Re: Who decides? The state or the individual?
I'd like to amend my earlier response to this. I already made the two points that 1) I have no problem if Worker and Boss agree to mandatory arbitration by the government, and write this into a clause of their contract. 2) I don't believe that the "social contract", which Worker and Boss agreed to by entering political society, requires this kind of mandatory arbitration. It isn't a work contract in the sense of point #1.
To be clear, I never said that Worker and Boss were required to submit to an outside mediator. Rather, I said that they both chose to submit to state mediation voluntarily because they viewed it in their best interests to do so.
The point I'd like to amend is that plain vanilla contract law already remedies the more extreme cases of the problems people suggested in this thread. For example, courts can void contracts for error, concealment, fraud, and incompetence. I can imagine many scenarios where that would be the case -- for example, when a Mexican farm worker works for an English-speaking farmer, has no idea what their agreement is, and in practice is at the mercy of the farmer. I have no problem voiding this. And if the information problems you suggest in the beginning of your post occur frequently and gravely, courts would often void work contracts that way.
No doubt that's the case today. The question, though, is whether the state should
be able to void such contracts.
Also, plain vanilla contract law can deal with egregious abuses of Boss's bargaining power: if Worker proves to a court that he's done this, the court can void the work contract for being signed under duress, or undue influence, or something similar. I have no problem with any of these limitations on what Worker and Boss can agree to.
Is it undue influence if Boss is the only employer in town, or the only employer in an industry? One person's "duress" may be another's bargaining leverage.
But you go further. You seem to believe that 1) the traditional restrictions of contract law do not exhaust the reasons why the government may legitimately infringe on freedom of contract. You also seem to believe that 2) the legislature may prejudge that employers so frequently abuse their bargaining powers to put workers under duress, that they so frequently conceal facts abut the job, and that workers are so frequently so uninformed as to be practically incometent, that low-wage work contracts are void a priori. These are the two points where I get off the boat. I do believe that all legitimate restrictions are contained inthe usual constraints of contract law, and that you can't apply these constraints without looking at the facts of the individual case. To enforce them legitimately, I feel someone first ought to prove to a court that they actually apply.
(1) Governments infringe on the freedom of contract all the time. Whether they should infringe on that freedom is an open question.
(2) Of course the legislature pre-judges the bargaining situation between Worker and Boss. All
laws are, in some fashion or another, simply pre-judgments of situations. When the law says that a driver is not supposed to run a red light, it has already pre-judged that situation as being particularly dangerous in general
, even though, in many specific cases, running a red light would not lead to any unfavorable consequences. It is no defense, then, for the driver to say that the intersection was deserted and that, by running the red light, he benefitted himself while no one else suffered any detriment. Likewise, the traditional constraints on contractual rights that you seem to favor, such as limits on the rights of minors to enter into contracts, are no different in this respect from the limits on the rights of Worker and Boss. The legislature's ability to pre-judge situations is inseparable from the legislature's ability to make laws. If it cannot do the former, then it cannot do the latter.