A common question to libertarians is how a free society or free market would prevent and protect against slavery. Other than the fact that owning another human violates the foundational principles of libertarianism, there are certainly plenty of practical answers to the question. Here are a few: it’s not hard for businesses to figure out that by motivating workers with more pay, they get more production and innovation out of them. A large chunk of society would have to be okay with slavery existing for those businesses to be sustained. Slave labor isn’t actually free labor and sick, beat up, and dead slaves costs the slave owner money that he wouldn’t have to otherwise spend if he treated his workers better.
But all of this ignores the elephant in the room: does the state prevent slavery? Can it prevent slavery? Does it even want to prevent slavery?
Most of us are aware of the libertarian slogan of “taxation is theft.” It’s true, but more accurately, taxation is slavery.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the definition of slavery. Slavery is the ownership of an individual and therefore the ownership of any production by that individual. The slave owner, however, will never actually keep all of the production and will likely trade some of that production for things like food, clothing, shelter, etc, regardless of how modest or low quality that may be. If the slave owner doesn’t do this, his slaves die from starvation or thirst not long after his purchase.
How is taxation a form of slavery? By the very nature of your existence in a certain geographical area, a state claims you as a subject and imposes taxes on you. In other words, the state claims a portion of your production for itself with no regard to any objections that you may have. By determining how much they take, they determine how much you are allowed to keep. They theoretically have the authority and the power (even though it’s not based on anything ethical) to take as much as they want—including all of it. Your only hope is that society as a whole rejects the concept of the coercive state and taxation, but this is a much taller order than having society reject “plantation” slavery.
So how does the state protect us from slavery if it exists because of slavery? The natural state of an individual in a libertarian society is free, but the natural state of an individual in a system of coercive government is a slave. The state would die without its slaves, so asking the state to prevent slavery might not be the best idea.