sell that is more valuable than his time and effort? Many a laborer has used employment as a way to gain the funds to become an entrepreneur. Yes, many have also chosen to remain employed by others because they’d rather spend their money on luxuries than on investment or because they prefer a 40 hour a week job working for a boss over an 80 hour a week job working for themselves. And there are some people who have tried to be the boss and failed for some reason and returned, sometimes more than once, to working for someone else.

    Cooperatives are making a small comeback here in the US. There’s a cooperative of construction contractors here locally, formed by construction companies who wanted to be able to provide reasonably priced health insurance and retirements to their employees without having to become signatories to a union. There’s a cooperative grocery store opening soon here. As labor unions wane, small businesses and some artisans are coming together in trade associations. They have an uphill battle though because of the history of the Grange movement and socialist labor unions. People tend to see them as socialist/communist and therefore, suspect. I see promise in some and reason for concern in others.


    • NicoLite Великий Says:

      Wage slavery was a problem of the early industrialization, which first started in Great Britain in the 18th century; Karl Marx was not the first to recognize this. Also, as the son of an advocat, he was part of the elite, an academic. He didn’t work for wages, he was paid by his publisher – he worked for a living, but he lived way beyond what he could afford, which was why he was so badly in debt. In my opinion, you are grossly misrepresenting Karl Marx – as did the socialists of the Warsaw Pact, though they did it in a different manner. I digress.

      The way it sound’s from Malcolm’s post, the Knights of Labor held the promise of freedom and prosperity for everyone, and nobody was indolent. I don’t like to deal in what-if’s, but I imagine that they were every bit as productive and innovative as the big corporations, which is why they were such a threat to them, and they would have had the same advantage over Confederate slave labor in the Civil War. Furthermore, it would be a more adaptive workforce, able to stomach a greater fluctuation of workforce without creating strong economic stress factors like property and monetary monopolization and unemployment, inflation and deflation.

      Yes, this is all happening in my imagination. I wish the world had given it a try.


      • aurorawatcherak Says:

        The world did give cooperatives a try and we have some good vestigial programs from the attempt. I wasn’t saying it was an inherently bad idea. I was saying it was a good-ish idea that got warped by socialists, Marxists and statists into something that wasn’t good. I think artisans, farmers and small businesses can all benefit from voluntary cooperative associations. I’m all in favor of workers voluntarily agreeing to cooperate for higher wages, provided they understand that their employers have a right to pursue a profit and that interference with that is grounds for dismissal. Just because you work for a business does not mean you are the owner, though owners would do well to value highly useful employees.

        Unfortunately, here in the US, those early cooperative worker associations turned into labor unions that were violent and anything but voluntary. My husband and I both belong to unions because we have no choice. My husband is an IBEW electician. He hates watching the other workers sabotage construction jobs and pretend to take three hours to do one hour worth of work in an (always successful) effort to drag out a contract and “soak the contractor” for more money. Of course, the contractor puts in a change order to the funding agency, but it drives up the cost of every construction project and that eventually is reflected in the cost of living. You cannot artificially inflate wages and artificially drag out the work to continue to be paid those inflated wages without consequences to the employer and the economy at large. Moreover, the IBEW has used its clout to drive non-union companies out of business and to “blackball” workers who are unwilling to go along with the “soak the contractor” regime.

        I’d love to see cooperatives return as an alternative to the strong-arm unions and the strangulation of government regulation. Voluntary cooperation did work until people with ulterior motives got involved. It might be one tool toward a return to American founding principles.

        And, no, I didn’t mischaracterize Marx at all. I just recently finished re-reading an excellent book on Marx by economist Thomas Sowell. Actually knowing the personal history of this man gave me quite a lot of insight into his economic theory. He felt the world owed him rent, food and a few luxuries for writing stuff most people weren’t interested in reading. He was angry that his wife’s wealthy parents had cut them off financially after supporting them for several years. His theory justifies his personal life philosophy. And, yes, Engels worked in some sort of investment firm for nearly two decades and provided the income Marx and his family lived on.


        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          “I’d love to see cooperatives return as an alternative to the strong-arm unions and the strangulation of government regulation. Voluntary cooperation did work until people with ulterior motives got involved. It might be one tool toward a return to American founding principles.”

          Exactly, this was the point of the post. I would like to see both the Wagner Act and the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act repealed thus putting volunteerism back into the equation.

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      The Grange system wasn’t all bad. From John Curl’s book ‘For All the People’, local Granges served as mutual-aid centers where information about work and survival were shared and members helped educate each other. Their earliest purchasing cooperatives simply involved local Grangers agreeing to trade exclusively with a certain merchant for discounts. The Grange pioneered cooperative banking in the United States and manufactured their own line of farm machinery selling at half the price of comparable models.

      Just because ‘wage slavery’ is a Marxian term and just because it is literally false (wage earners have choices that slaves don’t) does not mean that the sentiment behind the term is not meaningful. Many workers want a degree of autonomy that they feel cannot be obtained when working for an employer. The autonomy they crave may be real or illusionary but I think classical liberals and others make a huge mistake if they do not acknowledge and respect this feeling. I can understand why workers might feel more motivated working in a cooperative rather than a traditional owner operated business. The fact that both entities have to make a surplus over their costs to stay in business is irrelevant to how people feel about the ownership structure of the place they work in and the nature of their own contribution.


      • aurorawatcherak Says:

        Grange halls still dot the United States. I’d like to say they’re a positive force, but I don’t think so. Mostly, they seem to spend their energies lobbying Congress for farm subsidies. Here in the US, that primarily means the federal government paying farmers to keep vast acreages out of production, reducing the food supply and holding food prices at an artificially high level, but it also includes ethanol programs that reduce the supply of feed corn, causing corn and meat prices to be higher than they should. I would object to it less if farmers in the US were still men like my grandfather, but mostly farms are owned by huge agri-corporations. The Amish still have family farms and take no subsidize. Naturally, they’re in trouble with the federal government for “suspicious” farming practices like using compost instead of chemical fertilizer.

        Cooperatives that allow sole-proprietorships to pool resources are perfectly fine. If we could just figure out a way to keep them from becoming a special interest group intent upon getting others to support their industry, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all.


        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your extensive knowledge of this subject, both personal and intellectual. As to figuring out a way to keep cooperatives from becoming a special interest group it comes down to the same problem Adam Smith (and Marx in his own way) identified of how to prevent any big business from colluding and using the power of the state to obtain special privileges.

      • aurorawatcherak Says:

        The Grange had a hand in founding the saving and loan banking system. Credit unions were actually started in Northeastern factory towns where the workers couldn’t deposit funds at the commercial banks. The first one was in Manchester New Hampshire for the cotton mill workers.


  2. chr1 Says:

    As usual, great post.

    Does freedom necessarily replace wage ‘slavery’?

    What contracts and obligations do individuals have under co-ops, and what relation do these organizations have with local, state and the federal government, and ultimately to individuals outside of these structures?


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Chris, thank you. Please see my repy to aurorawatcherak above. As a business owner I work harder and longer hours than if I worked for someone else but I also consider myself more free, more autonomous. The same with the cooperative worker. He or she may work just as hard, and may have just as many contractual or non-contractual obligations to the cooperative and outside entities, as he would have as a traditional employee, but his all-important perception of his situation is different.


  3. campfirememories Says:

    Gene Roddenberry comes to mind when reading your post…. Star Fleet transcended wages…

    Also, the Pinkertons come to mind, Carnegy Steel and the Homestead Strike.

    Thanks for another enlightened post in which you fill in the blanks of my understanding with history and wisdom.


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you Nancy. I must admit that Star Fleet was the last thing I had in mind but I know exactly what you mean. As to the Homestead Strike, you are spot on. The strikers were finally brought to their knees by the power of the state militia. Governor Pattison had been elected with the backing of Carnegie’s political machine and so felt obligated to support him.


  4. The Savvy Senorita Says:

    Hi Malcolm, I am particularly interested in this topic. I remember learning about this at Uni; I took the knowledge with me to complete some research as an intern, and then later onto development projects. I came across all of this in reference to cooperatives and micro-finance in Africa; how this revived the hopes of many people there. Especially women abandoned by their husbands. In fact these women working with very little, but pooling together, achieved more success then the men in their villages! Consequence was that the main banks became interested in their ventures – funny how until that point they had been ignored by the main stream.
    Thanks for another interesting post!


  5. (Who Is) John Galt Says:

    I don’t really like the term “Wage Slavery”. A slave by definition is not free to leave his or her position; employees can leave their jobs any time they want (in accordance with their contract obligations of course, but then they weren’t forced to sign those contracts in the first place).


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      I explained why I used the Marxist term ‘wage slavery’ in an earlier comment of mine on this post. I copy it here for your convenience:

      “Just because ‘wage slavery’ is a Marxian term and just because it is literally false (wage earners have choices that slaves don’t) does not mean that the sentiment behind the term is not meaningful. Many workers want a degree of autonomy that they feel cannot be obtained when working for an employer. The autonomy they crave may be real or illusionary but I think classical liberals and others make a huge mistake if they do not acknowledge and respect this feeling. I can understand why workers might feel more motivated working in a cooperative rather than a traditional owner operated business. The fact that both entities have to make a surplus over their costs to stay in business is irrelevant to how people feel about the ownership structure of the place they work in and the nature of their own contribution.”


  6. Gregory Zaretsky Says:

    Malcolm, as a Brit you are not supposed to know American history so well 🙂


  7. ajaydawar Says:


    Very good post indeed. My wife made the observation the other day that although we live in a democracy, most of us with jobs go to work and spend 10-12 hours of our waking life at work – a place that is by design authoritarian / autocratic with little freedom. If so then do we really live a democracy?


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Ajay, thank you. I think your wife’s observations go some way to explain why it is that so many people feel they are wage slaves.


    • Argus Says:

      Lincoln defined democracy as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” and I yet have to find a better definition anywhere.

      Compare it to what you have, which is “Government of the people, by the Party for the Party”.

      In America you go to the polls to elect your dictators, as do we in New Zealand. At close of polls on election day in NZ the ‘democratic’ enfranchised public is simply shelved, redundant until next elections.

      The nearest any country comes to being democratic is Switzerland—if that wasn’t a rhetorical query of yours then I suggest you pop over to Google and have a look at the Swiss system. As an American you’ll find it quite an eye opener …


  8. jrogershummel Says:


    As much as I deplore the repression of the IWW during World War I, I don’t think an IWW website is an entirely reliable source of labor history. It seems to have led you into some skewed interpretations.

    You start out mentioning the transition from the freedom of “self-employed farmers, artisans, and merchants” to “wage slavery.” But prior to the Industrial Revolution, the 80 to 90 percent of the population that was universally involved in agriculture were rarely either completely free or self-employed. Their status involved various forms of unfree and semi-free labor, running from outright slavery through serfdom to restrictive forms of tenancy. When industrialization began, many therefore flocked to factory employment as a form of liberation, particularly in the case of young women in the U.K. and the U.S. Even in early, pre-industrial towns, labor was not entirely free in the modern sense, with the compulsory enforcement of long-term labor contracts and a right of masters to inflict corporal punishment. In Britain, an employee’s breach of a labor contract could be a criminal offense. Indeed, it is not until the nineteenth century in both the U.K. and the U.S. that the right of employees to quit at will–whether farm hands, apprentices and journeyman working in towns, or domestic servants–became the general rule.

    Admittedly, the uniquely widespread ownership of land by the farmers who actually worked it within the U.S., dating back to the colonial period, made agricultural pursuits more free here than elsewhere, even if still often less attractive than opportunities in towns and cities. Moreover, union membership in the U.S. was always a minor share of even the NONFARM labor force prior to federal government encouragement of “loyal” unions during World War I, never reaching 10 percent and usually less than 5 percent. Initially unions faced legal obstacles and undoubtedly provided many valuable services to their members, but when they resorted to strikes, they often visited violence upon replacement workers whom they labeled “scabs.” The fact that replacement workers were frequently African-Americans seeking better opportunities is one of the reasons why American unions were among the most virulent fonts of racism.

    The Knights of Labor were more ecumenical than subsequent unions and did achieve a membership peak in the 1880s, but their demise was not the result of government strike breaking but owed more to competition and jurisdictional disputes with the craft unions that eventually amalgamated into the American Federation of Labor. Nor were the Knights of Labor heavily involved in the railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894. By 1894, the Knights had already virtually disappeared, and recent research on the violence associated with the 1877 strike indicates that it was less a strike than a widespread urban uprising against the railroads, which with their power of eminent domain had disrupted city commerce and neighborhoods, caused numerous accidents, and generated other grievances affecting all parts of the urban populations. Finally, the major promoter of cooperatives in American history was the Grange (not mentioned in your article although in some of the comments), which was an organization of farmers not industrial employees.

    I do agree with you entirely about the unfortunate effects of the New Deal’s co-opting of the labor movement, which had its roots in World War I.


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Jeff, thank you for these thoughtful and scholarly comments. The only quotation in the post from Sam Dolgoff (IWW) is the one referring to the proliferation of worker protective and mutual-aid organizations in the 19th century, something I don’t believe any serious scholar disagrees with. However, you are quite correct to give a much more nuanced picture of the status of workers before the Industrial Revolution. I now see that the relevant sentence in my post should have read:

      “Less than two hundred years ago, only a minute percentage of the workforce were employees, with the vast majority of free working people being self-employed farmers, artisans, and merchants. Today, 92 percent of the American workforce works as an employee.”

      I obviously did not wish to suggest that there were no slaves and no workers who lacked various degrees of freedom. For the record, John Curl states in his book For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America:

      “As the country industrialized during the 19th century, the transformation from a nation of self-employed “free” people to a nation of employees took place relentlessly and continued through the 20th century. In 1800, there were few wage earners in America; in 1870, shortly after the Civil War, over half the workforce consisted of employees; in 1940, about 80 percent; in 2007, 92 percent of the American workforce was employees and the number of self-employed was under 9 percent.”

      There were certainly many reasons for the decline of the Knights of Labor including mismanagement, unsuccessful strikes, competition from the AFL and widespread violence against strikers in the Haymarket Riot of 1886. For example, following the Haymarket Riot, John Curl writes:

      “Police terror swept Chicago and spread across the country breaking the strike everywhere. Police, goon and vigilante violence were the order of the day wherever organized workers gathered…The entire economic system came down hard on the Knight cooperatives: railroads refused to haul their products; manufacturers refused to sell them needed machinery; wholesalers refused them raw materials and supplies; banks wouldn’t lend.”

      The Knights of Labor may not have had a prominent role in the Pullman Strike but Eugene Debs’s guiding principle had become that of the Knights of Labor, “an injury to one is the concern of all.” The ARU’s support of for the Pullman workers’ strike in 1894 was an extension of the Knight’s principle and the most spectacular example of the sympathy strike in American history. The fact that it failed disastrously was the final nail in the Knight’s coffin. However, one of the main points of the post was to show that organized labor was defeated by the brute force of government at the behest of monied interests, something even the government’s own historians seem to agree with:

      “The great strike was crushed by the armed might of the government. Labor had to retreat or escalate the battle to a national strike of sympathy with the railwaymen. Several thousand workers had already walked out when the executives of thirty-four unions met in Chicago to consider their course of action. After intense debate, the leaders advised their members not to strike. Noting the “array of armed force and brutal monied aristocracy,” represented by “United States Marshals, injunctions of courts, proclamations by the President, and . . . bayonets of soldiers,” they concluded that it would be “worse than folly to call men out on a general or local strike in these days of stagnant trade and commercial depression” into confrontation with the government itself. The power of sympathy had been defused.”


  9. Mish Says:

    Very interesting.


  10. ivonprefontaine Says:

    Malcolm, thank you for stopping and commenting on a recent post. I look forward to following your diverse and eclectic blog.

    Take care,



  11. Argus Says:

    Complex issues indeed. Solution could be simple but would be quite impossible; so we’re stuck with it everywhere.


  12. Hanne T. Fisker Says:

    Apology if I am straying a bit from the specific topic but I hope my question can be, if not part of the trunk, then at least a little branch of it. I am curious what your take will be on this: ““We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” (Richard Buckminster Fuller) I will be honest I haven’t made a further check up on who he was, his work or approach to this topic and understand the misunderstanding that might happen from taking something out of a bigger context…. however, I found the quote fascinating.


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you so much for this wonderful comment. The Buckminster Fuller quotation is fascinating and I probably should have thought about it more before replying but here goes. I think he is basically correct, at least in the developed world. Most people fail to distinguish between needs and wants and so feel they have to earn a living primarily to pay for all their wants. Presumably it is the role of the artists, educators and spiritual leaders to motivate people to live lives of greater significance. However, ultimately I don’t think this relieves people of the responsibility of being independent and supporting themselves. We don’t have the right to make others work to support our own frivolities, however meaningful they may be to us.


      • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

        Replying on the top of the head can at times be the most honest and direct reply before too many speculative mind-thoughts kicks in, so I’ll do just that too. And thank you so much for giving me your view on this, I really appreciate it and I’m grateful for the flow of inspiring thoughts it brings up in me.

        I absolutely agree with you, too many people fail in distinguishing needs and wants, even more so, when it comes to distinguish between love and needs/wants/expectations, suppose that’s why spiritual leaders have put the word ‘unconditional’ in front of the word love to express the truest essence of it… whereas love is love, nothing more, nothing less (a stray thought lol)

        When I at times suggest the idea of a world where you weren’t forced to go to work but you actually had the choice not to, most people say, then nothing would be done, no-one would go to work. I don’t believe this. It runs so deep within us to create (in the broadest possible sense of the word) and everyone has something to contribute, no matter how small the contribution seems (A lion kind of looks more impressive than seaweed, yet they are both important). If we were not forced to work to sustain even a minimal simple living, I think we would put much more joy and effort into life and all add different and amazing flavors to life and the world and each other that benefits all and it will not come from a place of frivolousness living but something more profound within us and beyond ourselves. I believe we are walking potential and unfortunately a lot of that potential and energy is being wasted on survival and conformity (and the wants) We are not born lazy, but spending more than half of our day (for those who somehow just don’t succeed in being successful in the money-meaning end of the word success in what they love doing (re your other post) can be extremely draining. Doing day in and day out something there is no joy in (I’m not talking about life should be all joy and easy in that sense, but if there is joy of labor somehow all the challenges and tough parts are easier to deal with) can be so draining that all there is left is energy to watch television. If wealth and sustaining ourselves was looked at in a broader way than just money, possibly there would be more people using their full potential and for the greater good of all and a more “organic” way of living for all. We might even experience we are not separate and much of the welt-smerz and growing depression and stress might loosen. Take nature. An oak tree doesn’t try to be a rose, a rose doesn’t try to be a fox etc, they are different yet not separate… They each do there thing, what they were born to be and do. I actually think the same thing counts for us humans. There are people who are genuinely too busy creating and doing what they are passionate about which somehow is a cause bigger than themselves and truly is for the benefit of other people they touch on their way that they don’t have time to get a “proper” job, so they can earn their own money for their own lives. Is it true responsible living to tie them down to a job, just for the sake of earning their own money? Is that being independent and responsible? Your question, where are the prophets and artists to lead the way? Maybe some of them “break” or give up under the pressure of having to earn a living in the way the world wants them to because they somehow don’t “succeed” and the world fails to see their unique gifts in the way they with subtlety, love, and no power over or forcing can bring us beyond any personal reality and connect with life beyond gender, race, culture, age, differences etc Maybe the idea of being responsible and make your own living has killed their soul? (not much of a prophet then, I suppose 😉 Is it possible that it matters less who earns the money and matters more how true and honest a friend you can be? Is it possible it can be at least equally valued you prioritize your time to listen and support the life of others and not only that of your own life? Is it possible it’s not what you do but who you are that matters? It’s not how much you say, but how much you listen?

        Malcolm, thank you for listening. I hope some of it makes sense. The words kind of stumbled out in full speed as if they all wanted to be spoken at the same time 🙂


        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Hanne, thank you for this detailed comment brimming with ideas. I agree with you that most (but not all) people would still choose to work if they had the choice. You say “If we were not forced to work to sustain even a minimal simple living” but are we really “forced”. What does one really need besides a cave, a lump of meat and a bear skin? A bit unrealistic I admit but the point is that the poorest people today (at least in the developed countries) are wealthier than the kings and nobles of a few hundred years ago. Just think of the value inherent in a mobile phone connected to the internet. The poorest person in India with a mobile phone has access to more information than the President of the United States had back in the 1950’s. So if we choose to spend more than half our day in soul destroying activities it is because we are willing to do so to obtain the trappings of modern day life not because we really need to in order to survive.

          You ask, “Is it true responsible living to tie them down to a job, just for the sake of earning their own money?” Well, someone has to pay to support them if they choose not to earn their own living. The choice is either to compel taxpayers to support them or for artists to rely on voluntary patronage and sponsorship as they also have done. Nowadays Kickstarter is another option. Personally, I always favor the voluntarist approach to social problems.

        • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

          Sitting with my morning espresso, the wind howling in the air below zero, looking at the Atlantic waves white on the top in stunning contrast to the deep blue sea. In the far distance snow capped mountains rises into the clouds. Why am I writing this? To express the boundless richness of life complete with the spice of your brilliant and deeply inspiring writings.
          “a bit unrealistic” I am all up for that! Didn’t most of the human worlds incredible inventions and inspiring ways of looking out on the world arise from people who stayed true to their ideas, imaginations, dreams and sense of they were on to something and capable of making it happen despite how unrealistic it looked and most had succumbed to the way things were and had given up on being able to change anything? Edison, Einstein, Gandhi, Rosa Parks just to name a few. So Malcolm, I believe you are absolutely spot. What do we need and are we forced, good point.
          I still can’t help pondering though, why we distinguish so strongly between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’… we all have something to contribute with and fortunately very different things, so why is it, when it comes to money there is such a strong sense of who earned them and when it comes to good deeds (truly heart-based, not that of good deeds with expectations attached that imprisons) it’s for all and not important really who gave what but more the outcome that matters?

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Hanne, you’ve got me here. I can’t argue with the artist, the visionary, the dreamer and the prophet. All sometimes make possible that which seems impossible. Unfortunately the failure rate is very high, so keep pondering and maybe one day money and good deeds will be valued in the same way. Until then reality rules.

        • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

          This spurred another “ponder”. Why is it, when one is being very positive and seeing possibilities where others don’t you are deemed naive, whereas seeing limitations you are only being realistic? Is it really so?

          What is reality, really? who’s reality? I understand, there is a physical tangible reality but even that has been bent by people who didn’t submit to it. I agree though, the failure rate is high, I guess it’s always so when the odds are extremely low.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Hanne, I should have known that the goddess of paradox would not let me get away with that one :-).

          Money is just a tool that we use to facilitate exchanges, whether of goods or services. If I make money I have a choice whether to save it, spend it, or give it away. If I give it away I can give it away publicly or anonymously (without expectation of gain). If I do a good deed for someone I can also choose to do this publicly or anonymously. There is no difference in this sense. It is true that when we speak of money we do talk in terms of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ but that is because money generally has to be earned and so it comes into the world as property owned by someone. A good deed in the form of a service is also something that someone choses to do with their time and effort. We don’t tend to think of a person’s time and effort as his or her property but it is. If I help repair your roof there is an opportunity cost to me of doing so, i.e. I could have been doing something else that would have earned me money. Consequently I don’t think your distinction between how money and good deeds are valued is a valid one.

          As to why seeing possibilities is judged as naïve whereas seeing limitations is judged as realistic, you have a good point. However, I think it fair that there are hurdles to jump over for someone proposing new ideas. It is OK for people to be skeptical, at least initially, of new ideas, because of their high failure rate. However, it is not OK for anyone to close off the possibility of new ideas. Your job as a seer and a visionary is to keep proposing new ways of doing things while it is the task of others to probe and test your ideas, perhaps in a new Experiment in Living:

        • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

          Still chewing on this one…. 🙂

        • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

          Done chewing… I think you have a good point in that my distinction between how money and good deeds are valued aren’t valid. Although it’s at the moment out of my grasp why despite your explanation and examples on this. Maybe I was pointing towards something different, to look beyond ourselves and throw our potential and inherent gifts into the big pool of potential which might cause a ripple effect for the benefit of all in lifting us above limiting belief systems and ways of living we think is ‘the right one’…

          I love your perspective on “keep proposing new ways of doing things while it is the task of others to probe and test your ideas” It rings very true and is mutual beneficial for the visionary and the ‘tester’. Perhaps this is why most dreams and visions needs to be kept to oneself for a while in order to harness the energy and power of it and simultaneously testing oneself first if it grows or evaporates as a fleeting thought during this inner conscious creative process. Does it survive this first step, it will one day be ready to face the world and strengthen further by the new tests the world so generously provides… 😉

          p.s. I want to deeply apologize for repeating myself on another post re naive and realistic… darn, that’s really a bore. :-/

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          “Maybe I was pointing towards something different, to look beyond ourselves and throw our potential and inherent gifts into the big pool of potential which might cause a ripple effect for the benefit of all”

          Economists have a word for this. They call it ‘externalities’. If you help someone out publicly it has a positive effect not just on the person you helped but on everyone, even though they did not contribute anything to obtain this benefit.

        • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

          hmm… very very interesting!

      • Hanne T. Fisker Says:

        p.s. just wanted to clarify, whenever I write “you”, I mean we, us, humanity, human beings, the common human mind (I’m not quite sure what is correct English when generalizing)


  13. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    Thank you for the trackback.



  1. Simplicity of Being | Art of eX'istence - April 14, 2013

    […] listen and interpret it purely as energy. ** Thoughts inspired by an exchange of perspectives on Malcolms Corner A blog rich with interesting topics. Definitely worthwhile […]

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