How To Be a Slave

I hate being a slave.

One might think: don’t be a jerk. You weren’t in chains in the 1800s. That was real slavery.

OK, I hate arguing. Go away.

But let’s take a look at the average person.

The average person works at a job. Fine, you might say, a job is a lot different from slavery: I can take a water break for instance. And sometimes go to the bathroom. And when I talk to people the same sex as me there aren’t even any rules governing what I can say.

Great. I agree.

But let’s just take a look at your income and your behavior.

Sure, you might say, I realize I don’t get all of my income. About 40% goes to taxes.

And there you would be wrong.

Your true salary is the value you create for the place you work.

Some percentage of it goes to your boss. He has to get paid also you know. Who do you think pays him? You do.

Some percentage of your salary goes to his boss and however big the hierarchy is. I know this, having been a boss, having run a company, and having been an employee.

Some percentage of your “salary” goes to the shareholders of the company before you even see it.

And some percentage goes to the vendors of the company. Like the insurance “benefits” your company gives you that you most likely will never need (if you were likely to need them, then the benefits would be higher, until you no longer need that much. That’s how insurance works).

And some percentage goes to employees that don’t pull their weight. The 80/20 rule applies where approximately 80% don’t pull their weight so any money left over from your efforts has to be used to pay them. You pay them.

Finally, you have to pay for your cubicle, your office supplies, the computer on your desk, your phone, etc. If you created no extra money to pay for these things then they wouldn’t exist. So this comes directly out of your salary.

I call all of the above your “Above The Line” salary. Try to figure out what your Above The Line salary is.

You can say, “my company gives me the opportunity to make this above the line salary”. That’s fine. But they take quite a bit. It’s probably four or five times higher than your “Below The Line” salary. There’s better ways to get your “Above the Line” salary so you personally benefit from it. Most companies are very wasteful and you pay for that waste directly out of your salary.

Then there’s your Below-the-Line salary.

40% goes to Federal and State taxes. This is already after your services have been taxed at the corporate level, now your being taxed another 40% at the personal level.

Note that only salaried employees pay 40%. Nobody else does.

The richest Americans pay less than 15% on average on gains in their net worth. That’s because salaried employees are slaves and have the least political power.

Another 5-8% goes to taxes on everything you consume. Now we are almost at 50%.

Then, like most Americans, you have a mortgage. Maybe this is another 10-20% of your salary. Your company likes you to own your house because you are less likely to quit (you need the money to pay the mortgage) and you are less likely to move (you’re not mobile).

Then student loans you are paying off. For the first time ever, greater than 50% of the unemployed have college degrees. So it’s pretty scary. You got this degree because (in part) you thought it would get you a job. But it didn’t guarantee anything and now you have to pay for it. Some percentage of your salary is sliced off every month to pay for that degree.

Then some portion of your salary goes towards health, upkeep of your relationships (they always cost money. This is not being cynical. Just reality), your transportation to your job (they force you to pay for the honor of transporting yourself to your slavequarters).

How much goes to you? You wake up before dawn. You travel. You work hard. You come home late. You’re feeling stuck. You’re mildly depressed and may take medication for this. And you have trouble sleeping and digesting.

Shouldn’t you get paid more?

As it stands, between above the line and below the line expenses taken out of your salary, you are probably left with 1/10 of your salary. In other words, you could be making ten times as much money if you started to un-slave yourself.

Then there’s behavior. “I can do whatever I want,” I used to say. In fact, when i was at a job I felt free. I could “sneak out” at 4pm. I could take lots of breaks. Vacations were big.

But did you look at the manual?

There’s a big manual. And sometimes there are workshops to go over the manual.

Like you can’t talk to people of the opposite sex in certain ways. They teach you what are good ways to talk to people of the opposite sex.

You can’t talk to your boss a certain way. Because for all of your slavery, all he has to say is, “you’re fired” and all of that goes away.

You can’t wear what you want. Most office situations have a uniform, either explicit or implicit.

You can’t be friends with who you want. You’re mostly just friends with the people you spend your day with – the other slaves. When they go away you never talk to them again.

You can’t be creative when inspiration hits. “Anything done on equipment owned by the company is intellectual property owned by the company”. Good luck arguing with that one.

You can’t have an office romance even though those are the only women you know. For one thing you might get fired. And all of your emails can be read by human resources. My closest friend when I was at HBO was fired when his office romance went awry and all of his emails were read by his boss.

If you want more money, you have to beg for it. There are entire seminars created just to teach people how to ask for 5% more money at work. People are scared to death to Ask.

And by the time you get home to have real social interactions, you’re tired and bitter and angry at work.

I know I’m doing a little bit of projecting here. This was my personal experience about having a job.

I felt like a slave. I hated it. Maybe a lot of people like it. But I am just doing the math. The Above the Line salary is real and comes straight out of your pocket before you even knew that money was there.

Most people can make 5-10x more by being creative and figuring out how to offer services on their own without the company taking out all of the “Above the Line” expenses. And then there are ways to limit the “Below the Line” expenses.

Money won’t solve all of your problems, but it will solve your money problems. Don’t let them take your money so they can keep you in slavery.

You want to own your time. Own your work. Own the value you create for others. Protect yourself so nobody can fire you. Not be owned by the bank or the government. Not be owned by your relationships. Own your thoughts.

“I can’t just quit my job!” you might say.

And I agree with this. Don’t quit.

So many people read self-help books to help them deal with what they think are the realities of work. Self-help books are often self-hurt books because they try to keep you happy about being enslaved.

For instance, “show compassion to the people who hurt you” many of them say. This might be good advice. But I’d rather show compassion to the people who love me.

Start to be an explorer. We live in a 15 trillion dollar economy. You helped create it. Just like slaves and death and misery helped create the beautiful pyramids.

But 90% of what you create is taken from you.

Start to explore what parts you can take back. Work every day on ideas. List every interest you’ve had since you were a kid. List every business or job that can be started from that interest. Read every day about your interests.

Don’t be angry at the people at work, even your boss. They are all slaves also. You need to break free from them. Don’t indulge your free thoughts on the other slaves with their Rolex shackles.

Study the lives of people who aren’t slaves. What did they do? Study the people online who seem to have broke free. What are they doing? Keep working on the idea muscle I discuss in my book.

I did this. And in six months my life changed completely. Sometimes for the worse. Much worse. I didn’t know what I was doing and sometimes I ended up on the floor, depressed and suicidal.

Sometimes freedom is very scary. It’s outside of the jail cell (“comfort zone”) you created for yourself.

But every six months since then my life has changed completely. My life is completely different than it was even six months ago.

Sixteen years ago I had a boss yell at me. He’s a good guy and has since broken free himself. But one time he yelled at me and I couldn’t yell back or I would risk being fired. I felt like crying. Actually, I did cry.

So I went to the library on 41st Street and 5th Avenue. I found a science fiction book I read once before as a kid. It had that cellophane wrapping and a library card in it. And it had that smell when you open the pages.

I went three or four levels down, to my private bathroom in the library. My sanctum sanctorum.

And I sat there and I read about a man who lived forever and was happy. And the world disappeared and for a brief moment I was no longer a slave.

From that moment on I plotted my escape. And every day since, I figure out new ways to escape, new ways to be free. New ways to own my world.

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  • Chris Mack

    Love it. Agree completely. The above the line thing though – not that. The above the line argument assumes the employee is directly responsible for their share of company revenues. But they’re not. Companies have brands, processes, IP, products and systems in place – much of it usually from before the employee ever even got there, and at least part of the revenue comes from those, so you couldn’t even divide total revenue by # of front-line workers to come up with the number. The employee actually got the benefits of years of those things simply by becoming an employee. That’s actually the biggest difference between working for yourself and being an employee – you have to create ALL of that. Explicitly or implicitly. And that generally takes a lot of time, luck/skill, and hard work. That’s why most small businesses fail.

    Escape anyways though, cause everything else is spot on. I’d rather challenge myself and not feel ‘safe’ then feel that slow death feeling that comes with corporate life.

    • foljs

      “””Love it. Agree completely. The above the line thing though – not that. The above the line argument assumes the employee is directly responsible for their share of company revenues. But they’re not. Companies have brands, processes, IP, products and systems in place – much of it usually from before the employee ever even got there, and at least part of the revenue comes from those, so you couldn’t even divide total revenue by # of front-line workers to come up with the number. “””

      Doesn’t matter that much. The only thing this means is that you cannot just divide revenue by current employees to get your “salary”.

      Still, the value (brands, IP, etc) you mention was all developed by underpaid employees in the company’s past too (as part of their unpaid or “above the line” salary). And if current employees somehow ceazed to exist, a lot of the company’s value would tank — including products (you cannot sell a product as much if you don’t sell the team that created it too — that’s true for all the more involved products, like software, devices, etc).

      Lastly, some of the extra value you mention, like IP is protected artificially in a non-free market way, anyway (plus, most of it was also developed by mere employees, that only got their plain salary as compensation for the millions their IP idea created).

      The idea of the “above the line” salary is mostly the old idea (that predates Marx but was developed further by him) of surplus-value.

    • Gary

      James, I get your point about breaking free from the things that enslave you, but I have to agree your salary “equation” makes some erroneous assumptions. Tune that up a bit and your post will be better for it.

    • andrewi

      Brands and other intangibles have as much value as what you ‘do’ with them. Guess who’s doing the ‘doing’.

      Yep, the employees.

      Brand is just reputation. You get reputation from doing a good job. That’s why all the brand of old and many new are just people’s names. Because they created that reputation.

  • Eugene Salganik

    Brilliant! Simply brilliant!

  • Andy

    I’m facing this conflict right now. I’m 21 years old and graduating with a BS in Economics this December and feel that I’m being forced into a slave-job to take care of my (thankfully) comparatively low student loan debt. I’ve somehow managed to save some money (very little). I want to be free. Are temporary chains worth it to pay off my debt?

    • Debbi

      For some, I say ‘yes’. For others, those that question, such as yourself, I say ‘perhaps not’. You’ll find out what is best for you. However, I have found it is usually best to pay off your debts, especially at your age, and it’s only kind since you did borrow from someone. The interest rises fast.

      And what makes you believe your ‘slave-job’ won’t be beneficial? Are you that closed minded that you won’t learn anything, from any one person or any one project that you do? Your awareness of the temporal chapter should strengthen your resolve for whatever else you have in mind.

      BTW, ‘freedom’ can be a chain, as in an existential crisis. Have as much fun as possible. Exerting free will is fun.

    • Sam

      Based on my experience, working for someone else for a while could be helpful. You get the benefit of seeing how things are done – for better or worse. You also have the chance to network with people who could become invaluable later when you’re ready to strike out on your own. You also have the chance to save up some money for when you do go it alone.

      As you’re working for someone else, just keep focusing on what it is that you intend to do do so that you can really excel at it once you do it.

      • Andrea

        Use their brand to build your brand. Until you are an expert, you’ll be the guy from “companyX”. Choose wisely!

    • Dave

      Do both get a job and start a business its the best low risk way to get started. I finished Uni a few years ago now as soon as I finished I kept my corporate job and started my own business at the same time.
      It was really hard at first but the two incomes are pretty nice and I’ve now gone part time in my job :).

    • andrewi

      If you’re from the UK, remember you do not have to repay that debt until you are earning over 21k. I would start a business now if I were you.

  • D

    Great article! Were you reading Enders Game by any chance?

  • Johnny J

    Sometimes I start to feel tired, burnt out and weak, then I read one of your articles and I’m rejuvenated. James, your blog keeps my head above water, when I feel I’m drowning. You are an inspiration, thank you for everything!

  • Freedom is scary – because then you have to write your own rules. And since you’ve been following the rules others have made, you wonder if you have the ability to create those rules.

    Yikes, James. your writing hits me right in the gut (in a good way!).

  • Niustein

    I like your article but it really does need some context. Should people start a company at age 18? For the majority of people, no. Should people go into debt to get a college degree? Again, for the majority of people, the answer is still no.

    You can cherry pick the ideal progression of how someone would go from high school graduate to wheeling and dealing businesses, but you have to weigh all the outcomes with the probability of achieving it.
    – Will that 18 year old’s business work? Probably not.
    – If it fails (the most likely outcome), will his family have the financial means to deal with the aftermath? For most, no.

    Now, if they come from a family where they can take shot after unsuccessful shot, then yes… eventually they will find traction and success.

    But that, in a nutshell, is the upside of being a ‘slave.’ You get to make mistakes on someone else’s dime. You get to try different fields with minimal financial penalty… what’s the difference in transaction cost between exiting a job you hate and exiting a business you own that you hate?

    In my opinion, everyone should be a slave. For a bit. See how you do against the other slaves. If you find you’re outperforming them at every turn, then it might be time to break free. If not… well, there’s something to be said about security.

    My personal disclosure: I have worked a variety of fields, from construction to engineering to finance. Most people I have encountered in these positions would be happier as employees than they would ever be as ‘free (wo)men.’

    • andrewi

      What use is a college degree if you don’t intend to be employed? What use is a company if you have no credit rating to take out a loan?

      You have to be smarter than that. Do things off the back of relationships. When I was 16 I loved clothes. I knew the guy who owned my local Hatman (seller of urban clothes in Birmingham, UK) as he worked the till sometimes. We got talking and when I left school I took my savings and burned them all (but I could have done it one by one for a lower margin) on getting custom hoodies printed wholesale with my own design. Buying them at £6 and selling them at £30, but giving 5 to the shop meant I needed to sell 10 a week to make nearly as much as a 40hr a week minimum wage job.

      I ended up losing most of the money that I made on trying to be a promoter (giving back to musician friends who helped promote the hoodies) hosting nights at local clubs, then I moved to London to study at University, but that doesn’t mean opportunity isn’t out there. Just don’t start off by phoning Nike thinking that will get you your first million. Start small and build.

    • I don’t think that the article advocates quitting all jobs in a knee-jerk reaction to being “a slave.”

      I think that this was advocating something that I also think is the wisest course for most people: Consciously creating the world you inhabit and moving past any barrier to doing that.

    • As long as “You get to make mistakes on someone else’s dime…” it’s Ok to try out being a slave

  • worklifereward

    Good for you for onceagain trying to cattle prod us out of our comfort zones by rightly calling usslaves and tallying up the costs of our chains.

Too bad that fear ofending up on the floor “depressed and suicidal” makes so many acceptthose chains. “Freedom is just another word for nothing less to
    lose,” she once said, and yes you do have to bottom out before getting it.
    That’s exactly where your power (and ours) comes from. Time on the floor.

  • R.H. Kanakia

    Really liked this post and agree totally. Figuring out how to reclaim your life and your time is one of the most important things that a person can do.

  • Ben

    Great post JA one of your best yet.

    • Dinko

      I agree, one of the best. I really like “Above The Line” concept

  • Mike Post

    “Sometimes freedom is very scary. It’s outside of the jail cell”

    Ask yourself, would you also be comfortable in a jail cell? After a period of time, it would probably be yes. We are comfortable with what we’re used to.

  • Werbtheherb

    I took a C++ programming class in university. I had already done some advanced programming in my high school years so it was easy stuff to me.
    Some people in class were really struggling. There was this one girl, she didn’t get it.
    After class one day we were at a café.
    She complained: “That class is so damn hard! I don’t understand all these .h and weird things at the top, I just don’t understand…”
    She was trying to describe include statements, compilation and whatnot.
    I quickly replied: “It’s actually pretty easy. It really is. What he was showing is just an IDE and you write code in there…Ummmm it’s just like microsoft word and you create a new word document file…”
    She interrupted me: “I don’t understand anything you’re saying…”
    I genuinely wanted to help her, really believing that it wasn’t that hard and anybody could get it: “I’m telling you it’s easy, it’s just not what you’re used to seeing”
    She got angry at this point: “Well maybe for you! But I don’t get it ok? It’s really complicated to me ok?!”

    I stopped in my tracks, I felt really bad. I was NOT expecting that reaction.

    Maybe she was overly sensitive and had a resistance to be helped. Maybe I came off as a know it all jerk “hey look, look, don’t you see? come on! it’s easy it’s easy!”.

    Who knows. People are weird, so am I. We just are.

  • TaoEconomics

    And watch this video. This helps.

  • I’m working on a cube farm and living the same things you described, right now.

    • Sam

      me too. And by night, I’m working on my goals to break free from them myself

  • Lesley

    No matter how difficult the journey feels at times to carve my own path, I will never return to this slavery. From the first day of my first job out of college, I knew I couldn’t stay in that life. It was so confusing to me. “This is it?” I thought… “People are really okay with this?” I thought maybe I was just being too idealistic, too optimistic… but 7 years later I still feel this way. I wasn’t going to let myself dim my fire and succumb to corporate complacency. I’ve got bigger things to do in the world and now that I’ve had a taste of freedom I am never ever going back!

    • Debbi

      What do you do?

  • This one is good! Thanks for sharing and being very realistic in this post.
    But, one questions to you, if we all stop being this type of slave and have our own business, then who will be working for us? Don’t some of us belong to this space?

  • Ella

    ” And some percentage goes to employees that don’t pull their weight.”

    That made me laugh. I work as a contractor for a global company and there’s a guy sits opposite me. He comes in when he comes in. I walk past his screen, he is looking at pictures of houses. He chats to passers by most of the day. His family call him and he chats to them. Then he leaves early. He probably averages about 1.5 hours of productive work a day. Luckily, I won’t be paying his salary much longer.

  • MrTonyDowling

    Rolex handcuffs… Awesome!

    • peekay

      I am sitting here smiling reading this post, I noticed today for the first time my boss wears a Rolex. From now on I will probably associate that with Rolex handcuffs.

  • Hooty

    JA, you rock! You are closing in on the very problems/attitudes that changed the way our society/country used to work. First, the dependency issue and second the attitude that All Roads lead to Rome! (i.e. this is what you have to do to get what/where you want to be in life!) I had the good fortune to work for a small and fast growing company (limited college). The pay was not excellent but the management made the decision to make the employees partners in the success of the company through a ESOP! That company grew and was competitive – so much to the point that a major corporation bought out their competition at a 5 for one stock split!) The big corporation didin’t value employees in the same manor as the management of the smaller company! But, what was interesting was all the spin-offs that were created as the result of that deal! (I think sometimes it comes down to weighing the good verses bad and keeping open to the possible/probable opportunities!)

  • Martin

    I think this has become the core of your work. I do have a job, but also do my own freelance work and sell children’s books, which keeps me less dependent on the day job. I keep trying to explain why one job is dangerous, but no one seems to be listening. So thank you for articulating it so well.

  • I always felt like a slave in the corporate office environment, but this post nails it more fully than even I could have back in the day. That environment was suffocating, but the (illusion of) security was hypnotic and hard to let go. Sometimes in order to make a change, you have to get really uncomfortable. You have to see that “comfort zone” for what it is, the jail cell you’re rotting in.

  • JoAnn Gandino

    I l love the way you think and I enjoy reading and learning from your life experiences, thanks for sharing!

  • kayvee

    Great post

    Yes….most of us are modern day slaves

    Its hard to break free…do you know why?

    Because ever since we were kids, we were told what to do….our parents, in kindergarten and all through school, we were taught to be obedient little servants

    So its hard to break free and decide what you have to do and when

    Most people cant function without having someone tell them what to do when it comes to their workplace, home, relationship etc

  • Kainat43

    Hello mr upesa

    well done! my problems are gone My woman came back last night, i thought it’s a joke she came to say good bye to me ,then i waited ,suddenly i saw preparing food,bed and hide under blanket, i couldn’t believe any thing i see, i decide to sleep at the gouge to see what happens next ,only see her come and slow her self on me start kissing and then i realize you are the true spiritual man, its now 2 weeks since she came home ,! i appreciate your services, be there for us please. thank you.if you need his help contact email address

  • Ryan Everton

    As always mate – you put up a great yarn. I’m stuck, still conforming and ready to break out yet I have a legal degree and 50000$ debt to pay back ASAP. Where to start? I have chosen myself so to speak yet taking the step of building an idea and finding people in the same mindset is the struggle… I.e James any chance I can shout you a flight to New Zealand for a week or two to challange and learn from your idea mussel?- here’s my college write up here The sexiest thing in the world: 9-5 Giving in, giving up, being secretly trapped. Will you simply empty out? – Mum always said to me “The world is your…

  • ɚɔɐ

    Yeah, I totally agree but it’s more figurative than he even explains it.
    For instance, he encourages you to start a business. But an owner
    depends on employees and doesn’t want them to quit so they cannot be
    talked to any way you feel like. Even a hermit is a slave to his
    environment. I think he needed to be clearer about how it is more a
    personal matter of desire and fulfillment rather than lack of freedom.
    I’d say that not only is there no way of being truly free, there is no
    such thing as true freedom. I prefer to get the freedom I can get or
    more importantly the type of freedom I desire or find fulfilling (there
    are several, including owning businesses).

    His analysis of salary and money is good. The worker is exploited, no
    doubt, and the wealthy have bent the rules way in their favor on top of
    it. He’s a socialist like me but we have to live in this capitalist
    world which is much more about slavery and exploitation than socialism
    or communism is.

    • Hooty

      Hmm, Socialism and Communism are not equalizers like you suggest and the ruling parties political/militarily don’t care about the less fortunate. Those two forms of Government are about controling the population by any means! (i.e. North Korea etc.) Socialism has ruined the Europian countries and has put the integrity/future of the Euro Dollar in Question? Of all the times in History
      for people to suggest that Communism and Socialism are better than Capitalism you might want to look around! (Btw: True capitalism promotes/rewards competition its the Crony Capitalism being practiced today that is the REAL problem!)

    • VoterID4Me

      “He’s a socialist like me but we have to live in this capitalistworld which is much more about slavery and exploitation than socialism
      or communism is.”

      Yep. Socialist worlds can’t exist, since it works only in theory, so by default every socialist has to live in a capitalist world or a failing socialist one… living in a theoretical utopia is sadly not an option for grownups!

      And once you redefine the free exchange of labor for money as “slavery and exploration”… well, who ever stops at a LITTLE intellectual dishonesty :)

  • Petar

    For everyone that feels like a slave: Most of you live in the USA(or another western country), one of the richest countries in the World. Whatever your job is, you can have a normal life. You can work anything, save some money and start a business. If you want to know what suffering is, go to a third world country and get a local job. I’d kill to live in the US right now.

    I am in deep shit in my life at this moment and trying to choose myself. I need to get away from abusive parents and go on my own. If I can find a job as a wait…two jobs as a waiter because with one I won’t survive on my own in this shitty country.

    All I have is 100 euros, no job. I know that there is a way out of this mess, but I can’t see it. The daily routine is not helping. Can’t feel grateful and happy when there is nothing good about my life.

    • DavidDomzalski

      Petar — let me preface this by saying that I have never been to a 3rd world nation in my life. I have no clue what it’s like to be you.

      What I can pass along though is this: in the times in my life when I was truly grateful for what I had, things got better. We all come from different backgrounds, income levels, countries, families, statuses, etc., but saying things like “there is nothing good about my life” will never get you anywhere. Trust me. I struggle with this constantly.

      If you have to get THREE jobs as a waiter, do it. Look for opportunities to go abroad. Can you get a work visa to come to the US and get a job? What education do you have? Can you get a micro loan to start a business?

      Focus on your skills. What problems can you solve in your 3rd world country? What can you offer others to make their lives better first? Do that for enough people and you will have a lot more than 100 euros.

      We can’t control what family we were born into (I have family problems as well), but we can control how we react to it and what we do about it. Again, I realize I have a much different experience from you and we all start at different points on the track. But, focusing on the negative will ensure that you stay there. Look around you and see what you can do to help.

      Hope this helps and best of luck to you.

      • Petar

        In the comment above, I wanted to point out that people in western societies don’t appreciate what they have.

        On the record, It’s not really a third world country, but the reality is different. The unemployment rate is very high, the salaries are very low, and politicians are the law, they control everything. The only people who have money(a normal life) are those who have businesses.

        I am dropping out of college, no money to continue. And banks, they only give loans to people that don’t need money.

        There were some opportunities that I missed because I didn’t have enough money to start. The needs are everywhere. But I started feeling sorry for myself. I stopped looking for problems that can be solved. I’ve hit rock bottom. It’s hard to get out.

        I am aware that feeling sorry and down is destroying me even more.
        That’s the first thing I should focus on. I have to find reasons to be happy even if the circumstances are not.

        Thanks for the advice.

        • Guest

          “The unemployment rate is very high, the salaries are very low, and politicians are the law, they control everything. ”

          sounds like a 3rd world nation to me

          edit: i don’t mean that to sound callous. i mean that to point out that your situation can be partially explained by the failure of the system in which you live. the US is well on its way to suffering this fate with you and your fellow countrymen.

          Best of luck to you!

          • andrewi

            Actually sounds like most of Europe and the USA now. Obviously for the USA it’s on a much reduced percentage but that still leaves many millions in the same spot.

            You have to remember, in a first world country you get more money but essentials are also more expensive. In india you can get 12 loaves of bread for £1, in the UK you can barely buy 1.

          • Ruxandra Biro

            I’m not complaining about my job. Just wanted to point out that in the East Europeans countries we have European prices (just a few cents lower than in Italy or Spain, for example) and African wages. In Romania, where I’m from, you can buy a medium loaf of bread and a half or a big loaf of bread for 1 pound. And my net salary (what I get out of the bank monthly) is about 250 pounds. I work (40 hours a week) as a librarian in a big public library, I have a Bachelor degree in journalism and communication (and my salary is not among the lowest in our library). An Italian friend told me that in Italy my salary for the same job would be about 1,300 euros. So, I understand what Petar is saying. I’m just luckier than he, having been born in a rich family (according to Romanian standards, not to American ones).

          • andrewi

            There is a definite divide between the east and west, and it’s hard for there not to be with Turkey, Syria and the Middle east so close. (The EU would avoid improving borderlands because there would be economic improvement on the other side of the border as a result.) It’ll probably get better when Turkey joins the EU and Syria becomes Israel 2.0

          • Ruxandra Biro

            Well, I don’t think Turkey and the Middle East are our problem but ouselves. When we (Romanians, Bulgarians, etc.) will realize that politicians and all public workers are our employees, not our masters and make them realize that too, we will live much better and get rid of the bureaucracy that keeps the small entrepreneurs poor and gives politicians and big foreign companies all the rights.

            Because of this bureaucracy and a lack of respect for ordinary people, it would be very hard (not absolutely impossible but very, very difficult ) to make a living and build your own business starting from the scratch. I’ve tried to do some business on my own and I had to quit because of the taxes and because I wasted so much time standing in a queue and going from one desk of the Financial Administration to another in order to pay taxes for a revenue I hadn’t even had time to make. It was pure Kafka, believe me!

          • andrewi

            Haha, I think your first paragraph is a universal NATO country identifying trait Nearly every single country is deliberately run as poorly as possible because the actual point of working in govt for many is how much money can slip through the cracks. This is why it’s funny to me that we all support the EU so much. It’s like a multinational company, except it’s come to take over your government’s business.

            The problem many of us don’t see is that it’s not a country to country thing. Don’t get me wrong I have spent time in Poland nearby and seen a stark difference between what you can buy here and in my native UK, but come and live here and you will find the difference in living costs and cultural expectations make the financial gap far less than it looks. The difference between the business owners and the employees is massive here, because the cost of starting even a small business requires a mortgage (incidentally eating your profits and feeding the very men you speak of).

            The people who put this system in place still run it.

        • Michael Lenhardt

          I have been to a third world country and have lived in 1 for many many years. I grew up in Rwanda, for example. The home I lived in is a ruin with weeds and piles of rubble around it as a result of the things that we all know about that happened in Rwanda. I agree with Dave.

          Yes, things like politics, economic situations, etc do make things more difficult for someone, but gratefulness and the ability to think for yourself and create can and will bring you a ton of success.

          The 10 second miracle is when a person realizes, completely, regardless of their present circumstances, that they are ultimately the cause of all their success or failure. It is true that people living in affluent countries do not realize what they have, and it is easier for them… but my experience, now that I live in affluence and in an affluent country, is that I am far far far far more successful than most people living alongside me BECAUSE of what I went through to get where I am today. I am not being egotistical when I say this. I am the best at what I do because of what I’ve done and seen and the difficulties I have risen above.

  • VoterID4Me

    Total whiff on the “above the line” part. Let’s say I make 500 hamburgers per day on my job, the materials cost $1 per hamburger, the hamburgers sell for $2 each, and I make $100 per day. Assume there are no other costs… no stove, refrigerator, rent, etc. By your calculations, my true salary is $1,000 (500 x $2 selling price) or $500 (500 x ($2 selling price – $1 cost of materials)). So $400 of my “salary” is going to others, I should keep it. Problem is, I don’t want 500 hamburgers today. And if I start buying meat and buns, running the cash register, wiping down tables, etc., I’ll be lucky to make 50 hamburgers. And then there is rent, stove, refrigerator, etc.

    You’re advocating a return to the hand-to-mouth existence that man suffered in before the division of labor and specialization were determined. If making hamburgers challenges me to my limits, then making 500 hamburgers per day in someone else’s employee for a salary of $100 is my BEST option, because my little one-man hamburger stand will likely net me next to nothing from the 50 per day I can make, serve, and sell alone with no additional “slaves”.

    “From that moment on I plotted my escape. And every day since, I figure out new ways to escape, new ways to be free. New ways to own my world.” How’s that working out for you?

    • Alex Major

      Start a worker cooperative.

  • Clare

    Can anyone say ‘White privilege’? Poor guy being forced to own a home and earn enough to be in such an absurdly high tax bracket. Real tough life you got there dude. You should probably give this lecture to all the factory workers making your designer suits! Tell them how to be free too. Or maybe give the lecture to the day laborers who pick your farm produce in 100+ degree weather. Or maybe you could teach the meat packers who stand in blood and excrement all day doing the same repetitive motions and sustaining injuries that they don’t have insurance to cover. Or maybe you could just teach all of us who have debt to pay off how to do that without being a “slave.” Creativity is nice and all, but most people are just trying to scrape by – defining yourself by wealth is a privilege of the wealthy.

    • here’s an interesting fact that many on the ‘left’ may overlook, but low income/ no income people actually have MORE discretionary income than the middle/upper middle class. How is this possible? lower standard of living,/upkeep and very generous govt. subsidies (out of the nosebleed taxes strong-armed from middle class). If America was so inhospitable to these immigrants they wouldn’t keep coming. How else do immigrants send $40 billion a year back to Mexico?

      • Hooty

        EI that was a great post – the saddest part of the immigration situation and maybe even the explotation of those people – is that Mexico has the potential to be a great country! Even a sister country to the USA and Canada. But, due to the corruption it remains a 3rd world country! Mexico has the Natural Resources it has the population but rather than develope its Country (take control) it chooses to let someone else determine its destiny! (I often wonder why all those who leave Mexico Central/South America want to risk their lives trying to get to America rather than risk their lives trying to “Save (take back) their own Countries.”

        • andrewi

          Because we are taught to follow and countries in Mexico have no leader. It’s the very point this article was touching on; being your own leader.

    • me

      You haven’t read his writing at all; your comment is nothing but the projection of your own foul, self-aggrandizing rage.

      Sorry about your debt (which appears to be your real concern, white girl), but you didn’t borrow that money at gunpoint. You made the same chump move everyone else did. I guess you found James’ blog too late; you would have been forewarned.

      Get to work on your daily practice & come up with your own ideas. (Unless you’re too good for that.)

      • palmeria

        Excuse me? I’m definitely not a ‘white girl’ yet I hear what Clare is saying. In fact, in James’ anti-home ownership post I call him out on his privileged point of view. I mean, not everyone can simply approach a billion dollar hedge fund dude with a brilliant idea and not get laughed out of his office, let alone be given a chance.
        I don’t have debt, I have a great career and am on my way to wealth and financial independence but it hasn’t been as cookie-cutter nor as simplistic a path and JA has described (but the failure and self-loathing is comparable, hence what drove me to this blog, and helped me get out of a crippling, suicidal depression).

        • me

          He approached dozens before he found one who didn’t ignore him.

          And there is nothing cookie-cutter or simplistic about what James advises. If you want more detail, read Choose Yourself. He will even repay you what you paid for it if you can demonstrate you actually read it.

          And after he helped get you out of a crippling, suicidal depression, you call him out for his privileged point of view?

          While you’re apparently a homeowner netting 6 figures flipping houses?


    • Richard

      Hey, if it doesn’t apply, let it fly. He’s just saying you might be able to find a way to keep more for yourself than the 10%, at some point, if you work a different path. Sure, not everybody can take advantage. But many can. Lighten up.

  • Beautiful essay, man.

  • Kat

    Brilliant. Thank you.

  • danny k

    The real cause of slavery however is our love of money. Realize you don’t need it and you will know freedom. Your heart is always with your treasure. Simply do not accumulate or strive towards treasure and avoid the ‘rolex handcuffs’. Yes, you can survive and be happy with < $1000 a month, and have time to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Admittedly, taking the low income route takes more endurance and bravery than the simple solution to 'get a job'.

    • Tony

      You are right in that we need far less than we think we do – the belief that bigger and better and more will bring us happiness is erroneous. When we have the choice to choose between stuff and freedom, most of us choose stuff. But of course there’s still that little matter of the $1000 a month. You can ram down expenses and live on practically nothing (I have), but you still need food, and energy, and a few personal things. I think your $1000 a month figure is not far off the requirement (it depends a bit) – if you can clear that you probably have enough. It’s how you get that that matters…

  • T Marusak

    Thanks for being so real & shaking up how we think. You seem to be stating that each person needs to start thinking as an independent contractor: taking odd jobs or working 90 hrs/wk for a company is still hiring out one’s talents. Before you can have your own business, you have to learn to think as your own boss. Don’t believe any company owns you. Mindset is the key: if you think your a slave, you won’t believe you have anything to offer but everyone has a lot to offer our world.

  • Powerful post James. My experiences have been very similar to yours so I really resonate with this.

    When I entered the nine to five for the first time, I was shell-shocked by what I saw. People were slaves. They had accepted their bad situation. Complaining was the norm and lack of action was a way of life.

    So at the age of 18 I hatched my own plan to get the hell out. It took awhile, but I’m on the cusp of my second successful business. This post definitely caught some heat, and I’m sure they have some valid points – but I choose to see this post as a wake-up call to the down trodden.

    Great stuff man.

  • Moammed


    The writer Dave Barry has the same literary problems that you do

    You are in good company

  • Robert

    Well written and 100% correct. Although I agree with you since I am a freelancer myself, many people are still very comfortable living in a routine in their own cell and not having to bother about the rest.

  • Alex

    Hey James,

    I’ve been enjoying your site and books for a little less than a year now.

    I just added your site to one of my main pages, Kick-Ass Sites:

    Keep up the good work!

  • Christos Jonathan Hayward

    Hmm. This has given me serious pause about working for myself. It paints a maximal picture of what an employee contributes and a minimal picture of what an employee gives, and perpetuates what has been called the “e-myth,” that the only real value a boss delivers to an employee is a paycheck.

    Going into business successfully means to some extent being your own CEO, media relations, sales force, janitor, etc., above and beyond the extent to which you contribute some specialty. It demands that you be able to function as a single-celled organism.

    There are some people who thrive as single-celled organisms, but not nearly the whole population.

    I would probably take, if we consider only one issue, the (demonstrated) below-the-line salary I received in a regular job above the (demonstrated) above-the-line money that I can make as a single-celled organism with more than one stream of income. I don’t care if the above-the-line value I give an employer is twice what I am paid, or ten times, or a million, if I’m paid a good information technology salary. The “slaves” are paid better than most “free” in your picture, and you never voice indignation that someone working as a single-celled organism usually earns far less than oppressed “slaves” do.

    You paint the picture of enjoying a regular job as an illusion that one is better to have shattered. I can’t say any of my jobs have been perfect, but one thing they give me has been working for something bigger than myself. One of the elements of happiness is to serve others in some capacity, and the presence of that feature in a regular job is good, not bad. In some sense the conditions of maturity, and stepping outside of oneself, are called for in a regular job.

    A regular job invites one to leave the Hell of self, which you seem to close by saying you have broken out into. The fact that you view it as an acceptable cost of avoiding “slavery” to be depressed and suicidal alarms me. Being suicidal is not an experience that people always survive, and I would rather die a figurative slave, or for that matter a literal slave, than die of suicide, such as you put yourself in danger of.

    I think in my own situation the case for my functioning as a single-celled organism, of being “free”, has to do with factors unique to my situation, or relatively so, and have very little to do with regarding an office job as virtual slavery, which I don’t.

    I pray for you.

    CJS Hayward

  • James

    People in this civilization are slaves to “money”.
    Watch the movie “They Live” from the 1980’s.
    Put on your sunglasses and look at the federal reserve note “your god”.
    Small planet, big universe, lots of bull shit on the earthly plane.
    Peace Love and Kindness = Wealth.

  • Destination Infinity

    Some people genuinely believe that they can set-up a business empire on the sides (working on weekends, after office-hours, etc.), while enjoying the monthly ‘income security’ provided by their jobs. LOL :)

  • ferdo

    “Full time worker is a part time slave”.
    Also, “your” != “you are”.

  • Richard

    Like the insurance “benefits” your company gives you that you most likely will never need (if you were likely to need them, then the benefits would be higher, until you no longer need that much. That’s how insurance works).


    • Megastar

      Every insurance premium you pay without filing a claim is pure profit. After you file a claim, premiumTotal – claimsPaid = profit. If your claimsPaid increases, your premiumTotal must also increase, to maintain the profit.

  • piyush

    reading that after a 10 hour work day depressed me even more…thanks!

  • Ed Mills

    At age 48 I finally earned my freedom from work. Freedom can be a little scary at first. Your mortgage comment got me thinking…companies and the gubment love worker drones workin’ away to pay mortgages. It provides the companies with indentured drones and the gov. with taxpayers. It’s win-win for them and a losing proposition for the worker IF he does not under consume, over save and over invest. Also, loved the “Rolex shackles” comment. Nice things certainly do come at a cost, often a much greater cost in time, energy and health than realized.

    Ed at

  • oksana

    To break free from “slavery” it to find what you love to do. And do it!!
    At some point when reading this article, it sounded like you are going to offer to join another “make money from your home” scheme… There are too many of those out there that start like that and then ask for money in exchange for the “secret of success”.. The secret is in the first line of this comment. free.

  • Scott Banister

    Good points, but “The richest Americans pay less than 15% on average on gains” is misleading. I assume you are referring to the corporate shareholders, who are also paying corporate taxes — the combined effect is often more than salary taxes. And for non-corporate passthrough businesses, the profits are taxed the same as salaries.

  • Just read this and like it. I do agree with some of the other comments about how you might want to rework the salary analysis.

    The reason you get so little of the value you create as a salaried employee is that you’re trading safety for income and so many other people are doing it that capitalism is screaming out stop that and all too many of us are not listening.

    The stockholders get paid last, but they get all the rest. If there were more people who bought stocks, individually they wouldn’t be getting such a good deal. There’s a shortage there. The bondholders are just ahead of the stockholders. The vendors, the independent contractors, they’re getting paid ahead of both the stockholders and bondholders and for that improved position in line, they get paid less. And right at the front of the line is you, Mr. salaried employee. For that front position in the line of people who need to get paid, regular as clockwork, for that inclusion on the list of people who are on ‘payroll’, you get absolutely the worst financial results out of the whole transaction. This happens because Mr. and Mrs salaried employee make up so much of the company that they have no bargaining power and can be replaced by many other people who are willing to take the same deal or worse just to get to the front of the line.

    Understand the deal, understand what you get out of it, and you can get whether or not this is a good deal for you. For a great many people it’s a bad deal and so they’re miserable while they live their lives under the terms of it. If the deal’s making you miserable, end it and negotiate a better deal. That involves tradeoffs, mostly money for risk.

  • Fred VanAller

    Was the book “Time enough for love” by RAH?

  • Fred VanAller

    The story of your enslavement.

  • Guy_From_Cuba

    Me wanna be USA slave, please help!

  • barriowolf

    I have hit my threshold. This post just gets you thinking. Now to channel that thinking and work on developing my “idea” muscle.

  • Shuchi

    Amazingly said! Those all big corporate giants make u work like an ass and you don’t realize that when u become slave. They own u, use u, fire u, screw u and mind it they ofcourse don’t love u (again that’s a trap to make u slave). It takes ur freedom away, kills the creativity before u get any inspiration. I know it cause I recently resigned from my job due to all same reasons mentioned. It was very suffocating and literally made me feel like an ass. Well James u r an inspiration and please recommend any book of yours to read. I am starting my own venture now and working on it these days. Thanks :)

  • Shuchi

    Amazingly said! Those all big corporate giants make u work like an ass and you don’t realize that when u become slave. They own u, use u, fire u, screw u and mind it they ofcourse don’t love u (again that’s a trap to make u slave). It takes ur freedom away, kills the creativity before u get any inspiration. I know it cause I recently resigned from my job due to all same reasons mentioned. It was very suffocating and literally made me feel like an ass. Well James u r an inspiration and please recommend any book of yours to read. I am starting my own venture now and working on it these days. Thanks :)

  • Shuchi

    Amazingly said! Those all big corporate giants make u work like an ass and you don’t realize that when u become slave. They own u, use u, fire u, screw u and mind it they ofcourse don’t love u (again that’s a trap to make u slave). It takes ur freedom away, kills the creativity before u get any inspiration. I know it cause I recently resigned from my job due to all same reasons mentioned. It was very suffocating and literally made me feel like an ass. Well James u r an inspiration and please recommend any book of yours to read. I am starting my own venture now and working on it these days. Thanks :)

  • Christopher

    It is mostly voluntary slavery. So why complain? Just Slaves that do not want the animating contest of freedom but are just people that like to b!tch and want their freedom handed to them from the Founders instead of being willing to give what they had to give to gain it. If you don’t EARN your liberty you don’t deserve it. Liberty is not a free gift like the Grace of Christ. It is earned with blood, sweat and tears. So tuck your complaints away in your old kit bag and tell me what you DO ABOUT IT!

    Did you voluntarily get a Driver’s License? Your fault.

    Do you tell people you are a “resident”. Foolish!

    Did you voluntarily file a 1040?… SLAVE

    Did you voluntarily apply for/use the government’s Socialist Security Number? Sucker!

    Do you use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act like Hobby Lobby did to fight back and change the way things work?

    Do you buy new things locally instead of buying things out of State and having them mailed.

    Do you have a car that uses a lot of gas so you pay more gas tax?

    When you buy a car or a major purchase do you use U.S. gold or silver coins minted since 1986 AD and cut a deal with the licensed sales store to reduce your State sales tax to almost nothing?

    If you get a traffic ticket do you fight it and file 500 pages in motions so the government doesn’t make a penny on you even if you lose (which I never do).

    Do you volunteer to get student loans or grants and make yourself a slave?

    Do you go to a private university or are you on the government dole and go to a State University? Brigham Young University does not accept a PENNY from ANY government. There are a few other religious schools that SHUN government enslavement programs too but so-called Patriots use the government dole and call it getting their own money back. If you feed off the system then you feed the system.

    Did you send your children to government propaganda mills (AKA government schools). Then do you complain when taxes are high? Then STFU! You have done this to yourself.

    I have met FEW tax complainers that do not accept government dole programs. From government LIBRARIES to Unemployment to food stamps to government schools to government financed house loans to using a Social Security SLAVE number for many things.

    I get tired of these stories by Tax Complainers. Because if you are complaining about how much you pay in taxes then you are a VOLUNTARY Tax Slave. I don’t complain about taxes because I pay so few. I use the roads. I use the courts. I am glad we have a fire department. I like the street sweepers. I love the Department of Motor Vehicles safety trucks that roam the highways and get broken down cars off there highways. It has saved millions of man hours that were once stuck on the highways.

    I have cost the government tens of thousands of Federal Reserve Notes by suing them in courts and fighting anything the do against me. Any tax I have paid has been spent but the government to pay for me fighting them.

    For Christmas I HAND MADE the presents I gave my family. I used wood I collected from the Streets of Las Vegas so I don’t even pay taxes on the lumber.

    It is legal to avoid taxes. It is illegal to evade taxes. But most people do not fight back by AVOIDING Taxes. They just pay and complain.

    You may have to change your convenient lifestyle to AVOID taxation. But if you are willing to use the FREE bridge and perform a useful social service, then use it and stop complaining:

    By Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

    “I live in Alexandria, Virginia. Near the Supreme Court chambers is a toll bridge across the Potomac. When in a rush, I pay the dollar toll and get home early. However, I usually drive a free bridge outside the downtown section of the city, and cross the Potomac on a free bridge. This bridge was placed outside the downtown Washington, D.C. area to serve a useful social service: getting drivers to drive the extra mile to help alleviate congestion during rush hour. If I went over the toll bridge and through the barrier without paying the toll, I would be committing tax evasion. If, however, I drive the extra mile and drive outside the city of Washington, I am using a legitimate, logical and suitable method of tax avoidance, and I am performing a useful social service by doing so. For my tax evasion, I should be punished. For my tax avoidance, I should be commended. The tragedy of life today is that so few people know that the free bridge even exists.”

    As Printed in the New Mexico CPA Journal, November-December, 1996

    “Live free or die.” Live by that or stop complaining.

  • Tony Meade

    “Self-help books are often self-hurt books because they try to keep you happy about being enslaved.” – Best quote of the article.

  • Grampa Scott

    Very enjoyable and too true. I work from home now, complete control of our time and expenses and it is a BLAST! It is worth every effort you put into it – Most all of us are slaves to ourselves and the shackles we put on.

  • Sal Giani

    James, I love this article! As I was reading my jaw slowly crept closer and closer to the floor, to the point that when I was finished all I could say was – WOW!

    I was recently let go after 9 years in a very well known, and respected company. I own that. I’ve accepted it. But, that does not change the fact that they decided to let me go because they owned me, and in their eyes I was more trouble than I was worth. It broke my heart. I too, cried. A lot. People, and the institution I had build and trusted, had turned in me overnight, choosing the easy way out, instead of the right, more challenging path.

    Since that time, I have felt exactly as you described. I have begun soul searching, for the next opportunity. Not wanting a job to just pay the bill, but an opportunity to do the best work of my life. The more I do, the stronger I feel that I I need to work for myself.

    So, as that feeling has crept in, I’ve decided to listen. Myself and 2 partners, in a very similar personal situation, have chosen to work for ourselves. I believe I will be happier. I believe I can make a difference in my life as well as the lives of others.

    Let the experiment begin!

  • wolf61

    Entertaining intellectual exercise; while there is no doubt that anyone from the middle class is better off than many of the richest people on Earth 100+ years ago (we are empowered to a democratic exercise- which 40% of the ‘slaves’ don’t exercise, we have unlimited access to all utilities, we have access to doctors / hospitals /lifesaving drugs, all of us have means of private transportation and can travel anywhere in a 1,000 miles radius at a twist…of a car key, we can travel around the world for a pittance, there is plenty of food, we are not jailed or deported if we offend a king or ruler, etc), the major frustration is fuelled by media and mainly social media which set the prosperity benchmark extremely high by projecting the hyper-wealth of less than 0.001% of the population of this planet for the sole purpose of promoting goods and services. Obviously, us, the slaves, fall into this toxic aspirational trap.

    We have endless choices, but we chose to confine ourselves in mental, social and behavioural cubicles: we are rather ‘sheeple’ than slaves.

  • SingldOutJB

    Brilliant! Simply brilliant and powerful!