Should People Be Allowed To Work For $1 An Hour?

What is the least you would be willing to be paid to verify business addresses or phone numbers for a database? If you had a large online inventory and wanted simple word tags to describe each one of your products for search engine optimization, how much would you be willing to pay somebody to trudge through your product images and generate tags?

Tasks like these still require human labor, but a voluntary wage for such tasks is usually very low, especially relative to legislated minimum wages.

Despite exponential growth in computing power and capabilities over the past few decades, computers still struggle with simple tasks like identifying objects in a picture, making qualitative judgments, and confirming the accuracy of language translations. Amazon embraced this fact and connected those who need these Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) performed with the humans willing to do them.

The service is called Amazon Mechanical Turk, after the fake chess-playing machine constructed in 1770. It was just a real, human chess master playing from inside a box. Back then, no such artificial computing capabilities existed, mechanical or otherwise. Like the “machine,” Amazon Mechanical Turk involves humans doing the work, even if the task seems suited for computers.

A company with a large catalog might want to find and eliminate duplicate listings, but the items’ pictures and descriptions might be a little different, making computers unqualified for the job. “Turkers” may also fill out surveys for marketing information, social science research, or really anything the task creator wants to ask a large number of people. Audio and video transcriptions are common, too.

Submissions are judged by having multiple people perform the same task. If their submissions are the same or very similar, the task requester can assume that they are really working on the task and not just filling in random text to complete tasks.

Below is an example of a HIT that asks people to pull information from pictures of receipts. If three people perform this HIT, and two of the responses for the business address city are “Lincoln Park,” but one of the responses is “a;sldkfj,” the first two would be paid and not the third. Having more than one submission per HIT is more costly, but the task requesters get more accurate responses this way.


Today, there are more than 500,000 workers and around 200,000 HITs listed. Most tasks will earn the worker just a few cents, but some workers have been able to make a living from the service. As a member satisfactorily completes the simpler but lower-paying HITs, they are granted access to the higher-paying ones. A dedicated few make thousands of dollars a month by working full time. Others make a few extra hundred dollars a month by doing HITs after their regular job.

A recent study found that almost half of the MTurk workers performed tasks while at their primary job: “For example, a cab driver at the airport may answer survey questions while waiting for a fare. A teacher or office worker could MTurk during lunch break.”

Many enjoy doing the tasks as a form of relaxation and social engagement. Although the tasks seem incredibly boring to me, some find it an escape from boredom. Through turker-only forums, they have built a large, thriving community. They direct their fellow turkers to fun and high-paying HITs and help them steer clear of tasks posted by those who might fraudulently withhold payment for a completed task. Hayek would be impressed.

Minimum-Wage Activists Strike Again

The most common hourly rate for working on HITs is about $1. As such, minimum wage proponents have railed against Amazon Mechanical Turk, calling it modern day slavery. They see people having fun and voluntarily exchanging pennies for simple tasks and want it abolished. Bored people should just stay bored.

What would they say is an appropriate price for asking somebody to select what color a shirt is in a picture? How much should they charge for filling out their age, sex, and favorite ice cream flavor in a survey?

The correct answer, of course, is whatever the two parties agree on. Workers can scroll through hundreds of thousands of HITs and decide for themselves which ones are worth the payment, which is listed with each HIT. If something looks too long and complicated for the advertised payment, they can simply pass on it. The workers have complete control over which tasks they perform, what hours they work, and, of course, whether they are signed up to be an Amazon Mechanical Turk worker at all!

In the early days of Amazon Mechanical Turk, Salon ran an article on it that read like an exposé of a cult or a crime ring. They found a man who does HITs for fun and made him out to be an unknowing slave to evil corporate interests:

Curtis Taylor, 50, a corporate trainer in Clarksville, Ind., who has earned more than $345 on, doesn’t even think of turking as work. To him, it’s a way to kill time. “I’m not in it to make money, I’m in it to goof off,” he says. Taylor travels a lot for business and finds himself sitting around in hotel rooms at night. He doesn’t like to watch TV much, and says that turking beats playing free online poker. To him, it’s “mad money,” which he blows buying gifts on Amazon, like Bill Bennett’s “America, the Last Best Hope,” for his son, a junior in high school. “If I ever stop being entertained, I’ll stop doing it,” he says. “I’ll just quit.”

Yet what’s a happy diversion for Taylor is serious business for the companies on Amazon Mechanical Turk.

It turns out that there is a market for bored people. Prices emerge to pull them out of their boredom by working on simple tasks.

There are other ways people with extra time on their hands can provide labor services for low or even no pay. Certainly minimum wage proponents wouldn’t condemn volunteering for charities like homeless shelters, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, disease awareness/cure campaigns, etc. Yet, what non-arbitrary feature distinguishes this sort of work from other lines of work that might offer a wage lower than any proposed minimum wage?

Not All Value Is Expressed in Dollars

In all voluntary arrangements, both the worker and the employer agree to a mutually beneficial wage, which sometimes means $0/hour. Even if nothing tangible is trading hands, it doesn’t mean that volunteers get nothing out of their work. Their “payment” is knowing they did something nice for free. It’s not really a wage or a payment in the economic sense, though, because the employer doesn’t lose this good feeling, like they would forgo money wages for paid work. In fact, volunteering labor like this is more appropriately considered a gift, not an exchange of labor for a wage.

When individuals make a choice, they aren’t just exchanging goods for goods or services for money, but they are making choices over alternative states of the world.

A potential volunteer isn’t weighing $0 against time working for some charity; they are weighing all the consequences of helping a charity versus not helping, including the subjective feelings they have for the cause and the knowledge that they had a hand in its well-meaning goals.

Likewise, a turker only agrees to a $0.01 HIT if the task looks easy or fun enough. They weigh the prospect of doing the task and receiving one penny versus missing out on the fun and not receiving the penny. Again, “fun” is also subjective. Most of the tasks look downright boring to me.

Whether a job requires intense effort and a specialized skill or just having a human brain, market prices are the only way to match people who want to do the job with the people who want the job done. Even $0/hour is sometimes voluntarily chosen by a worker who simply wants to help a certain cause. Mandated minimum wages eliminate these kinds of peaceful and productive arrangements, leaving both parties unsatisfied and society worse off.

This commentary originally appeared at and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license

Why I Am An Anarcho-Capitalist

A great many people – more than ever, probably – describe themselves as supporters of the free market today, in spite of the unrelenting propaganda against it. And that’s great. Those statements of support, however, are followed by the inevitable but: but we need government to provide physical security and dispute resolution, the most critical services of all.

Almost without a thought, people who otherwise support the market want to assign to government the production of the most important goods and services. Many favor a government or government-delegated monopoly on the production of money, and all support a government monopoly on the production of law and protection services.

This isn’t to say these folks are stupid or doltish. Nearly all of us passed through a limited-government – or “minarchist” – period, and it simply never occurred to us to examine our premises closely.

To begin with, a few basic economic principles ought to give us pause before we assume government activity is advisable:

  • Monopolies (of which government itself is a prime example) lead to higher prices and poorer service over time.
  • The free market’s price system is constantly directing resources into such a pattern that the desires of the consumers are served in a least-cost way in terms of opportunities foregone.
  • Government, by contrast, cannot be “run like a business,” as Ludwig von Mises explained in Bureaucracy. Without the profit-and-loss test, by which society ratifies allocation decisions, a government agency has no idea what to produce, in what quantities, in what location, using what methods. Their every decision is arbitrary, in a way directly analogous to the problem facing the socialist planning board (as Mises also discussed, this time in his famous essay “Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth”).

In other words, when it comes to government provision of anything, we have good reason to expect poor quality, high prices, and arbitrary and wasteful resource allocation.

There are plenty of other reasons that the market, the arena of voluntary interactions between individuals, deserves the benefit of the doubt over the state, and why we ought not assume the state is indispensable without first seriously investigating to what degree human ingenuity and the economic harmonies of the market can get by without it. For instance:

  • The state acquires its revenue by aggressing against peaceful individuals.
  • The state encourages the public to believe there are two sets of moral rules: one set that we learn as children, involving the abstention from violence and theft, and another set that applies only to government, which alone may aggress against peaceful individuals in all kinds of ways.
  • The educational system, which governments invariably come to dominate, encourages the people to consider the state’s predation morally legitimate, and the world of voluntary exchange morally suspect.
  • The government sector is dominated by concentrated interests that ( I don’t think “interests” would be taken as meaning people) lobby for special benefits at the expense of the general public, while success in the private sector comes only by pleasing the general public.
  • The desire to please organized pressure groups nearly always outweighs the desire to please people who would like to see government spending reduced (and most of those people, it turns out, want it reduced only marginally anyway).
  • In the United States, the government judiciary has been churning out preposterous decisions, with little to no connection to “original intent,” for more than two centuries.
  • Governments teach their subjects to wave flags and sing songs in their honor, thereby contributing to the idea that resisting its expropriations and enormities is treason.

This list could go on indefinitely.

It’s understandable, to be sure, that people may not understand how law, which they assume must be provided in top-down fashion, could emerge absent the state, although there is plenty of good historical work demonstrating precisely this. But if government had historically monopolized the production of any good or service, we would hear panicked objections to the privatization of that good or service. Had government monopolized light bulb production, for example, we’d be told that the private sector couldn’t possibly produce light bulbs. The private sector won’t produce the size or wattage people want, critics would insist. The private sector won’t produce specialty bulbs with only a limited market, since there would be little profit in that. The private sector will produce dangerous, exploding bulbs. And so on.

Since we have lived with private light bulbs all along, these objections seem laughable to us. No one would want any of the scenarios these hypothetical critics warn about, so the private sector obviously wouldn’t produce them.

The fact is, competing sources of law have been far from uncommon in the history of Western civilization. When the king began to monopolize the legal function, he did so not out of some abstract desire to establish order, which already existed, but because he collected fees whenever cases were heard in the royal courts. Naïve public-interest theories of government, which no sensible person believes in any other context, do not suddenly become persuasive here.

Murray N. Rothbard was fond of citing Franz Oppenheimer, who identified two ways of acquiring wealth. The economic means to wealth involves enriching oneself by voluntary exchange: creating some good or service for which other people willingly pay. The political means, said Oppenheimer, involves “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.”

How do we in the Rothbardian camp view the state? Not as the indispensable provider of law and order, or security, or other so-called “public goods.” (The whole theory of public goods is shot through with fallacies anyway.) The state, rather, is a parasitic institution that lives off the wealth of its subjects, concealing its anti-social, predatory nature beneath a public-interest veneer. It is, as Oppenheimer said, the organization of the political means to wealth. “The State,” wrote Rothbard,

is that organization in society which attempts to maintain a monopoly of the use of force and violence in a given territorial area; in particular, it is the only organization in society that obtains its revenue not by voluntary contribution or payment for services rendered but by coercion. While other individuals or institutions obtain their income by production of goods and services and by the peaceful and voluntary sale of these goods and services to others, the State obtains its revenue by the use of compulsion; that is, by the use and the threat of the jailhouse and the bayonet. Having used force and violence to obtain itsrevenue, the State generally goes on to regulate and dictate the other actions of its individual subjects…. The State provides a legal, orderly, systematic channel for the predation of private property; it renders certain, secure, and relatively “peaceful” the lifeline of the parasitic caste in society. Since production must always precede predation, the free market is anterior to the State. The State has never been created by a “social contract”; it has always been born in conquest and exploitation.

Now if this description of the state is true, and I think we have good reason to believe it is, is merely limiting it possible or even desirable? Before dismissing the possibility outright, ought we at least to consider whether we might be able to live without it altogether? Might the free market, the arena of voluntary cooperation, really be the great engine of civilization we otherwise know it to be?

Let’s get back to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, people say. That would be an improvement, no doubt, but experience has taught us that “limited government” is an unstable equilibrium. Governments have no interest in staying limited, when they can expand their power and wealth by instead increasing their power.

The next time you find yourself insisting that we need to keep government limited, ask yourself why it never, ever stays that way. Might you be chasing a unicorn?

What about “the people”? Can’t they be trusted to keep government limited? The answer to that question is all around you.

Unlike minarchism, anarcho-capitalism makes no unreasonable expectations of the public. The minarchist has to figure out how to persuade the public that even though the state has the raw power to redistribute wealth and fund cute projects everyone likes, it really shouldn’t. The minarchist has to explain, one at a time, the problems with each and every conceivable state intervention, while in the meantime the intellectual class, the universities, the media, and the political class combine against him to convey the very opposite message.

Instead of requiring the fruitless task of teaching everyone what’s wrong with farm subsidies, what’s wrong with Federal Reserve bailouts, what’s wrong with the military-industrial complex, what’s wrong with price controls – in other words, instead of trying to teach all Americans the equivalent of three graduate courses in economics, history, and political philosophy – the anarcho-capitalist society demands of the public only that it acknowledge the basic moral ideas common to just about everyone: do not harm innocent people, and do not steal. Everything we believe follows from these simple principles.

There is a huge literature dealing with the most frequent and obvious objections – e.g., Wouldn’t society descend into violent strife as armed bands fought for turf? How would disputes be resolved if my neighbor chose one arbitrator and I chose another? A short essay can’t answer all objections, so I refer you to LRC’s anarcho-capitalism bibliography, assembled by Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

There’s a joke that’s been going around over the past few years: what’s the difference between a minarchist and an anarchist? Answer: six months.

If you value principle, consistency, and justice, and oppose violence, parasitism, and monopoly, it may not take you even that long. Start reading, and see where these ideas take you.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], former editorial assistant to Ludwig von Mises and congressional chief of staff to Ron Paul, is founder and chairman of the Mises Institute, executor for the estate of Murray N. Rothbard, and editor of His most recent book is Against the State: an Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

This commentary originally appeared at and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

When You’re Popular, You Don’t Need Freedom Of Speech

Free speech is not something that people would normally see as a realm of economics, but in many ways, an economic understanding of the support and opposition to free speech can shed a lot of light on what’s happening now in the West.

The first thing that needs to be noted is that the left is winning the culture war. Even though more people identify as “conservative” than “liberal” in the United States, more people now identify as “liberal” than in the past by a substantial margin. Attitudes toward gay marriage shifted extremely quickly toward the left while support for legal abortion stayed mostly steady. And obviously, the media, academia, and Hollywood are far to the left as a study by the non-partisan political analytics firm Crowdpac found (and as anyone who watches anything other than Fox News can tell after about five minutes).

Now, some of this is certainly good, such as the shifting views on marijuana legalization. Some is troubling, such as the growing popularity of socialism.

Regardless though, the left, having ascended to cultural dominance, is no longer in need of free speech. After all, no one ever got in trouble for agreeing with the conventional wisdom. As Noam Chomsky said, “Even Goebbels was in favor of free speech he liked.”

On the other hand, the right is behind the eight ball in the culture wars and thereby supports the concept of free speech because they need it lest their very opinions be outlawed. In an economic sense, this could be called the “diminishing marginal utility of free speech.”

The law of diminishing marginal utility states that while keeping consumption of other products constant, there is decline in marginal utility that a person derives from consuming an additional unit of that product. In this case, the product is free speech. New leftists may have proposed unfettered free speech back in the early 1960s, but that was just because the right was the one in power culturally at the time. Free speech had a high utility to the left at the time and low utility to the right.

Now, the situation has reversed. The right is at the disadvantage, so it appeals to free speech. The left is ahead and no longer needs free speech, so it has discarded it.

If that statement sounds hyperbolic, just think of all of the campus speech codes and the ever expanding list of mostly trivial microagressions that can be taken for “hate speech.” Here is just a small sampling of examples to illustrate how absurd this has become:

  • Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla after a massive backlash for having opposed gay marriage.
  • A candidate in the European elections was arrested in Britain for quoting a passage from Winston Churchill about Islam.
  • Gert Wilders, a politician in the Netherlands, was tried on five counts including “criminally insulting Muslims because of their religion.”
  • Conservative radio host Michael Savage was banned from the airwaves in Britain.
  • Both Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant were dragged in front of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on charges of being “Islamophobic.”
  • A man was fired because someone eavesdropped on his joke about dongles and caused a fuss about it on social media.
  • A group called Color of Change applied enough pressure to get Patrick Buchanan fired from MSNBC for expressing politically incorrect opinions in his book Suicide of a Superpower.
  • The “Pickup Artist” Julien Blanc was barred from entering Britain for making sexist comments.
  • A student at Purdue University was found guilty of “racial harassment” for reading (yes, reading) a book called Notre Dame Vs the Klan, in which — it should be noted — the Klan is the bad guy.

Indeed, the list goes on endlessly, and is perhaps best summed up by the almost unconscionable lack of self-awareness required by University of Manchester feminists who recently censored the anti-feminist columnist Milo Yiannopoulos from participating in a debate on — you guessed it — censorship.

Of course, much of this is just social pressure or the decisions of private institutions, which is permissible (albeit not condoned) under a libertarian framework. But much of it does involve outright government force, or the longing to use it. For example, Adam Weinstein wants to literally “Arrest Climate-Change Deniers.”

Indeed, while many believe that the youth of today are the most politically tolerant in history, they are actually the least. As April Kelly-Woessner notes, “political tolerance is generally defined as the willingness to extend civil liberties and basic democratic rights to members of unpopular groups.” Which groups are unpopular, is not the question being asked.

So, for example, someone who believes that a man should be able to marry his pet goat is not necessarily politically tolerant. What would make him tolerant in this sense is whether he is willing to recognize the rights (particularly regarding speech) of those who disagree with him and his marital proclivities.

In this respect, political tolerance has declined substantially. For the first time since it was measured, the political tolerance of young people has fallen below that of their parents and as Kelly-Woessner again notes, “… is correlated with a ‘social justice’ orientation,” at least for those under forty.

Indeed, the inability to tolerate political views that run counter to one’s own, particularly on the left, has become so ridiculous to be comical. Just take, for example, Judith Shulevtiz’s description of the “safe space” set up at Brown University because of a debate between the feminist Jessica Valentia and Wendy McElroy where McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture.”

The safe space … was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.

Well, at least they actually let the debate happen.

But the left has not always had a monopoly on anti-free speech thought and legislation. Nor does the right seem to be opposed to it when it can push such things through today. Helen Thomas was fired from the White House Press Corps for saying “The Jews should get the Hell out of Palestine.” Shirley Sherrod was fired for allegedly anti-white statements, a Kansas woman was fired for a fifty-word Facebook post that was considered anti-American-soldier, and the right went into a fervor over Jeremiah Wright’s “chickens coming home to roost” comment.

Whereas liberals want to ban words such as “slut” and, at least in Sheryl Sandberg’s case, “bossy” too, conservatives used to all but ban those “seven words you couldn’t say.”

When the right had more cultural authority, alleged communists were being dragged in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Civil Rights activists were harassed, and the Motion Picture Production Code banned Hollywood directors from showing things such as miscegenation.

But that was then, and this is now. As the pendulum of cultural prominence swung from one side to the other, the left and right swapped their support for free speech.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to draw a false equivalence here and say the right would be just as bad as the left if they were winning the culture wars. Much of the ideology on the left, at least the far left, is derived from the likes of Herbert Marcuse and other cultural Marxists who explicitly wanted to limit the free speech of “oppressor classes.”

Discerning what exactly free speech is can sometimes be challenging, as in cases of libel, slander, and direct threats. But these are really not the issues at heart here. The vast majority of speech being “regulated” today is simply that of an unpopular opinion. Yes, many ideas are bad. And they should be refuted. Moreover, resorting to the use of political force to silence adversaries is a sign of the weakness of one’s own position. But, in using force to silence others, anti-speech crusaders are making another argument. They’re arguing that political force can and should be used to silence people we don’t like. What idea could be worse than that?

This commentary originally appeared at and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

October’s Jobs Report Shattered Expectations- But There’s A BIG Fact Obama Wants Hidden

The unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent in October, which is the lowest it has been since prior to the Great Recession. However, as encouraging as this number is, it does not take into account the Labor Participation rate, which remained at its lowest level since 1977.

The Labor Department reported that a healthy 271,000 jobs were added during October, up from 142,000 gained during September, when the unemployment rate stood at 5.1 percent.

The Business Insider reports that average hourly earnings also grew at 2.5 percent between Oct. 2014 and Oct. 2015, which is the highest growth rate seen since before the Great Recession.

Image Credit: New York Times

Image Credit: New York Times

“[T]he unemployment rate is close to what would normally be considered the threshold for full employment by the Fed and many private economists. However, the so-called slack that built up in the labor market after the recession has altered traditional calculations of how far unemployment can fall before the job market tightens and the risk of inflation rises,” according to the New York Times. 

CNBC notes that many economists like to look to the U-6 rate, which takes into account part-time workers who would like to be working full-time. October’s U-6 rate was 9.8 percent, which is a drop of 2 tenths from September.

Another figure that is of great concern when looking at the current unemployment rate is the low labor participation rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that rate remained unchanged in October at a stubborn 62.4 percent. That figure is approximately 4 percentage points lower than prior to the Great Recession. It translates to a record approximately 95,000 million Americans remaining outside the labor force.

The last time the nation experiences such a low labor participation rate was 1977, during the “malaise” days of the Carter economy.

Image Credit: Business Insider

Image Credit: Business Insider

h/t: Business Insider

Obama Just Revealed Something Huge, And Democrats Are Furious With Him About It

Democrats are reading dark news between the lines of Obama’s Pacific Rim trade deal, now that the long-secret agreement has finally been made public.

The vast volumes of the Trans Pacific Partnership deal were made public Thursday. The agreement covers trade among the U.S., Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, Canada, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia. President Obama has said he will sign the agreement, which will go to Congress next year for an up-or-down ratification vote.

The United Steel Workers Thursday called the agreement “a dagger twisting in the heart of American manufacturing.”

“The American people deserve better and we can do better,” said Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md. Edwards. She said that serious concerns had been raised during the years of secrecy shrouding negotiations.

“It may indeed be worse than we thought,” she said. Edwards said the agreement falls short in ways that include, “a lack of enforceable workers’ and human rights protections, environmental standards, enforceable currency manipulation rules, food safety standards, strong government procurement Buy American provisions, and enforcement to ensure American wages are protected.”

Edwards promised to work to reject the agreement when it comes before Congress next year.

The impact of the deal on the auto industry concerned Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

“The agreement’s lack of any meaningful protections against currency manipulation means millions of American jobs – in the auto industry and many other sectors – will continue to be threatened by foreign governments who attempt to tilt the global playing field in favor of their industries and against the United States,” said Dingell, who noted America has already lost 5 million jobs due to foreign nations’ currency manipulation schemes.

Dingell said the deal threatens American jobs.

“It…will reward countries that support sweatshops and abusive working conditions, at the same time putting even more American jobs at risk,” she said.

h/t: Fox News