We are all slaves. We have been trapped in a system created without our knowledge or consent. Our conception of what constitutes a slave needs an update.

In its most basic form, slavery traditionally involved forced labor by a captive group of people. Even though the slaves worked for free, and even though the slave masters made a profit from this free labor, slavery itself was not without overhead costs.

The slave master had to provide some basic necessities for his slaves, such as food, water, clothing and shelter. Particularly useful slaves were provided with medical care and other special benefits to ensure they kept working and producing. The offspring of useful slaves had to be cared for until such time that they, too, could begin to produce profit for the slave master. All of these were out-of-pocket costs, requiring the master to spend a portion of his profits to meet the basic needs of his slaves.

The master met his slave’s basic needs by either spending some of the money generated from their labor, or by providing them with some of the food or other crops they grew for him. In both cases, this represented a loss of profit for the master.

In addition to these overhead costs, the master’s profit was threatened by insubordination, mutiny and escape—after all, no one wants to be a slave. The master tried to keep his slaves ignorant, he withheld education from them and forced religion on them to control their minds, and therefore, their bodies. The master could beat his slaves, but if he injured them too severely or destroyed them altogether, it would lower his productivity and cost him money. It was not so easy to be a slave master.

Then one day, the slave masters came up with a brilliant idea.

They told the slaves that they were free. They told them they could choose whatever kind of work they wanted to do, and they would be paid a wage for their labor. Having no education and few alternatives, most of the slaves continued to work for the masters doing the same jobs. The difference, however, was that now the slaves themselves had to pay for their basic needs. They had to work to earn the money necessary to pay for their own food, water, clothing and shelter. They had to pay to maintain their health and raise their children. And where did they buy these basic necessities? Why, from the masters, of course.

If a slave cost his master $2 a day in overhead, the master could now pay that $2 to the slave, then charge him $3-$4 a day for his basic necessities. The fact that the slave could never earn enough money ensured he would work as hard—maybe even harder—than when he was a captive slave. The master had pulled the wool over the slaves’ eyes while solving the problem of overhead costs eating into his bottom line—now the slaves paid for themselves! And soon, the slaves even became indebted to the master, since they never quite earned enough to cover all their basic necessities no matter how hard they worked. The more the slaves borrowed, the longer and harder they had to work.

Worse, the slaves were conditioned to want things they didn’t even need, like television sets and designer clothing. This constant shortfall created a vicious cycle of labor and consumption that became increasingly self-destructive. The master found that consumption and debt were far better motivators than the whip. All the while, the slaves continued to believe they were free.

Today, humans are the only animals on this planet who must pay to live here. We are all wage slaves, but who are the slave masters? The answer to that question is the answer to who controls the world.