Let's assume, a legislation was passed that allowed people in Europe to enter into voluntary slavery. Everyone could choose to sell themselves. When you sell yourself, you become the full property of your owner indefinitely, and there is no limit to what the owner can do with you.

Of course, the market would regulate the prices, but for me as a writer: How would I estimate probable prices for different types or "qualities" of slaves (e.g. depending on abilities, age, etc.)?


  1. Only persons born in the relevant countries (i.e. "natives") can enter into slavery.

  2. Nothing else about Europe would have changed (if only because that would introduce too many unknowns). It is basically the Europe of today.

  3. A slave cannot own property of their own. Upon entering into slavery, the slave has to decide, similar to a testament, to whom they want to bequest what they own (including the purchase price). If the slave does not decide this, his or her property (including the puchase price) falls to the state.

  4. The law about the treatment of slaves is similar to that about the treatment of animals. In Europe, you must not abuse animals and can only kill them under very specific circumstances (e.g. when the animal suffers great pain from an untreatable illness). Additionally, holding and slaughtering slaves for food or performing scientific experiments on them is not allowed. Holding adult slaves for sex is allowed.

  5. Children cannot enter into slavery and cannot be held as slaves. (I haven't yet worked out all the details regarding potential children of slaves, or how to avoid them.)


12 Answers 12


People are Corporations Too

In many Western Countries, corporations are "people" under the law in a variety of situations; so, the best way to look at slave labor would be to invert this already questionable thought process, and treat people as corporations. A corporation can either be contracted to perform a service for you for a fee, or it can be purchased. In this since, a person who is hired is basically a corporation that you pay to do you a service, but a person you own is a corporation you've purchased and own. The reason why this is important is that we already have commonly used systems for determining the value of a corporation that could easily be applied to people too.

Since a slave's value comes from future earnings, and not current assets, the Revenue/Earnings method is the most logical approach to valuing a slave. By this method, a corporation is on average worth its next 5 years of predicted profit. In some really stable industries, it is more common to go off of 7-10 year investments, and so, perhaps younger slaves might qualify for a longer period worth, but even businesses that are super stable decade after decade generally aren't valued at more than 10 years of predicted income.

Like with corporations, this will be a subjective measurement. What skills and abilities your slave has to turn a profit with matters. Is he unskilled labor? a doctor? a pro athlete? Is your slave young and likely to become more productive as he ages, or is he old and unlikely to increase in value or worse, is he a high risk of suddenly going belly up? What is your cost of operation (food, cloths, etc)?

When you view human corporations like this, you can see their values could vary immensely. While an unhealthy unskilled Bulgarian factory line worker could be worth as little as €10,000, a young, successful football player from Luxembourg could easily go for over €10,000,000.

Why would people cost less than thier lifetime of labor?

Simply put, because slaves are investments. The whole point of buying a person instead of renting is that you take on the added risk, and reap the extra profit. If a slave (or corporation for that matter) costed as much as their entire lifetime of profit, there would be no incentive to buy one. In general, paying for something expensive upfront is not nearly as appealing as paying as you go, especially if you have no way of knowing exactly how long that thing will last or how long you will need it for. This is why corporations generally are not sold for more than 5 years of income, and why people would not be either.

enter image description here

How to motivate without violence

If the law says you can't murder, starve, or torture a slave, then you need to legally define murder, starvation, and torture. Which means you can stop just shy of that limit for an uncompliant slave. If starvation is defined as less than a 1400 calorie diet deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, then you can punish a slave with exactly 1400 calories of unseasoned beans and rice day in and day out, or you can reward them with a 2000+ calorie diet of seasoned and diverse meals. Not "abusing" them may not mean that you can't take away their mattress and bedding in the winter or turn off their AC in the summer, or blast loud music in their room in the middle of the night so they can't sleep, or withhold medicine when they are sick. Not harming a person is very different than taking care of them, and as long as they can work for you and only you, and you solely control the future quality of their life, then you have a lot of leverage to make them do as they are told.

In this since, modern slavery needs violence less than it did in the past because you could put a chip in a slave that employers need to scan for before they can legally hire a person. If you are chipped and someone scans you, then they are legally required to turn you back into your master just like a lost pet. This also means that an employer who fails to scan could face fines or jail time if a tagged slave ever shows up in his employment. Fully traceable tagging wont keep you from running, but it does mean that you won't have anywhere to run to.

How to avoid children getting involved

If you can't legally keep a slave who gives birth, then the value of women who can get pregnant goes WAY down. That is like buying a corporation that you know is likely to go bankrupt in the near future. This will generally lead to 2 possible outcomes. Women may become far cheaper than male slaves or women seeking to fetch the same price as a man will have to prove or provide medical sterility as part of their contracts.

  • $\begingroup$ young, successful football players get paid a lot, and can make astronomical amounts later, so 10 mil for a lifetime would be an insane bargain. $\endgroup$
    – bytepusher
    Feb 10 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ A corporation is a "person" because only a person can own things (at least according to Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England), and you want a corporation (like Oxford college) to own its grounds and books, even after the present president passes away. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Feb 10 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not the biggest fan of Romney, but I think the "corporations are people" was not meant as commonly (mis)understood, but rather as "A corporation is [made up of and run by] people." $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Feb 10 at 5:08
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    $\begingroup$ If I look at the stock market the 'next 5 years of predicted income' seems very low, it is more something like 20 years of income in Europe and 30 to 40 years in the US. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Feb 10 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer, although the last paragraph is a bit confusing because of the way the word "worth" is used. The sentence "If a slave (or corporation for that matter) was worth an entire lifetime of profit, there would be no incentive to buy one." sounds self-contradicting. I would say instead "If the cost of a slave was equal to an entire lifetime of profit, ..." or "If the price of a slave was equal to an entire lifetime of profit, ..." $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Feb 10 at 10:45

I've spent some time on this - I think the answer is going to be scarily low.

Many people have given some excellent answers as to how much productivity the average person would be expected to do over their lifetime etc. etc.

But the more I thought on this question - the more I realized:

The type of person who would do this is likely to be someone with poor deferred gratification skills and an immediate problem they are trying to solve

It is desperation that would drive someone to this choice - and desperate people are terrible at bargaining.

Think of the likes of Hollywood and what aspiring Actors and Actresses will do for the chance of a significant role.

I doubt if the cost of a Slave, given the parameters you have set out, would reach the mid 6 digits.

Most likely, you would get a small percentage of people who did voluntarily choose that life and were hyper-productive and were able to negotiate a very lucrative fee and everyone else would be deceived by that fairy tale.

I think the answer would be something like the lump sum of 5 times the average yearly salary - which gives an answer of around $160,000 Euros.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1. It's not only that likely slaves would be poor bargainers, but also that they would be less productive, above and beyond what is already priced into the "slave price of the profession" per paper credentials. If you have football stars A and B, and A is willing to sell himself into slavery but B is not, what does that tell us about the likely quality of A and B? Compare The Market for Lemons. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ @StephanKolassa worse, you need to subtract the cost to the owner of owning and operating the slave from the theoretical purchase price. If a slave costs 5 Euro a day in food, and 5 Euro in lodging, clothing, and money set aside for eventualities, that's 3650 Euro a year for an average expected survival lifespan of 20 years, so about 73000 Euro. Include some return on investment for the future owner over those 20 years, and you're at least 100k you need to deduce from what your slave is likely to earn you over its expected lifespan when deciding what you're willing and able to spend. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Feb 10 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ This figure seems wildly optimistic to me,valthough I still gave +1 for the argument. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 15:33

In view of the clarifications to the original question, and the comment on my answer, I'd go even further than before.

Slavery makes no economic sense under these conditions.

And because it makes no (or very little) economic sense, there won't be any normal market. Without a market, no market price.

  1. For normal low-skilled jobs, a slave cannot compete with a free worker whose cost of living is subsidized by the state. Many European nations have supplemental welfare programs where low income workers get extra money from the state. In others, it is practical to collect welfare and to work in the 'black' economy.
    So employers get away with wages that should not be possible in a market, because they are not high enough to cover basic food, shelter, clothing, and medical coverage for the worker. Without state intervention, these workers would starve (or revolt ...). A slave owner can probably provide worse food, shelter, etc., than most European nations find acceptable in the real world, but at some point that would damage the slave (see 3. below).
  2. For high-skilled jobs, the worker is in a negotiating position to avoid selling himself.
  3. That leaves jobs with low skill requirements, yet high wages. Such jobs do exist, they are sometimes called 3D: dirty, dangerous, and demeaning. Once it becomes known that slaves are likely to end up in this kind of job, selling oneself becomes less attractive (compare the news reports that Wagner is recruiting fewer prisoners, with the death toll among previous recruits given as one reason).

So this scheme would be more like an assisted suicide, with uncertain and possibly painful ways of death. That's not a predictable market.

Initial answer:

I suspect that simple back-of-the-envelope calculations will not work. Also, the institution does not fit well with Europe as we know it. Your story, of course, but introducing one thing like that without gross changes in many other fields is problematic.

  • European populations have been raised to value individual freedom. The decision to sell oneself would not be taken lightly. This intersects with a relatively well developed welfare state and with personal bankrupcy laws.
    Unless your story has "supporting" changes to those factors, you won't have people in debtors' prison, or selling their freedom to put food on the table of their family. Less desperation brings prices up. There could still be cases of people selling themselves for expenses not covered by welfare, like an experimental (or snake oil) medical procedure for a dependent.
  • These welfare laws also subsidize free labor. A slaver would have to spend enough in upkeep to keep the slave at least marginally healthy and productive. An employer can leave that to the state where the laws allow "supplemental" welfare or force the unemployed into "internships" to increase their employability.
  • Prices in the sex trafficking area might serve as a lower bound for the cost.
    This is assuming that the slavery laws are so inhuman that a legal sale has only benefits for the buyer, not drawbacks.

As much as possible.

A major problem you have to contend with is what does a slave offer that an employee doesn't?

The first thing you might want to answer is "well, you don't have to pay them". True. However, if you look at an employee's salary, you'll find that a huge chunk of it goes to paying rent or a mortgage, paying for food and clothing, paying for transportation, paying for various utilities, capitalising for their healthcare, retirement, welfare in some way or another, and now you realise that if slaves have to be treated decently, then you'll have to pay for all of that too.

You might pay less of course, but it's still going to be a significant amount, and on top of that you are now legally responsible for their well-being at all times until they're dead. They wouldn't make better employees, in fact there's a good chance they would be less productive, not more. So I really have to wonder what's the benefit of owning a worker when you can rent one.

That's the inherent problem with treating people like a commodity. You can list all the costs incurred, try to guestimate them, and at the end of the day you're wondering why you're going through the trouble when there are already whole industries that figures that out for you and that you can contract to send someone to you to do various tasks.

It would really only makes sense if you can significantly cheap out on their well being and treat them as expendable, but that would contradict your fourth requirement.

But perhaps looking at slaves like a commodity is looking at the problem the wrong way. Rather than looking at slaves as a commodity, how about looking at them as a luxury? Because luxury conveniently escapes most logic of offer, demand and profitability. It's not about cost or efficiency, it's about status.

The worse thing that can happen to a billionaire is showing up at the casino in the same car as someone else. That's why Rolls Royce works as a company: because they make custom cars for people who don't look at the price tag, and would even pay extra so their paint job is never available to someone else.

If you're rich enough to be able to afford a slave, anybody in your social circle can afford one as well. Sure, it shows the lesser millionaires who can only afford to employ a housekeeper part-time, but it's still incredibly pedestrian.

You don't want a slave, you want the slave that'll set you apart, who looks healthy, well-fed, well-clothed, educated, charming, and not doing anything except stand near you. They don't fetch your drinks, because again anybody can pay people to do stuff for them, but you can afford to pay someone to do nothing. How baller is that?

Naturally, you'll want a unique slave, or at least a slave from a reputable vendor. And at that point, you just give them your account number because looking at the price tag would almost be vulgar.


In principle the price would be decided by an equilibrium between offer and demand: there are many more people who can compute 2+2 than people who are able to invert 4x4 matrices out of their mind, so it's logical that the 2+2 people would be cheaper than the 4x4.

If you want to get a rough idea of the price spread, you should probably look at the price charged by sex workers in the European countries where their activity is legal or on the internet. You will probably find that, despite the service being offered is the same, there is a huge variation in the requested price, depending on a large set of parameters (age, aspect, physical features, type of activity, need for money of the worker, just to name a few).

Once you have an idea of the spread, take into account a good multiplier, considering that a sex worker will provide their services for a bunch of hours, not for their entire life, and that also they are free (at least in principle) to refuse the requests they receive, while in your case this option is forfeited.

But then this raises the question: outside of people who get indentured for covering debts, who would choose to earn those money by losing the freedom to enjoy them?

  • $\begingroup$ One also has to factor in the issue of motivation. Slaves are commonly rewarded for doing well in any task where it's hard to determine the quality of the work on the spot. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Feb 9 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ Sex workers are maybe not so good an analogy to work with. A big part of the price of sex workers is discretion, meaning, Mr. Big does not want his activities known to his family, or the news media. So the high end sex workers will be unknown to us, since being unknown to us is a big part of what they are good at. So a large portion of the price range will be unknown to us. $\endgroup$
    – Boba Fit
    Feb 9 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary Only stories that attempt to cast a slaveowner as "enlightened" are slaves shown as being rewarded for anything. $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ Facts do not care. Owners regularly rewarded slaves for good work when they could not be overseen and punished immediately for failure. Slaves in the Deep South who identified trees in a forest for logging, for instance, because the only way to tell when they missed was do the job yourself. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Feb 9 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRichardson: The word slavery covers many very different realities in different places and different times. The kind of hopeless slavery practiced in modern USA is historically very unusual; the way the practice was ended is also very unusual. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 9 at 23:13

Completely unknowable as framed

You have to factor in too many unknowns.

  1. What's the expected long term interest rate? 1%? 8%? 15% That makes a huge difference to the real cost of a slave, just like for a house. Price factor: x100? Certainly x10.

  2. What's the perceived political risk relating to forced emancipation? If you think your slave will get set free by politicians in 2 years time, you simply won't pay for 40 years work. Price factor: x100

  3. Who is the slave? Is it a gorgeous 22 year old woman with great management and conversational skills, and a submissive personality? Or is it a 60 year old unemployed chain smoking heroin junkie with a record of violent crime? Price factor: x100+.


No need to imagine

I suggest you research the economics of modern slavery. This is a well-researched subject. I suggest you google modern slavery - price of slave in Europe and variants on that. There plenty of facts and figures.


Buying a sex slave in Romania need not take more than a few hours and around £300.A word or two from the right type of people and the buyer can be in the appropriate district of a major city such as Bucharest the same evening. There will be men standing on the street who will call out a woman for inspection. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2003/apr/06/Iraqandthemedia.news


€800,000 to €2 million

There's a meme going around that a 'career' takes up 80,000 hours of your life. At a cost-of-labour of €15 per hour, that would be €1.2 million. Or at €10 an hour it's €800,000

Insurance companies answer your question as their job. What is the monetary value of a human life? The Wikipedia on Value of life says "In Western countries and other liberal democracies, estimates for the value of a statistical life typically range from US $1 million- 10 million". Your scenario is people voluntarily selling themselves into slavery, so they'll be the more dispossessed segments of that spectrum.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ not gonna downvote but i highly disagree with this answer seeing it's barely an answer. to much context is missing (same issue with the question) $\endgroup$
    – A.bakker
    Feb 9 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ During the same career you are expected to pay about the same amount in payroll taxes, health insurace, etc. The state will quite obviously demand the money as tax upfront. You need to double the total sales price. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 9 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ +1 because OP stated slavery is voluntary. How much cash has to be on the table to make that an attractive offer? €1.2 million might well do it for some Europeans (e.g., they have sold themselves -- or been convinced to do so -- for sake of their family, and done so for a reasonably expected, if low tier, lifetime earning.) Of course, if bringing in people from outside is allowed, it would be FAR cheaper. You'd be swamped with willing immigrant slaves, I suspect, if their family back home would immediately get €500k. Or less. Probably a lot less. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Feb 9 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ Also just noticed OP did specify "people in Europe" so presumably only citizens of European nations can apply for slavery. Which doesn't eliminate legal immigrants but does raise the bar significantly, as citizens of Afghanistan would not be able to apply to the program. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Feb 9 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ Remember that keeping a slave isn't free. There's food, lodging, money to be set aside for things like medical expenses, guards, other eventualities. All that adds up, plus slaves tend to be far less productive than voluntary, paid, workers. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Feb 10 at 8:21

Unfortunately the question as asked is probably not what OP intends

When you sell yourself, you become the full property of your owner indefinitely, and there is no limit to what the owner can do with you.

There is no sane upside or profit motive for selling yourself as the owner apparently owns your assets.

The only reason to enter slavery is abject desperation (debtors, poverty, "money to save your relatives") and will be a case-by-case basis for where someone's desperation meets someone else's wallet and repulsive morals.

The top answers currently in this thread (and, I think, as OP intends) are more akin to "selling yourself into a lifetime work contract with defined after-work/weekends".


Very little - probably order €0k-€10k.

Entering slavery is an act of desperation, taken only by people who are trading everything for a warm bed and regular meals. They have no ability to argue for higher recompense since their choices are so dire.

It's possible a small boutique market in salaried "slaves" would emerge for particularly high performing slaves where there are big money trades but the money goes to the owner not the slave, similar to how the transfer market for footballers works in the real world.

These slaves would end up being well rewarded since there is no other way to make them work well. Since slaves cannot own property, this would have to be in the form of benefits such as luxury houses, access to private chefs, high end clothes and cars, etc.

  • $\begingroup$ The football transfer analogy is closer than you think: the transfer fee is a payment directly from one club to another, completely separate from the salary promised to the player. As this explainer from the BBC puts it, "That 222m-euro sum doesn’t get paid to Neymar. PSG paid it to FC Barcelona to secure his services. Technically speaking, they paid the buyout clause in Neymar's old Barcelona contract". If you think of slavery as just a very one-sided contract, exactly the same process could apply. $\endgroup$
    – IMSoP
    Feb 12 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ @IMSoP That was my point, exactly. $\endgroup$ Feb 12 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ I'm referring to where you say "...but the money here would go to the owner not the slave". The money in a football transfer does go to the "owner" (the club previously holding the contract), not the "slave" (the footballer). The "but" makes it sound like you are contrasting the two, although reading it back maybe I just misunderstood that sentence, and the "but" refers to something else? $\endgroup$
    – IMSoP
    Feb 12 at 10:34
  • $\begingroup$ @IMSoP: Ah, I see. Yeah, I phrased that rather poorly, didn't I? I've edited for clarity, I hope it is better now? $\endgroup$ Feb 12 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ They could just go on welfare. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Feb 12 at 19:40

As others pointed out, the price would become an equilibrium. However, it wouldn't be a simple equilibrium of supply and demand. Rather, the way you would utilize the slave would put a cap on the price.

I can think of two ways of looking at this. One is that of looking as the slave as an investment, much like a piece of machinery or livestock. In that case, you would look at the expected return on investment. If prices rise too much, the ROI would become too low, and demand would drop.

This also highlights another aspect of your question: slavery ended to a large extent not because people thought it was immoral (most people always thought so), but because it no longer made economic sense. Slaves simply became more expensive, and less productive, than tractors and other pieces of machinery that required a skilled and motivated worker, rather than a resentful forced laborer.

Realistically, sadly, odds are that there would be an ample supply - history shows that even when slavery is illegal, there tends to be an underground market for human trafficking with shockingly low prices. Note that this doesn't necessarily mean that slaves are cheap; they still need to be housed and fed and guarded against rebellion etc. However, this market probably does not meet your criterion of "voluntarily" becoming a slave - people in human trafficking are usually the victims of some kind of desperate situation.

The other way to look at the question is through the lens of history. Your version of Europe would be very similar to the southern US states in the 1850s (with adjustments for technical and societal development, of course). Research the prices of slaves back then, and compare them with the average incomes of white people.

Another note: the price will heavily depend on how the properties of the slave. You will note that prices at historic slave auctions vary widely based on sex, age, health status, and skills of the slave.

For instance, a male field laborer in his 40s (very old) would be worth far less than a 20-something who knows welding. Unsurprisingly, young beautiful female slaves would fetch particularly high prices.

All that said, there is a completely separate scenario that would lead to probably very different outcomes. You mentioned the slaves becoming slaves voluntarily. There are people (few and far between, but they exist) for whom the motivation is something other than desperation, they want to be slaves for their own reasons (sometimes sexual, sometimes non-sexual reasons), either permanently, or for a limited time. Whether this is a good thing or not is not something I want to get into here, as that would be a complex intersection of societal mores vs. unintended consequences vs truly free informed consent. Just saying that these people do exist, very rarely.

There are some novels around that concept that may be illuminating for you. One is a trilogy called "The Marketplace" by Laura Antoniou.

Note that this is fiction. In the real world, very few people (a non-zero number) would go that far, and such a marketplace would likely not be sustainable in reality. Consequently, pricing would be all over the place and essentially random.

Now I need to go and get upset. Your question is perfectly valid in the context, but the thought of trading people like livestock does make me sick. That's not a criticism of you; and may even be the point of what you are writing, but it is hard to deal with mentally.


About $5000 (plus however much it costs to pay for the slave's food, medical expenses, etc. afterwards.)

You can already legally get someone who is effectively a slave in Europe. The basic idea is to go to some poor country, find a willing partner, marry them, get them a visa to return to Europe, and they effectively become your slave. They are not exactly a slave because they are in principle your partner, but they're completely dependent on you, so you can largely make them do whatever you want.

From there you can look at a website like this one (which is tailored to Americans, but the idea is similar) on buying a bride, in this case from Vietnam, and check out the cost.

enter image description here

Again, this is tailored to Americans, but I can't imagine it is very different for Europeans.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is definitely the wrong answer. You can get $5k out of a person simply by making them work for a couple of months (legal or illegal work) so, at minimum, it will be multiples of ones yearly economic output. $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ @nickpapoutsis I don't understand what you mean. If you marry someone and bring them to Europe, and they are able to work, you could probably find them a job and get them to earn enough to make the endeavour profitable. Does that make the answer wrong though? $\endgroup$
    – Allure
    Feb 10 at 4:27
  • $\begingroup$ Let's say your debt is 5000, would you turn yourself into a slave for the rest of your life to repay it? Let's say you own a slave, would you sell them for $5000 if you can make them work a minimum wage job that pays 40000 a year? $\endgroup$ Feb 10 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ @nickpapoutsis no to both, although I still don't see the relevance. $\endgroup$
    – Allure
    Feb 10 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ The relevance is just proving that an actually legal slave would never be that cheap in today's world. Sure, you can find a trafficked human for $5k but you could also kidnap someone for free. Illegally owned humans can be cheap because of the risk. Legally owned humans would cost closer to what industrial machinery costs due to their ability for economic output. $\endgroup$ Feb 11 at 1:19

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