I remember being bemused by Aristotle's description of the more or less best-ordered society in the Politics. In it, one part of the populace was made up of full citizens, having a share in government and freely able to own property; the other part was made up of slaves. Yet after my initial incredulity had worn off, I saw that Aristotle's argument was hard to refute. He said that while many people are well suited to freedom, able to take care of themselves and their families and to best develop their talents, there are some people who simply are not cut out for the free life; these people, who Aristotle believed were best suited by nature to be slaves, simply couldn't handle living on their own, and would be happiest under the rule of another.
Life as an independent person is hard. You not only have to work for your keep, but you must manage your earnings and the property you accumulate. You must also confront the anxiety of being ultimately responsible for your welfare, and the welfare of those under your care. This anxiety is highly stressful; many people would prefer not to deal with it, to rely on someone else to take care of the details. Yet those not wealthy enough to hire personal asssistants must make do, or else blunder along from one misstep to another until some final bit of carelessness destroys all that they have worked to build.
The desire for security in exchange for dependence is quite powerful. Some people have that same impulse in the political realm; it is sometimes called the authoritarian personality. People who possess it instinctively support those leaders who promise to be most paternalistic, to remove from them to the greatest degree the anxieties of life. They are referred to derisively by some as "sheep."
I am certainly not about to argue that such people should be enslaved. It would be abhorrent to anyone who loves freedom. On the other hand, if someone is not suited to the independent life, why should we force him into it? Why not give him another choice?
The Torah describes a system of indentured servitude, in which someone may voluntarily sell himself into servitude for a fixed period (six years, or until the next Jubilee year, whichever is sooner). During that period, he will labor for his master, and the master will in turn provide him and his family with room and board. At the end of the term of service, the newly-free man is presented with a generous severance payment from his former master, in addition to the initial payment at the beginning of the term.
If such a system were standardized for the modern era, it could do a great deal of good. A contractual agreement between two parties would be perfectly legal, so long as all other laws were obeyed in the meanwhile. This would provide a means of livelihood, and more importantly of security, for people who choose not to run their own affairs; and they would be given a large cash settlement at the end of their term, which they could use to advance themselves in the future.
Meanwhile, the employer would be able to duck all sorts of payroll taxes (until the government changes the rules accordingly), and would probably save on the salaries themselves over the long run. Group housing and food would be much cheaper than individuals housing and feeding themselves, so effective pay would be much less. And with employees guaranteed by contract to stick around for lengthy periods, the employer would have an incentive to make them better workers—by giving them some sort of education or technical training.
I can't imagine why such a system should not be made available to people who might be interested, so long as it is very, very transparent; I can imagine plenty of ways that indentured servitude could be abused by the unscrupulous, in both directions. At best, such a system would afford a way out for people who need a change in their circumstances. The cash settlement at the end of service could be a powerful means to change your life.
Any thoughts, dear readers?