Of course, the most abusive work system ever is slavery, with “milder” forms of trafficking running a close second. It is an interesting historical irony that two of the most prominent spokespersons for and against slavery—Louisa S. McCord (prominent Civil War-era anti-feminist author and plantation owner who defended slavery) and Edouard Laboulaye (French abolitionist), who were contemporaries—declared in their writings that “every system has its abuses” (published in the given links).
Now, more than 150 years after they expressed that maxim, its truth survives, even if embodied in much less wicked systems. So, the contemporary question becomes, “Are modern employment systems abusive, or abused, and in what ways?”
This is an important distinction, since it spells out the difference between systems that need only to be tweaked and those that need to be scrapped (by legal or other means).
To answer that question precisely, there must be some agreement on what constitutes abuse—in this case employment abuse. Here’s a good start:
Abused: If the designed employment system’s processes and methods of solicitation, screening, placement and post-hiring treatment have consequences that, from the perspective of its designers, are unwelcome or harmful, but deliberately brought about by others, that employment system is an example of the abused type.
Examples of readily abused systems include those with workplace honor codes (e.g., unregulated employee use of company vehicles and equipment), use of an unchanging job placement exam (that allows applicants to inform others of the questions) and unilateral hiring decision authority vested in one HR manager, without accountability (which allows all sorts of mischief).
A more extreme example of abused employment systems include those that ignore (i.e., allow, through unawareness, inattention or connivance), permit (i.e., officially give permission for) or encourage rogue police behaviors, despite official department proscription and prohibition of these.
Abusive: If the designed employment system’s processes and methods of solicitation, screening and placement have harmful consequences that, from the perspective of its designers, are intended and deliberately induced, that employment system is, from the standpoint of those harmed, an example of the abusive type.
A police department that institutionalizes through formal (even if discreet, “in-house”) approval of the use of terror, intimidation, graft, shakedowns, etc., would illustrate an abusive employment system—and one that cannot be merely “tweaked”.
Why Systemic Abuse is Inevitable
There are good reasons to believe that “every system has its abuses” is and always will be true, because among us, as in all of nature, and barring extreme genetic re-engineering of human nature, there will always be the gifted cunning cheat, the powerful predator, the misguided altruist (which, hopefully, is not a redundant concept), and the eager parasite.
As long as those capacities are in the human genome, even the most utopian and idealistic system will be vulnerable to abuse, despite—or worse—because of its high-minded principles. Accordingly, the most that can be hoped for is minimization of the potential for and occurrence of abuse, not their complete elimination.
Unfortunately, and in all likelihood, any system that is conceived as offering complete control and prevention of abuse will, it seems, have to be a very heavy “visible hand” indeed and inherently at risk of abuse by deliberate design or through flaws in its design. Given the level of surveillance and control that would require, “invisible brain” is the more apt, more iron-handed term.
For example, consider the power and probable trajectory of a genetically engineered “utopian” society dedicated to “weeding out” human “flaws” such as selfishness (the “Ayn Rand” laissez-faire gene), predatory behavior (which could render us incapable of combat when necessary or of working in MA—mergers and acquisitions), cheating (goodbye useful geopolitical bluffing) and misguided altruism (the easiest way of preventing that being the elimination of altruism, period).
Mutants, throwbacks, aliens and genetic cheats would all be able to exploit this kind of system to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of everyone else. These considerations suggest there is only one system guaranteed to prevent further abuse and eliminate existing abuse.
One in which everyone is an abuser and the abusers eliminate each other.