Neo-Abolitionism: Abolishing Human Rentals in Favor of Workplace Democracy - CLEO Skip to main content


This book argues for the abolition of the current employment system in favor of workplace democracy.

The abolition of slavery abolished not only the involuntary ownership of other people (workers) but also voluntary contractual forms of lifetime servitude. That system of lifetime servitude was replaced however by the current system of voluntary renting, hiring, employing, or leasing workers, i.e., the employment system.

The title “Neo-Abolitionism” refers to the idea of abolishing the employer–employee contract in favor of each firm being a workplace democracy. The three arguments that it makes against the human rental system are modern versions of old arguments that descend from the Reformation and Enlightenment in the Abolitionist and Democratic Movements. The first argument derives from noting that the old inalienable rights argument based on de facto inalienability of responsibility and decision-making that ruled out the long-term contract of lifetime servitude also applies against the shorter-term contract to rent oneself out. The second argument is the old labor or natural rights theory of private property (in the fruits of one’s labor) that is violated when the employer legally appropriates the positive and negative fruits of the employees working in a firm. And the third argument applies to the firm the democratic arguments against the subjection contract that alienates the rights of self-governance in favor of a democratic contract of delegation.

This book was recognized with a Joyce Rothschild Book Prize Honorable Mention. View the acceptance speech by author David Ellerman, which describes the book’s arguments below: