Karl Marx considered 'alienated labor', as he called it, to be one of the major problems with capitalism. People often interpret the phrase to mean that the workers are unhappy, but it actually means something more.

The idea is that the proletariat workers are completely under the control of their employers. According to free market theory, you have an absolute right to dispose and control your property as you see fit. Therefore, the owners have complete control over the work place. They decide what/how/when things are going to be done with their property. The workers, if they wish to be payed, must do as they are told. The workers are free as soon as they leave work, but to earn a wage, and therefore survive, they must sell themselves into slavery everyday.

Not all workers are alienated. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and fortune tellers usually have autonomy. They still must work for a living, but they don't have to do it on the terms of an evil, controlling capitalist.

Marx called a person who had to work in an environment which was owned completely by another a Wage Slave, alienated from his job, and believed that this was immoral.

Alienated labor also has a great deal to do, at least in the modern interpretation, with the specific working conditions of industrialization and especially the assembly line system. Prior to industrialization, an artisan oversees every aspect of the creation of their product. They plan the design, gather the materials, do every stage of the work, and then sell the product, most likely to somebody they know, or keep it for their own use. In any case, they can point to the pot they threw or the clothing they made, and say, "I created this." In effect, their work becomes a mode of self-expression.

In contrast to this (no doubt slightly romanticized) picture stands the modern assembly-line worker who spends all day working a drill press in one place, or tightening the same rivet on each unit which passes by. They are alienated from their labor, not just because they have no financial control over their circumstances, but because their work has been reduced to a form of near-mindless rote repetiton.

The modern service economy, arguably, takes this a step further, as a low-level worker in the service industries, say a counter clerk or a first-line tech-support worker or a telemarketer, not only has no control over their circumstances, and is compelled to hold to a rigidly defined routine, but is producing no product at all.

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