Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Economics of Slavery.

Currently, reading The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. Which is a very interesting documentation of the top 100 instances of megacide in human history.

The part on the Atlantic Slave Trade had a fascinating aside.

Although the driving force of abolitionism was moral, it wouldn't have made much headway without economic changes. At the beginning of the modern era, so many business ventures invoked slaves at some point in the process that no one could abolish slavery without losing a lot of money. An investor who was morally opposed to profiting from slavery would be shut out of making money from shipping, textiles, tobacco, sugar, banking, insurance, and mining. Then in the mid-1700's, the emerging industrial economies began to produce plenty of money without using slaves. Suddenly, the abolition of slavery wouldn't bankrupt as many important people, so it became a lot easier to take a moral stand.

Why did the Industrial Revolution push out slavery? It's not that slaves couldn't do the work. Slaves could be found working as factory hands, miners, and skilled tradesmen in cities and towns throughout the Western Hemisphere- and doing a perfectly fine job of it. Factories often treated their workers like slaves anyway, so using actual slaves was not a problem.

The real problem was that slaves were a long-term investment that died up capital and became riskier as the economy became more dynamic. With markets always fluctuating, it was easier to just hire and fire free labor as needed, rather than raise slaves from babies for jobs that might be gone when they were old enough to work. Only agricultural production was steady enough, year by year, to make it feasible to acquire a workforce years before it would be put to use.

Also, plantations were more self-sufficient than cities, making it a lot cheaper to keep slaves. Food, water, housing, and firewood were easily available on farms, so in bad times it was possible to hunker down and wait for the economy to improve. Keeping slaves in and urban economy meant renting shelter, importing, food, and buying fuel. That's money flowing out even when there's no money coming in. It was easier to pay workers a wage and let them worry about their own upkeep.*

* This sounds like wage labor was even more cruel than slavery. Well, yes, it was, except that free laborers were allowed to get married, keep their children, fight back, go to court, go to school, go to church, avoid church, save money, spend money, drink beer, drink whiskey, drink too much, read, move, and own their own pants. But, yes, aside from all that...

Pages 169-170, Emphasis added. Do I need to explain the conflict between "security" and liberty? Or what happens when a person's employer is obligated to take care of everything? Or how technological advancement and labor flexibility can result in greater liberty despite greedy intentions of "the rich"?

Though things can also come back to gun rights.

In Cuba, slavery wasn't shaken loose until its first unsuccessful war of independence, the Ten Years War. By the time the insurrection was put down in 1878, too many slaves had escaped to hunt them all down again, so the Spanish government decided not to argue with any slaves who had guns. (In technical terms, the peace treaty granted freedom to any slave who had fought for either side in the war - in other words, those who had guns.) The rest were set free eight years later.

Page 171, Emphasis added. And by pure coincidence communist Cuba has extremely harsh gun control. Funny that.

1 comment:

Seeker said...

One of the unspoken reasons for slavery was not economic.

It was about power, prestige, and sex. One of the most unreported benefits of slavery was the rape of slaves -- which happened often.

Who do you think fathered the 1.5 million mulatto slaves, out of 4 million, in the South? Casper? Immaculate conception?

Read the autobiographies of the slaves themselves -- Frederick Douglass, for example. His father was his owner. And this was not uncommon.

Robert E Lee has YET to be accused of raping his slaves, but he had a number of very light skinned YOUNG slaves on his plantation. And Lee was obsessed with the capture of his light skinned slave girls who escaped, personally orchestrating their capture, if his personal account books, in his own handwriting, are any indication. He paid 600% higher bounties for the return of the LIGHT skinned girls.

Why?

The rape of slaves WAS spoken of, but in hushed tones. One of the arguments against freeing the slaves was that the races would mix.

Ironically, a COUNTER argument was that actually, the race mixing was coming from the slave owner impregnanting his slaves, then selling his own children into slavery for profit.

Sure, men do things for economics. But the economics was a plus, and interwoven with the ability to rape your slave -- male or female.

A best seller in the South, one that Jefferson Davis seemed to know by heart, because he essentially quoted from it often was "Slavery Ordained by God". In that book, it implies strongly, using the bible, to show slaves owed sexual obedience to their master. While sex with slaves was not publically admitted, the white women knew it was going on regularly, according to diarist Mary Chestnut.

And you can't have sex with a slave, by definition, it is rape.

Lighter skinned slave girls were coveted, and sold for more $. Why? You figure it out. I'm sure you can. Abolitionist spoke of this, at the time, pointing out that light skinned slave girls were sold often to whore houses, to labor there, from an early age.

Why? The white men who went to whore houses often would prefer a light skinned girl. That's economics in action.